VIVA ROMA A Resort in the Eternal City
VIVA ROMA A Resort in the Eternal City
We know it wasn’t built in a day and it would take several visits to explore and appreciate just a fraction of the awesome art, architecture, archaeology and vibes of Rome’s many diversified neighbourhoods. But here’s a sampling of Eternal City musts for both your Save and Splurge files.
Note: All prices approximated in Canadian dollars.
THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST
A Resort in the Eternal City
Your basic hotel room in Rome is small by North American standards and you might be lucky to find something with a small roof garden. Not so at the Gran Melia Rome Villa Agrippina, located near the Vatican.
Rooms are spacious with special touches, such as a pillow menu and rose petals sprinkled on your bath mat. A complimentary mobile phone makes it easy to explore the capital, find shops and restaurants and make calls. Expansive lawns, gardens and a swimming pool give the Gran Melia the feeling of being in a luxury resort in the centre of the city. www.melia.com
At the Spanish Steps
At the base of the Spanish Steps (which you must climb), Via Condotti, Rome’s poshest shopping street, has every designer boutique you can name and more. If you want to take home a buttery leather souvenir, head to Campanile, Via Condotti 58. Its pedigree dates back to the 1870s. Prices are high but the quality is superb. At the top of the Steps, turn left and walk towards the Borghese Gardens. Before you get to the park, have lunch at Ciampini. The thin-crusted pizzas and fresh salads are just what you’ll want before a stroll through the impressive gardens. www.caffeciampini.com
Word of Mouth
Vivavoce (meaning word of mouth) is the signature restaurant of the Grand Melia Rome Villa Agrippina Hotel in Trastevere. The dining room is overseen by Alfonso Iaccarino, the master chef of Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant’Agata Sui Due Golfi, a Michelin-starred member of the Relais & Châteaux association near Sorrento.
On my recent romp through Rome, Viva Voce’s executive chef, Alex Miceli, proved that he has learned his lessons well from Iaccarino. Their philosophy is to bring the senses to life with Mediterranean cuisine that explodes with robust flavours using the finest, freshest seasonal products.
My degustation began cappelletti pasta filled with a mixture of slow-cooked chicken thighs and late harvest onions. The main course was a tender baby beef filet in bread crust with Mozzarella, Irpina ham, sage and a generous shaving of black truffles. As long as you are in splurge mode, wash this down with a Super Tuscan Tignanello from the Antinori vineyards. www.ristorantevivavoce.com
Via dei Coronari is buried in a colorful section of the Campo Marzio. To find the street, turn left out of the north end of Piazza Navona and pass the excavated ruins of Domitian's Stadium. It is just ahead. There are more than 40 antiques stores in the next four blocks, offering inlaid secretaries, gilded consoles, vases, urns, chandeliers, marble pedestals, chaises, refectory tables and more. Keep in mind that shops are usually closed between 1 and 4 p.m. Beware of fakes. If you spend at least $155 in one store in one day and are not a resident in the European Union, you are eligible for a tax refund (VAT).
High Tech Customized Facial
Also at the Gran Melia Rome, you’ll find one of the few “Spa My Blend by Clarins” in the world. Along with a variety of aromatherapy showers, steam and sauna, the spa offers the latest in skincare technology by Clarins. First your esthetician takes you through a computer quiz about your lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress), then she runs a scope over your face to that shows hydration levels, firmness, pigmentation and wrinkles on the computer screen. Armed with this information, your esthetician can prescribe just the right creams and serums to improve your skin. The analysis and treatment costs about $300. www.melia.com
THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST
A Taste of Trastevere
Sign up for Eating Italy’s Twilight Trastevere Food Tour for a fun evening in my favourite neighbourhood. Trastevere is Rome’s version of New York’s Greenwich Village or Paris’ Left Bank.
Our stroll started with an apertivo of Prosecco, prosciutto and melon and cherry tomatoes with creamy burrata cheese. At Spirito di Vino, members of the Slow Cooking movement, we tasted wine and an ancient pork recipe that was served to Julius Caesar. We sampled biscuits at a bakery and porchetta (roasted port) sandwiches and cheeses with craft beer at a butcher. We devoured take-out rice balls and pizza (Italian fast food) in the main square and hung out with the locals.
At Ferrara Ristorante, named the best wine cellar in Italy, we feasted on three kinds of pasta and wine from a list the thickness of a telephone book. The cool finale was a stop at Fatamorgana for a gelato tasting. Our guide, Bethany Ryczek, suggests you come hungry and wear something with an expandable waist. Don’t miss this opportunity to munch and mingle with locals for about $130. www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com
Vestal Virgins & Gladiators
Take a guided tour of the Coliseum, the massive shell of an amphitheatre inaugurated in A.D. 80. Let your imagination transport you back to Roman Empire spectacles that included morning hunting games between exotic beasts, vestal virgins screaming for blood, toga-clad senators, lunchtime pubic executions and the ever-popular gladiator battles in the afternoons.
You’ll find Obika Mozzarella Bars at three Rome locations: Fiumicino Airport Terminal Three, Campo de Fiori and Parioli. The concept is simple. They serve various kinds of fresh buffalo mozzarella with appropriate sides of tomatoes, basil pesto, olives and prosciutto. You must try burrata, a creamier variation of buffalo mozzarella, but don't blame me if you become hooked and can’t find it back in Canada. www.obika.com
Marvel at the Pantheon
Michelangelo studied the unique Hadrian-designed dome of Rome’s best-preserved architectural marvel before tackling the cupola of St. Peter’s. Admission is free. Get your java fix at the nearby Caffe Tazzo d’Oro, a Roman coffee institution where you stand elbow-to-elbow at the long granite counter along with locals taking a quick break. Down the street is Gamarelli, official tailor to the pope, where clergy and nuns flock for their frocks.
Usually, I don’t waste space telling you where not to go, but the Sunday Porta Portese open-air flea market in the Trastevere district is not worth your time. I was hoping for antiques and interesting food items; instead I encountered a seemingly unending display of hideous clothes, shoes and household items probably made in Thailand. Give it a pass.
A Wish and a Lick
Join the nocturnal romantics who flock to the beautifully illuminated Trevi Fountain, made famous in the 1954 film, Three Coins in the Fountain. Toss your coin, make your wish to return and then enjoy gourmet ice cream (fresh walnut and dried fig perhaps?) at Il Gelato de San Crispino, Via della Paneterria 42.
Day & Night
I am a huge fan of the Campo de Fiori area. It’s about a central as you will find—minutes from Piazza Navona, the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere just across the Tiber River. Everyday until mid-afternoon the Campo is a thriving flower and food market. One smart entrepreneur was selling freshly squeezed pomegranate juice ($4 per glass) when I visited in October. By dusk, the vendors have gone and the surrounding bars and restaurants become party central.
Avoid Lines and See More
For $145, the three-day Omnia Vatican & Rome Pass is a smart purchase. Some of the benefits include: fast-tract entry to Vatican City museums, hop-on/hop off bus tour, admission to two main attractions (including the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Borghese Gallery), discounts at 30 attractions, unlimited rides on Rome’s transportation system, guidebook and map. www.romeandvaticanpass.com