Rome & Amalfi holiday guide

Written by Donald Strachan, Italy specialist and Travel Writer for The Guardian.

Rural features

The Amalfi Coast is one of Europe's great drives—and is busy in high season, so set out early to see it at its best. It clings to a precipitous twenty-mile stretch, passing pastel-hued Positano on the way. Each hairpin bend reveals a new panorama. In Rome, the countryside starts inside the city limits: explore the catacombs below the Parco Appia Antica or relax in the gardens of the Villa Borghese.

Things to do

You could fill a month. Rome's cultural sights include some of the best museums in Europe: the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, the Borghese Gallery, and much more. Florid baroque churches house treasures such as Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa (in Santa Maria della Vittoria) and Michelangelo's Moses (San Pietro in Vincoli). After dark, move away from the tourist parts of town to enjoy aperitivo in the bars of Monti, then dine alla romana in Testaccio or Trastevere..

Eating and drinking

Rome is the original home of several pasta dishes: alla carbonara (with egg, cream, and cured pig's cheek), cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper), and all'amatriciana (cured pork and tomatoes). Rome and Naples also duke it out for the title of pizza capital. Milk from Campania's buffalo makes the creamiest mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella cheese) and lemons from groves that cling to the Amalfi Coast make some of Italy's tangiest limoncello.

History

Rome, the region of Lazio, and neighbouring Campania were the epicentre of an empire that ruled the Western world: Ancient Rome. In the capital, its remains are on show everywhere, from the Colosseum and Roman Forum to museums such as the Capitoline and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Visitors can even walk the same basalt flagstones where Roman centurions trod at Ostia Antica, Rome's former seaport, as well Pompeii, and Herculaneum, both a short drive from the Amalfi Coast.

Museums in Lazio

Museo Nazionale, Tarquinia Some 6,000 Etruscan tombs, many with frescoes, are scattered in the plain east of Tarquinia and protected as a UNESCO heritage site. Marvellous sculptures, jewellery and household paraphernalia from the tombs are displayed at the museum, as well as frescoed walls. Museo delle Navi di Nemi, Nemi Caligula, one of the odder Roman emperors, enjoyed being rowed back and forth on tiny Lake Nemi in a massive pleasure barge with all sorts of entertainers on board. The barge is a glorious sight and the story of its salvage is dramatic.

Viterbo and the lakes

Bagnaia. Villa Lante . 0761 288008. Mid- April to mid-September 9am-6:30pm, otherwise to 5:30pm.
Bomarzo. Parco dei Mostri (Monster Park) . 0761 924029; www.bomarzo.net. 8am to sunset.
Bracciano. San Liberato Via Settevene Palo 33 . 06 99805460; www.sanliberato.it.
Caprarola. Palazzo Farnese. 0761 646052. Palazzo: Tuesday-Sunday 8:30am-6:45pm. Gardens: 10am-noon and 3-5pm.

Sabine hills

Farfa Abbey. www.abbaziadifarfa.com. Hourly guided tours daily 10am-1pm and 3:30- 6:30pm.
Fara in Sabina Archeological museum. Piazza del Duomo 0765 277321. Tuesday-Friday 10am-1pm, weekends also 3-7pm.
Montopoli in Sabina Modern Automata Museum. Via Case Nuove 7 . 0765 27982; www.modernautomatamuseum.com. Monday- Friday 9am-1pm and 2-5pm, weekends by appointment.
Castelnuovo di Farfa Museo dell'Olio. 0765 32091. Friday 3pm-8pm; Saturday 10am- 8pm; Sunday/holidays 10am-1:30pm and 2:30pm-8pm.

Airports

Rome´s two airports are the most practical points of entry to Umbria and lazio. Fiumicino (FCO), immediately west of the city, is the larger, for international flights; Ciampino (CIA) caters to the discounters and other European airlines and has decidedly fewer facilities. Both are just off Rome´s ring road, the GRA, and equally convenient to the motorways. At the time of writing, the new airport at Perugia (PEG - Sant´Egidio), in Umbria, was receiving domestic Italian flights and discounters, similar to Ancona (AOI - Falconara) on the eastern coast of Italy.

Ciampino – G.B. Pastine International Airport in Ciampino, Italy, near Rome (IATA/ICAO: CIA/LIRA)

Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, international airport in Fiumicino, Italy, near Rome (IATA/ICAO: FCO/LIRF)

Rome Urbe Airport in Rome, Italy (ICAO: LIRU)

Festivals & events

Bolsena. Antiques market 2nd Sunday of each month.

Marta. La Barabbata May 14. Historic procession with white bulls.

Viterbo. Santa Rosa September 3. Candlelit procession with a 28m/90-foot statue of the saint. Tuscia Opera Festival July-August. www.tusciaoperafestival.com. Antiques market 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month except July-August. Crafts market 3rd Sunday. Piazza dei Caduti and Piazza della Repubblica

Restaurants in Sabine hills

Poggio Mirteto La Vecchia Tipografia 'Recommended, particularly for Sunday lunch.' 2010 Piazza Martiri della Libertà 21 . 0765 1890201
Pizzeria del Poggetto Via Provinciale Stazione 2 . 0765 441233 'Very good food.' 2010
Casperia Friends' Caffè Piazza Umberto I 0765 63761 'Great atmosphere, lovely complimentary canapes but food just simple.' 2010

Don't miss

Italian Journeys offers bright ideas for touring Rome, too. Their team of eight enthusiastic, multilingual guides can design a visit according to your interests and energy level, and they're great with kids, too. There's no way to 'do' Rome in a single day, so why not have Italian Journeys organize a short stay there for you, including a hotel, tours and event tickets, before or after your villa rental.

The Enoteca Crawl: a walking tour with (many) wine and food stops that begins in Campo dei Fiori and finishes in Rome's oldest wine bar near the Spanish Steps.

A special half-day tour for kids, from the Bocca della Verità, an early lie-detector, on to the Colosseum, prototype of modern football stadiums, the Roman Forum and finally, the spooky Catacombs....

Skip the queues on a VIP tour of the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum and the Necropolis. Visit the Coliseum or the Forum with someone who knows the background.

Visit Rome's Jewish Quarter, winding up with lunch at a Roman-Jewish trattoria.