Rome - Off the beaten track
The Giancolo hill is a good place to take the kids if they need a break. Rising up behind Trastevere and stretching to St Peter's, it also affords a fabulous panoramic view of Rome.
For children, thrills abound. At the top of the hill, just off Piazza Garibaldi, there is a permanent merry-go-round and pony rides. A puppet show is regularly performed, and a cannon is fired daily at noon.
From the 4th century BC until the invasions of the 5th century AD, Ostia was a bustling port city of merchants, sailors and slaves. Situated at the mouth of the Tiber River, the ruins today provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the empire's plebs, contrasting with the more up-market ruins at Pompei. Ruins to look out for include the city's entrance, known as the Porta Romana, the Terme di Nettuno baths, the theatre, the mosaic-filled Piazzale delle Corporazioni (merchants' offices), the opulent residence known as Domus Fortuna Annonaria and the well-preserved Casa di Diana, as well as the usual assorted temples, forums and warehouses. Ostia Antica has a good museum, housing statues, mosaics and wall paintings found at the site.
Several important Etruscan archaeological sites, overbrimming with tombs, lie within easy reach of Rome. To help arrest the deterioration of these fragile remains, most sites are viewed from behind glass. One of the most important cities of the Etruscan League of city-states was Tarquinia, believed to have been founded in the 12th century BC. It was home to the Tarquin kings, who ruled Rome before the Republic. The necropolis here contains tombs richly decorated with frescoes, and the medieval town features several churches and the National Museum, full of Etruscan treasures, including a beautiful terracotta frieze of winged horses taken from the Etruscan site. Cerveteri was founded in the 8th century BC, and is famous today for the tombs known as tumoli, great mounds of earth with carved stone bases. Veio was once the largest city in southern Etruria, but today the only remains from this period are portions of a swimming pool and the lower section of a temple.
This hilltop resort town has been a popular summer playground for the rich and famous since ancient times. Ancient pleasures are evoked by Villa Adriana, Emperor Hadrian's summer hideaway. Although the site was successively plundered over the millennia for its building materials, enough remains to convey its former size, architectural sophistication and general magnificence. Highlights include an island villa (where Hadrian spent his pensive moments), the Imperial palace with its piazza of gold, and the remains of the baths complex.
Renaissance glories are still intact at the Villa d'Este, most famous for its fabulous landscaped gardens and mischievous fountains. The villa was built for Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, grandson of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. Its prime attractions lie in the views of the gardens and fountains gained from its windows. In the gardens, water cascades into the air, pours down terraces, glides in horizontal pools and shoots unexpectedly from the mouths and nipples of statues.
Although its traditionally proletarian nature is changing as the crumbling palazzi become gentrified, a stroll among the labyrinthine alleys of Trastevere still reaps small gems of a bygone past. Washing strung out from the apartments in best Mama-leone tradition has everyone sighing and reaching for the Kodaks.
The lovely Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is the area's heart. It's a true Roman square - by day peopled by mothers with strollers, chatting locals and guidebook-toting tourists, by night with artisans selling their craft work, young Romans looking for a good time, and the odd homeless person looking for a bed. The streets east of the piazza is where you'll find the most photographed washing in the world.