Live La Dolce Vita while discovering art, history and the coolest neighbourhoods in the Italian capital
Why go? The Eternal City has to be a top-ten bucket list destination, right? There’s the two and a half thousand years of history, the mind-blowing monuments and museums, a gelato store on every corner and Vespa riding locals risking life and limb speeding across cobble-stoned piazzas. All of which is very appealing, but scratch the surface, turn left down an alleyway instead of sticking to the main drag and you’ll also discover a world of cool vintage stores, hipster bars and cute restaurants the size of your sitting room.
Best times to visit are late spring (May/June), for some gentle sun and to avoid the Easter holiday crowds, or late summer (September), for similar weather/crowd reasons. Having said that, there will always be hoards of people around the main attractions (trying to get a photo at the Trevi fountain without a pouting/selfie taking group of teenagers getting in the way is a bit of a mission, but there are tricks to get round that – ie go very early in the morning or late at night – simple).
Stay at Villa Spalletti Trivelli, right in the heart of the city, opposite the Quirinale (Presidential palace) and brilliantly located to walk to pretty much everywhere you’ll want to go. This aristocratic town house was a private family home for over a century, until the owners opened it to the public ten years ago. With just 12 rooms and two garden suites it’s the perfect hideaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, combining the luxury and service of a top-notch hotel with the experience of living like Italian nobility.
The elegant drawing rooms overlooking the garden are like stepping back in time, and it’s easy to imagine the house filled with the great and the good of early 20th Century Rome, the guests of Countess Rasponi, who built the villa in 1902 and was President of the National Council of Italian Women.
The room The bedrooms are a grand affair, full of original furniture, paintings and monogrammed linens, with shuttered windows that block out all the light and noise of the city for a perfect night’s sleep. Marble bathrooms are complete with a range of Ren beauty products.
The spa Chill out in the sauna and steam room in the Wellness Centre, which also features a high tech gym. Or head to the roof top bar for a drink with a view while soaking in one of the three new open-air hot tubs.
You really must Book a 7.30am Vatican tour of St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel. An Italian friend gave me this tip, and while it was hard to drag ourselves out of bed at 6.30am on a holiday, it was beyond worth it. Seeing Michelangelo’s magnificent ceiling in the relative calm of just a few dozen other tourists was really special, as was the walk through the Vatican Museum and tour of St Peter’s Basillica with our guide Filumena. Two hours later (this was an Express tour, and unless you’re a hard core art/history fan, definitely long enough) the mind boggling queues to get into the museum and square made the relatively pricey (£45 approx) cost of the tour well worth it.
The Colosseum is another tour worth booking in advance (again we chose an express one for approx £45). Our guide Alessandra was also charming and very knowledgeable and brought to life the remarkable world of Emperors, slaves and gladiators. The rest of the major attractions, you can tick off yourself – all are clearly marked on every hotel map and wandering around you can easily notch up the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Monumento Vittorio Emanuele (aka The Wedding Cake), Piazza Navona plus many ancient Roman ruins in an afternoon. A number of people told me that Rome is like an open-air museum, which is hard to imagine until you’re there, but everywhere you look are sculptures, beautiful villas and marble dedications for countless Popes, we even saw a painting over a grocery store doorway, with the most elaborate sculpted frame.
When it’s time to act like a local, head for the Monti neighbourhood (a five minute walk from the hotel) in the centre of town. The cobbled narrow streets are home to artisans, vintage stores restaurants and bars and it’s considered to be one of the coolest parts of the city. Or go for an early evening stroll across the River Tiber via the island between Ponte Fabricio and Ponte Cestio to get to the Trastevere district, considered to be even cooler than Monti.
The food In Trastavere, drink craft beer, cocktails or a glass of Falanghina wine at retro bar Name Not Found on Via Santa Cecilia, then dine at one of the many nearby restaurants. A Roman friend of a friend recommended Da Teo (Piazza Dei Ponziani), and Da Enzo (Via Santa Cecilia) but we quickly discovered that without a reservation, you ain’t getting in to one of these small family run places. Still, we lucked out when we stumbled on Sette Oche (Via Dei Salumi) which serves delicious pasta and pizza (made with organic flour) and Saltimbocca all Romana (veal with prosciutto and sage) and Straccietti di Manzo (shredded beef in lemon flour). We also loved Piccolo Arancio (Vicolo Scanderburg) another tiny family run place, where we dined on lemon linguine and spaghetti vongole served by a young waiter with the mostly perfectly curled and waxed moustache.
Don’t miss The shopping. You can bring home your very own chiselled marble plaque from La Bottega Del Marmoraro. This tiny shop on Via Margutta is over flowing with small marble plaques and owner Enrico will chisel anything you like – great souvenirs. Fashion fans will love the costume jewellery and vintage buys from the likes of Pucci and YSL at Le Gallinelle, Via del Boschetto, or the leather bags and sandals hand made by the owners of leather shop Ibiz, Via dei Chiavari. And how about a pair of bright red or pink socks as worn by the Pope? Yes you can buy these fabulous cotton socks from tailor to the Pope, Ditta Annibale Gammarelli, Via Santa Chiara.
Book a stay at Villa Spalletti Trivelli with Small Luxury Hotels of the World from €470 in a Romantic Room (two sharing) on a B&B basis or from €900 per night in a Garden Suite (four sharing) (slh.com/villaspalletti; 0800 0482 314).
Citywonders.com offer tours for all the main sites in Rome. For more information check out Romeing.it (a great website written in English by young expats living in Rome)