Ah, you made it! You’re in Rome! You’ve scoured the city, explored it from top to bottom, fallen in love… But don’t leave yet, because one of the most overlooked attractions of this most ancient of cities is that it’s surrounded by noteworthy towns, many less than two hours away and easily looped in a day. So put on your bathing suit, hiking shoes or high heels, because there’s something for everyone a stone’s throw from the Italian capital. Flavia, our passionate Rome local, recommends five of her favourite places to escape the city heat.
1. Tivoli, especially Villa Gregoriana
The wonderful ancient town of Tivoli is about half an hour by car or a bit longer by bus from Rome. I recommend going by car so that you can easily flit from one famous ancient villa to another. Tivoli is mostly known for Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este, both glories in their own right, but my favourite by far is Villa Gregoriana – a park straight out of a fairy tale. You’ll explore the remains of ancient Roman villas, find yourself underneath a waterfall, walk through caves and, looking up from the bottom of the canyon, you’ll get a first glimpse of the temples, centuries later still in worship of unknown deities. Villa Gregoriana is maintained by FAI, the Italian National Trust, and in my most humble opinion the €6 (free for Trust members) they charge to get in is not nearly enough for the fantastic work they do keeping everything clean and in fantastic working order.
Tips: Get your walking shoes for this one as the Villa is more of a hike than a stroll, and try to go in decent weather before it gets really hot and packed with tourists (i.e., not in August). You’ll want to leave at least an hour and a half to properly peruse the park, and if you’re looking for a spot to grab a quick bite after, check out l’Ape 50.
Photo credit: Riccardo Cuppini
Orvieto is that little Etruscan town in Umbria that first-time visitors to Italy sometimes feel they’re missing in the bigger cities. It’s the one you picture from far away, before ever you come here, the one that stays with you when you’re back home, wherever home may be. Only an hour by train from Rome, it’s an easy day trip, and my bet is that you’ll always come back.
Hop off the train and take the funicular up into the city itself. You can walk everywhere and you must get lost; Orvieto excels in breathtaking moments, when you turn a corner and all you see for miles are the green hills of Umbria. You can’t miss the stunning cathedral – no, really, all the little roads seem to loop back here. You’ll want to get right up close to see the intricate detailing on the outside of the building properly. It seems so out of place in this tiny little town fresh out of centuries ago, that nothing could fit more perfectly.
Then choose one of the winding, lazy cobblestone streets and meander until you run into one of Orvieto’s fantastic restaurants. The town is part of the Slow Food movement, which mostly makes the locals laugh since they’ve eaten the same way for centuries. After lunch, enjoy the artisanal shops you’ll find everywhere in the centre. Further wandering will show you the Etruscan ruins, the hidden gardens and a piece of Italy you may have missed in the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Photo credit: Marco Bellucci
3. Bomarzo and its monsters
An hour from Rome by car can also take you to the quaint town of Bomarzo in the province of Viterbo, where you’ll find the Parco dei Mostri, or Park of Monsters. A €10 admission fee will grant you access to what was originally known as the “Villa of Wonders” and is today also referred to as the “Sacred Forest” – an estate littered with centuries-old massive, mythological carvings. It’s said that the famous condottiero Pier Francesco Orsini had the park created in honour of his late wife, whose death deeply troubled him.
Designed by well-known architect Pirro Ligorio, the park is purposely set up to mystify rather than please, and the surreal nature of it has appealed to poets and artists for centuries. More than worth a wander, take note that there are many creatures awaiting you here, from Pegasus to nymphs, ogres and yes, even a turtle. Watch out for the sphinx.
Photo credit: Aurelio Candido
4. Water everywhere you look. From lakes to the sea: Albano to Santa Marinella and back again
If you’ve come to Rome during the hot season, there’s a distinct likelihood that you’re looking for some relief from the heat of the city. Here you really have what Italians call l’imbarazzo della scelta, or the embarrassment of choice. For some lakeside swimming, head to Lake Albano because, well, how many opportunities in life do you get to hang out in a volcanic lake? Exactly. Plus, overlooking the lake is Castel Gandolfo, historically the summer residence of the Pope. While you’re in the area, enjoy the surrounding town as it’s considered one of the most scenic in Italy.
You want the sea, you say? A relatively quick train ride from Rome will take you to any of a series of lovely beaches, from Santa Marinella to lovely Sperlonga.
Tip: If swimming is your thing, I don’t recommend the beaches in Ostia. Although closest to Rome, the water tends to be of the not clean variety and the beach gets incredibly crowded.
Photo credit: Nicola
This picturesque medieval town built on an outcrop of volcanic rock is tucked in the middle of a regional park and is one of the best-kept secrets of Rome’s surrounding area. Less than an hour from the capital, Calcata is known today as a bohemian artist town, and is a great little spot for an afternoon of fresh air and getting a taste of quintessential Italy. A twenty-minute walk from the old town will take you to the Opera Bosco, an open-air contemporary art museum maintained by the local artists, right in the middle of the forest.
Tips: Wear comfy shoes – Calcata is all about walking! You’ll want to get here by car, as it’s not very well-connected by public transport. Go with cash, because this little beauty will truly make you feel as though you’re experiencing Italy a few hundred years ago – and you won’t find an ATM!
Photo credit: Emiliano Felicissimo
Special tip: For a more authentic Rome experience, get the Like A Local mobile app
Growing up bouncing back and forth between Rome and California, Flavia eventually moved back to the Eternal City to finish college and then decided she liked gelato too much to move away again. Today she splits her time between working for an international organisation, writing for YoungInRome.com, travelling and wandering around her beloved Roma in constant search of bookstores and the perfect espresso.
Opening photo credit: Riccardo Cuppini