Whenever non-Italian friends ask me what are the quaint towns near Rome I would recommend for a getaway, I immediately think about some of the villages and small cities in the Tuscia region of central Italy. I love the area so much that I go hiking or dining out in these unique destinations a few times each month.
Reasons to visit the region of Tuscia, Italy
Most of the villages in the Tuscia region are undiscovered by foreign travelers. The best time to visit Tuscia is during the summer when the relaxed village atmosphere is balanced with summer festivals and events. Ironically, most of the locals prefer to spend the summer on the incredible Italian coasts, therefore the Tuscia region remains an off-the-beaten-path-destination in Italy throughout the year.
My favorite quaint towns near Rome in the Tuscia region
What links all of these quaint towns near Rome? The area included between the three lakes north of Rome (Bracciano, Vico, and Bolsena), the Saturnia hot-springs, and the Tyrrhenian Coast was the main area of influence of the Etruscan civilization, which flourished in Italy before and partially during the early rise of Rome. The Etruscans descended from a large confederation of “People of the Sea” or “Pelasgians,” expert sailors with a matriarchal society. They used to build their cities on spectacular tuff cliffs and bury their dead in huge necropolis, two of which are in a UNESCO heritage site. They honored the water in its three forms (fresh, marine, and thermal) and celebrated the Mother Goddess. Pretty different from Rome’s patriarchal culture, isn’t it? The territory of Tuscia features dramatic cliffs, gorges, calm lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and ancient villages. It is a perfect destination for hiking near Rome.
The Bracciano Castle on the Bracciano Lake
1. Bracciano town on Lake Bracciano
This is the easiest to reach of these quaint towns near Rome. A 40-minute train ride and you’ll find yourself in the town overlooking the crystal-clear Lake Bracciano. Whether you first walk to the shores of the lake or visit the finely decorated rooms of the medieval Bracciano Castle, you’ll be amazed by the beauty of this little town you can visit on a day-trip from Rome. The lake is perfect for swimming and kayaking, and there are many beach resorts and restaurants, as well as public beaches. Bracciano should be at the top of your list if you’re traveling with kids. The alleys and tiny squares of the historic center around the castle and the church of Santa Maria Assunta hide some panoramic points like the Belvedere La Sentinella, and countless restaurants where you can taste some of the specialties of Tuscia, like porcini mushrooms, lake fish, and homemade pasta.
Tolfa | Picturesque towns near Rome
Halfway from Lake Bracciano to the sea in Civitavecchia, the village of Tolfa is incredibly unplugged from the world outside. Once past the nearest town to Tolfa, kilometers of an isolated road among lush valleys will throw you back into the Middle Ages. The air will be different: among this pure nature it’s 5 degrees colder, but you can warm yourself riding a horse or climbing up the steep odd cliff that embraces the village. The view from the town’s historic center is spectacular. If you aren’t so lucky to visit during the summer festival “Tolfarte,” which is the main social event of the year, come here to relax and forget that Italy is a touristic destination. Once you arrive, visit the craft shops on the main street, try the local delicacies in one of the trattorias, and climb to the Frangipane rock.
Frescoes on the ceiling of a room in Villa Farnese | Caprarola, Tuscia Italy
The town of Caprarola stands out in the region for hosting the most picturesque example of Renaissance architecture and the summer Hazelnut Festival in August. During the 16th century, the powerful Farnese family, after one of their members became Pope Paolo 3rd, built the pentagonal Farnese Palace on the top of the cliff, shaving off the pre-existing medieval village and creating a straight road from the bottom of the hill to the palace. The visit to the Farnese Palace is a must-do activity if you would love to see the most beautiful Renaissance mansion and frescoes in Italy. The panoramic view from the top of the palace and from the public park behind the palace is amazing. Caprarola is a perfect stop on your trip from Rome to Tuscany.
4. Soriano nel Cimino
The town rises on the slopes of Mount Cimino (1,043 m) and has a history longer than 2,000 years. The historian Tito Livio recounts the capture of the Etruscan town and fields by the Romans in the 5th century B.C. The town of Soriano is, indeed, a jewel of the Tuscia region, with the Orsini Castle at its heart, and the ancient alleys and wide views of the lush countryside of Lazio. The highlights are the visit to the beechwood forest on the top of the mountain, a UNESCO heritage site, the guided tour of the castle (for only €3!!!), and the rich Chestnut Festival in October.
6. The spectacular village of Nepi draws its name from the Etruscan word for water or “nepa.” The city is, in fact, also known as the City of Water. The harmonious arcade aqueduct that welcomes visitors at the entrance of the city contrasts with the waterfall rumbling at the back of the Borgia Fortress. This city is mysterious and invites you to explore more in depth. There are many interesting things to do in Nepi, but even if you just go sightseeing or for a coffee in front of yet another Farnese Palace in the Piazza del Comune, you’ll be glad you came in the first place.
View on the Suppentonia Valley from the village of Castel Sant’Elia
6. Castel Sant’Elia
This is one of the tiniest quaint towns near Rome. Since locals continually migrate to the big Viterbo and Rome and travelers don’t know about its incredible beauty, you might think that the place is a perfect retreat destination. So did the Benedictine monks that chose Castel Sant’Elia and its fascinating canyon as the abode of their practice. If you’re lucky enough to visit here, don’t miss the Romanesque Basilica of Sant’Elia (€5), a short hike to the cave hermitage of St. Leonardo, and the breathtaking panoramic view of the Suppentonia Valley.
The village of Sutri lies on the ancient Cassia Road, halfway from Rome to Viterbo. Sutri can boast mythical origins since it’s said to be founded by none other than the God Saturn himself (Saturn = “Sutri”). A sure thing is that the town is at least half a millennium older than Rome. The fortified historic town, whose walls display Etruscan and medieval labor, is charming, with the cobbled streets, shops, and inviting restaurants. However, the first thing to check on your Sutri-to-see list is a visit to the Roman amphitheater and the Etruscan necropolis, both carved into the tender tuff rock typical of the Tuscia region.
Cat relaxing in Calcata
As you approach the dreamy village of Calcata, it will appear very similar to other crag-clinging quaint towns near Rome. But Calcata has a bonus: it is the most lively and hippest of all the villages in Tuscia. Starting in the 70s of the 20th century, many artists and all kinds of unconventional people from all over Italy choose Calcata as their long-term hub, blending harmoniously with the locals. The secluded, reflective atmosphere of the village is therefore cheered up by cute shops, workshops, and art galleries. And, of course, plenty of friendly cats!
9. Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio is no doubt the most popular of the villages in Tuscia. With only a handful of citizens, it gains its livelihood from local and international tourism, but I wouldn’t call it a tourist destination since it’s still off the beaten path. The landscape here is unique and unforgettable, as the hamlet stands out from a valley of calcareous rocks, and you can reach the historic center only via a long panoramic bridge. It’s been the set of several Italian movies. You’ll have to pay €5 for a ticket to enter the village, and you won’t regret it.
Viterbo is the biggest town in the Tuscia region, and could be the perfect base to explore all the other villages I’ve let you know about. The city is completely fortified with medieval walls and hides an enchanting historic center called the “San Pellegrino District.” If you’ve been to Rome and were shocked by the crowds and the tourist scams, you will find your Eden here, instead. Viterbo is rich in restaurants, cafes, and history, and it’s just a short drive away from some of the best hot-springs near Rome.
Pitigliano has been listed as one of the prettiest villages in Italy. Once belonging to the Lazio Region, it’s now a town of Tuscany, sitting on the border between the two Italian regions. You could spend two or three days exploring Pitigliano and its surrounding areas. If you love hiking in nature, you should like it here, where some of the most incredible Etruscan “cut roads” are located. There are a few noble palaces and churches to visit in Pitigliano, as well as “Little Jerusalem,” one of the most ancient Jewish communities in Europe.
The main square in the village of Sovana in Tuscany
A short drive from Pitigliano, the village of Sovana is somewhat more untouched, relaxed, and less commercial. Here the air smells of Tuscany… After you have strolled around the historic center and its fascinating photo spots, don’t say no to the few coins requested to visit the tranquil Cathedral of Sovana, built from the 9th and the 12th century. Don’t be surprised if you start dreaming about relocating here for a while!
13. The village of Bolsena on Lake Bolsena
The village of Bolsena, which dominates the volcanic Lake Bolsena, mustn’t be missed from this list of the most picturesque towns near Rome. It’s as beautiful as the other villages mentioned, but it adds more to your experience because it comes with the biggest lake in Lazio. You can swim, kayak, and windsurf on the lake. You can walk along the lake’s promenade and watch the sunset. The historic city is a perfectly preserved medieval center with a castle you can visit and restaurants that will satisfy your taste buds without emptying your wallet. In Bolsena you will understand that the villages of Lazio are every bit as fascinating as the ones in Tuscany.
This town is for the sea lovers and all the travelers that need to add a coastal town to their itinerary to be happy. The fortified village of Cerveteri is located 44 km from Rome’s historical center and can be your getaway to discover some of the most beautiful beaches near Rome. The perfect period to visit Cerveteri is from April to October. The region is popular for wine and oil, and you can taste most of the local products during the summer festivals. The visit to Cerveteri won’t be complete if you don’t take a stroll inside the incredible Etruscan necropolis or reach the beach to enjoy a romantic sunset on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Hope you’ll put to good use this inspiration for planning your trip to the incredible, quaint towns near Rome in the Tuscia region!