Q. We are hoping to go to Rome in September for a long weekend. How easy would it be to extend the stay with a few days by the beach or in the countryside afterwards, to combine some culture with recharging the batteries? Claire Allard, Southampton
A. The Italian capital offers an excellent prospect of civic intensity combined with seaside or countryside relaxation. September is the ideal month (along with May) to mix metropolitan life with some escapism: the crowds are not too overwhelming at the Colosseum, Forum and Vatican, while the weather is still warm.
For simplicity, choose the beach option – and make the coast your base for the entire stay. Lido di Ostia is Rome's own seaside resort, just 23 miles south-west of the city centre. Frequent (if old and rattly) electric trains shuttle back and forth between the capital's Porta San Paolo station and the beach, giving quick (30 minutes) and cheap access between the Holy See and the Mediterranean Sea.
In mid-September, Expedia.co.uk is offering a pretty good five-night deal from Gatwick on easyJet, staying at the four-star Barcelo Aran Blu for £328 per person (excluding breakfast). Lido di Ostia, pictured, is also very convenient for the strangely under-visited archaeological site of Ostia Antica, the ancient seaport for Rome which is now landlocked; the site's own railway station is just four minutes from Lido di Ostia Centro.
For countryside, choose Lake Bracciano – a volcanic crater 30 miles north-west of the capital, accessible by train from Rome Ostiense. It is a perfect antidote to the high-energy city. The towns of Trevignano (with its own modest beach), Anguillara and Bracciano are evenly spaced around its circumference. For ease of access – and the widest choice of places to stay – opt for Bracciano, which also has the most significant tourist attraction in the shape of Orsini castle; the view from the ruined fortress across the lake is spectacular.
Whether you choose beach or lakeside, make sure you fly to and from the right Rome airport – Fiumicino (also known as Leonardo da Vinci) rather than Ciampino. Fiumicino has frequent buses to Lido di Ostia (taking just 15