Lazio is a fascinating region, as rich in history and tradition as it is in art and innovation. Despite technically being one of the most popular destinations for both tourists and business travellers, it is also one of the least explored regions in Italy. Most visitors will indeed head to Lazio, but they will land and stay in Rome. We can’t blame them of course: Rome is a magnificent city and visiting it is a unique experience, but it is nonetheless a pity that the rest of Lazio should go largely undiscovered. There is a whole universe of medieval hamlets, natural wonders, classical and modern architecture, museums and archaeological sites that will provide a rich and diverse experience to the curious tourist and a range of excellent incentive destinations to international business travellers. Here are five amazing locations that you can visit on a budget and that should be included in your next Itinerary through Lazio.
5 things to do in Lazio for free
1. Visit Lake Vico Natural Reserve
This vast and beautiful natural reserve comprises the territory enclosed by what used to be the mouth of a volcano, which sank over 400.000 years ago, creating the lake. Lake Vico is the highest-altitude volcanic lake in Italy, and it is surrounded by a rich and varied ecosystem, comprising woodlands, fields and swamplands and home to an equally rich and diverse wildlife, with a high concentration of marine birds. The lake is a popular spot for local holidaymakers (and in the fair season you should take a day off to go swimming, sailing or bird-watching), but it is also a vital part of the local economy. Its uncommon altitude has made it easy, since pre-roman times, to use it as a source of irrigation for the nearby villages. This, combined with the mineral-rich volcanic soil, allowed the local agriculture to thrive. To this day, the area surrounding the lake boasts a thriving production of chestnuts and hazelnuts. If you take a hike along the Cimini Hills, you will be able to appreciate, from the highest points, the distinctive shape of this caldera lake and of the volcano that originated it.
2. Visit the ancient village of Calcata
This ancient hamlet, located in the Treja valley, is considered to be one of the most beautiful sights in the whole of Lazio. Arriving here in the evening, you will have the sensation of climbing into a fairytale: the village is higher than the surrounding countryside, perched on a sharp ridge, and it looks, from a distance, as if it was hewn from one rock and wrapped in fairy lights. This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times and ancient civilisations settled on this inhospitable hill long before the Romans, leaving behind temples and necropolises that remain, to this day, as a testimony of this region’s rich and complex history. In the 30s, the tuff that constitutes most of the rock on which Calcata was built, started to crumble, causing the local population to flee the village, leaving it practically deserted over the span of two decades. In the sixties, however, the gothic charm of the ghost town started to draw a crowd of artists and craftsmen. There still is a distinct arty vibe about this quaint village, something that suggests a possible alternative to the frantic lifestyle of our modern cities.
3. Visit Civita di Bagnoregio: the dying village
As its population started to decrease, Calcata was briefly dubbed the dying village. One of the reasons the name did not stick (besides the later rebirth), was that it was already taken. Civita di Bagnoregio had claimed it and holds on to it to this day. This ancient village, located in the northern part of the region, on the border with Umbria, was also built on a crest tuff rock and it acquires a particularly dramatic look because of the two deep ravines that run on either side of it, through which two rivers flow: Rio Chiaro and Rio Torbido (literally: Light River and Murky River). Another unique feature of the landscape is the local valley: sharp clay ridges have been shaped by the elements into a grandiose canyon, with peaks, towers and waves. The overall impression is that of a frozen sea storm. Much like Calcata, Civita di Bagnoregio enjoyed a period of prominence and prosperity throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, was progressively abandoned and then revived by modern tourism. Nowadays, the village is only connected to the mainland by means of a long and narrow viaduct.
4. Visit the Sangallo fortress in Nettuno
This impressive fortification, located in the seaside town of Nettuno, was originally part of a defence system that included similar complexes along the Tyrrhenian coast. It was built by the powerful Borgia family in the early XVI Century, to protect the town from sea-borne attacks. By the standards of the age, this was a state-of-the-art masterpiece of military architecture: its thick walls allowed for two separate orders of artillery, shielded by enemy attacks but still able to fire. The original project is attributed to the Borgias’ trusted architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, although some speculate that his brother Giuliano might have contributed to the design. The most distinctive feature of this fortress are the huge ramparts, with rounded off angles and no crenellation. This was the ultimate defensive structure, designed to protect what was referred to as “Lazio’s granary”. After the Borgias, the fortress was owned by several of the most prominent families in Italian history, eventually passing under the control of the Vatican. Nowadays, the Sangallo fortress is home to a civic museum and doubles as a grand event and exhibition venue.
5. Discover the megalithic acropolis of Alatri
Alatri is a small town in the province of Frosinone, in the southern subregion of Lazio known as Ciociaria. This little archaeological and artistic gem that few tourists uncover happens to be one of the most impressive and fascinating cities in central Italy. Alatri is also known as the “City of Cyclops”, because of its perfectly preserved megalithic acropolis, one of the last remnants of this kind of settlements, that are scattered throughout the region and whose origins are shrouded in mystery and the stuff of legends. This particular settlements dates back to the VI-VII Century b.C. and, not unlike the pyramids, the manner of its construction is still puzzling for modern-day architects, archaeologists and engineers. The sheer size of the boulders that were used to build this enormous fortification makes the process of its construction unfathomable. Much like a dry wall, it was built by stacking irregularly-shaped stones to build a solid barrier, with the uncanny precision of a gigantic mosaic. On the stairway that leads to the south entrance, several inscriptions can be found, which date back to the Middle Ages and whose meaning has been only partially deciphered, whereas the northern entrance is decorated with phallic symbols attributed to pre-roman civilisations.