Rome is one of the world's most enthralling cities, and you may find there’s quite enough to keep you occupied during your stay. But it can be a hot, oppressive city, and its churches, museums and ruins are sometimes wearing – so if you’re around long enough it’s worth getting out to see something of the countryside or going to the beach, for which there are lots of options within easy reach.
Two of the main attractions close to Rome are among the most compelling in the country, let alone the Rome area: Tivoli, about an hour by bus northeast of Rome, is a small provincial town famous not only for the travertine quarries nearby, but also for two villas – one Renaissance, one Roman, both complete with landscaped gardens and parks; southwest of Rome, Ostia is the city’s busiest seaside resort, but more importantly was the site of the port of Rome in classical times, the ruins of which – Ostia Antica – are well preserved and worth seeing.
Sited on a hilltop, with fresh mountain air and a pleasant position on the Aniene River, Tivoli has long been a retreat from the centre of Rome. The major sight is the Villa d’Este, the country villa of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este now been restored to its original state with beautiful Mannerist frescoes. It’s the gardens that most people come to see, peeling away down the hill in a succession of terraces, their carefully tended lawns, shrubs and hedges interrupted by one fountain after another. Tivoli’s other main attraction is the Villa Gregoriana, created when Pope Gregory XVI diverted the flow of the river here to ease the periodic flooding of the town in 1831. At least as interesting and beautiful as the d’Este estate, it remains less well known and less visited, and has none of the latter’s conceits – its vegetation is lush and overgrown, descending into a gorge over 60m deep.
© Marco Rubino/Shutterstock
Probably the largest and most sumptuous villa in the Roman Empire, Villa Adriana, just outside Tivoli, was the retirement home of the Emperor Hadrian for a short while between 135 AD and his death three years later. Hadrian was a great traveller and a keen architect, and parts of the enormous site were inspired by buildings he had seen around the world. The massive Pecile, for instance, through which you enter, is a reproduction of a building in Athens; the Canopus, on the opposite side of the site, is a copy of the sanctuary of Serapis near Alexandria, its long, elegant channel of water fringed by sporadic columns and statues leading up to a temple of Serapis at the far end.
Lido di Ostia has for years been the number one, or at any rate the closest and most accessible seaside resort for Romans. The beaches are ok, and much cleaner than they used to be, but you have to pay to use them and the town doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it apart from its thumping nightlife in summer, and with a little more time you could do better. Inland, however, the excavations of the Roman port of Ostia – Ostia Antica – constitute one of the finest ancient Roman sites you’ll see anywhere. Until its harbour silted up and the town was abandoned during the fourth century, Ostia was Rome’s principal port and a thriving commercial centre. Over the centuries the sand and mud of the Tiber preserved its buildings incredibly well and the excavations here are an evocative sight: it’s much easier to visualize a Roman town here than at the Forum – and it even compares pretty well with far better-known sights like Pompeii.
There’s not much to sleepy Santa Severa but it’s easy to get to and has everything you need for a day at the beach, with long stretches of sandy beach – some free, the rest given over to the usual letti and ombrelloni – and a tavola calda right on the seafront; there’s also a castle at the southern end of the beach, home to a small municipal museum, if you get bored. The only drawback is the fact that the train station is a 20min walk from town, with erratic connecting buses and no real alternative transport.
About 40km south of Rome, yet with a character quite different to the capital, Anzio boats excellent beaches – among the best in Italy – and some interesting history; two military cemeteries (one British, another, at nearby Nettuno, American), as well as a small museum, bear testimony to the town's role in World War II. Anzio is also a good place to eat: it hosts a thriving fishing fleet and you'll find some great restaurants down on the harbour.
Just over the border in Tuscany, about 100km northwest of Rome, Capalbio is just about possible on a day-trip, and its beaches are worth the journey. The station is a shortish walk from the beach and the village, a little way inland, is an upscale, artsy sort of place, and only a bus-ride from the late Niki St-Phalle’s sculpture garden, the Giardino dei Tarocchi, which the French artist created over twenty years with her husband, Jean Tinguely.
Top image © Dorling Kindersley