The last time I had visited the Ancient City was exactly 10 years ago in 2004 on a break with Jodie. My memories of that trip include gelato for almost every meal, fresh strawberries with lemon and sugar (from McD’s! We were on a budget…), the Diesel store where we invested in our first pair of jeans that weren’t Miss Sixty’s (with those covetable poppers down the sides) or Lois bootlegs, and vague flashbacks of us standing on the top of the Spanish Steps taking photos on very chunky cameras or reading books in the middle of St Peters piazza in the Vatican.
On my return for a long weekend, my priorities had changed from tourist-trap restaurants and shopping on the Via del Corso (now Condotti!) to hunting down the best food and places to enjoy aperitivo. The gelato stayed on the list. I also had the benefit of a list of recommended places from friends who had lived there (or visited enough to feel they lived there).
Here’s the Haute List Rome Edit:
Rome, like anywhere in Italy, is all about the food and wine.
For easy lunches with authentic dishes, we loved the Osteria Cantinae Cucina and Cul de Sac both in the Piazza Pasquino. Try the “cacie e pepe” pasta in either – the trademark Roman dish of fresh pasta with pecorino and parmigiana cheese and black pepper – to die for. Recipe to follow.
If you are by the colosseum, a short walk to the Testaccio suburb will lead you to the fabulous Volpetti – a self-service hole in the wall where you can pile your plate with arancini (deep fried risotto balls), pizza slices (yard long pizzas, they cut your slice when you say “stop” and then weigh it – try to resist not saying stop!), caprese salad and my favourite – deep fried courgette flowers injected with ricotta and then drizzled with honey. That tray cost me less than €15. With a drink. I am now hunting down a small deep fat fryer (the horror) to make arancini at home – an obsession was formed in these few days.
For dinner, our favourite area was Trestevere (across the river and a little less touristy). We had dinner in the courtyard of Antica Pesa. This place was one of our best restaurants in Rome. It is so special and it now has another branch in Brooklyn in New York that is now on our list! The interior is covered in photos of the chef with various actors and musicians so you are caught staring at them for ages before you even make it outside to eat! Jared Leto was there on our visit!
We also enjoyed a Twilight Food Tour around Trestevere – basically a 4 hour walking food tour, where you stop for various local dishes and delicacies including burrata with fresh melon, fresh Pecorino Romano cut from the barrel, more arancini balls and fresh biscuits roasted from a 50 foot oven. Naturally the tour finished with gelato, as did most of our evenings!
For a special occasion, the Jardin de Russie restaurant (in the Hotel de Russie) was magical, for the food and the atmosphere – make sure you go for a wander around the walled gardens after your meal.
Obviously for first- timers, the attraction list includes the colosseum (get a guide – it’s worth it and you skip the queue), the Vatican (guides are expensive here – go for the audio kit), the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.
We loved all of those but didn’t love the crowds so much – and in a city where you’re meant to walk everywhere, we quickly clocked up 35 miles (on foot!) in 4 days. So our favourite places were actually the places to go for some downtime – sometimes with an Aperol Spritz or a glass of Gavi in Piazza Navona for some people watching, or places to relax with just a gelato and our Kindles.
The best was “Giardino degli Aranci” or the Garden of Orange Trees; a small and quiet square in the Aventino region just south west of the colosseum. The views of the city are beautiful but its charm came from the peaceful contemplative space and the feeling that this place was just for locals – it wasn’t even on our well-thumbed tourist map.
In a similar vein was the Borghese Gardens in the north of the city, by the Spanish Steps. Find a tree or a bench by the little pond at the back to sit and rest your weary (and probably blistered) feet.
take more than one pair of comfy shoes (or buy some Tods!!) and buy some blister plasters, eat all the pasta and bread you can manage – you’ll end up walking it off anyway.
DON’T: take photos in the Sistine Chapel – you will get kicked out, don’t take any taxis – Rome is best enjoyed on foot.