Rome is not a cool or trendy place, it is timeless. In a way, this is a good thing: Without the pressure of looking for the new “it” place, we can focus on what works best for each of us. The rules of the game are simple: Avoid places patronized by tourists or kids. After that, anything goes.
Papal city: (top) St Peter’s Square is a popular tourist spot in Rome; and a fountain at Piazza Navona, at night.
The best season to be in Rome is May-June, when it’s not too hot and crowded and the whole city is blossoming. Alternatively, September-October, when it’s not hot and crowded any more and people are relaxed after their summer holidays. Riding a scooter is mandatory; there’s no better way to enjoy a breeze and get to any place in 20 minutes (one of the many places to rent a scooter: amoromascooterent).
I like to start my day early with an espresso at Caffè Sant’Eustachio; everybody knows about this place but it’s still considered the best in town. A jog in one of our many parks gives me an excuse for later indulgences: Villa Ada when I want some incline, Villa Borghese if I feel like enjoying local beauties.
A quick shower and then maybe some sightseeing. The great thing about Rome is that everybody goes to the 10 or so must-see places (from the Colosseum to the Vatican museums—and if you do go, don’t queue, book your visit!). This leaves us dozens of wonderful, almost deserted places. Stendhal wrote that it takes seven lives to know Rome and I am (hopefully) less than halfway through my first, so I would go to the Etruscan museum, set in a Renaissance villa and full of little-known masterpieces.
When it’s time for some appetizers and pasta, head to Pierluigi, right in the centre of the city, with a few tables outside and an excellent cellar. Otherwise, there’s Ditirambo, with a slightly more unexpected selection of dishes. In the afternoon, I might go for a walk to Via del Governo Vecchio, lined with quirky little clothes shops, or Via dei Coronari for antiques, prints, or plain old funky junk.
Before dinner sometimes I like to go for a drink with friends; for serious wine tasting, Trimani— one of the oldest places in Rome and still run by the founder’s family—is a favourite; otherwise the Caffè della Pace (5, Via della Pace, tel: 06-6861216 ), right behind Piazza Navona, is a great meeting place. From there I often go for the most local of foods, pizza. Only thin crust, brick oven, everything fresh will do and La Montecarlo offers all this plus traditional appetizers with a refreshing no-nonsense attitude. A great seafood place patronized mostly by locals is Ottavio (9, Via di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, tel: 06-7020520, 06-7028595; reserve ahead).
Friends from abroad often wonder why there’s so little ethnic food in Rome; the answer is that our idea of ethnic is a Neapolitan, Tuscan or Sicilian restaurant—you wouldn’t believe how different the regional cuisines are. Speaking of which, a place where food is (almost) as good as at my Sicilian grandmother’s is La Norma (731, Via Flaminia Vecchia, tel: 06-3330210).
For a cocktail and some people-watching, I might go to the Trastevere neighbourhood, Raffaello (Art Cafe Raffaello, 12, Via del Politeama, tel: 06-58340693) and Beige are adjacent to each other and both have competent bartenders and a good vibe. To end the day on a sweet note, it has to be ice cream at San Crispino, near the Trevi Fountain.
(Some of the weblinks are available only in Italian.)
Carmelo Salleo is an economist who has spent most of his lifetime in Rome, navigating its chaos and enjoying it thoroughly.
YOU CAN’T GO TO ROME AND SKIP…
• Exploring Ostia Antica: This harbour city of ancient Rome is an archaeological park some 30km west of the Italian capital, and a must-visit if you’re interested in history. Click here to download a map and, after paying an entrance fee of €6.50, you can pretty much explore a site that, in its oldest parts, dates back to 400 BC. From three-storeyed apartments to wine bars and community baths, history comes to life here.
• Visiting Montefiascone, on Bolsena Lake: The largest volcanic lake in Europe is located on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, about 140km from Rome. Most easily accessed by road, the Montefiascone village dates back to the Middle Ages. If you’ve had enough of ruins though, drink in the 360-degree panorama of the historical region of Tuscia. Or simply drink the excellent wines produced locally—or even the extra-virgin olive oil. Click here for more details.
• Investigating the parks: Did you know 64% of the area under “Rome town” is actually parkland? RomaNatura is in charge of 80,000 acres of archaeological sites, villas, castles and gardens that are home to around 1,000 species of plants and 150 species of birds, mammals and amphibians. More: There are guided tours, concerts and night walks planned through the year. On 13 December, there’s a Christmas-themed market at Valle dei Casali Nature Reserve and on 20 December, a jazz concert at Parco di Veio. Click here for full details.
PARTY HERE ON 31 DECEMBER…
• Because the whole city will join in. Rome’s street square parties are famous affairs, and very safe if you stick to the popular, centrally located spots. At the Piazza del Popolo, the site of the main celebrations, enjoy live rock and classical music and plenty of high-spirited camaraderie. Be aware, though, that street parties attract major crowds—so plan your transportation and arrive early.
• Not your scene? A little distance away from the Piazza del Popolo is the Hotel de Russie, where soft candlelight, live music and the services of Michelin-starred chef Fulvio Pierangelini will make for a night to remember at €700 per person. Bookings are essential: Call +39-06-32888870 or email email@example.com
NEED MORE REASONS TO BE IN ROME?
• St Peter’s Square: On Christmas Eve, all eyes are on St Peter’s Square. You can catch the Papal Midnight Mass and one of the most impressive live nativity scenes.
• Christmas shopping: Christmas season begins here on 8 December and so does Christmas shopping. One of the best Christmas markets is at Piazza Navona. Decorations, nativity figurines, street performances and Italian cuisine make shopping here an experience. Also try Via del Corso and Via Condotti for good deals.
• One Hundred Nativity Scenes: A Christmas crib exhibition at Sala del Bramante, showcasing the works of almost 200 artists from around the world and with styles ranging from Sicilian to postmodern. Click here for details.
• Blessing animals: To ensure that all pets and livestock go to heaven, the Romans bless them at a special ceremony on the steps outside St Eusebio Church after morning mass on 17 January.
• Leonardo da Vinci Machines Exhibition: This show allows you to both see and use da Vinci’s machines, many of these being precursors to modern-day machines. The exhibition is on till 30 April. Click here for more information.