With the weather hotting up this past week I’ve found myself daydreaming more and more about being back in Italy; driving through the rolling hills of Tuscany, eating fresh fish on a shady restaurant terrace in a little fishing village, or sipping on a cold glass of prosecco at a bar on the cobbled streets of Rome. None of the above thoughts make being stuck inside an office during the glorious sunshine very easy. In a bid to feel a little closer to these moments of summer joy, I’ve been thinking about my favourite things to see and do (and eat, obviously) in one of my favourite cities in the world…
First things first, walk! My earliest memory of Rome is sitting on a pavement next to my sister, copying her folded arms stance and screwed up face, refusing to walk any further. We were staying with family in Tuscany and my parents had decided we would take a day trip to Rome to experience some Italian city life. I was clearly too young to appreciate the beautiful city, and had obviously decided I was in agreement with my older Sister when she started complaining that it was too hot to walk. Now, a good 20 or so years later, I can’t believe my childhood self wasn’t aware of the amazing surroundings we were lucky enough to find ourselves in; and how much I disagree with the moody kids sat on the curb in protest. Walk everywhere! There is so much to see and so much to discover that even guide books, blogs and Trip Advisor couldn’t possibly tell you about. The first time I came back to the city (as an appreciative adult) we took a bus tour to get our bearings and then spent the rest of the weekend on foot. I honestly think it is the best way to see the city.
Possibly the most obvious landmark to be writing about, The Colosseum is Rome. It is possibly one of the most incredible buildings you will every lay eyes on and the sheer scale of it really does take your breath away. Yes, it’s swarming with tourists all year round, but try to block out the never-ending tour groups, selfie sticks and overpriced street sellers and take a step back to revel at its beauty. Spend a couple of hours exploring inside (or all day if you happen to be with the biggest fan of Gladiator to ever walk the planet) and imagine how it must have felt walking into an arena of chanting Romans waiting to witness a bloody and brutal show. Will it be thumbs up, or thumbs down? The eerie feeling of standing inside such an iconic structure is indescribable.
Palentine Hill/Roman Forum
This area boasts some of the best kept ruins of Ancient Rome and is the perfect place to let your imagination run wild. The Forum would have been the hive of social and political activity, and the columns and temples reflect the stories of Roman Emperors and Senators gone by. Palentine Hill is the spot where the famous tale of Romulus and Remus began and the shady walk up the hill does feel rather haunting, especially first thing in the morning when the air is cool. The hill looms over the Forum below and the opposite side provides the perfect viewing platform for the Circus Maximus.
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of a good cup of coffee; the smell alone is enough to ensure I wake up in a good mood. One of my favourite ways to start a morning in Rome is to wander down the sleepy streets, find a little bar that is just opening it’s doors, and sit on a little table outside with a hot, strong coffee whilst watching the city come to life. When we were there last summer we discovered a beautiful little bar nestled next to a theatre, and stopping off for an espresso on our way into town became our morning ritual.
I could write pages and pages about the food in Rome, and where to go for dinner is a day-long discussion whenever we are there. As is the way with most cities, if you don’t have recommendations the best thing to do is wander off of the beaten track and see where the side streets lead you. We were lucky enough to spend our last visit with a local, and we were taken to two places I have recommended to everyone since.
Five of us ate at Cantina e Cucina to celebrate Wayne’s Birthday and our engagement on our first night back in Rome. The restaurant provided the perfect balance between lively and intimate, making our celebrations all the more memorable. Here we ate the most delicious feast of artichoke, calamari, seafood gnocci and steak, surrounded by all of the comforts of a traditional family run restaurant. Dusty wine bottles and jars of produce line the walls, and the happy chatter of both tourists and locals confirm the restaurant’s popularity. Cantina e Cucina is well known for it’s amazing tiramisu, and so we obviously gave that a go too.
The next night we joined a friend for her Birthday celebrations at Toto alle Carozze. This was a completely different dining experience and the perfect spot for a special occasion. On the corner of a little side street not far from The Spanish Steps, Toto sits snugly behind a wall of glittering fairly lights, basking the building in a welcoming glow. Our night was heavily fueled by prosecco, but I can remember that the aubergine parmigiana was to die for!
Altare della Patria (Alter of the Fatherland)
Also referred to as the ‘big white building’ if you’re me, the Altare della Patria is well worth a visit. Built to honour Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of a united Italy, the monument stands proudly in the centre of Piazza Venezia and is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. If you climb the steps and take the glass elevator at the back of the building, you will find yourself stepping out in front of the most impressive panoramic view of the city.
The Pantheon is truly beautiful. Like the Colosseum, it isn’t until you are standing right in front of the ancient religious building that you can really appreciate it’s splendour. We couldn’t face the crowds when we were last there and so didn’t make it inside, but the external architecture with its intricate detailing is stunning. If nothing else it’s the perfect back drop for a glass of wine at sunset.
It’s no secret that Italians love a good piazza. In smaller villages and towns piazzas form the heart of the community, playing host to gatherings of every generation. Even though the piazzas in Rome are on a much larger scale, they still hold a similar job role. Piazza Navona is the perfect spot to meet friends for apéritifs and there are so many beautiful bars to choose from. The fountain looks magical in the early evening light and the atmosphere at dusk is electric in the most relaxed way possible.
If you cross to the west of the River Tiber, you’ll stumble across Trastevere. This area of Rome feels like it’s own little town with beautiful old buildings lining the winding cobbled streets. Popular with artists, musicians and foreign academics, it’s the perfect place to spend a few hours away from the bustle of the city. We spent an afternoon sat outside a little bar drinking wine with the locals before exploring the pretty little streets on the hunt for gelato. It really is such a lovely part of the city.
‘The Eternal City’ – I don’t think Rome could be known as anything else. I’ve heard that ancient Romans gave their home this title to reflect its strength; through the belief that whatever might happen to other empires, should they rise or fall, Rome would last forever. I couldn’t agree more.