Delve into the rich and vibrant legacy built from the banks of the Tiber, but discover a modern city that’s perfect for gourmands and explorers too, says James Williams
Why go Landmarks of an empire brood over the death-wish Vespa riders snaking through rush-hour traffic, young lovers snap selfies by the fountains of La Dolce Vita, and pilgrims gaze slack-jawed at the frescoed ceilings of ancient chapels. Rome is a city for the senses, and can leave you breathless; the art, culture, history and shopping demand more than 48 hours, but you can always try… What to do Start in the belly of the city, picking over the ruins of the Roman Forum – once the centre of daily life and politics here. Guided tours coopculture.it are essential for piecing together the tales of Christian martyrs and despotic emperors amid the marble columns. Next door, the Colosseum – as imposing as ever – offers a chance to explore its underground passages. Romans today prefer the boutiques along Via Condotti, which winds its way to the Spanish Steps, where crowds gather at every sunset. At the foot is Keats-Shelley House – now a museum keats-shelley-house.org – where poet John Keats ended his days. On your own grand tour, see the 2,000-year-old Pantheon, with the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world, paintings by local bad boy Caravaggio in their original setting of San Luigi dei Francesi church, and statues in Piazza Navona that leave little to the imagination. You could spend hours exploring the Capitoline Museums en.museicapitolini.org and Renaissance wonders of the Borghese Gallery galleriaborghese.it or transport yourself across the Tiber to the Vatican museivaticani.va and another country entirely. St Peter’s Basilica and its sweeping colonnades herald a journey through the treasures amassed by popes over the centuries. Up to 2,000 people can cram in to witness the Sistine Chapel – craning their necks just as Michelangelo did as he painted it.
Where to stay Boutique boltholes near the best sights are a safe bet in Rome, and Casa Montani casamontani.com is an intimate, chic option – all rich fabrics and hardwood floors – just off Piazza del Popolo. Hotel de Russie roccofortehotels.com is known for its secluded garden, where citrus wafts over the balustrades during Clockwise from top left: Rome from Castel Sant’Angelo; Casa Montani’s view; antipasti doesn’t get any better;
Hotel Eden’s elegant lobby; the Colosseum; Italian food reimagined at
Antico Arco; stylish contemporary interiors at Hotel Eden’s Il Giardino
restaurant and bar aperitivo hour. Splash out on the Picasso Suite, which reflects the style of its former guest with a flower-strewn terrace for al fresco dining and lashings of Cubist colour. Just reopened after a lavish restoration, Hotel Eden dorchestercollection.com sits behind the Spanish Steps offering panoramic views. The light-filled rooms with tall ceilings and understated Italian design are complemented by public areas including a new spa with a blow-dry bar and A-list treatments from Hollywood skincare star Sonya Dakar.
Where to eat Glasses clink and people of all ages mingle in the piazzas and back streets of the Trastevere district. It’s easier to find good-value fare here than in the often-overpriced city centre. It’s also where innovative restaurants like Glass Hostaria glassrestaurant.it are making their mark. In this atmospheric space, chef Cristina Bowerman parades dishes of pure fantasy that still follow the Italian format. A pasta course with squid ink orzotto or foie grasstuffed ravioli are traditional dishes remastered; mains are dotted with Asian accents such as yuzu and miso. Another of the Michelin brigade is Riccardo di Giacinto of All’Oro ristorantealloro.it – now relocated to the owners’ five-star hotel. The likes of oxtail stew disguised as a Ferrero Rocher and numerous twists on the classics ensure it remains true to its Roman roots. Close to Trastevere, Antico Arco anticoarco.it holds 20,000 bottles of wine inside 4th-century catacombs – impressive even by Roman standards. The food is contemporary Italian; a £70 tasting menu bursts with creative takes on truffles, carbonara and seasonal vegetables. If eating out on the Via Veneto is more your taste, head to Magnolia ghvv.it/magnolia within the Grand Hotel. Striking a more formal note, it has some of the most artistically presented plates in the city. Time running out? Spend a chilled morning at Campo de’ Fiori, with its fruit and flower stalls, then grab a slice of pizza from Forno. Trip tip Book ahead for top attractions to avoid lengthy queues. A 48-hour Roma Pass (£25) gives access to public transport, entry to one museum and further discounts around the city. romapass.it