Autumn is being generous this year in Rome. I’m aware that a thick layer of fog will soon descend on the city, that frost will appear at dawn in the fields and that the cold air will make us squeeze in our sweaters. However, trees are still gold and orange now, even crimson red, and the sky is blue. Summer is far away though. The sun sets early in the afternoon, painting the sky pink and purple. Every time I visit Rome, I feel something changing inside of me. I feel the tension and the gloomy mood I bring from Milan, the unjustified anxiety of not doing enough, of not being enough, suddenly go away, leaving room for the best part of me. I can suddenly see beauty, and I feel free.
Prati and the Vatican
Returning to a place you know well, a place where you’ve spent a significant part of your life, is different from traveling, different from being a tourist. It’s like visiting an old friend and spending some quality time with him. And so I often take the chance to walk again in the streets which are very familiar to me to find something new, a hidden corner, a shop, a café.
I usually book a hotel in Prati, where I used to live. This area has a familiar atmosphere, with its elegant streets lined with trees. There’s a curious drugstore, Castroni, that has a wide range of Italian and foreign products, from spices to cookies, from tea to jam to coconut oil. And a delicious ice cream shop, Dei Gracchi, in Via dei Gracchi. Try their dark chocolate, pear and ricotta, and apple and cinnamon. Besides, the view of Saint Peter’s never fails to leave me breathless.
Under an almost summer sun we walk along the tree-lined street, green and yellow, leading to Piazza Cola di Rienzo. We cross the bridge on the river, heading for Villa Borghese. This is my favourite park in Rome, and the credit belongs to the Esculapio Temple, a little temple in the middle of a peaceful lake. It’s a small paradise, with the coloured boats and the trees reflected in the water. Every time I discover something new, something I had never noticed before: today I bump into a water clock with four quadrants ideally recalling the trunk of a tree, a real gem from the Nineteenth Century.
I watch the sunset from Villa Medici in Rome,occupied by the Académie de France: the hills caressed by the golden light, Saint Peter’s dome, the observatory and the city rooftops. I decide I’ll take Via Veneto, one of the most exclusive streets in Rome.
Via Veneto, Monti & Raw Ice Cream
I like walking among the luxury hotels and embassies of Via Veneto. It feels like I’ve jumped into one of those American movies set in Italy, where the protagonist looks around and smiles, taking in beauty. I pass by the imposing buildings of Viminale and Quirinale and reach Monti, a maze of narrow streets dotted with old shops, restaurants and antique stores. Ivy covers the walls and climbs on the street lamps, forming green curtains everywhere.
A raw patisserie has been recently opened in this area, Grezzo, where you can have the best raw chocolate ice cream ever. Sweets are my passion. The smell of cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon and caramelized sugar makes me daydream of a better world. I smell nothing here. Nothing gets baked or cooked. But the almond and hazelnut ice cream is so delicious and creamy that it wins me over.
Piazza Navona, the heart of Rome
Still, I’m bond to my English habits and I need a hot tea with biscuits at five, so I head toward Piazza Navona and take one of the nearby alleys, looking for a place I used to go to when I worked here, in one of the most beautiful areas of Rome.
The Bramante Cloister (Chiostro del Bramante) combines art, silence and pleasure. The upstairs café has a small room from where you can sip your tea and eat your cake while admiring Raphael’s Sibille, painted on the walls of Santa Maria della Pace church, or reading a book bought in the museum’s bookshop. As I walk in the nearby streets, I lose myself in memories. Via del Governo Vecchio with its vintage shops. Via dei Coronari, where the rooms have vaulted ceilings.
Campo de’ Fiori
The same atmosphere surrounds Campo de’ Fiori, a popular market square around which you can find old bookstores and shops which sell hats, bags, and teapots. Via Giulia leads towards the Jewish ghetto, behind the Theatre of Marcellus. There’s a famous Austrian patisserie here, La Dolce Roma, and also a traditional bakery where you’ll find the delicious “crostata di visciole” – a cherry and ricotta pie.
When the sun sets and streetlights are turned on, I like walking around the Spanish Stairs. Via Margutta is undoubtedly one of the most magical corners in Rome: the quiet, secret courtyards, the frescos on the ceilings which can be seen through the windows, the small stone fountains. Here I stop at one of my favourite restaurants, Ristorarte Margutta, with vegetarian menu and design furniture. Tasty vegetarian dishes, as well as traditional, seasonal ones, are served also at Taverna Angelica, next to the Vatican. It’s not unusual to hear the conversation between two Monsignori who talk about God in front of a white chocolate bavarese, under chandeliers which look like Vietnamese straw hats.
Short visits always imply a choice between two hills, Gianicolo and Aventino. They both are places full of art and beauty, and when you get on top, you have two spectacular views over the city. This time I choose Aventino, eager to enjoy the peace of Giardino degli aranci (orange garden) and to visit the three roman churches of Santa Sabina, Sant’Alessio and Sant’Anselmo. From Sant’Anselmo square, we go down the hill among historical buildings surrounded by orange and palm trees, enchanted by their quiet elegance. Even if it’s time to head back North, I know there’s still much to see – and see again. I save it for the next time.
Relais Giulia, via Giulia 93 (a lovely B&B in the heart of Rome)
Hotel Farnese, via Alessandro Borghese 30 (a beautiful 4 star hotel in Prati, with a lovely roof veranda where breakfast is served. Underground stop: Lepanto)
Hotel Villa Pinciana, via Abruzzi 11 (a luxury hotel housed in a historical villa, next to via Veneto)
COFFEE SHOPS & RESTAURANTS
Chiostro del Bramante, Via Arco della Pace 5
Grezzo, via Urbana 130
Dolceroma, via del portico di Ottavia
Gelateria dei Gracchi, via dei Gracchi 272
Ristorarte, via Margutta 118
Taverna Angelica, piazza Americo Capponi 6