Top 10 things to do in Lazio (beyond Rome)
Most people arrive in Lazio only in order to see Rome, but besides the Italian capital and its amazing ancient ruins and art, there is much more to see and explore in this region. This is still a part of Italy off the beaten path but it has indeed a lot to offer in terms of art, history, unspoilt nature and culinary traditions.
And, it is due to the love I have for my region that I felt the urge to share with you some of the hidden gems of this area. Here is my top 10 of things to do in Lazio …(and, trust me, this is only the tip of the iceberg):
1. Visit the ancient papal city of Viterbo
Viterbo is a relatively small city, located in the north of the Lazio region approximately 1 hour and half drive from Rome, in the area known as Tuscia, once inhabited by the Etruscans.
I love it especially for the elegant and extraordinarily preserved buildings dating back to the XI-XII centuries, such as the Palazzo dei Papi, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo or the Palazzo dei Priori, but also because it can be easily explored on foot.
Its visit should absolutely include a walk through the medieval neighborhood San Pellegrino with its characteristic houses with external stairways, towers, fountains, terraces and bridge hallways...Spring is the best time to be there, when the area becomes an explosion of flowers and a feast for the eyes!
|Palazzo dei Papi, Viterbo|
Tuscia is a subregion located between Viterbo and Rome, part of the historic Etruria reign. This is where the Etruscans, a long, long time ago, settled, founded their towns and developed their civilization.
In the fourth century B.C. Etruria had reached its maximum splendor although not much later it was threatened by the expansion of an ever larger and more powerful empire, the Roman one. The status of Etruria as economic power collapsed and the region was absorbed by the Roman borders, under the command of Diocletian.
Nowadays, between history, archeology, nature and monuments there are plenty of things to see in this overlooked part of Italy: those interested in Etruscan art and history should not miss a visit to Sutri and the coastal towns of Tarquinia and Cerveteri with their astonishing necropolis. But on top of those, I personally suggest not to miss the beautiful hamlet of Civita di Bagnoregio, the renaissance Farnese palace of Caprarola or the Villa Lante in Bagnaia, the elegant town of Tuscania and the gardens of Bomarzo.
|Paintings in Tarquinia necropolis|
3. Sunbathe by the dunes of the Circeo National Park.
Located 100 km south from Rome along the via Litoranea, in the stretch of coastline between Anzio and Terracina, the Circeo National Park is a natural reserve including the Pontine Islands and the territories that range in the towns of San Felice Circeo, Sabaudia and Latina.
This area, once a roman colony is one of the most beautiful coastal parts of the region with its characteristic moon shape extending all the way from Sabaudia for 25 km to the north, up to Capo Portiere with a unique environment of wild sand beaches with high rolling dunes, the Circe peak (just a humble 600 mt) on the back and the clear turquoise waters of the sea. Those that can’t lay down on the sand for too long (just like me) can enjoy a few trekking options on the Circe peak or in the Selva di Terracina or a canoe tour of the Lake Paola.
4. Enjoy a meal in the Castelli Romani
I love food, and most important, when traveling, I like to try the local cuisine.
If we are alike, or if you want to experience what the romans have been doing for centuries, then you should enjoy a weekend meal in the Castelli Romani: here you will find the typical osterias locally called `fraschette`, hidden in the characteristic villages scattered around the lakes.
Food is genuine, rustic and tasty: `porchetta d'Ariccia`, `pork couples`, cured meats, local cheeses (including juicy buffalo mozzarella) and wine donuts, all to be washed down with a generous bottle of wine. Insider tip: don’t order some `romanella` (the sparkling and sweetish wine of the castles)...it may be a popular and extremely cheap option but if you have a bit of palate for wine, avoid it at all costs and opt instead for some Frascati or Frascati Superiore.
5. Dip into the largest European volcanic lake
There are several lakes in Lazio, but the most famous (and my personal favourite) is the Bolsena lake. It is the largest volcanic lake in Europe but what makes it special to my eyes, other than the fact that I spent most of my childhood summers there, is that the lake’s coast is scattered with tiny lovely villages (Bolsena, Marta and Capodimonte to name a few) perfect for an afternoon walk and small beaches to relax under the sun.
Its waters are calm and clean, thanks to the absence of polluting industries nearby and the presence of numerous underwater springs. Two islands, Martana and Bisentina, are located in the middle of the lake and day trips to the Bisentina one are available from Capodimonte.
|Bolsena lake at twilight|
Summer is ‘sagre’ time in Lazio: in fact, when the temperatures rises (especially from June to late September) , people like to gather outside and celebrate the local food specialties during gastronomic outdoor festivals that enliven many of the villages of the region from the sea to the mountains. Gnocchi, porchetta, mushrooms, artichokes, olive oil…every season has its `sagra` and there is always something for every taste.
Here you will be able to taste traditional food (for really cheap prices), listen to some live music, and fully immerse in the locals life!
7. Have a tour of the medieval villages in the Sabine hills
The Sabina is an area located about one hour drive north-east of Rome. With its green hills, its abundant water, and a landscape dotted with ancient olive trees, majestic oaks and vines, this area has remained unchanged over time and preserves tangible traces of an important past in its medieval villages, its Roman villas, its ancient churches and monasteries. Nonetheless, it is an area mainly unknown to tourists, offering the advantage of a genuine and relaxing atmosphere.
An ideal itinerary should include the ancient Abbey of Farfa, the elegant Fara Sabina with its majestic monastery, the perfectly preserved Castel di Tora and Collalto Sabino with their towers and fortification walls and the beautiful hermitages of San Michele, San Leonardo, and San Cataldo.
8. Taste local olive oil
The olive cultivation and oil production in Lazio dates back over 2000 years and nowadays the region boasts four protected production areas (DOP): Canino, Colline Pontine, Sabino and Tuscia and it is the second most productive region in Italy. This will be clearly evident just from a short drive as the area is covered with olive groves and scattered with olive mills that testify the socio-cultural and economic importance that this golden liquid has in the locals’ life.
If you are visiting the region in Autumn you may consider including a olive oil tour and maybe be lucky enough to taste the new season olive oil. Remember high quality olive oil requires hand pruning, hand-picking, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, integrated parasite control and delivery to the olive mill within a few hours of being picked….so it cannot be cheap, but it may be deliciously rewarding!
9. Hike the Via Francigena
The Via Francigena is the ancient pilgrim path that leads to Rome thousands of pilgrims every year. It starts from the city of Canterbury but those who choose to walk a shorter part can walk the last 10 days stretch in Lazio.
This is considered one of the most beautiful and exciting parts of the entire Via Francigena: starting from the village of Acquapendente, with the Monte Amiata at the back and following the hills through olive groves and bushland with beautiful views of the lake, passing through Bolsena, Montefiascone, Viterbo, Vetralla, Sutri, Campagnano di Roma and La Storta to finally end in Rome.
10. Visit Tivoli and its villas
Tivoli is a thermal town that can be visited even on a day out while in Rome. Located on the Tiburtini Mountains this splendid city was founded in 1215 BC. Other than the sulfur waters, here the main attractions are the Villa Adriana and Villa D’Este.
The Villa Adriana was built by the emperor Hadrian with the aim to reproduce some of the monuments he had seen during his countless journeys, especially in Greece. The results are evident in the Academy, the Stadium, the Imperial Palace, the Hall of the Philosophers, the Greek Theater, the Golden Square and, the splendid Maritime Theater (a sort of island with an Ionic colonnade, surrounded by a canal). And then the Pecile (a huge garden, surrounded by a portico with a central swimming pool) and the Canopus,a long basin of water decorated with columns and statues that culminates with a temple and the two spas: the Big and the Small Spa both decorated with precious stuccos.
Villa D’este is a much more modern construction as it was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, governor of Tivoli from 1550, who wanted to revive in this villa the splendor of the courts of Ferrara, Rome and Fointanebleau. Articulated between terraces, stairways, avenues and slopes, fountains and caves, the magnificent garden is reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, while the water supply system, with an aqueduct and a tunnel under the city, recalls the engineering knowledge of the Romans.
|Villa D'Este, Tivoli (public domain picture)|
For a taste of Lazio also check out this fantastic BBC program.