Rome is a masterpiece packed with wonders, from some of the world’s finest art to the most exquisite cappuccino. An eternal fan reports.
The glory of Rome was spread below us on the eighth floor of the five-star Rome Cavalieri, a tranquil hilltop retreat just west of the Tiber. After planning our day in this luxury bolthole, we sallied forth into the city on the free shuttle bus that runs every hour. Back in the evening for luxury pampering in the spa, a refreshing dip in the choice of pools, or a stroll in the lush hotel gardens. Then dinner in the excellent L’Uliveto restaurant. But what marks the Cavalieri out from many other top hotels its fine art collection, (and original Rudolf Nureyev costumes). One definition of civilisation is afternoon tea in the lobby, under Tiepolo’s Ulysses discovering Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes.
Rome’s great sites, St Peter’s, Piazza Navona, the Forum and Colosseum, Trajan’s Column, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Trevi Fountain, the epic golden statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Pantheon, Piazza del Popolo and the others are so close together that you’ll see them all easily in a weekend’s strolling. And most of them are free. But I always like to see something quite new. This time it was the concentration of treasures in Galleria Borghese, set in the Villa Borghese’s rarified grounds. It’s worth if it just for the astonishing Bernini sculpture Daphne and Apollo, and Venus wearing only a rakishly angled hat in Cranach’s Venus and Cupid with a Honeycomb. This is an admirable alternative if the Vatican Treasures is full up. Book before your trip.
Meals that last
For me one of the joys of visiting Rome is finding my favourite restaurants from way back . After many delvings down mazy side streets around Piazza Navona, I found it again – our favourite call on our last visit to Rome in 1999. But Montecarlo’s, on Vicolo Savell, with its modest menu of pizza and pasta, served by flat-out waiters jinking between tight packed tables, hadn’t changed a bit. Monte Carlo is the eternal family restaurant. Carlo in his trademark blue shirt presided over his perfect little empire at a high desk, greeting old friends. There was one last thing. I beckoned for the bill. Carlo wrote it neatly out, like a schoolboy’s sum, on my paper tablecloth. Just like the last time. It has a few more photos of Carlo with famous customers, but his prices are still stuck deep in the past. How about two pizzas and a half litre of smooth, young house red for a ridiculous €30? www.lamontecarlo.it.
At Trattoriia da Giggetto (Via del Portico d’Ottavia) they make the fried artichokes and the Filetti di Baccala (cod fritters) just as the Ceccarellis devised it in 1923. But you’re unlikely to be disappointed in any small family place in Rome.
My cafe choices are Tazza d’Oro, by the Pantheon, and Cafe Pace (Via della Pace) where they serve TV detective Aurelio Zen his favourite grappa. I vouch for its restorative effect.
On the trail of Caravaggio.
They were the movie posters of the 1600s. The powerful, unorthodox religious paintings by the hotheaded genius Caravaggio, who worked in Rome, featured lowlife models with a story to tell, startlingly–lit against dark shadow. With the go-anywhere public transport ticket I tried to track down all eight locations listed in the excellent Rome Purple Guide. Time and quirky Italian opening hours defeated me. But until the next time I will I treasure my minutes alone before the drama of The Conversion of St Paul, the apostle flat on his back, arms outstretched, in Santa Maria del Popolo.
If a stray meteorite ever took out Rome they’d be able to rebuild it, from the big monuments down to the most intimate viale, from the many films shot there. Think Bicycle Thieves through to the BBC’s Zen series, via Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and many other homages to Rome. But the one they would study most closely is Roman Holiday–on our visit the image of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on a scooter was everywhere. This walk, on www.gpsmycity.com, links up many locations in the film, and takes you down fashionable streets. Most elegant of all is Via Margutta, full of high-end galleries, where Joe Bradley (Peck) and the real Fellini lived.
One of the most poignant places in Rome has nothing to do with imperial grandeur, or centuries of great art and architecture. It’s where a doomed 25 year old lived his last six months. Standing in the room where John Keats died of TB in 1821 was intensely moving, while everyday life continued just outside on the Spanish Steps. Externally Keats-Shelley House is unchanged from when Keats moved here in vain hopes of a recovery, with so much more to say. But his reputation as a great poet was already made (see the movie Bright Star). Everything in this small museum is in English, and there’s an excellent shop. The Landmark Trust rents out the apartment above.
Five minute marvel
There was just time for a hectic dash to the final church on our list, Santa Maria della Vittoria. We had five minutes before leaving for the airport, but I’ll never forget that brief glimpse of a minor marvel of Renaissance Italy. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Bernini’s serene and passionate sculpture in white marble, is one of many masterpieces scattered liberally among the city centre churches. Also on my list is Santa Maria del Popolo, for the Conversion of St. Paul (the apostle is flat on his back, arms outstretched) by the hotheaded genius Caravaggio. His powerful paintings, startlingly lit against dark shadow, were the movie posters of the 1600s. His St Matthew Trilogy is in San Luigi dei Francesi, close to the Pantheon.
Rome Cavalieri is part of Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts.
Twitter – @RomeCavalieri. Instagram – @romecavalieri. Hashtag – #myromecavalieri
Citalia, www.citalia.com, leading Italian specialists, arranged Gareth’s trip. He stayed the night before flying in the Gatwick Hilton, through HolidayExtras.com, for packages at all major UK airports,with parking.