One hour from... Rome

No sex please, we're not Etruscans

All roads, they say, lead to Rome. The consular roads – of which the Via Appia is the most famous – were once the backbone of the Roman empire. By reversing the traditional wisdom and following these roads out of the city, you can discover many of the region's most popular attractions.

All roads, they say, lead to Rome. The consular roads – of which the Via Appia is the most famous – were once the backbone of the Roman empire. By reversing the traditional wisdom and following these roads out of the city, you can discover many of the region's most popular attractions.

Castelli Romani

Sixteen small towns dotted around the volcanic Alban Hills make up the Castelli Romani, a favourite Sunday haunt of hungry Romans in search of good food, wine and some fresh mountain air. The Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, looks down on the cool waters of Lake Albano, while the pretty town of Nemi, overlooking the lake of the same name, is a must for Sunday lunch. At Lo Specchio di Diana – so named because the area was once sacred to the cult of Diana – you can sit on the terrace, tuck into oversize pizzas (so big they take up two plates), and sample delicious, tiny wild strawberries that grow locally. Nearby Frascati is less picturesque but worth a visit to sample the wine, best drunk fresh from the barrel in a cool cellar.

By car: take the Via Appia (SS7) and follow the signs for Nemi; journey time approx 45 minutes. By train: from Termini-Laziale to Frascati or Castel Gandolfo.

Sacro Bosco, Bomarzo

Created in the 16th century, after the death of his wife, by Duke Vicino Orsini, the sculpture-filled Sacro Bosco is also known as the parco dei monstri, or monsters' park, from the Latin monstrare, meaning to show or demonstrate. More Renaissance theme park than anything else, it is populated by warring giants, elephants mauling soldiers, strange beasts and other grotesque figures. Perhaps not surprisingly, Salvador Dali loved the place and helped put it on the tourist map. The nearby Palazzo Orsini is open to visitors.

By car: take the Via Cassia (SS2) to Viterbo and follow the signs for Bomarzo; journey time 1 hour plus. By train: from Termini or Tiburtina to Attigliano-Bomarzo.

Villa Farnese, Caprarola

This former medieval fortress was transformed into one of Italy's great mannerist villas by the architect Giacomo Vignola in the mid-16th century. Dwarfing the pleasant little town of Caprarola, the villa houses impressive frescoes dedicated to the Farnese family and maps of the world dating from 1500. Its formal gardens contain fabulous fountains and water features.

By car: take the Via Cassia (SS2) to Sutri and follow the signs for Caprarola; journey time 1 hour.

Lake Bracciano

It's possible to combine watersports with sightseeing when visiting the area around this crystal-clear lake, which is punctuated with picturesque medieval villages such as Trevignano and Anguillara. The town of Bracciano is overshadowed by the Orsini-Odescalchi Castle, which dates from 1470 and has some fine rooms decorated by the Zuccari brothers. Best swimming is from the beaches just north of Bracciano and south of Trevignano. You can also walk around the shores of the lake, and hire canoes, sailing boats or pedalos.

By car: take the Via Braccianense (SS493) to Bracciano; journey time approx 45 minutes. By train: from Termini, Tiburtina or Ostiense to Bracciano.

Tarquinia

Famous for its highly decorative Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia is also the home of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which has one of the finest Etruscan collections in Italy. Look out for the 4th-century terracotta winged horses and the imported Greek vases. The necropolis, less than 2 miles from town, has outstanding paintings depicting scenes of Etruscan life.

By car: take the Via Aurelia (SS1) and follow signs for Tarquinia; journey time approx 1 hour. By train: from Termini or Ostiense to Tarquinia.

Ostia and the coast

The Lido di Ostia is the disappointing Roman Riviera – all dirty water and dark sands. For a better beach experience, head south towards Tor Vaianica or north to Fregene and Ladispoli. Check out Ostia Antica, a mini-Pompeii without Vesuvius in the background.

By car: follow the signs for Ostia from the GRA ringroad; journey time approx 25 mins. By train: from Ferrovia Roma-Lido station, next to Piramide Metro.

Return flights to Rome with Go start from £100 per person (0870 607 6543; www.go-fly.com). Hertz (0870 848 4848; www.hertz.co.uk) offers car hire in Rome from £90 for three days.

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