Outside of Rome, if you can drag yourself away from the delights of Caravaggio and Bernini at the Borghese Gallery, there is a lot to enjoy. But before you do, try visiting one of Rome’s lesser known attractions. The Italian word enoteca means wine merchant and Il Buccone – literally the big hole – is one of the oldest in the city. Situated near the Piazza del Popolo it will amply reward a visit, with its towering shelves, weighed down with wine, reaching up to the high ceilings.
Once away from the city, the gardens at the Villa d’Este and Ninfa are a delight; water is a big feature of both but each uses it in very different ways. One is famous for its fountains and formal layout, the other for meandering streams in a carefully constructed bucolic landscape.
The old Roman port of Ostia Antica at the mouth of the Tiber is so much quieter than Pompeii and here you can see how Rome was fed and supplied with everything that the largest and richest city of the ancient world required. If you want to go even further back in time, then you can visit the Etruscan necropolis at Cerveteri.
Of course, the one thing that all these old civilisations had in common was a love of wine and this region, although not as famous as neighbouring Tuscany, still produces some notable wines. Possibly the most famous area for wine is south-east of Rome, around the town of Frascati, known as the Castelli Romani or Roman Castles. For centuries this was the area where the nobility of Rome would retreat during the stifling summer months. To get there in ancient times you left Rome on the Via Appia, which still exists, although traffic now uses the modern Via Appia Nuova.
Continuing out towards the hills brings you to the area famous for the delicious wine known as Frascati Superiore Here you will also find, in different variations, the sweet dessert wines known in Tuscany as vin santo. There are various recipes for this type of wine but commonly the bunches of grapes are left still partially attached to the vine, or left out in the sun to dry, for about 30 days thus losing water and gaining sugar before being fermented; the results, whilst sweet, are not overly so. Further out from Rome, again heading south-east towards Campania, around Frosinone we find Cesanese del Piglio, a beautiful full-bodied red.
If you head north from the Eternal City towards the volcanic lake of Bolsena, on the northern shores you will find the small area where a tiny but dedicated group of winemakers produce Aleatico di Gradoli, a wine that makes a refreshing change from the white wine Est! Est! Est!produced on the other side of the lake. If you want to make a day of it, you might try travelling around the caldera, visiting the smaller vineyards which produce Aleatico and Est! Est! Est! to compare and contrast whilst enjoying the views across the water and the balmy microclimate, the result of the shelter provided by the hills and the cooling effect of the lake.