When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do

From impromptu live music to opera al fresco, the one thing Romans do effortlessly is embrace life with gusto. So on our return month-long trip to the Italian capital, we skipped queueing to the grand museums and instead took in the city Roman style.

There’s an ambiance in Rome that doesn’t equate to most capitals. The hard, steely glances are washed away by a lustful, playful vibe that resonates through the streets and its happy-go-lucky locals. As I wandered through quiet lanes in a bid to leave the tourist traps behind, passers-by and vendors greeted me with smiles and buongiorno. I couldn’t say for sure if it was because I looked sincerely lost (just where was this gelateria?) or they felt a bit sorry for me, after all I was looking rather hot and flushed with the midday heat beating down on me. But either way, I was grateful for the cheery welcome and even more for the ice cream when I found it.

Staying Cool

Fringed by a queue, Gelateria Frigidarium, near the Palazzo Attolico, lived up to its reputation. The assortment of ice creams was impressive with biscuit toppings, syrup berries, toffee and so much more. With generous portions and not the usual blow-your-budget prices that central Rome is renowned for, I used the 32-degree temperatures as my perfect excuse to devour as much as my wallet allowed. I also hit up Giolitti near Palazzo Montecitorio which has a reputation as one of Rome’s best ice cream parlours, but if its service and decor are anything to go by, it falls short of the mark.

Of course, the Italians pride themselves on their cuisine, so it was only right that I sample as much of it as possible. La Buca Di Ripetta, on via di Ripetta, takes Rome to its heart. Not only are the flavours intense and moreish, the dishes look like food art and are fitting for a place in one of the city’s museums, or at least Instagram. Next door we found Trattoria al Gran Sasso and was tempted inside by its display of wild strawberries, truffle mushrooms and the large number of locals dining. It’s a definite must-feast place while other favourites of mine were La Tavernetta in Trastevere, serving classic Italian dishes, and La Cucaracha Mexican restaurant near the Vatican.

Nightlife & Fun

I was captivated by the vibrant atmosphere of Trastevere, the nightlife hotspot for locals, renowned for its traditional trattorias, craft beer and boutique shops. Most nights hundreds of people, Romans and tourists alike, crowd the cobbled streets and piazzas from early evening till the morning.

The city’s myriad rooftop bars provided some of my other top locations for night time drinks. Atlante Star Hotel has a fabulous lofty bar overlooking the Vatican and St Peter’s Brasilica, which is lit up like a beacon in the night sky. It’s perfect for aperitifs, cocktails or dinner. I also enjoyed the Radisson Blu rooftop with street views, a beautiful pool, and the charming rooftop bar on top of the luxury department store La Rinacente.

For sunset we wandered up to Giannicolo hilltop, which might just offer some of Rome’s best city views overlooking treetops and red-tiled buildings below. There was also the jazz and blues music in the bar which was the perfect accompaniment to sundown. Casina Valadier, another romantic hilltop restaurant ideal for aperitifs, al fesco dining and group events, offers stunning views, too.

For film enthusiasts it’s worth having a look at the open air cinema on Tiber Island. Cinema e Cultura runs in the evening from mid-June to the end of August and offers a host of themed nights and movies. A loca friend invited me to be there for the opening night for Australian films screening on 9-11 July and watched Ladies in Black. The live music of guitar and digeridoo, along with landscape shots of back home, took me right back to Australia despite holing an Italian gelato!

No trip to Rome would be complete without a stroll down the banks of the Tiber River, especially on summer evenings when its streets are lined with vendors and table football enthusiasts. With shimmering lights shining on the water, a street quartet playing cello, and street opera that was good enough for an auditorium, it has its own special ambiance.

I also fell in love with Villa Borghese whose sculptured garden and shaded lawns were a welcome relief to the intense daytime sun. Its gallery houses some of the most famous sculptures by Bernini, Canova and other great artists.

As fabulous as walking through the streets of Rome is, it can’t be beaten by a two-wheeled adventure. I took a night tour via motorbike and whizzed past the Coliseum with magical lights glowing through the columns. The evening breeze and the rather empty roads was an incredible way to see the city.

Beyond Rome I headed on a day trip to the nearby beach town of Santa Marinella reached by a 40-minute train ride from Trastevere. With a sandy stretch of beach (don’t be expecting white sand, but it’s not too bad) and sea which you can swim in, it was a pleasant retreat from the city.

Bedding Down

If you’re hoping to get away from the jostling tourists but still be central, I’d recommend a stay in Trastevere. While you’ll want to ensure your room isn’t on the main street for all the revelry, it’s a neighbourhood with so much to explore, places to eat and bars within staggering distance. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to be closer to main tourist attractions, you might want to check out accommodation near Piazza del Popolo, Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps. If you are staying for a couple of weeks, there are myriad swanky apartments in Rome for a comfortable holiday.

Outside Rome

Apart from the City of Rome and its wonderful neighbouring suburbs, there are many interesting day trips or weekend trips that you can do from Rome. Some of my favourites are Lake Albano or Lake Bracciano. Its not too far and well worth getting out of the city for a weekend. Another great experience is to attend the Genzano Flower festival in June. Or in Late May or June the Nemi strawberry festival on the hill of the small volcanic Nemi Lake is wonderful. There is nothing like tasting the local wild strawberries.

Colourful Capri

Further out, I ventured to the stunning island of Capri for a week. It sits 265km south of the capital and has striking views of the Faraglioni rock formations jutting from the azure water plus adorable streets to be explored, a harbour with plush yachts and a plethora of divine seafood restaurants. Getting around is best on foot or for those wanting more comfort, a roofless taxi, Capri’s version of an island Uber. with sunshades that protected me from the melting heat and a breeze I desperately needed, plus a filmstar atmosphere, I felt like Grace Kelly albeit in Italy rather than Monaco. I could have pulled off the rich and famous look even better if I’d been able to hop in one of the hundred cars at this year’s Ferrari Cavalcade, a four-day drive through Italy that ended on the island. The main town was heaving with tourists and day trippers which is the downside to a peak summer visit to Capri.

However, we found respite when I stumbled upon Anacapri, a cute, almost artisan village which was delightfully peaceful in comparison. We wove through the cobbled streets and the picture-perfect houses, rust and ochre coloured with bougainvillea draping their sides. The chair lift up to a looming hill was undoubtedly a highlight of our trip. Gazing contentedly out at the postcard image, I was in complete awe and the juxtaposition of colours, the inviting sea and clear skies simply took my breath away. Back in the village, we dined in a local pizzaria, Le Arcate, where the flavours and ingredients simply melted in our mouths.

During our Capri visit, we stayed in a great location at the iconic Grand Hotel Quisisana in Capri, with spacious rooms, spa and gym facilities and a beautiful outdoor pool in private gardens overlooking the Mediterranean.

Eat (Pizza), Pray, Love

Getting from Rome to Capri is simple via train to Naples and then a ferry. Locals claim the best pizza in Italy is to be found in the port town of Naples and Pizzeria Da Michele, as featured in Eat, Pray, Love, was a hit and cost only €5 per pizza. There isn’t much choice to be had mind you, it’s either margherita or marinara, and don’t be expecting wine (it’s beer and soft drinks), but do expect a queue and fantastic flavours.

I adored my month-long Roman experience and look forward to returning to a country that fuses art, food, history and entertainment for more adventures.

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