SPOTLIGHT ON ROME
Your essential insiders guide to the eternal city
From its Michelangelos to its MAXXI museum, and with good food never out of fashion, Rome's past and present combine to make the city simply unmissable. WORDS BY RAMSAY SHORT PHOTOGRAPHS BY LORENZO PESCE
WELCOME TO ROME
EVERY YEAR YOU DON'T VISIT THE ETERNAL CITY is an opportunity missed. The beauty, grandeur and history of the place is so magnificent to behold that before long you'll find yourself asking "Why don't I live here?" Walk for hours, jump on and offtrams, pop in and out of art galleries, ba le faux gladiators at the Colosseum, munch bucatini all'amatriciana (pasta with pork cheek, tomato and pecorino), and sip aperitivos by the Tiber. It never, ever gets boring. Rome is culturally overwhelming, not just for its ruins and ancient churches, but for its thriving contemporary scene of art, nightlife, architecture and cuisine. All around you, there's a stimulating contrast between the traditional and new. Rules of engagement are simple. Take it easy, there's so much to see that if you try to keep to a schedule you may find yourself losing your cool. Rome is one of those places that will show you what it wants when it wants, so relax and let the day unfold as it will. Get yourself a Roma Pass, a multi-entrance card costing €30, valid for three days and giving free entrance to any two sights, reduced entry to many others and free public transport (www.romapass.it). It makes such a difference. Have long lunches, strike up conversations and hang out amid the sculptures of Piazza Navona or on the Spanish Steps, eating gelato and people watching. Or find somewhere quieter and more contemplative like the Protestant Cemetery, filled with cats and the dead famous - John Keats, William Story and Antonio Gramsci. When in search of some retail therapy, make a beeline for original boutiques over the chain stores - Rome has hundreds to choose from. A good example is Spazio If, an art gallery and fashion and home store in one. But the biggest collection of boutiques is on the winding cobbled Via del Governo Vecchio, perfect for a spot of window shopping.
At a Glance 5 MUST-DOS
01 EAT GELATO AT SAN CRISPINO I'll brook no argument on this one. The best ice cream in town is to be found at this counter-service joint in an alley behind the Trevi Fountain. No emulsifiers, all natural ingredients, and the flagship honey -flavoured gelato is just incredible. 42 Via della Panetteria, tel. +39 06 679 3924, www.ilgelatodisancrispino.it 02 SEE THE SISTINE CHAPEL If there's one must-see during a weekend break in Rome with so much going on and so little time, it remains the Cappella Sistina. The world's most famous frescoes cover the interior, with the ceiling works by Michelangelo the centrepiece. Heart-stopping. Viale Vaticano, tel. +39 06 6988 4676, www.vatican.va 03 VISIT THE MAXXI All bending oblong tubes, intersecting and overlapping, this Zaha Hadid-designed building is a fitting home for the National Museum of 21st-Century Art. It's divided into art and architecture spaces, and hosts world-class shows. 4A Via Guido Reni, tel. +39 06 322 5178, www.fondazionemaxxi.it 04 WALK THE STREETS OF TRASTEVERE BY NIGHT The narrow, cobbled streets of this picturesque neighbourhood on the Tiber's west bank are as romantic as Rome gets. Wait till sundown, then amble through them, stopping off at a buzzing terrace bar for an aperitivo and a kiss from your loved one under the stars. 05 BUY A HAT FROM FRATELLI VIGANÒ Not your obvious one, but for people who love their hats (as do I), this ancient and atmospheric shop on Via Marco Minghetti is one not to miss. Crammed full of trilbys, bowlers and fedoras, it was established in 1873 - proving that true style never dies! 7 Via Marco Minghetti, tel. +39 06 679 5147
Culture TAKE IT ALL IN
ROME IS ONE OF THE MOST culturally rich cities in the world, boasting 2,800 years of history. With so much to see, make sure you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure that return visit. Ancient sites are everywhere but the majority of remains lie between the Palatine, Capitoline, Esquiline and Quirinal hills. Here you'll find the Roman Forum, Colosseum and the Palatine itself, from where Rome was founded. When the city heats up, head inside to admire the paintings of Caravaggio and Titian in the 06 Borghese Gallery (5 Piazzale del Museo Borghese, tel. +39 06 841 3979), classical art in 07 Palazzo Massimo (1 Largo di Villa Peretti, tel. +39 06 3996 7700), or the contemporary art and architecture of new institution MAXXI (see previous page). Another welcome addition to the city's 21st-century cultural scene is 08 MACRO (Via Nizza / Via Cagliari, tel. +39 06 671 070 400), a contemporary arts venue that occupies a former Peroni beer plant in the north-east of the city. There's a second outpost, 09 MACRO Testaccio (4 Piazza Orazio Giustiniani), to the south too - don't miss photographer Steve McCurry's retrospective showing there until 29 April. The Renzo Piano-designed 10 Auditorium Parco della Musica (30 Viale Pietro de Coubertin, tel. +39 06 8024 1281) was opened in 2002. It boasts three performance halls resembling huge beetles, built around an outdoor amphitheatre. Enjoy a show, experience the exceptional acoustics, and finish with a drink at trendy bar-restaurant ReD. There are more churches than pizzerias in the Eternal City - and one you should really try to see is the 400-year-old "church of illusions", 11 Sant'Ignazio (8A Via del Caravita). If you stand on a disk set into the floor and look up at Andrea Pozzo's trompe l'oeil ceiling fresco, the artist's foreshortening creates a realistic illusion of Saint Ignatius flying to paradise. Of course you have to see 12 The Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda). Built in around 120AD, Emperor Hadrian's temple stands as a testament to Roman skill and ingenuity. To this day, no one quite knows how the concrete dome, 43m wide, with light streaming in from the central oculus, stays up.
Check In WHERE TO STAY
JUST AS IT'S HARD TO FIND a bad bowl of pasta in Rome, you're highly unlikely to suffer a poor night's sleep here either. One of the most visited cities on Earth, it boasts stylish boutique accommodation, pure luxury options for those who want to splash out, and a wide variety of cheap, clean B&Bs. The one rule of thumb is to book early - this city is always packed. For a bit of classic Italian style, the 13 Hotel Quirinale (doubles from €139, 7 Via Nazionale, tel. +39 06 4707) can be found on Via Nazionale, not far from the Termini railway and bus station (where you'll arrive from Ciampino airport). It's gorgeous, all marble interiors, smart wood panelling and impeccable service. There's a delightful courtyard garden for sunny morning breakfasts too - a real bonus in the heart of the city. For cool looks, try Design Hotels member 14 Leon's Place (doubles from €200, 90–94 Via XX Settembre, tel. +39 06 890871), just north of Termini and a short walk from sights like the Trevi Fountain. This 19th-century palazzo, and one-time disco, feels more Studio 54 than Roman villa. The 56 rooms are smart and sexy, with large mirrors and a black, white and pearl-grey colour scheme. Smaller, cheaper, and in a great location near Piazza Navona is the 15 Relais Palazzo Taverna (doubles from €180, 92 Via dei Gabrielli, tel. +39 06 2039 8064, relais). With just 11 rooms and a modernist take on 1960s decor, it's a friendly city retreat. The Trastevere neighbourhood may be further away from the centre, but its ancient streets and abundance of unpretentious local restaurants make it an a ractive option. At 16 Guesthouse Arco de' Tolomei (doubles from €200, 27 Via Arco de’ Tolomei, tel. +39 06 5832 0819) there's a real old family feel. The medieval palazzo is made up of a mere six rooms, filled with antiques and elegant furnishings. For a more monastic setting, the 17 Hotel Santa Maria (doubles from €230, 2 Vicolo del Piede, tel. +39 06 589 4626) is set around a 16th-century cloister. The bright and cheery rooms look out onto a courtyard bordered with orange trees, bringing an Italian countryside feel to the city.
Eat Out WHERE TO DINE
ROME IS ABOUT EATING and taking your time over it, so it's worth seeking out places offthe beaten track. Don't go international - if you have only a few days in the Eternal City, why go off-topic? Eat Italian and drink Italian (good wine lists abound). It's that simple. 18 Salumeria Roscioli (21 Via dei Giubbonari, tel. +39 06 687 5287) is an historic family run bakery and enoteca near Campo de' Fiori, which has a food counter at the front packed with fresh ingredients. Order some flatbread pizza bianca as a snack on your way in, and wine al bicchiere (by the glass), before strolling through to the tables at the back and choosing from the main menu. Try the Sicilian fusilli with swordfish, aubergines and cherry tomatoes or, in season, the white truffle menu. Also family run, 19 La Tavernaccia (63 Via Giovanni di Castel Bolognese, tel. +39 06 581 2792) is in the Monteverde neighbourhood, and as local as you can get. Traditional fare like home-cooked lasagna, seasonal vegetables, pasta and grilled meat and fish are all served up at fair prices, meaning you will be happily stuffed. For perfect pizza, there is Gabriele Bonci's 20 Pizzarium (43 Via della Meloria, tel. +39 06 3974 5416) - a legend since 2003 - where Rome's maestro of dough sells incredible four-sided, stone-milled organic flour pizzas, with toppings from classic tomato sauce to rabbit. Don't miss his "supplì" either - delicious li le fried rice balls with fillings. More upmarket in the centro storico is 21 Fortunato del Pantheon (55 Via del Pantheon, tel. +39 06 679 2788), a roomy joint serving traditional Italian cuisine, popular with the political class. Opt for the daily chef's specials, particularly those with fresh fish, or something uncomplicated like the spicy penne all'arrabbiata. For something relaxed and romantic, try 22 Roma Sparita (24 Piazza di Santa Cecilia, tel. +39 06 580 0757), with its tables set outside on gorgeous Piazza di Santa Cecilia in our favourite neighbourhood, Trastevere. The menu of simple cucina Romana is slight but wonderful, with their signature dish the tagliolini cacio e pepe, pasta with pecorino cheese and pepper.
Nightlife WHERE TO PARTY
A NIGHT OUT in Rome goes like this. Aperitivo, preferably a negroni cocktail (Campari, Martini Rosso and gin) at a street-side bar; dinner and much wine; coffee and pick-me-up at another bar; and finally, a er midnight, clubbing till the early hours. The majority of party venues are located in the same areas, such as Monte Testaccio, Via Libe a, the centro storico, San Lorenzo, and Trastevere - perhaps the best place to start. Here, the rough, ready and cheap 23 Bar San Calisto (3–5 Piazza San Calisto, tel. +39 06 583 5869) fills with arty types, musos and intellectuals of an evening, drinking Peroni beer and alcoholic coffees, the atmopshere buzzing out onto the piazza late into the night. Not too far away is the hip to the lip 24 Freni e Frizioni (4–6 Via del Politeama, tel. +39 06 4549 7499), a former garage with contemporary art on the walls and plenty of loud, hedonistic boozing at night. The mojitos and caipirinhas are the cocktails of choice, it has its own bustling piazza and there's quality music (no commercial Europop to be found here). Over in the centro storico near Campo de' Fiori - a piazza whose drinking spots are popular with foreign students - 25 Il Vinaietto (38 Via Monte della Farina, tel. +39 06 6880 6989) is a neighbourhood wine bar with a great selection of Italian tipples and bar snacks. The Tuscan Sangiovese wines are fab! Club-wise, you can't go wrong at 26 INIT (Stazione Tuscolana, tel. +39 06 9727 7724) in the Pigneto neighbourhood or 27 Sinister Noise Club (CLUB 4B Via dei Magazzini Generali) just offVia Ostiense. Both are underground party joints with decent beers on tap and varying nights of DJ sets and live electronic, rock and indie acts, providing an alternative to the fashionista clubs in the centro storico. For hip-cool-jazz-cats, or just anyone who likes jazz, 28 Casa del Jazz (55 Viale di Porta Ardeatina, tel. +39 06 704731) is a brilliant live music complex, with a top line-up of shows, and garden concerts in the summer. Be sure to end your evening (or begin your morning) as the Romans do, si ing in a piazza or on some steps for a nightcap, cha ing with whoever you've met on the way. Did you know? The word "palace" comes from the Palatine Hill, where the emperors built their palaces.