Having two children, the opportunity for a city break doesn’t come along often, so with an unexpected offer of childcare thanks to the in-laws, we grabbed it with both hands and started planning. Italy would be the destination, and Rome the city.
We arrived in to Ciampino airport late on Friday afternoon and made our way via taxi to our accommodation, a lovely apartment just outside the north entrance to the elegant Piazza Navona. It was evident just sitting in the taxi that Rome is basically a vast open-air museum, each turn giving yet another view to take your breath away. There are endless examples of 3000 years of history being meticulously preserved, and very little modernity on display. Later that evening we ate al fresco at a lovely restaurant inside the Piazza Navona, and started our journey embracing the dolce vita lifestyle.
Many years ago we visited Porto and did a tour with Secret Food Tours. It proved to be a fantastic way to acclimatise and get your bearings in a new city, and of course as an introduction to the local cuisine. They are also a great way to tap into local knowledge and get advice on how to avoid tourist traps. We were thrilled to discover that the company also operate in Rome, so we booked a tour for our first day.
Although Italian cuisine is beloved throughout the world, few people realise that each region has its own unique dishes. As I would find out, Roman pizza is very different to Neapolitan pizza! First stop on the tour was breakfast, Cannoli and an espresso at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza. Italians like to start their day with a sweet treat and a bit of caffeine, a big change from my usual bowl of porridge!
We then moved on to Roscioli. Part delicatessen, part restaurant, Roscioli is famous for a traditional Roman staple; Pizza al Taglio, or to you and I, pizza by the slice. It was obvious from the queue outside that they were rather good at it, and so it proved. We ate classic Margherita (and learnt where its name originated), authentic potato and rosemary pizza, and fabulously spicy salami pizza, all washed down with a cold Peroni. It was also our first opportunity to try Suppli, incredibly moreish fried rice balls usually stuffed with mozzarella, and flavoured with either a tomato or meat sauce. As on-the-go snacks go, they are unbeatable.
Our third stop led us to Salsamenteria Ruggeri, a cheese and charcuterie wonderland just off the Campo De’ Fiori. We drank prosecco and sampled locally produced mortadella and pecorino, amongst other delights. Next on the list was Italy’s most famous dish, pasta. So off we marched (or as well as you can march when you’re full to the brim with meat and cheese) to Terra di Siena, a busy neighbourhood restaurant. The variety of pastas on offer in Italy can be overwhelming, but we would be experiencing two Roman classics; Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (a simple dish made with just black pepper and Pecorino Romano), and a dish most of us are familiar with, Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
This would prove to be an afternoon we wouldn’t forget. Our hosts lavished us with Campari Spritz, their own red wine, and several glasses of Limoncello. The pasta wasn’t bad either. At this point just moving was proving difficult, but we summoned the energy to stumble the short distance to Gelato Fatamorgana. You can’t come to Rome without getting your hands on some authentic Italian ice cream. All the gelaterias seem to offer a myriad of different flavours, and Fatamorgana was no different. After much deliberation I chose to try Fennel, Honey and Liquorice, and Dark Chocolate and Rosemary. I am an ice cream lover, and these flavours absolutely blew my mind. At this point our guide bid us farewell, leaving two Brits, two Danes, and six American tourists to enjoy the rest of their holiday.
That evening we dined at Filetti Di Baccala, a place our guide had recommended during the tour. On first impressions no normal person would step foot inside the place, there was graffiti on the shutters and a slightly unruly queue of locals greeted us when we arrived. But the dining experience was everything I wanted from Rome, almost chaotic in a sense, but real. This is where Roman people eat, there is nothing pretentious about it, nothing flash, just very good food. And the carafes of wine are only €6.
After another traditional Italian breakfast at a restaurant bordering the Piazza Campo de’ Fiori we took some time to look around the market that happens each morning in the square, marvelling at the vibrant displays of fresh produce, before heading over the River Tiber to St. Peter’s Basilica. Rome is a city of outstanding churches, but none compare to St. Peter’s.
Built atop a 4th-century church, it was consecrated in Rome in 1626 after 120 years of construction. Our visit coincided with Palm Sunday, and the start of Holy Week, the seven days leading up to the main Easter weekend. We witnessed a Blessing of the Palms and Holy Mass conducted by Pope Francis before heading down the river to explore Trastevere, one of Rome’s diverse quartieri (neighbourhoods).
Trastevere is a bohemian enclave with plenty of bars and eateries that spill out onto the streets. One of these is the famous Trapizzino Trilussa, home of one of Italy’s most loved street foods. Invented just 10 years ago by Stefano Callegari, Trapizzino is a white triangle-shaped pizza pocket stuffed with condiments of the Roman gastronomy. Ranging from tongue in green sauce to braised oxtail, from meatballs in their sauce to zighinì (a spicy meat stew), from picchiapò to pork belly Roman style and much more.
After an amazing lunch we headed further south to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. We’ve all seen photos of the Colosseum, it is perhaps the iconic symbol of Rome, but it is no less impressive in real life, an imposing structure with almost 2000 years of history.
Top tip, on the first Sunday of the month entry to all visitor attractions is free.
One of the most surprising things about Rome is how the cultural heritage is so integrated into normal everyday life. You really do experience the breadth of its history at every turn. Testaments to their brilliance in architectural and engineering artistry remain throughout the city.
Day four was an opportunity to marvel at some of the buildings that have influenced architecture for many centuries, including the Pantheon and the Altare della Patria. Later that day we strolled through the Villa Borghese gardens before watching the sunset from the rooftop bar of the Rinascente department store.
We loved our trip to Rome. It was the perfect mix of culture and relaxation. We are already planning to go back in September.