Great Escapes: Wonders Under Rome’s Radar
Archaeological wonders, old-fashioned charm, cosmopolitan flair: few cities in the world are as impressive as the magical city of Rome. The capital of Italy, located on the Tiber in the central western part of the country, dates back more than 28 centuries. And it is no wonder that it has been dubbed the “Eternal City”, because much of the remains of this ancient civilization can still be found today in what has become a veritable open-air museum.
Now that American vacationers are allowed entry into Italy under EU Green Certificate requirements, now is the perfect time to go, as you can see the city without the usual summer crowds. Museums, cultural sites and restaurants are open. Many require a reservation, so it’s best to check in in advance. Masks outside are not required in town (although they are on public transport), but you should expect to maintain a distance from other people. US travelers must provide proof of vaccination, a certificate of recovery from Covid-19 or a negative PCR test or rapid antigen test performed within 48 hours of arrival.
Most major US cities offer easy direct flights to Rome Fiumicino International Airport, Rome’s largest hub, whose city center is about an hour’s drive away. Although the views along the way are not very beautiful, once all the roads lead into the heart of the city and the ruins and historical monuments start to rise against a backdrop of modern life, it is a breathtaking spectacle.
The most famous finds – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican, the Pantheon – are also among the most visited in Rome, and for good reason. Each historical gem is a rare glimpse of the past in the present. While it’s easy to come back to Rome’s greatest attractions time and time again, discovering something new with each visit, there are also a plethora of off-the-beaten-path attractions to excite all the senses.
Traveling on foot is the best way to familiarize yourself with the terrain and discover hidden gems around every turn. And since covering as much ground as possible is the goal, where you stay versus large sites matters. For a centrally located hotel, consider the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese, just up the Spanish Steps and minutes from the Trevi Fountain and Villa Medici. In light of the pandemic, the hotel offers contactless check-ins, comprehensive safety and health training for employees, and the spacious design of public spaces helps guests keep their distance.
The property is located on a quiet side street in what was once a 19th century Roman palace where artist Caravaggio is said to have been hiding in the stables now occupied by the hotel’s ground floor. The five-star boutique hotel was recently redesigned by French architect and interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel and the result is an elegant fusion of modern French and Italian luxury mixed with old-world charm. Discover the indoor-outdoor restaurant Settimo, an idyllic place to enjoy fine Roman cuisine.
For more intimate accommodation just steps from the Colosseum, the recently renovated Mercure Rome Colosseum Center offers quaint, modernist accommodation right in the heart of the capital, with all rooms offering Colosseum views. From May to September, the hotel opens its poolside terrace and bar so you can really soak up the sights while sipping cocktails.
If you prefer a quieter location, Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts offers an elegant stay about 15 minutes from the city center, with round-trip shuttle service. Perched atop Monte Mario with panoramic city views, amenities include an outdoor pool, several restaurants, and a spa.
You can easily grab a delicious slice or bowl of pasta at almost any local pizza place or small wine bar. To truly discover the art and flavors of Roman cuisine, a lunchtime cooking class is the best way to immerse yourself. Trustevertastes offers intimate sessions for small groups with instruction from experienced chefs. Located in a charming apartment with a professional kitchen in the historic Piazza Santa Maria in the Trastevere district, the school offers hands-on education. Get ready to roll up your sleeves handling delicacies like ricotta and mushroom ravioli and homemade sweet grape focaccia. Then you sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labor in the dining room accompanied by a flowing wine and a view of the Santa Maria Basilica across the street.
After wandering the streets of Trastevere, a charming cobbled region full of authentic Roman shops, cafes and historic churches, you will no doubt whet your appetite. Satisfy your taste buds at Enoteca Ferrara, a chic and cavernous restaurant, osteria, wine bar and birreria off Piazza Trilussa, near Via del Moro. Here you will taste a mix of Roman and regional dishes accompanied by the best of Italian wines. The underground cellar houses an impressive collection of 26,000 bottles and 1,300 different labels to choose from.
Rome is perhaps best known for its ancient empire, but it also has a surprising literary past worth discovering. The Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese offers a guided walking tour with Imago Artis to explore 19th century Rome and its famous author inhabitants. You’ll explore the former residences of some of the century’s most famous writers who made the city their home.
The first stop is the Keats-Shelly House, where the famous English Romantic poet John Keats died in 1821 at just 25 years old. The house has become a museum and library with one of the most comprehensive collections of romantic literature in the world, with works by Keats. , PB Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron among others.
You will continue on the nearby Via del Corso to visit the house where the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived in Italy. Today it is a gallery containing art, books and letters surrounding his stay in Italy. The tour ends with a coffee at the Canova Tadolini Museo Atelier, which is located in the former studio of neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova and his protégé Adamo Tadolini. Sip an aperitif or a cappuccino amid a fascinating world of plaster sculptures, busts and life-size figure shapes that line every inch of this museum-turned-restaurant.
Just outside the city walls, in what is known as the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica, is one of the oldest and most important roads in ancient Rome, the Appian Way. Built in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, the road once stretched 350 miles from the Roman Forum to the port city of Brindisi at the heel of the Italian boot. Here the original basalt stones are still standing and the path is popular for cycling. Along the narrow road are the archaeological remains of mausoleums and tombs of some noble families in Rome, including Emperor Maxentius and his family as well as Cecilia Metella, whose tomb later became a medieval fortress.
Also located along the route are the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, an underground labyrinth of tombs stretching for miles. Take a guided tour of the cave system, where you’ll descend into the depths of the earth beneath the basilica and make your way through narrow corridors where hundreds of thousands of people have been buried in shelves lining the walls.
Built in the mid-1600s, Palazzo Bonaparte, a historic Baroque building in Piazza Venezia, is an example of an artistic encounter building. The palace was once the home of Napoleon’s mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino, who resided there until 1836.
Although the house features richly appointed rooms with impressive stucco, frescoes, neoclassical fireplaces, and the original Venetian terrazzo floor preserved under glass, it is now an art gallery. Recent exhibitions include Impressionisti Segreti, which showcased 50 Impressionist masterpieces by big names, including Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro and Gauguin, against the splendor of the mansion’s decor.
Castel Sant’Angelo is another historic mansion turned into an art gallery. Overlooking the Tiber near Vatican City, the cylindrical building was built in AD 139 by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for his family. In the Middle Ages, it became a fortress for the Vatican where the popes could escape through an underground corridor.
On the five floors of the castle you will find prison cells, weapon collections, works of art and a rooftop terrace with one of the best views in the whole city. The building also houses special exhibitions from time to time, such as, Bulgari, History, The Dream, featuring heirloom jewelry owned by Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman as well as vintage couture fashion.
The writer was the guest of the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese.