Easy Escapes: Rome by classic car

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  • Siân Parry explores the Eternal City in a vintage Fiat 500

     Siân Parry explores the Eternal City in a vintage Fiat 500

    Why go?
    For the same reason Audrey Hepburn did in Roman Holiday (youtube.com). That was in 1953, and Rome still feels like one huge and romantic film set. Spend your nights reliving La Dolce Vita and days walking in the footsteps of Elizabeth Taylor, whose love for Richard Burton bloomed whilst filming Cleopatra in the nearby Cinecittà Studios.

    When? If you like things hot, join the super-cool Italians who enjoy high summer in the capital without wilting. Or go in spring or autumn for perfect weather.

    When in Rome… jump in a vintage Fiat 500

    You really must…
    There’s so much to see, from the Colosseum to the cobbled streets of Trastevere, you need a way to get around that’s small, swift and stylish. Rome 500 Experience (rome500exp.com) offers fun tours that use a fleet of tiny Fiat Cinquecentos from the 1960s. Painted in beautiful vintage colours and smelling of leather and engine oil, they’re small enough to zip round the back-alleys and cobbled streets, so you’re not lumbering around like the armies of tourists in their huge coaches.

    Options range from a three-hour city tour (£199) to a seven-hour private drive (£258) to Lake Bracciano and Tivoli in the countryside. Prices are per vehicle which can fit two adults in the front and an adult and a child, or two children, in the back – but there are no seat belts. While you can drive yourself (in convoy), I recommend being chauffered around (the price is the same) in order to enjoy the expert commentary from your sunglasses-and-loafers-wearing driver. In one dreamy morning, my escort Alexander shows me the Vatican, the Circus Maximus, the stunning view from the Aventine Hill and the 1st century Bocca della Verità, a stone mouth that’s said to bite the hands of liars. Best of all, Romans love these little old cars, so when they see you coming they smile, wave and take pictures, so you soon feel like a movie star…

    Italian class: the Jumeirah Grand Hotel Via Veneto

    Stay at: Via Veneto is where much of La Dolce Vita was celebrated in film. It’s Rome’s equivalent of London’s Park Lane, and where many of the swankiest hotels are. Most date from around 1900 but one recent addition is the Jumeirah Grand Hotel Via Veneto (jumeirah.com, doubles from £207). Here two monumental 19th century buildings have been combined to create an elegant 116-room five-star hotel with plush, art deco-style furnishings. There’s a Sisley spa with a vitality pool in the basement, a jacuzzi on the roof and a beautiful terrace overlooking the city walls.

    Dine at: Magnolia, the hotel’s main restaurant, serves tempting Italian dishes but is set deep inside the hotel, so there’s no view. For something with local character, try La Regola (allaregola.it), a Ligurian restaurant one of our Fiat Cinquecento drivers recommends. It’s tucked away in a tiny square near the fruit and flower stalls of Campo de’ Fiori. The ladies who run it make an amazing fritto misto (tempura-battered crudités) and baccalà (cod in a tomato and herb sauce), both as good as anything a Michelin-starred chef might serve. You can eat outside or down in the wine cellar, with main courses around £14.

    Just over the river in Trastevere, the fare at Taverna Trilussa (tavernatrilussa.it) is rustic and hearty with enormous helpings of pasta served straight from the stove. Note that vintage Fiat 500s are tiny, smaller than a classic Mini, so you’ll be wanting to skip lunch… And don’t wear your Louboutins to Trastevere – it’s entirely cobbled and there are few street lights. Before retiring to your hotel, have a nightcap at the iconic Harry’s Bar (harrysbar.it), just across the road at Via Veneto 150.

    Baroque star: the Trevi Fountain

    Bring home: Indulge your inner Elizabeth Taylor at Bulgari’s flagship store, which opened in 1905 at 63 Via dei Condotti – this is the Bond Street of Rome where you’ll find all the best designers. Some beautiful gloves make a good souvenir – Sermoneta (sermonetagloves.com) has an enchanting boutique in Piazza di Spagna that is well worth a visit for its butter-soft leathers in an array of gorgeous colours. Perfume-lovers should seek out Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (smnovella.it) with its heavenly colognes, soaps and candles from Florence that will bring the heady scents of an Italian summer home with you.

    Book now: Monarch (monarch.co.uk) flies to Rome from London Luton, Birmingham and Leeds Bradford, from £72 return. Luxury Link (0808 189 0029; luxurylink.co.uk) offers three nights staying in a deluxe room at Jumeriah Grand Hotel Via Veneto from £885 for two, including private transfers, a VIP welcome including a bottle of prosecco, breakfast, wifi and early check-in and late check-out, subject to availability. Price valid 1 July-30 September 2014 – see the website for more deals staying at luxury hotels, including a section from £149 a night or less.

    Info: See rome.info, turismoroma.it, and timeout.com/rome. DK Eyewitness Rome (£14.99; DK) is a comprehensive guide with a handy removable map. Rome (£14.99; Phoenix) by art historian Robert Hughes is a good read if you want more depth.


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