You can have too much of a good thing, so after spending days in Italy's capital you just might be ready for a few day trips from Rome.
These three are varied －all can be done by public transport of varying levels of difficulty, but in one case at least a car would be best. Italy is full of delightful corners and these three are close enough to Rome to be experienced in a day.
If you swoon at the sight of Roman ruins, you'll marvel at the 50 hectares (124 acres) of Ostia Antica, the best thing this side of Pompeii and Herculaneum (and an ideal alternative if you're not going to Naples, the jumping off point for both).
Once the official port of Rome, the silting of the River Tiber eventually condemned what was once a large city to near-extinction, as did the eventual crumbling of Rome itself.
Walking into the ruins through the Porta Romana − the monumental entrance for those arriving directly from Rome − is breathtaking, the sweeping cobblestoned Decumano Massimo sweeping forward into the distance. It is the backbone of the ancient city, with the remnants branching off on either side of the road.
The stunning theater will mesmerize you. Its graceful semicircle slopes downward, step by step, until it reaches the stage, still used for special performances today. The beauty of Ostia Antica is that, for some reason, it isn't crowded, which means that the perfect photograph will manifest itself if you only exercise a bit of patience.
Here are a few more of the stunning sights you can stroll through in Ostia Antica:
The oldest buildings date back to the third century BC. Ostia, whose population reached 100,000 during its heyday between the 1st-3rd centuries AD , was eventually abandoned in the 9th century AD.
The best place to see the artwork that emerged from this city is in the on-site museum, a delightful collection of Grecian sculptures (adapted by the Romans, of course)
A fun way to explore Ostia Antica − in addition to following the rudimentary pamphlet that accompanies the audio guide, should you choose to rent one − is to wander down what qualifies as "back alleys", the small streets that criss-cross the old city, lined with little more than crumbling foundations, with the occasional surprise − a fresco here, a mosaic there.
Whatever method you choose to get to Ostia Antica, make sure you wear a hat; there are a few trees but if you're visiting in summer, you'll need it. Also bring along some drinking water and wear good shoes - you'll be trudging along sand and dirt and strolling over cobblestones.
For centuries, this luxuriant area in the Castelli Romani region − these days just a skip and a jump by train from Rome − has welcomed summer visitors.
The town itself is small and simple and seductive, winding as it does along the volcanic Lake Albano, of a deep turquoise so intense any photograph looks manipulated.
As many oft-visited Italian towns, you'll find a charming central square, surrounded by cafés whose wood and straw chairs crowd the perimeter. Along the main cobblestoned street, outdoor tables mix with gelato and souvenir shops to welcome tourists waiting to visit the Papal Palace, which dominates the town. The palace has belonged to popes since 1596 but the villa has undergone many changes and only gradually became a papal hideaway, several renovations later.
But what people are really coming for are the Barberini Gardens, laid out in geometrical perfection behind the castle walls. Once for papal eyes only, Pope Francis opened the 55-hectare gardens to the public. In the gardens you'll also find the ruins of Emperor Domitian's palace, upon which the complex was built. You can only visit with a guided tour and you're advised to book tickets in advance through the official website. That said, the Saturday I stopped by, tickets were being sold at the door. Still, better safe than sorry.
The complex at Castel Gandolfo is made up of several summer papal villas, the oldest of which dates back to medieval times. Once owned by a wealthy family, the Gandolfi, this only became a papal residence in the 17th century. Urban VIII was the first pope to make this his summer residence and expanded the property, adding a new wing overlooking the gardens and the lake. Within the complex is an observatory, Villa Cybo, Villa Barberini, a summer college, an old monastery and the convent of the Albano Clarisses.
Heading down towards the lake from the town is my own favorite restaurant here − the fourth-generation Antico Ristorante Pagnanelli (here's their Facebook page). I liked it so much I went twice! For the food, of course (see evidence below), but for the view and the excellent wine cellar set up like a mini-family museum and well worth time exploring.
While Castel Gandolfo is a lovely place to spend the day, if you have a car you can go further afield to the nearby towns of Nemi, Albano or Ariccia, through the winding forests and lakes of this lovely region. Or to Norma, my final day trip choice (see below).
When you hear of a "lovely hilltop town" or "rows of cypress trees", do you instantly think of Tuscany?
You might, but you wouldn't necessarily be right.
Just over an hour's drive from Rome (and also accessible by public transport) is the hillside village of Norma, whose 3000 or so inhabitants like to throw a good party in summer. On weekends, you'll hear plenty of music blasting along the main street.
Driving to Norma is "interesting", the switchback road providing suspense and drama as you climb dizzyingly up from the olive farms that blanket the valley. A few deep breaths around each curve should help steady your nerves.
Arriving in Norma, the climb suddenly levels out as you unsuspectingly erupt into the village's central piazza. Bounded at one end by the church, the main street leads towards the older part of town, with its cobblestones and tightly packed medieval buildings and flowered window baskets.
A few houses have been recently bought and renovated but so far, Norma has avoided gentrification. Instead of chain stores, the local shop sells pens, notebooks, magazines, lamps, jewellery, umbrellas, needles and thread, hair barrettes... but this being Italy, there's a café or gelateria every few meters.
A couple of tourists wander about but mostly, Norma remains authentic, its infrastructure for use by locals, not foreigners.
It is time for the evening passeggiata, or stroll, a time-worn custom throughout the Mediterranean coast which once gave young men and women the opportunity to eye one another under the strict gaze of chaperones. Now, those shy would-be couples have been replaced by young tattooed mothers, the Senegalese leather salesman, teenagers on Vespas, grandfathers who despite smoking will probably live to be 100.
Men walk with men, women with women, while children on bicycles race across the worn stones and their yelling dominates the street. Grandmothers sit on plastic chairs whose legs tremble on the uneven pavement. They pull their hand-knit shawls across their shoulders to protect them from an imagined evening chill. The smell of fresh pizza mixes with French fries from across the street, and everyone seems happy to see everyone else.
The most intriguing sight are the ruins.
Once upon a time, Norma was called Norba, an old Roman city whose walls were built to keep a warring faction out. The ruins lie out of town but here, that means a ten-minute walk from the center. What's stunning about these ruins is their setting, overlooking the valley all the way to the sea. The ruins may be far less spectacular than those of Ostia Antica, but only a tiny part has been excavated, and who knows what is yet to be uncovered.
My second recommendation is the Giardino da Ninfa, or the Garden of the Nymph, which the New York Times has called one of the world's most beautiful and romantic gardens. The gardens are only open a few weekends a year (you have to book ahead). The website is in Italian but it's pretty straightforward - scroll down their page for opening dates. Time your drive to see the garden either on your way up or on your way down to Norma, to avoid an extra journey along the serpentine road.
There's plenty more to do around Norma, from visiting wine farms to sports for the younger at heart (and body): you could try the world's longest zip line. At 2.2km, it drops more than 400 meters and reaches maximum speeds of 150 km per hour (93mph). Or perhaps just drive up and down the mountain for a thrill. The Norba ruins are also a great jumping off base for paragliders!
I stayed at La Passeggiata, five minutes out of town right next to the Roman ruins, ideal if you want a peaceful rest while still being right next to the village. The breakfast is extraordinary. You can have sweet or savoury or both eggs bacon, different breads quest song. You can pretty much eat your fill, and not be hungry for a number of hours, which is great if you're going out sightseeing.