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Roman Hill Towns

All roads lead from Rome, to its wonderful surrounding hill towns

By David Farley

March 23rd, 2007

Millions of tourists flock to Rome every year to trample the city’s famed seven hills, but just outside, others are waiting to be climbed. Dotting the landscape between Rome and Tuscany, the medieval hill towns of northern Lazio – the region surrounding the Eternal City – afford the requisite quiet cobbled alleyways, intimate piazzas, and rustic restaurants. But they also offer something scarcely found – authenticity. Unencumbered by modern tourism, there are no souvenir shops, tour buses, or English-language menus.

Easily accessible but often overlooked, the following five towns lie within 75 miles of the Italian capital, but seem centuries away. These are places where little has changed since Roman emperors, popes, and poets visited to flee the tumult of city life and bask amidst the olive trees and umbrella pine-dotted landscape; where the local cuisine – like wild boar-topped polenta, pasta sprinkled with mushrooms from the local forest, and chickpea and chestnut soup – is still prepared the way it has always been. About half of Lazio’s population lives in Rome, leaving the vast countryside – stretching from Tuscany and Umbria to the north, Abruzzo to the east, Campania to the south, and the Tyrrenean Sea to the west – to the locals and the adventuresome traveler. All roads may lead to Rome, but with a weak dollar and a strong euro, it’s never been a better time to take those same roads out of the Eternal City, where restaurant and hotel prices plummet (a 4-star hotel in a hill town is half the price of the equivalent in Rome, for example).

The best way to get a feel for this area is to spend some real time here. Using Civita Castellana as a base for 2 to 3 nights, followed by a few days’ stay in Tivoli, you can access everything the region has to offer. Or, if you like to keep moving, spend a night in each of the five towns. Either way, because of the hilly landscape and infrequent buses, the best way to do that is to rent a car and do the driving yourself.

So get your photo taken with a gladiator in front of the Coliseum, admire the Sistine Chapel, and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain (to ensure your return); then head for the heavens – and by that we mean the high hill towns outside of Rome.

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