Eating the exact same food as the pope seems unheard of. Until now.
Castel Gandolfo, a charming hill town just south of Rome that overlooks Lake Albano, has served as the pope’s beloved summer residence since 1626. But being a humble man of the people, Pope Francis turned down tradition and declined to use this lavish estate when he was elected. Instead, he opened the private quarters to the public late last year. Now, select groups are allowed to explore the Apostolic Palace and adjoining Barberini Gardens, regarded as some of the most beautiful in the world.
City Wonders is one of only three tour operators with a Vatican partnership, and offers an intimate look inside the history-rich papal residence (including a private library, chapel, and the very bedroom where centuries of popes have laid their heads at night) and the stunning surrounding gardens. And they recently introduced an exclusive opportunity as part of the experience: to lunch like the pope does.
Visitors can now take a stroll through the pope’s organic farm and enjoy a bountiful buffet made from products that come directly from the property and surrounding Castelli Romani region (fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, meats, dairy, bread, and more) all prepared by the same chefs that serve Pope Francis in Vatican City daily.
“These fresh, organic products go to the Vatican every single day,” says Francesca, one of the few guides allowed to lead groups through the esteemed grounds. She explains that everything there—from the olive oil to the ricotta—comes from Castel Gandolfo. “Only the people who work in the Vatican get the opportunity to taste this food. And now we are blessed to have it, too.”
INSIDER TIPIf you ask nicely, the security guard just might let you meet the donkeys and “holy cows” that produce the glorious dairy on your way out.
Lunch includes bruschetta with sun-ripened tomatoes and olive tapenade, seasoned primosale (a soft cheese made of milk from the “holy cows” on property), grilled and stuffed vegetables, cured meats, and savory orecchiette pasta with broccoletti pesto, and crumbled sausage. There’s plenty of wine, prosecco, and mix-your-own Aperol spritzes on offer, along with creamy tiramisu, light-as-a-cloud ricotta with fresh berries, and cubes of sweet watermelon for dessert. To top off an already spectacular meal? A strong caffè corretto (espresso spiked with grappa) because “when in Rome.”
From the lush gardens to the farmland, the papal grounds are meticulously maintained and well taken care of since it’s all property of the pope. “If he decides to come here tomorrow, it must be ready,” says Francesca. The same level of attention and care is given to every meal.
Following lunch, you can stop by a small store to purchase any leftover fruit and vegetables, freshly made dairy products, and bottles of olive oil for a nominal fee. It’s a divine lunch, indeed.