As sure as tiger mosquitoes, stampeding tour groups and migrating swallows, the arrival of summer in Italy is heralded by the publication of Touring Club Italias guide to the countrys best beaches. The Guida Blu is compiled with the help of environmental agency Legambiente, and rates beaches on the basis of water quality, natural and urban landscape and tourist amenities. Surprisingly, considering the environmental emphasis of the guide, it doesnt rate beaches on their accessibility by public transport, and only gives directions for how to reach them by car. According to figures published in the Italian daily La Repubblica in May, about 8.3 million Italians and 4.5 million foreigners take to Italys beaches between June and September. For those unable or unwilling to join the resulting weekend traffic jams and parking nightmares, here is a selection of beaches, some of which are listed in the Guida Blu, that are within an hours travelling time south of Rome by bus or train.

Lido di Ostia deserves a mention for what must be record-

breaking deckchair density and constant commotion. The first Sunday in June saw an estimated 400,000 visitors descend on the areas beaches. This popularity cannot, unfortunately, be attributed to clean water or a charming town, but simply to convenience, as Ostia is the nearest seaside resort to Rome. It is just half an hour by train from Piramide metro station, although this does not seem to deter the vast majority of Romans from making the journey by car.

The situation is slightly less chaotic some ten km south of Ostia, at the sand dunes of Capocotta. The once-infamous nudist beach, which had a reputation as the site of hedonistic parties, has cleaned up its act in recent years, and is now run by a Rome city council-backed consortium of kiosks (not quite stabilimenti see box). This stretch of coastline is relatively pristine for Lazio, since it is next to the Castel Porziano hunting reserve of the president of the republic, and within the Parco del Litorale Romano. The area also gets a mention in the Guida Blu for the scuba-diving possibilities of the protected marine area Secche di Tor Paterna three miles off the coast. Capocotta is about eight km from the Cristoforo Colombo train station, the last stop on the Rome-Lido line. At the station you can rent a bicycle and pedal down the coast, or wait for the Mare 2 bus, a spacious jumbo shuttle that goes as far south as Torvajanica, departing every ten minutes. The route is mirrored by the Mare 1 line which goes north along the coast from Cristoforo Colombo to Ostias tourist marina.

Further south, Anzio is a good base from which to get to a number of beaches. Trains go from Romes central Termini station every hour, but the journey through the industrial wasteland of mid-Lazio often takes longer than the scheduled 60 minutes. Anzio is a sleepy town with plenty of restaurants, cafes and boutiques. The port has a nostalgic atmosphere, with fishermen selling their catch directly from their boats in the afternoon. The best thing to do if you want to explore the surrounding coastline is to rent a bicycle, for example from Salvatores shop in Via L. Mahara 14 (ask for directions at the station), tel. 339/2460032. It costs e10 for half a days rental.

The beach at Villa di Nerone is within cycling or even walking distance from the centre of Anzio, and is easy to find because it is right beneath the citys lighthouse. Here you can sunbathe on the remains of Neros villa and find shade inside the grotte di Nerone, which are not really caves but the remains of Roman warehouses hailing back to the towns ancient port days.

The nature reserve of Tor Caldara, about six km north of Anzio, is a beautiful but melancholy indication of what Lazios coast must have looked like before the construction rampage began. Only 44 ha in size, it is wedged between two densely built-up areas. The reserve is open Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 09.00-18.30 (summer), 09.00-16.00 (winter). Sulphur-rich water oozes from the coastal rocks, so make sure you pitch your sunbed upwind from this smelly natural phenomenon. Tor Caldara can be reached by walking from the Villa Claudia train station (two stops before Anzio), or by cycling north along the coast road from Anzio.

For a rather different beach experience try swimming in the crater lakes of two long-inactive volcanoes, Lake Albano and Lake Nemi in the Alban hills to the south-east of Rome. Their fire-and-lava heritage is now betrayed only by black beach sand and fertile grape-growing soil. The dazzling water of Lake Albano, the larger of the two, is accessible with a brief downhill walk from the Castel Gandolfo train station, but to get to little Lake Nemi you need to take a bus.

More than just a deckchair

Holiday paradise for some, a refined form of torture for others, stabilimenti balneari, or bathing establishments, are an inescapable feature of Italian beaches, and most of them offer much more than the standard deckchair and umbrella rental. Some seaside holidaymakers spend up to 12 hours a day at their chosen stabilimento, a trend that has encouraged the centres to expand their services. Many now have bars, restaurants, even discos, and offer sports, courses (from languages to cookery) and childrens activities. After last years rainy August, stabilimenti are also trying to diversify their offer to include wet-weather activities. The more fashionable stabilimenti cater for the seasons latest fads, which this year include ayurvedic massage and beach fitness whole gyms complete with weight machines, spinning cycles and seafront step classes.

Prices vary according to how fashionable and well-equipped the establishment is. Be sure to shop around, since centres play on hot-and-bothered bathers settling for the first deckchair they find, and do not give out prices over the telephone. By law, the first five metres of the beach from the waters edge are a spiaggia libera, a free area without amenities and open to all. Dont try to get comfortable there though; the area is reserved as a thoroughfare for walkers and lifeguards.

Picture: Archaeology and sunbathing mix at the Villa di Nerone beach near Anzio.