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Villages, vineyards and volcanic lakes – the delights beyond Rome’s borders

Simon Calder’s Travel

A fig tree, dropping with fruit, ruffles in the breeze. My guide, Federica, points and cries: “The typical Roman breakfast – focaccia, ham and fig. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty. But these figs are unlike anything you would get in England.”

And neither are the views.

A vast turquoise lake stretches out below me, fringed by dark green Mediterranean pines. From my vantage point, high up in the hills, I can just make out tiny paddle boarders on the surface of the water. In the distance, the pale blue Mediterranean Sea twinkles.

As for the Roman breakfast – we are only a stone’s throw away from the Italian capital.

I’m in the picturesque town of Nemi, one of several medieval villages making up the Castelli Romani region, which sits within the crater of the ancient volcano Vulcano Laziale.

It’s situated on the southern lip of Rome – only 22km from the city centre, made accessible by a direct train service that speeds through the Lazio countryside in just under half an hour.

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An escape from the city

From Castel Gandolfo there are panoramic views of Lake Albano (Getty Images)

While the Eternal City is packed with iconic attractions and a bustling atmosphere, the idea of extending my city break by a couple of days to take in calming vistas of winding hillside trails, chestnut trees and quaint villages was simply too inviting.

With its high altitude and wide open spaces, this sunny region has its own refreshingly cool microclimate, making Castelli Romani a popular holiday destination for Romans – including several popes, who once had a summer residence here in Castel Gandolfo.

While I’m content to meander down cobbled side streets, soaking up the sunshine with a gelato in hand, I soon realise there is much to discover behind the facade of these quiet villages with their deserted town squares.

Community identity

Nemi, for example, is a vision of paint-peeled, sun-bleached buildings with wooden shutters and terracotta tiles – but it’s prettiest attraction by far is it’s vast lake at the bottom of the valley.

It’s a draw for holidaymakers wanting to relax by the shore, but its banks serve a far greater purpose for the town. The mineral-rich soil is perfect for growing tiny wild strawberries that have become synonymous with Nemi.

So beloved are these pint-sized fruits, residents throw a…

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