The regions of Italy are similar to the states in America, administrative areas that can be as different as Texas is to Vermont. Over the years, a few of Italy's regions have become household names in the United States thanks to books, films and travel. Most people will have heard of Tuscany, Umbria, and Sicily.
The mention of Tuscany brings visions of rolling hills, vineyards and the names of a number of well-known books; Umbria might stir thoughts of hill towns, St. Francis of Assisi and Perugino chocolate; and Sicily might first be thought of as the original home of the Mafia although there is much more to Sicily than the mob.
Foreigners by the droves have purchased rustic farm houses in these areas, restored them and rented them to even more foreigners in a way that perpetuates the love for these famous regions.
But there are 20 regions in Italy and each has their own peculiarity that makes it special to Italians, but is often overlooked by visitors planning a visit. That is not to say the tourists don't flock to all parts of the country, but they probably don't choose Venice (in the Veneto region), the Cinqueterre (in the Liguria region) or to the Dolomites for hiking and skiing (in the Alto Adige region) because of their familiarity with the regions. And of course tourists flood Rome, which is not only the capital of Italy, as most people know, but they probably didn't know it is also the capital of the Region of Lazio.
The vast majority of Lazio is often overlooked by tourists, who leave Rome and head for the more famous regions that surround it. But Italians know well that there are a lot of treasures to be found here, and the regional government --- happy to take more of the tourist dollars -- is eager to promote it.
There are a few things that Lazio is known for that you may already have heard of. Frascati wine is known around the world a light white that is good with almost every kind of food. Frascati is a small town just south of Rome in the Castelli Hills. Nearby Frascati is Castel Gandolfo, the summer home of the Pope.
And while the beaches of Sicily or the Adriatic Riviera might draw more people, the long, white Mediterranean beaches of Sperlonga and Sabaudia -- divided by the Circeo, the mountain that that inspired some of the tales of Ulysses – are beautiful. Ponza, a small island a few hours boat ride off the coast from Anzio is a summer playground for the Italian elite, but not crowded with tourists like on the more famous Capri and Stromboli islands to the south.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes know the beauty of Lazio because they chose to get married in a castle on the shores of Lake Bracciano to north of Rome. Lazio also has other large, clean lakes like Bolsena and Vico where you can enjoy summer activities without the hoards.
And while Italians have recently begun buying up second homes in the Sabina hills only an hour or so the east of Rome, few foreigners have discovered the peaceful hill towns nestled against the Apennine Mountains and that so far remain much more affordable than the properties in Tuscany and Umbria.
But to really judge a region on its merits you should do like an Italian does – and talk about them in terms of their foods and wines.