At just 20km from Rome, FRASCATI is the nearest of the Castelli towns and also the most striking, dominated by the majestic Villa Aldobrandini, designed by Giacomo della Porta at the turn of the sixteenth century. The Baroque palazzo is off-limits, but the gardens are open (Mon– Fri: summer 9am–1pm & 3–6pm; winter 9am–1pm & 3–5pm; free). Sadly the elaborate water theatre, where statues once played flutes, no longer spouts in top form, but the view from the front terrace is superb, with Rome visible on a clear day.
Frascati's main square, Piazza Marconi, is right beneath the Aldobrandini villa, and home to a tourist office (Mon– Sat 9am–1pm, Tues & Fri 4–7pm; Tel:06.942.0331). Just beyond here is the pedestrianized old centre, which revolves around the two squares of Piazza San Pietro and Piazza del Mercato just beyond. Frascati is also about the most famous of the Colli Albani wine towns: ask at the tourist office for details of winery tours and tastings, or simply indulge at one of the many enotecas in town – try the historic family enterprise Grappolo d'Oro in Piazza Filzi. To sample rustic, local products, head to one of the stands on Piazza del Mercato or one of the town's many fraschette (taverns) for porchetta (roast pork) sandwich, coppiette (spicy pork jerky), and pecorino (sheep) cheese. For a more formal preparation of artisanal local products, try Signor T just off Piazza del Mercato (Tel:0697.245.123, Web: www.signort.it ; eve only, closed Mon). For accommodation, the Pinocchio Piazza del Mercato 21 (Tel:0694.17.883, Web: www.hotelpinocchio.it ; Price: 51-75), has affordable, stylish rooms and its restaurant specializes in porcini mushrooms, grilled meats, and duck.
Tusculum (always open; free), beautifully sited 5km away on a nearby hill, was an Etruscan centre overrun by Roman patricians. The Emperor Tiberius and orator Cicero both had villas here, but Pope Celestine III destroyed the resort in 1191 and the inhabitants relocated downhill, founding modern-day Frascati. Undergrowth has submerged most of the Roman remains, but there's a small theatre, and the views, again, are fine.