I THE SPIRIT OF DIS­COV­ERY Come buy with me

Se­cret ad­dresses in Rome for the savvy shop­per

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Ireland - JOHN LAUGH­LAND THE SPEC­TA­TOR

WHEN I am in Rome, I do as the Ro­mans — I en­gage in ram­pant ma­te­ri­al­ism.

The Eter­nal City may be (via the church that has its head­quar­ters there) the way to heaven; its pop­u­la­tion, how­ever, is more in­ter­ested in this world than the next. The city is full of su­perb shops, as the Ital­ians’ gift for man­u­fac­ture and their seem­ingly ef­fort­less cre­ation of beauty re­main undimmed by the ad­vance of moder­nity.

Rome is there­fore a per­fect des­ti­na­tion for Christ­mas shop­ping, as you can com­bine lim­it­less con­sumerism with a warm glow of spir­i­tual self-sat­is­fac­tion. Isn’t that what Christ­mas is all about?

Taxis and buses are plen­ti­ful in Rome, but most tourists walk. Let us start, there­fore — af­ter you have per­haps heard mass in the crypt of St Peters at 7am and break­fasted in the cafe on the Pi­azza Far­nese op­po­site the French em­bassy — at the charm­ing Pi­azza Mat­tei in the old Jewish ghetto. Here we can ad­mire the de­light­ful Tor­toise Foun­tain and the stun­ning Palazzo Mat­tei, whose court­yard is full of Ro­man sculp­tures, be­fore get­ting down to busi­ness.

Ital­ian men be­ing the best dressed in the world, why not be­gin at Bracci (Via de’ Fu­nari 18), a tiny, fam­ily-run shop that sells very beau­ti­ful Ital­ian shirts at rea­son­able prices, made-to-mea­sure and off the peg. It also sells box­ers, socks and ties. An al­ter­na­tive ad­dress for socks is the milliner at the bot­tom of Pi­azza Navona, Antica Cap­pel­le­ria Tron­car­elli in Via della Cuccagna. In win­ter, it also stocks mag­nif­i­cent black Vene­tian capes, so you can stalk around like Don Gio­vanni.

An­other source of socks is the world-fa­mous ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal out­fit­ter Gam­marelli, at Via di Santa Chiara 34, where the Pope goes and where you can pick up pur­ple ones (for bish­ops) or red ones (for car­di­nals), as well as gloves, belts and scarfs, not to men­tion a vel­vet and er­mine ca­mauro or an em­broi­dered Ro­man cha­suble, should you need one.

Ital­ians make very beau­ti­ful pa­per and sta­tionery prod­ucts and there are many such shops across Rome. The one we use is about 10 min­utes’ walk from Bracci, just over the Ponte Sisto in Traste­vere at Via Benedetta 26b. There the charm­ing Gae­tana Gi­lardi makes and sells ex­quis­ite boxes, photo al­bums, guest­books, note­books and much else be­sides. It is dif­fi­cult to leave her shop with­out be­ing weighed down by nu­mer­ous presents. She also sells (as do all sta­tionery shops) beau­ti­ful wrapping pa­per for a few eu­ros a sheet. Your Christ­mas tree will in­stantly look many times smarter if your presents are wrapped in it. (There is a sim­i­lar shop just be­hind the Pan­theon, at Via della Ro­tonda 13, but I find it a lit­tle touristy.)

Hav­ing taken a cof­fee or a glass of wa­ter (served in all Ital­ian bars) at Checco Er Car­ret­tiere di­ag­o­nally op­po­site Gi­lardi’s shop, you can re-cross the Ponte Sisto. Continue walk­ing north along the breath­tak­ing Via Gi­u­lia — which is, with Via dei Coronari, one of the best ad­dresses for an­tiques if you have a gen­er­ous bud­get — to visit, just off Pi­azza Far­nese, at Via di Mon­ser­rato 50, Mau­r­izio Bel­lacci’s won­der­ful lit­tle shop sell­ing lamp­shades and lamps.

Lamp­shades maynot be an ob­vi­ous Christ­mas present, and they are of course dif­fi­cult to trans­port, es­pe­cially if large. But lighting is one of the most im­por­tant el­e­ments of in­te­rior decoration, and other Euro­pean cap­i­tals are illserved in this re­gard. Bel­lacci has a su­perb stock and his style is care­fully mod­ern. As ev­ery­where in Rome, his prices are rea­son­able — the small­est parch­ment lamp­shades for wall lights are ($8.50) each, whereas they would be five times that in Paris.

If you now leave the Palazzo Far­nese be­hind you and walk into Campo de’ Fiori, there is a very pop­u­lar bak­ery on the left that sells won­der­ful bis­cuits in beau­ti­ful old- fash­ioned tins with a de­sign from the early 1900s. The tins make ex­cel­lent bread bins. This bak­ery also sells some of the finest piz­zas in Rome, to take away, while the tozzetti with hazel­nuts are heaven. Also on Campo de’ Fiori is Rug­geri, the well-known del­i­catessen, whose dried porcini mush­rooms and var­i­ous pas­tas make ex­cel­lent stock­ing fillers.

Cross the Corso Vit­to­rio Emanuele and make your way into Pi­azza Navona and across the square into Corso Ri­nasci­mento. There, at No 63, di­ag­o­nally op­po­site the Se­nate, is An­ti­quar­ius, a su­perb dealer in an­tique prints. There is an enor­mous stock, rang­ing from af­ford­able maps and views of Rome to Pi­ranesi etch­ings that start at

up to se­ri­ously fine old mas­ter prints for many thou­sands. The smaller ones are easy to trans­port and each comes with a mount.

Back down the same street, at Corso Ri­nasci­mento 47, is the Rome out­let of Of­fic­ina Pro­fumo-Far­ma­ceu­tica di Santa Maria Novella. This pro­ducer of lux­ury toi­letries is based in Florence near the church of the same name, housed in a fres­coed build­ing that is a tourist des­ti­na­tion in it­self. Its pot­pourri is es­pe­cially fa­mous, but all its prod­ucts are fab­u­lous, for ladies and gentle­men alike.

If your thoughts are turn­ing to lunch, visit Casa Bleve at Via del Teatro Valle 48. It is the­o­ret­i­cally just a wine bar, but the din­ing room is pala­tial and the food unique: Sig­nora Bleve’s own in­ven­tions. There are plenty of presents to be had there, not least the su­perb col­lec­tion of toprange Ital­ian wines that never seem to get ex­ported. After­wards, if you now walk to­wards the Pan­theon — tak­ing in the three Car­avag­gios in Santa Luigi dei Francesi on your way — and cross the Pi­azza della Ro­tonda to en­ter Via del Sem­i­nario, there is a very nice tie shop, Pel­li­cano, at No 93, just by the square. The ties are not cheap, but I find them ex­tremely ver­sa­tile and un­der­stated, and wear them all the time.

Dou­ble back on your­self now, go back into Pi­azza Navona and leave the square at the north end, pass­ing the Al­temps mu­seum (which is fab­u­lous) on your left. Ahead of you is Via dell’Orso where, at No 57, there is one of the most tal­ented jewellers in the world. Mas­simo Maria Melis makes stun­ning rings, bracelets, neck­laces and brooches in the Ro­man and Etr­uscan style, of­ten us­ing Ro­man coins or other an­cient arte­facts. His wife serves while he and his crafts­men work their blow­torches right in front of you. Their clients in­clude the King and Queen of Bel­gium, so this is top-qual­ity stuff and, what with the price of gold now, very ex­pen­sive. But I guar­an­tee any­thing you buy there will give you plea­sure for life.

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