With its stunning garden villas, two of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Tivoli is a perfect town to enjoy culture and natural beauty in one. Villa Adriana, an archeological complex, was Emperor Hadrian’s retreat during his reign in the 2nd century AD. With its many pools, classical Greek architecture, and landscaped gardens, it is an excellent example of a sacred Alexandrian garden and a demonstration of the incredible building capacities of the Romans. Villa d’Este, on the other hand, is a more modern garden villa built in the 16th century by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este as Renaissance garden. With 51 fountains, 64 waterfalls and 220 basins – all working with the force of gravity rather than pumps – it is a veritable expression of man’s power over nature and the keen engineering skills of the Romans.
This medieval city is best known for being the seat of the papacy for two decades during the 13th century and for its hosting the longest papal election (or conclave) in the history of the Catholic Church during this time, lasting nearly three years. Viterbo is also famed for its thermal springs that have been celebrating for their healing properties for centuries. The Terme dei Papi (Bath of the Popes) is the most famous bath structure in the city, though there are natural springs dotted throughout the countryside that offer a more rural experience. Viterbo is a walled, stone-built city with picturesque corners and noteworthy for its numerous profferli: external staircases that were a feature a medieval houses in northern Lazio.
Tarquinia is another site with UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its well-preserved Etruscan necropolises, or tombs. It was one of the most ancient Etruscan cities and the remains provide insight into the civilization’s unique funerary practices. The Monterozzi necropolis compound contains around 6,000 tombs, the oldest dating back to the 7th century BC, and about 200 have painted frescoes. A dozen of these are viewable and are breathtaking in their detail and modernity – depicting winged figures that preceded Christian angels, exotic animals such as leopards and ceremonial banquets. It is believed that the Etruscans created ornate and comfortable resting places to keep deceased souls at peace so they wouldn’t come haunt the living. The Tarquinia Archeological Museum also has many beautiful statues and sarcophagi that were recovered from the area.
One of the hill-towns of the Castelli Romani, Castel Gandolfo is one of the quaintest towns perched above Lake Albano. The region is so-named for the nobility that escaped the heat of Rome to spend their summers in cooler climate; even the Pope has his summer residence here, a tradition that began in the 17th century. Pope Francis recently opened the Barberini Gardens to the public for the first time ever, giving visitors a wonderful peak into the beauty and decadence historically associated with the papacy. These manicured gardens are filled with lush vegetation and have sweeping views of the volcanic lake below. They are accessible through a guided tour and a train service has inaugurated last year, shuttling visitors from The Vatican to Castel Gandolfo on Saturdays from April to October.
Though Orvieto is technically in Umbria, it’s so easily accessible from Rome by train that it’s really worth the trip – and warrants an overnight stay to give you enough time to eat at its many delicious restaurants. The 14th-century Duomo in the center of the city has one of the most impressive Gothic façades of any church throughout Italy and is a must-visit for its gorgeous frescoed chapels, particularly Luca Signorelli’s depictions of the Last Judgement, which are said to have inspired some of Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel. The Torre del Moro bell tower has an incredible view of the town and Umbrian countryside and offers particularly photogenic vistas at sunset.