In this five-part series taken from Lonely Planet Magazine (Aug 2010 issue) we show you just where to step off the tourist trail and start exploring the real Italy – from the hills harbouring the country’s finest wines to a coastline to rival the Amalfi.

Like Lake Como and Garda? Try the Lazio Lakes.

Few outsiders have heard of the lakes of Lazio, but the region around Rome harbours brimming volcanic craters, great pools of blue. To the north of the capital lie some of the most beautiful, including Lake Bracciano and its smaller cousin Martignano.

Marco Pasquali is Roman but has lived in Lazio for 18 years and runs a restaurant, Iotto, as well as a local farm that supplies his table. His favourite lake is Martignano, a greenery-fringed escape. Locals on horseback often ride down the steep, dusty paths to its banks. He gazes across the water. 'It's stupendous. A little oasis in the park. Here you can rent sailing boats and go horse-riding. This is the golden triangle for horses – every family has a horse. It's the land of butteri (cowboys). They used to drive the cows to Rome to be slaughtered. From Viterbo to Tuscany, there were cowboys.'

Bracciano, the second largest Lazio lake, is only a quarter of the size of Lago di Como, but has a shoreline of 20 miles. Its banks are punctuated by medieval towns. Anguillara Sabazia, a crown of sand coloured buildings, juts into the lake on a small cape, ringed by dark green shrubs. Trevignano spills all the way down to the water's edge, a cluster of tranquil piazzas. From these viewpoints, the blues of the sky and water, flecked by distant sailing boats, dissolve into the horizon. Swimmers dive off pontoons. This is an Italian secret, framed by pale, shadowy hills. Marco remarks, 'This area remains less visited by the tourists, because everything is centred on the capital. Those who come to Lazio, go to Rome.'

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