Updated: Nov 5, 2018
Whether your interests lie in art, architecture, history, food, fountains or shopping, Rome pretty much tops the scales as a place to visit, as LYNN ELSEY explains. The only downside is having to leave.
The best way to experience Rome is to be a part of it. And there is no better way than living, albeit temporarily, in a historic villa. Villa Spalletti Trivelli, a sublime, atmospheric, family-owned hotel ticks all the boxes. It is close to the major sights but hidden away in a surprisingly peaceful location.
The understated elegance and low key ambiance allows guests to experience regal life in a five-star retreat. From having coffee and biscotti in the tapestry-lined drawing rooms to relaxing in the private outdoor garden, the hospitality extends to free minibars in the spacious rooms and complimentary drinks in the evenings.
The hotel also offers two garden suites with private courtyards and a range of personalised services, including having meals created by private chef and wine tasting at the family’s vineyard. With service as splendid as the surroundings, you won’t want to leave. Better yet, marry into the family.
Bars are second homes to Italians. More than just a place to get a beer, Italians come here to for coffee, croissants, a quick lunch or an aperitivo as well as for a glass of wine or beer.
If you are looking for an exceptionally stylish, peaceful and only-in-Rome experience, spend an hour or two at the Stravinskij Bar at the Hotel de Russie. The hotel, which is located in the famed Via Condotti shopping district, is a well- known haven for fashionistas so it comes as no surprise that sitting in the bar’s lovely outdoor piazza feels like stepping into a page of Vogue magazine; Versace to your right, Prada to your left and leggy blondes all around.
The drinks are as dramatic as the clientele and come with Sydney- like prices, but you also get an array of delicious appetizers and no one will mind if you nurse one drink for hours.
If you are looking for something that feels more like a trendy Euro bar, Salotto42, in Piazza di Pietra, will probably fit the bill.
Rome, like most of Italy, has an enviable and seemingly endless supply of great local cuisine; Australians will take extra delight at the more than reasonable prices. Serious foodies will undoubtedly embark on some detailed sleuthing before arriving to create their own shortlist of places to eat, which might include Heinz Beck’s famed La Pergola.
On the other hand, if you are just happy to be in Rome and don’t want to spend too much energy or time trying to track down a specific Michelin-starred ristorante, you
can find really good food almost anywhere, as long as you steer clear of the obvious tourist playgrounds (cafes lining Piazza Navona, for example) and pick a menu without photos of food.
Armando al Pantheon, in the middle of the centro storico, is a perennial favourite. The trattoria’s reasonable prices, good selection of local dishes and great location is why it appears on nearly every “Best dining” list and in many guidebooks.
Although word is getting out, the Monti area, a vibrant dining and shopping area near the Colosseum and Forum, is still more local than tourist. In the early evening, the action takes place in the Piazza, where young and old come to drink and chat. Favourite dining options include Trattoria Monti, La Taverna dei Monti and Ai Tre Scalini.
One of the city’s hippest and most popular food and drink emporiums, Roscioli, should come with a warning notice to anyone who loves food. The gourmet deli, wine shop, bakery and restaurant is one of those places you stop by for just a minute and emerge hours later.
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Trying to see it all in one visit is, well, impossibile. Attempting to experience even a tenth of Rome’s treats in a few days will result in exhaustion and frustration – there is too much ground to cover and not enough time to let the beauty and amazement sink in. Consider breaking up visits to the big ticket places – the Vatican Museums, St Peter’s, Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon – with unscheduled and unstructured time. Spend an hour or two wandering around the backstreets without a map, stick your nose into a random church, you’ll often find a stunning display of art hidden behind a nondescript interior, with no tourists in sight.
Plan on visiting some of your other ‘must do’s, including the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and Spanish Steps, at either ends of the day, which usually translates into fewer crowds and more interesting light. On the other hand, the Via Condotti shopping area is infinitely more interesting late in the afternoon or early evening when the cafes are filled with stylish Italians.
If you are visiting Rome in peak season, buying tickets ahead of time or even booking a private tour for some of the main attractions is worth the effort; it will save time in queues.
When you have had your fill of fountains and gold-flecked frescoes, start getting blasé about Michelangelo and tire of winding you way through crowds of gelato- eating tourists, it’s time for a break.
Spending an hour or two on the seat of a bike might be just the thing. One of the best options is the Appian Way, part of Rome’s original roadway, circa 312 BC, that linked Rome to the Adriatic port of Brindisi. Today a 15-kilometre section has been preserved as a park, with a paved road and catacombs.
You can rent bikes (traditional and electric) and pick up useful information about the park at EcoBike, in the park’s tourist office.
Villa Borghese Gardens, the third largest public park in Rome, offers
a welcome respite from the city’s noise, heat and tourists. A short walk from many of the city’s sights, the park offers acres of strolling around neoclassical buildings, lakes, fountains, theatres and sculptures.
It also houses the fabulous Villa Borghese, a superb collection of art from the 16th to the 18th century, including masterpieces by artists Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio. Runner take note, the gardens are one of the best places to go for a run in the city.
Out of Town
If time allows, Tivoli, a short train or car trip from the centre of Rome, offers two enticing UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Villa d’Este a 16th- century villa is a showpiece of Italian Renaissance culture, gardening and innovation. Its terraced gardens are filled with grottoes, music, statues and truly amazing water fountains.
In its heyday, as the imperial residence of the Roman emperor Hadrian, Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana), spread over an area twice the size of Pompeii with more than 30 buildings including full-scale reproductions of the emperor’s favourite Greek and Egyptian building. Today the remains of the complex demonstrate Hadrian’s power along with remarkable Roman architecture and building in the 2nd century in a peaceful setting.
Originally published in the October 2017 edition of the NSW Law Society Journal.