Holidays in Lazio
All roads lead to Rome as they say. Unfortunately, many of us are see busy looking ahead for the motorway exit that we don't see the marvellous countryside we're racing through. Rome dominates to such an extent that its home region of Lazio (Latium in antiquity) is a mystery to most ... but a vacation in Lazio has much more to offer than just the capital city (of which more below).
Lazio is the geographical divide between Italy's north and south ... northerners such as the Milanese would doubtless argue Rome is the capital of the south, while they are the capital of the north. But in truth it is a bridge between the two. Head north out of Lazio and you are in the lush central Italian region of Tuscany. Head south and you are in the sun-soaked region of Campania ... very much the Mezzogiorno. Lazio also shares its borders with Umbria to the north, Marche to the north east, Abruzzo to the east and Molise to the south east. To the east, this long narrow region is bordered by the Apennine mountains, to the west by a lengthy stretch of Tyrrhenian coastline and beaches.
The countryside in Lazio
The countryside is correspondingly diverse. Holiday in the north of Lazio and you find yourself in the Lazio Maremma, an extension of Tuscany's coastal region. This is a region of lush grasslands, vineyards and olive groves. The Maremma is renowned for its cattle, producing superb beef, and for its own cowboys, the butteri, who herd them.
Towards the north-east the terrain becomes more wooded and green steadily merging into countryside reminiscent of neighbouring Umbria and Tuscany, with rolling hills. The south of Lazio closely resembles neighbouring Campania, with a countryside dotted with cactuses and bleached rock scarps.
Holidays in northern Lazio
DH Lawrence wasn't especially impressed with the countryside north from Rome to Tuscany. 'A peculiarly forlorn coast, the sea peculiarly flat and lifeless looking, the land as if it had given up its last gasp and was forever inert'. Not too impressed with northern Lazio then, but we'd have to differ here ... there's much to see.
The centre of northern Lazio, Viterbo is known as 'the town of the Popes'. During the Middle Ages, the papacy moved here to escape disorder in the Eternal City, and during the 13th and 14th centuries, the city was the true powerhouse of Christendom, far more than Rome itself. Today Viterbo has excellent rail and bus and rail links to Rome. Thus Viterbo makes an excellent base for holidays in Lazio, with good access to the fine countryside around, and many historic buildings including the arcaded Palazzo dei Priori, the church of Sant'Angelo and the Palazzo Papale.
Tuscania and Tarquinia
If you have seen Franco Zefferelli's Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet you have seen Tuscania. Approaching the city you encounter the imposing sight of Tuscania's towers rising from the plain that links Viterbo and Tarquinia. What appears to be an immaculately maintained medieval town is deceptive though. The earthquake of 1971 flattened much of the city, killing hundreds of citizens, but the town has been lovingly rebuilt, and is arguably rather an improvement on the slightly rundown city that Zefferelli filmed.
Tarquinia has a noted Etruscan necropolis and a good museum. The tombs themselves have wall paintings dating from the seventh and eighth centuries BC. And head towards Lake Vico. The smallest of the Italian Lakes it fills an extinct volcano crater and is fringed by mountains. You'll find some good restaurants here.
Further north, Lake Bolsena occupies another, much larger, volcanic crater, and there are good campsites around its shores. Visit Capodimonte on the southern shores of the lake, with Bolsena the main town on the northern shore.
Rieti is the capital of Lazio's largest province and lies on the old Roman Salt Road (via Salaria). Rieti is sparsely populated these days, and the countryside around offers marvellous cuisine, with local truffles and excellent goat's cheese from the surrounding Sabine Hills.
Holidays in Rome
Of course it would be perverse for us to hold off the Eternal City for too long. This is a city that has captured the imagination of visitors for millennia rather than just centuries. It has a history that encompasses Classical antiquity, the heights of the Renaissance glory and the dolce vita image of post-War Italy. With its imperial grandeur it inspired that wannabe Emperor Mussolini. Il Duce tried to rebuild and remodel the capital in his own imperial image, with the hideous and grandiose building projects so typical of despotic leaders. But even Mussolini couldn't wreck the beautiful accretions of 3,000 years of history.
Anyone spending a vacation in Rome will be eagerly anticipating the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon and the Vatican Museums. Rome, supposedly founded on the seven hills by brothers Romulus and Remus (the twins raised by a she-wolf), became the centre of the greatest imperial power in the Classical world. Rome's riches and power inevitably led to decadence, and thence invasion by the Huns and Goths. Rome was reborn again first as the centre of the Holy Roman Empire, when the Catholic Church took up the mantle of world leaders, a meeting of crucifix and sword. So it rose again as Caput Mundi, the capital of the world, being the home of the Church and the Popes.
Tivoli, an hour's drive east of Rome is famed for its quarries, which yielded much of the travertine marble that built the capital. It's a pretty town too, with fine Renaissance villas and landscaped gardens. Lido di Ostia meanwhile is Rome's main seaside resort, with Ostia Antica a Roman site well worth visiting for its excavations of the old port.
South of Rome
Not a big hit with holidaymakers, but there are good coastal resorts at Terracina and Sperlonga, and inland the 13 towns of the Castelli Romani, sitting in the Alban Hills. The Colli Albani hills are a big wine growing area, chief among the towns being Frascati, Grottaferrata and Marino, all with their own vintages. Also check out Castel Gandolfo, the summer retreat of the Pope, the pretty town of Albano Laziale, and the ancient Romans' favourite resort of Palestrina. There are the monasteries at Subiaco, and the delightful hill country of Ciociaria, with some fine hiking.
Also check out the southern Lazio coast. Anzio is more famous for the Allied landings in World War 2 perhaps, but of more charm is Terracina, a nice little town, and Sperlonga, with whitewashed houses on a coastline of pretty coves and rocky cliffs. The Pontine Islands are reachable by ferry and make an interesting day trip.
Holidays in Lazio - food and drink
The food of Lazio is peasant food in essence, and nothing is wasted. With fresh meat and produce at a premium in this crowded region, people tended to get the less select cuts. Nothing wrong in that, as fans of haggis, sweetbreads and offal will attest. A leap of imagination and a strong stomach and you will soon be enjoying trippa alla Romana (slices of cow's stomach in tomato sauce), pickled lamb's tongue (lingua vitella in salsa piccante), and cervello fritto (minced and fried cow's brains). Spaghetti is the pasta of choice, with Roman sauces being hearty tasty rather than subtle. Aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and cacio e pepe (pecorino and coarse ground black pepper) are popular choices. There are reasonable white wines such as Frascati and those of Montefiascone.
Lazio airports and communications
Rome is the main hub of communications, with its two airports, Ciampino and Fiumcino, putting Lazio firmly on the holiday map. Rome lies at the intersection of the cross country A24 highway and the north-south A1. The A1 is also within easy reach of Bolsena, Viterbo and the towns and villages of northern Lazio, and eventually motors in to Umbria. The A12 coastal motorway provides excellent access to the beaches and resorts of the Tyrrhenian coastline.
Lazio must sees
Rome - the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Vatican Museums, the Spanish Steps ... the list goes on. A holiday in Rome can only scratch the surface.
Viterbo - with Etruscan remains, fine museums and a medieval centro storico. Worth a stop on any vacation in Lazio.
Tuscania - extraordinary post-earthquake reconstruction of the old medieval town. The picturesque location for Zefferelli's movies.
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FEATURED ACCOMMODATION IN LAZIO
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Self catering holiday apartments in Lazio, Italy - Arlena's Farm, Lake Bolsena, Lazio
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Italian Bed and Breakfast Apartments and Rooms - La Meridiana Farm Vacations, near Rome, Italy