Formia LT, Lazio
For ancient Romans, the long stretch of coast between Rome and Naples was a prime leisure destination. With a mild climate - not too hot in summer, nor too cold in winter - situated on a lovely coastline and sheltered by inland hills, Formia was at the heart of a string of coastal resorts favoured by Rome's elite. They built grand seashore villas, covering wide areas and sometimes incorporating networks of fishponds, which were both practical and status-enhancing. This was one of the most significant periods in Formia's history. Later the town was reduced to insignificance, before a renaissance as a tourist resort in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when once again Rome's elite constructed stately villas along the coast, sometimes on top of their Roman predecessors. Another era of change occurred after the Second World War, when this strategic port was heavily bombed, resulting in severe loss of life and the near destruction of the town. Consequently, the rebuilt Formia is now a largely undistinguished modern town, sitting on top of a wealth of archaeology.
Nowadays Formia is the commercial and shopping hub for the surrounding area, and the principal departure point for the Pontine islands, with year-round ferry services to Ponza and Ventotene. It's not a typical tourist destination, but a contented and traditional Italian provincial town. However, Formia's location between Rome and Naples and its convenient transport connections make it a practical location to break a journey, especially if you are catching a ferry. And the town's historic sights and archaeological museum make it worthy of an overnight stay or at least a few hours sightseeing. With beaches and easy access to other interesting destinations such as picturesque Gaeta, some travellers may consider a longer stay.
Formia sprawls along the coast, between the sea and a range of barren hills climbing inland. But the town centre is relatively compact. Although this is the sort of place where almost everyone seems to drive a car, the pavements of Formia's main shopping street, Via Vitruvio, are busy with pedestrians out shopping or enjoying a passeggiata. The railway station is a few streets inland, uphill from Via Vitruvio, and the port is about 15 minutes walk from the station, also close to Via Vitruvio, so if you stay centrally, Formia is manageable on foot.