We are so glad we found Rome, or Rome found us! To our sheer delight, Rome begs to be uncovered at every turn and was beyond our expectations in every way. To those still intending to go for the first time, as so much info is readily available online and a quick Google will tell you most of what you seek regarding monuments and tourist spots, I have chosen to share our highlights into slightly less known territory.
(Of course its going to involve vintagee markets, shopping and high end fabric stores – you know me too well. Nicola!).
I hope you find something to spark your travel fever in this incredible city described as an archeological lasagne where the filling is layers of bricks and bad boy popes and emperors, walls and wars, collseums and conquerors glued together by thousands of years of history.
In Rome the guests of honour, past and present, sit side by side at this open-air buffet over a trillion conversations on art and aristocracy, power and politics, decadence and divinity… pausing only to salute each other from time to time with a rich Italian red. That’s Rome, complex and delicious!
We chose the hip precinct known as Trastevere as our base in Rome.
Trastevere is known for its authentic neighbourhood, interesting people, charming cobblestone streets, cafes and boutiques, and for not being too overcrowded. In fact though our beautiful airbnb home was close to the bustle, it was quiet, tranquil and had it’s own private garden, leafy, green and cool. AirBnB Listing here.
As temperature soared into the high 30’s it was fabulous to repose outdoors in the cooler evenings with a glass of wine and platter of food.
Trastevere is an amazing base close to the Tibre River which helps orient you . If you take note of the many named bridges they serve as exit and entry points where you might diverge to explore inland. It’s within 40 minutes walking distance of the Vatican, Colloseum, Palatine Hill and most famous monuments. i.e. St Peters Basilica. With so much nearby we were excited to get started.
Walks of Italy
With so much history and context to onboard in such a short time and in order to begin to get a sense of place, you cannot beat a well presented tour.
Full disclosure here, we are not your standard Tour types. We generally eschew the hoards and prefer to cut our own track.
But… after a lot of research into reviews we confidently chose Walks of Italy. Their range of walks is comprehensive and the small tour numbers per session and qualified guides, clinched it. The 3 tours we enjoyed were well planned, expertly delivered and very informative.
Liberatti rating: 4.5/5
- After meeting our small group at a small cheery Cafe, we set out on foot, traversing just a few blocks to arrive at the Jewish Ghetto. An informative history lesson was provided on the German occupation of Rome during WW2 and the fate of the local Jewish people. Sobering stuff.
- We then took a comfy (air conditioned) bus to the beautiful ancient Roman Appian Way.
The Apian Way really captured the feel of ancient Rome as did the Aqueducts we visited. I won’t itemize the tour as that will pre-empt your own voyage of discovery but suffice to say it was very worthwhile and it was a highlight to experience the city and a little of the lovely Italian countryside. An excellent starting point to Rome for us.
COLOSSEUM & HARD HAT TOUR OF NERO’S GOLDEN PALACE – 3 Hours
Liberatti rating: 4/5
- We did indeed skip the lines at the Colosseum, as advertised, and enjoy the lively narrative from our qualified archaeologist tour guide. He painted a vivid picture of Senators walking the marble corridors of the Colosseum to take their seats in the VIP section looking down onthe plebs below and taking in a Gladiator spectacle.
- Next we moved from the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill to the highlight for me, an exclusive hard hat tour of a restoration-in-progress-site: Nero’s Palace.
- Domus Aurea tour did not disappoint and the augmented reality recreations were truly amazing. You sit with virtual reality glasses on in a chamber in the cool mustiness and watch Neros original palace and surrounds come to life around you. Wow!
- We started by descending into Rome’s Cistern system near the Spanish Steps. It was amazing to see the layers of stone and brick, a lasagne of different building materials and methods as structures came and went over the centuries, and of course the clever water and cistern systems quenching the city .
- Next stop the eerie and impressive Catacombs a little further out of town where millions were buried.
- Finally and a climax of the tour, the incredible Capuchin bone crypt, a ‘Bone Chapel’, covered in the bones of 4,000 friars.There was something so sickly sweet in the prosaically pretty patterns made with every human bone imaginable. One truly wonders what was motivating the Monks to create these facinating bone mosaics?
In the Trastevere Neighbourhood – Botanical Gardens
After an exhilarating but exhausting few days of walking, meeting, touring, learning we decided to keep it local. One of the benefits of being in Trastevere was that the Botanical Gardens were located right at the end of our street.
In truth there are most likely several Botanical gardens, Rome being the marvel it is, but these were adequate and gave us great pleasure to explore on a warm afternoon. Ponds were admired, statues studied, an old green house and cactus house explored and we even took time out to capture our Scarf Rings against the beautiful backdrop.
A little further on, as we were leaving we spied a film crew who told us they were filming a Roman period drama in the gardens. We got talking to a camera guy. We told him we were Kiwis. He said he had been trying to immigrate to New Zealand. Rome never fails to surprise.
Yet another wonder of Trastevere is Villa Farnesina, in a world of its own, but conveniently located at the bottom of our street.
Villa Farnesina is considered one of the noblest and most harmonious creations of Italian Renaissance. The Farnesina, which at the time of building was simply called Villa Chigi, was the first suburban noble villa in Rome and has from the beginning attracted great fame and notability.
It was built on an ancient site and there is an excellent video inside which creates its history past and present showing how the modern villa was built over an ancient Roman house.
For lovers of painting and art in general, Villa Farnesina is a real treat. The Fregio Room, the Hall of the Perspectives, the Wedding Room, the Gallery of the Grotesque and finally the gardens of the villa will reward the time spent.
The gardens are small but beautifully kept and there seemed to be a couple of garden tours each day around noon, to explain the layout and significance of the outdoors to the manor.
Grand Tour Collection
A new city means opportunities to explore authentic local artisans and craftspeople of imagination and skill. We stay away from the big designer brands and malls with a passion, seeking out the small charming boutiques for collectables and keepsakes of our trip.
Driven by love for the beauty of Italian art and culture, GrandTour Collection jewelry showcases modern and innovative design, with a classical and ancient soul.
We met the very chic Renata in store who told us: “Our choice of style was that of wanting to embed the ancient art into a precious and modern object as a jewel, so classical culture and art values could also live through customs and everyday gestures such as wearing a ring or a necklace”.
Over the course a good 30 minutes we were guided through the process to customize my ‘ring’ for example, I chose a Medusa face plate, then selected the rim encasing (gold) and finally chose the backing piece which sits on your finger. Tortoise in resin for me. (Red, Orange, Green, Black, White and Tortoise shell are all stunning options).
What better way to remember your Roman holiday than with a stylish contemporary piece.
Another favorite passion is to locate local fabric stores and swing buy to shop for heritage fabrics like tweeds, wool mixes, checks and so on made locally. Like Vintage and Flea Markets they are great places to see behind the tourist curtain into everyday local life. After much research, and within walking distance of Trastevere, we found Azienda Tessile. www.aziendatessile.it
Rows upon rows of beautiful Italian fabrics awaited made in many locations around the country and I particularly fell in love with a wool check blend in red and tan. (These are now a fabulous pair of trousers! )
Rome:Mercato Borghetto Flaminio
Only 5 minutes walks beyond the buzzing area of Piazza del Popolo, we were delighted to align Google Maps with the real version of Mercato Borghetto Flaminio.
As flea markets go, this one is small but serene, ordered and diverse with lovely helpful boutique owners. Italian designer brands from the 60’s, 70’s and up to modern day, never heard of by moi, and a treat to discover, as was the vintage clothing, jewellery and accessories.
This market operates on Sunday only and they charge a couple of Euros entrance fee.
Rest assured there was a great coffee van onsite and the bathrooms were spotlessly clean! Everyting you need to enjoy a few hours of fruitiful, happy fossiking. I found a great necklace, women’s cufflinks and an unworn black Valentino knit top. Success indeed! Happy hunting.
Here is a great online resource for more Antiques and Flea Markets around Rome.
Thank You Rome
I hope you have enjoyed just a few of the many highlights.
Thank you Rome for the wonderful hospitality, the warm languid afternoons spent discovering your incredible secrets, statues and street life, for the history at every turn, monuments and immortalized characters andeffortless style.
Like Gelato, Rome has more flavours than we ever dreamed. Arivederci