Traveller's Guide: Lazio

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The spotlight might be on Rome this weekend, but outside the city this central Italian region dazzles with natural wonders and ancient history, says Duncan Garwood

As newly elected Pope Francis prepares to make his Easter debut at St Peter's, Rome basks in the international spotlight. But while all eyes are turned to the Vatican and crowds of people flock to the city's headline sights, the surrounding region of Lazio remains largely undiscovered by the mass of tourists.

Bordering Tuscany and Umbria in the north and Campania in the south, this often overlooked region of central Italy is rich in cultural interest and natural beauty. Outside of Rome, it is sparsely populated and geographically diverse, with large volcanic lakes at Bracciano, right, and Bolsena, sandy beaches and remote Apennine peaks. Its northern reaches are lush and green, their soft rolling contours reminiscent of the classic Tuscan countryside further north. To the south and east, the landscape takes on a sharper note as the hills become higher and the terrain less hospitable.

In the centre is Rome, Lazio's great showcase city. Founded in 753BC – if the legend of Romulus and Remus is to be believed – it grew to become the fearsome Caput Mundi (capital of the world), the hub of an empire that stretched from Spain to the Middle East, from North Africa to northern England. Decline set in after the 5th century when it fell to Germanic barbarians. But many of its monuments survive, not only in the city itself but also in the surrounding countryside, where you'll find epic sites such as  Ostia Antica and the Unesco-listed Villa Adriana at Tivoli.

During the Middle Ages, Rome became an important religious destination as Christians flocked to the city to worship at the tombs of saints Peter and Paul. Trailblazing British pilgrims arrived on the Via Francigena, a 2,083km road that ran from Canterbury through France and Switzerland down to Rome. Some 800 years on, the Via is still open to walkers. Camino Ways (020-3468 1516; is one of a number of operators that offers hiking tours along the Lazio leg of the route.

The Vatican and its priceless treasures are still a big draw for the city, especially at Easter when huge crowds gather on St Peter's Square to hear the Pope deliver his urbi et orbi blessing. To see where the papal conclave recently elected Pope Francis, head to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums (00 39 06 698 84 676; on Viale Vaticano. Admission €16.

Religious activity apart, spring is a gorgeous time to be in Lazio. Sunshine and blue skies bring out the best of Rome's colourful streets and the countryside is awash with greenery and wild flowers. In Rome, the Spanish Steps burst into life in mid-April when they are adorned with hundreds of blooming azaleas. Later, on 21 April, the city celebrates its birthday with fireworks and historical re-enactments.

But long before Rome was founded, Lazio was home to a thriving ancient civilisation. The Etruscans emerged from the Stone Age to dominate pre-Roman Italy. Little now remains of their once powerful city-states but Lazio's northern landscape is littered with haunting reminders of their passing.

For outdoor enthusiasts, there's excellent hiking in the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise (00 39 0863 91131;, a remote wilderness in the region's wild south-east where Marsican brown bears and Apennine wolves roam free in the wooded mountains. To the west, the wetlands of the Parco Nazionale del Circeo (00 39 0773 512240; sidle up to sand dunes and the region's best beaches, which offer birdwatching and watersports.

Archaeological hot spots

Rome's ancient ruins are heart-stopping. A €12 ticket covers the Colosseum (00 39 06 399 67 700;, Roman Forum and Palatine, where Romulus founded the city.

Outside Rome is the archaeological site of Ostia Antica, above, (00 39 06 563 502 15;, which has survived in remarkable shape. It's thrilling to explore the amphitheatre, forum and Terme di Nettuno. Admission €8. In Tivoli, Villa Adriana (00 39 06 382 733;, Emperor Hadrian's summer house, is another inspiring spectacle. Much of the vast complex has crumbled away but it will still keep you engaged; admission €8.

Etruscan places

The Etruscans forged a sophisticated society in the hills of southern Tuscany, Umbria and northern Lazio. In Tarquinia you can admire tomb frescos, above, at the 7th-century BC necropolis (, and a rich collection of jewellery, sarcophagi and tools at the Museo Nazionale di Tarquinia (00 39 0766 856 036). Entry to either site is €6, joint ticket €8.

Another key stop is Cerveteri, home to the Necropoli della Banditaccia (00 39 06 994 0001), an eerie town of the dead lined with tombs; entry €6.

In Rome, visit the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (00 39 06 322 6571; at Piazzale di Villa Giulia; entry €8.

Castelli Romani

A verdant pocket of wooded hills, volcanic lakes and medieval towns, the Castelli Romani have long served as a cool summer refuge for Romans.

Its best known towns are Frascati, an elegant wine centre, and the charming Castel Gandolfo.

Food and fine wine are Castelli's main draws. A local speciality is porchetta, herby spit-roasted pork from Ariccia. Taste it at no-frills Osteria da Angelo (00 39 06 933 17 77;, where you can eat your fill for about €25.

Where to stay

In Rome, the recently opened Dimora degli Dei (00 39 06 681 93267; offers six refined, high-ceilinged rooms and a prime location near the Pantheon, left. Doubles from €120, including breakfast.

Behind the Roman Forum, Forty Seven (00 39 06 678 78 16; is a stylish boutique hotel whose sharply designed modern doubles start at €170, including breakfast.

For exploring Lazio's Etruscan territories, the Agriturismo Antica Sosta (00 39 0761 251 369; is conveniently situated just outside Viterbo. It has a highly rated restaurant and spacious, tastefully decorated doubles from €65, including breakfast.

To escape the crowds, head to Subiaco, where you can bunk down in modest monastic digs at the Monastero di Santa Scolastica (00 39 0774 85569; Doubles start at €74, including breakfast.

Hidden gems

Deep in Lazio's eastern hills is the Monastero di San Benedetto (00 39 077 485 039;, above, a mountaintop monastery built over the cave where St Benedict supposedly holed up for three years to meditate. It takes some getting to, but it's worth it for the lovely 13th- to 15th-century frescos and huge panoramas.

Another dramatic sight is Civita di Bagnoregio (, a rocky ghost town grafted on to a giant tufa outcrop in a ravine about 30km north of Viterbo.

Off Lazio's southern coast, the Pontine Islands are popular with Romans, but little known to outsiders. The largest and easiest to get to is Ponza (, whose craggy coves are wonderfully tranquil in spring. Year-round ferries serve the island from Terracina.

Travel Essentials

Lazio is easily accessible from the UK. Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport is served by Monarch (0871 940 5040; from Luton, Birmingham and Leeds/Bradford; British Airways (0844 493 0787; from Heathrow and Gatwick; Alitalia (0871 424 1424; from Heathrow and, soon, London City; easyJet (0843 104 5000; from Gatwick and Bristol; and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; from Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; flies to Rome's smaller Ciampino airport from Stansted, East Midlands, Manchester, Edinburgh and Prestwick.

You can get almost everywhere in Lazio by public transport. Trenitalia ( trains run from Rome's Stazione Termini to destinations across the region, and there's a comprehensive bus service operated by Cotral ( That said, a car will save you a lot of time. Car hire is available at both airports and Stazione Termini.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink

ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition