Rome local and lover Flavia is suffering from a serious case of (R)homesickness, having left the Eternal City several months ago. She shares five things she misses the most and, as always, divulges a splendid selection of insider tips for your next Roman holiday.
Photo credit: Ludwig Thalheimer
You know that feeling you get when you’re leaving Rome? Or when you see a picture of Palatine Hill or the grand staircase leading up to Piazza del Campidoglio, and though you might never have stepped foot there, for a moment the breeze ruffling your hair seems centuries old and distinctly Italian in nature?
I’ve got to tell you, that longing of being picked up from wherever you are and placed in the Eternal City… Locals, we get that too.
Okay. I’ve been out of Italy for six months and one might think that being fairly enamoured with my current country of residence, the Italian in me would be fading away. Turns out, the opposite is true.
I think I actually wave my hands around even more vehemently now than I did before, and for the first time in my life I realise the profound importance of spaghetti being cooked al dente. And sorry, but what is this? You call this an espresso?
I admit it. I’m Romesick. And, childish as the pang of (R)homesickness can feel at times, I’ve come to the conclusion that missing somewhere simply means that you, traveller, are capable of falling in love with a place that has undoubtedly fallen in love with you too.
Photo credit: Tomasz Rynkiewicz
And I’m sure that you can love and belong to more than one place at the same time and take bits of those experiences with you wherever you go until you’re a happy little mishmash of all the travels, cities, people and lives that have touched you. Except for your coffee. Be a stickler about your coffee.
I’ve put together a little list of activities for you; things you can enjoy whether you’ve wandered Rome’s streets a thousand times before or are planning your first trip. I like to call these essence-catchers, those day-to-day adventures that seem small but carve themselves firmly in your heart.
Without further ado, here are the five things you didn’t know you’d miss about Rome:
1. Wandering around Piazza di Spagna
Photo credit: Paolo Fefe’
You really can’t go wrong with this whole area. Start with the piazza itself, although to avoid the crowds it’s best not to be there in the middle of the day, especially during peak tourist season, and head over to the Barcaccia of the Berninis (it’s said that both father and son worked on this masterpiece) before strolling around the streets that squiggle out from the main piazza.
For some high-end shopping, wander up and down Via Condotti, but if it’s nice weather and you’re looking for more of a scenic route, head down Via del Babuino, take the first right onto Via Alibert and then bank a left onto Via Margutta. Instructions from there? Lose yourself.
Via Margutta is known to the world as the street of the artists and, as one of Rome’s greatest tiny treasures, is an opportunity to explore, take some pictures, chat with the locals and wander into the shops of the artisans of the city.
Tip: If you happen to be in Piazza di Spagna when it’s packed and you can’t get close enough to the Barcaccia to take a proper look, hop about halfway up the Spanish Steps and then turn around and look down onto the piazza. You’ll get the full picture without the elbow-jostling.
2. Dinnering at Paris in Trastevere and then walking over to Turtle Fountain
Photo credit: Flavia
Enjoying a meal in the Trastevere neighbourhood right around dusk at the end of a spectacular day is one of the greatest pleasures of this life, especially if you can avoid the tourist trap restaurants and dine somewhere really delicious.
This is where Paris in Trastevere comes in handy. Despite its name, this tucked-away gem serves classic Roman dishes and is placed right in the heart of historic Trastevere, making it ideal if you fancy an after-dinner stroll.
Photo credit: Flavia
If you feel like walking a bit farther out, 20 minutes or so gets you to the Fontana delle Tartarughe (Fountain of the Turtles). Absolutely not the most famous water-spouter in this fountain-steeped city, Turtle Fountain, a carved symbol of the Italian Renaissance and the centrepiece of Piazza Mattei, is nonetheless the favourite of many locals (including this one).
Though the fountain itself is attributed to the architect Giacomo Della Porta and sculptor Taddeo Landini, legend has it that the (adorable) turtles weren’t added until much later, and were the genius touch of the infamous architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
3. Day tripping to Sermoneta and eating at my favourite restaurant ever
Photo credit: Paolo Macorig
I’m breaking the rules with this one because it’s technically not in Rome, but! But! This place is only about an hour outside of the city, and guys, it’s totally worth it. Don’t worry about the rules! Live a little!
This medieval city is topped by the majestic 13th-century stone castle of the noble Caetani family and is full to the brim with delightful cobblestone streets and scenic views over the surrounding hills.
Let’s not forget the eatin’ (let’s never, ever forget that): without a doubt, dine at Ristorante Locanda Bonifacio VIII. The food is exquisite, and the owners and staff are lovely. If it’s nice weather, grab an outside table!
4. The views. The views, the views, the views!
Photo credit: fl85
In the interest of time, we’ll limit this to a few favourites, though when it comes to stunning panoramas, Rome is more than generous.
One of the best known is the Gianicolo, offering a glorious view over the city and its landmarks. I’d particularly recommend this as a sunset excursion. You can also take a walk around and check out the busts of the more prominent figures of the unification of modern Italy.
Scattered along the paths, these culminate in the statue of the one and only Giuseppe Garibaldi, considered one of the Fathers of Italy, proudly standing guard over the whole area (and some say, the city) from atop his horse.
Another absolute must-see is the view from Capitoline Hill: when you’re in the Piazza del Campidoglio take the little path to the right that leads you out of the piazza, and pass under the archway. There. From this spot you can see the entire Roman Forum. Oh yeah.
5. Walking yourself over to the Pantheon
Photo credit: Flavia
Are you there yet? Good. Stop in the square for a while and take in one of the most beautiful landmarks of the city (and of the world, not that we’re being dramatic here).
A little history while you’re gazing: the Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, the son-in-law of Emperor Augustus, in the first century BC, but Emperor Hadrian rebuilt and re-dedicated it about 200 years later.
Do you see the huge inscription on the very front? It says, “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, made this”. A humble little signature. The fact that Hadrian left it there made for some confusion, and history tends to forget that he rebuilt the Pantheon at all, but he always dedicated the monuments he rebuilt to the original donor.
Photo credit: Sean O’Neill
If the Pantheon is open, please do go inside: the peculiar dome and large round skylight make for one of Rome’s most impressive sights. The structure you see today is actually the third model, as the first and second both burnt down, one in a fire, one when it was struck by lightning. Yep, in case you were wondering, marble does indeed burn.
Hadrian’s model, however, has stood the test of time – so well, in fact, that even today the Pantheon still holds the record for having the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
So. All ready, my fellow wanderers? As is always true, this is just the beginning. There’s so much to discover and fall in love with, endless varieties of possibilities and new faces. Take a deep breath: let’s go!