To me, Rome will always be magical. Chaotic, fascinating, exasperating, and steeped in history, it never ceases to amaze. I first visited as a wide-eyed teenager on my first European holiday, “studied” for a semester (life lessons included where to find the best artichoke pasta in Trastevere and how to get the most mileage from a Eurail pass), and once again returned when our children were quite small (5, 8 and 10). On that visit, I seem to remember being most concerned on of the little ones would wander into the path of a speeding Vespa.
But then we blinked, and the kids were college-age (and beyond), and we were long overdue for an encore. We ditched the typical tourist “must-do” list, and spent most of our visit wandering about soaking in the character and culinary wonders of the city. We arrived on a sun-drenched weekend to find the city teeming with tourists (yes, I know it’s June – its supposed to be teeming with tourists… but last time we visited, it was November, and we felt we had the place – speeding Vespas included – to ourselves.)
First decision? Scrap efforts to tour mid-day, and focus the adventuring in the early mornings and evenings, when it was a bit cooler and less crowded. Awesome call.
In no particular order, I’d like to share 10 reasons we loved our most recent adventure in Rome:
1. Gelato. I’m convinced we found the most AH-Mazing gelateria in all of Rome. We stumbled upon it quite by chance, but if you’re headed to Rome, be sure to wander down the Via del Coronari to find the Gelateria del Teatro. Join the line snaking out the door to enjoy gorgeous flavor combinations such as lavender and white peach, white chocolate and basil, ricotta, fig and almond, and a dizzying number of chocolate options. We returned four times. Don’t judge.
And if the gelato wasn’t amazing enough, they displayed a beautiful case of pastries, including these adorable little pistachio cannoli. I tucked a few in my purse – just in case I needed sustenance while wandering about. (which I did)
2. Churches: There are over 900 churches in Rome. During our last visit, my dear husband was quite determined the children should see at least a dozen of the most notable as outlined in H.V. Morton’s A Traveller in Rome. He had prepared note cards with talking points. We started this holy march by bribing the children with gelato between each stop, but the adventure ultimately ended in revolt. This time, we closed the guidebooks and just wandered into a few we happened upon along our meanders to light a candle in prayer and soak up the splendor. This is the Santa Maria dell Anima, located just next to our hotel:
3. The Hotel Rafael: We adored this lovely, welcoming gem close to the Piazza Navona. The staff could not possibly have been lovelier or more accommodating. While the rooms oozed glamor and charm, we discovered the real treasure was the rooftop bar. Aperol Spritzes all around and a dreamy view of the city: #drinkingwiththekidsisfun.
4. Exploring Rome at Night. If you’re a Washingtonian, you know that the monuments on the National Mall look simply magical lit up at night. Over several evenings, we wandered the length of Rome after dark, and discovered the same holds true in Rome. From the Ponte Sant’Angelo…
To Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, and beyond, we roamed the city alit in golden light.
5. The Rome for Foodies Tour: This was the perfect way to spend my birthday (as if simply being in Rome wasn’t enough). Brace yourself for a ton of photos – I found it impossible to edit responsibly. Walks in Rome Guide Sara met us at our hotel, and whisked us off to a wonderful few hours of exploring and sampling some of the best of Roman food. A native of Rome, Sara wandered the globe, so interspersed her talk of Roman food and history with snapshots into her life and travels. Starting at the Campo Fiori – an open air market lined with food emporiums and restaurants, we sampled balsamic vinegars, olive oils, and pestos, and oogled the gorgeous Italian vegetables, such as Artichokes:
Sara ushered us into the Obica Mozzarella Bar to sample the freshest, most amazing mozzarella we had ever experienced:
After the mozzarella snack, Sara paused for a moment to point out the origins of the regional specialties we were sampling before whisking us off to the Jewish Quarter to sample pizza from a local bakery and fried artichokes at Su Ghetto.
And yet the tour continued. We waddled over to the Parma Roma restaurant near the Pantheon to sample parmesan, a selection of Italian hams, exquisite asparagus ravioli, and bright sparkling white wine. Both the chef and owner stopped by the table to chat about American politics for a bit. (There really isn’t any escaping talk of Drumpf anywhere on the planet, I’m afraid.)
What an extraordinary adventure. I couldn’t possibly recommend it highly enough.
6. Espresso – Speaking of espresso, we drank an obscene amount over our few days in Rome and never had a bad cup. We wandered into the darling Casa e Bottega one morning and people watched as the locals stopped by for a quick shot on their way to work.
Though no one would have mistaken us for locals, we joined the crowd and started the day with a lovely cappuccino:
We also loved the espresso at the cute and funky Don Nino near the Pantheon, but loved the pastries even more. This is the sort of cookie I ate nearly every morning when I “studied” in Rome many moons ago: #nostalgiatour
7. The Cooking School: Have I mentioned this was a ridiculously food-focused visit to Rome? (oh, and my favorite visit to date.) While Sara was leading us all over Rome, she mentioned she also taught at a brand new cooking school. As it was about 95 degrees in the shade, we thought it might be a nice way to spend the following afternoon (perhaps normal people would have wandered the Vatican museums – then again, we’ve never been normal). She made a call and booked us into a private pasta, pizza and gelato making class the following day.
We had no idea what a treat was in store. Just around the corner from the Piazza Navona, we found ourselves in the bright spacious dining room (which had once belonged to a Cardinal), snacking on melon and prosciutto, and pear and pecorino with a chilled glass of prosecco. Once fortified, the lovely young Sarah, a British transplant with quite a posh accent and deep knowledge of Italian cuisine, led us into the brand new kitchen to begin the gelato. We chose to make stratiacella and pistachio, and she put the “kids” to work chopping chocolate and whipping cream, gently coaching them in the proper techniques.
Once the gelato had been deposited in the freezer, we set about creating pasta and pizza dough from scratch with the delightful Chef Max (an Italian born in Pennsylvania). I plan to devote an entire blog post to each later in the summer (as the crew from the school generously sent me all the recipes), but for the moment, suffice to say we learned a dozen reasons we had failed to make adequate pizza crust or pasta in a lifetime of trying. What a delicious way to spend an afternoon.
We made spinach and ricotta ravioli…
With a fresh tomato and basil sauce:
And zucchini pizza (one of three we assembled):
And I just have to share a photo of the adorable Chef Max:
8. The Colosseum at Night Tour: Really, during the summer, this is an extraordinary way to see the Forum and the Colosseum while beating both the heat and the crowds. The tour begins at the Forum in the evening:
The tour winds through the Forum, and then into the Colosseum, which is blissfully crowd-free in the evenings. (Have I mentioned I really don’t love crowds?) In recent years, the basement level of the structure has been renovated and opened to the public, which was new to us. It’s stunning… you can almost imagine Russell Crowe as Maximus strutting about among the wild animals.
9. Our Roman Favorite Restaurant – Montevecchio. While I had a half-a-dozen restaurant recommendations in tow when we arrived in Rome, we struggled to secure a booking the evening we arrived. (Yes, I know I could have, should have booked in advance, but actually it worked in our favor.) Our inspired concierge from the Hotel Rafael sent us around the corner to the pitch-perfect Montevecchio. We feasted on fresh burrata and tomatoes, gorgeous pastas, and fresh fish in the courtyard. Simply dreamy. The staff made us feel so welcome, we returned for our last dinner in Rome.
10. The Trevi Fountain: Legend holds that if you toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you will return to Rome one day. It hasn’t failed me yet…