I personally am a city person, but many – especially on vacation- might want some days to relax, be in nature and away from millions of tourists. These are some places with an authentic flare you’re sure to love. I say if you spend a week in Rome you could do 2 or 3 of these side trips and spend the rest in the city. This way you’ll have a super well-rounded trip, experiencing a bit of all the variety Italy has to offer.
Barely outside of Rome on the south eastern side of the city, Castelli Romani are a group of small medieval towns where many Romans fled in the 1300’s to escape trouble in the city. There are about 13 towns all built on different mountains that were formed after volcanic explosions. Most overlook either Lake Nemi or Lake Albano and have spectacular views. My favorite of the towns is Nemi with its beautiful gardens.
They’re also culinary destinations as they’re famous for porchetta (especially in the town of Ariccia ), fragoline di bosco (tiny delicious wild strawberries) and different game meats such as hare, wild boar and deer all freshly hunted in the area. Check out this hare ragu! To die for!
(this was at the restaurant Il ramo D’Oro in Nemi).
This is one of my favorites in All of Italy. It is also the furthest from Rome on this list so even though it’s doable in 1 day (that’s how we’ve done it) if you can spend the night you’ll get to really see all of the Island and relax a bit. I honestly never knew anything about Ponza until one day I was looking at a map of Italy and saw this tiny island… I googled it and the pics were breathtaking! This is definitely a summer gem, go between June and September. It is a swimmer and diver’s paradise!
When you arrive, you will see many colorful homes overlooking the harbor giving you that island feel. There are many beautiful rocky and sandy beaches but my personal favorites were the Piscine Naturali (natural pools). The name is pretty self-explanatory. Throughout the island you will see beautiful pristine turquoise water. It’s easy to get around with shuttles or for some extra fun rent a scooter!
Ponza is reachable by ferry from the town of Anzio (one hour south of Rome).
Civita di Bagnoregio
Known as the “dying city”, this breathtaking town is connected to the rest of the world by just one bridge. It is “dying” because only 7 people live there year round! There are literally more cats than people. The town used to be much larger and was founded 2500 years ago (crazy huh?) but through the centuries earthquakes and mud slides have made the base much smaller.
This makes the setting almost unreal: an ancient town perched on a hilltop in the middle of an empty valley surrounded by beautiful rolling hills. The town hides another secret: underneath the “regular” town, which is more medieval, you can visit the ancient Etruscan town, all dug in tufa (a kind of limestone). Don’t miss it!!
We had a delicious lunch with truffle-based dishes at the base of the bridge. But honestly pretty much every restaurant in this hidden town will make you drool.
In the quaint town of Tivoli, 40 mins from Rome, you will find Villa d’Este, a gorgeous 16th century estate commissioned by a Cardinal. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and you can easily spend hours walking though its gorgeous rooms and even more stunning gardens, famous for their more than 100 fountains – some done by famous sculptor Bernini (same guy who did the more famous fountain in Piazza Navona in Rome). Enjoy a day in this palace feeling all luxurious for just 10 euros.
I really love this town. Growing up I’d often go there since it was 20 mins from my house. From the center of Rome it’s about 45 mins, I recommend reaching it by car but it is possible by public transport. The town is north of Rome and set on the beautiful lake of Bracciano. When you arrive to the main square, Piazza del Molo, take a stroll by the pier and then get lost in the tiny alleys surrounded by the adorable homes dated to the 1600’s. You will see gorgeous flowers in the spring and early summer and you can enjoy very good seafood at the restaurants alongside the lake.
In the summer feel free to jump in for a swim! If you’re there on a weekend they often have festivals in the main square with many stands selling clothes, crafts and delicious street food. The nearby town of Bracciano has a medieval castle (where Tom Cruise got married).
1 hour south of Rome, this town is a lot of fun both for hiking and enjoying the beach. My favorite part is on the Santuario della SS Trinita’, an ancient sanctuary on top of a mountain. There you must see La montagna Spaccata (split mountain) and Grotta del Turco (Turkish grotto).
The first one is a literal crack between 2 mountains where you can walk through a narrow path and reach striking water views. In the latter you will go down 250 steps to see a ridiculously beautiful grotto that made me wonder how Gaeta is not world famous. There is usually no one there and it’s quite romantic. For my hiking friends, you will have a blast and it’s all free.
Near Gaeta, this town has an even more beachy vibe and I recommend it in the summer. It is super colorful and upon your arrival you will be greeted by hundreds of flowers, music and all the different blues that paint the sea. A 500-year-old tower you can reach walking up a moderate number of steps and a stunning boardwalk will give you views of the entire town and the Mediterranean Sea in all its glory.
As you walk down the beach past the tower, you will enter an archaeological site right in the water – the remains of Emperor Tiberius Villa. You can literally swim through these ancient remains and explore the grotto with statues and other remains while in your polka dot bikini.