Join us on a breathtaking adventure to The Eternal City as our Roman raconteur Rob Giardinelli shares a modern spin on a classic destination that always surpasses expectations.
The Italian sun seems to shine brighter in Rome than anywhere else. And no matter what time of the year, the sunlight beams around every corner you look within this ancient city. It’s so easy to fall prey to the abundant charms of Rome. It provides the fabric of our popular culture. From classic films like Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, to the nuances of Italy that permeate our culture in everything from fashion to food, there’s an abundance of chic for the discerning traveler. In a recent bucket list visit and during my honeymoon, Rome, The Eternal City, was a dream come true.
Two things come to mind when anyone thinks of Italy, especially Rome. The love of history and cuisine. As a history buff of Italian descent, I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a honeymoon. Over the course of four days, we walked, shopped, dined and most importantly left while we were still having fun so we could make an encore trip in the future – perhaps to celebrate an anniversary – to experience more.
We arrived early on a warm, yet pleasant Sunday morning at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. As those who believe in living like a local, we opted to stay at an Airbnb residence instead of a five-star hotel, so we could have a truly authentic Italian experience. The owner of our flat arranged for a car and driver to pick us up upon our arrival. Since the airport is outside the city, this offered a unique way to experience the metropolis for the first time. As we drove further and further into the city, we passed by several walls the ancient Romans built to fortress their empire. With each wall we passed, it only heightened the anticipation of getting into the city, no matter how jet lagged we were.
Within a half hour we arrived at our flat, a spacious 19th century-era unit with two terraces, in the Monti district of Rome. Going during the offseason in late October, we were able to find this gem for about one-quarter of the price of a room in a five-star hotel.
One of the best things about the Monti district is its central location and Boho-chic nature – think of it as Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, done Italian style. Our flat was perfectly located on a narrow, one-way street dotted with neighborhood eateries and bars, about a fifteen-minute walk from both Termini (Rome’s main train station) and the Colosseum. Being so conveniently located, we were able to mostly forego metros, taxis and Ubers during our entire stay in Rome. Traveling by foot allowed us to experience the neighborhood gems that would not be as readily available in more touristy, or less central locales, in Rome. After checking into our room, we unpacked our suitcases and darted out for our first afternoon in the city. We would only have to walk half a block before seeing something that would truly capture our eye.
As we rounded a curve in the street just footsteps from our front door, we saw an open garage door bay with many locals walking in an out with shopping bags. Intrigued, we walked in and discovered the Mercato Monti Urban Market. Open only on the weekends, this neighborhood gem features art, accessories, jewelry, and fashion at incredible prices. There were many luxury items for under 100 euros, including cocktail dresses and cashmere wool sport coats. Finding two sets of Armani cufflinks for 30 euros each, we quickly grabbed the bargains, paying the vendor in cash. One thing to note when you shop local in Rome is that many establishments are cash-only. Before you cross the pond, make a visit to your bank and have them order you some euros. You’ll be grateful you did.
After venturing around our neighborhood a little more, we arrived back to our flat for a change of clothes to power through the day. As any seasoned traveler knows, the best way to fight jetlag is to stay up as late as possible on the schedule of your new environment. We donned our Sunday finest and strolled through Via Dei Concotti, Rome’s all-pedestrian version of Rodeo Drive, to a destination recommended by a native Italian friend of ours, the Stravinskij Bar at Hotel de Russie. This gem in the middle of Rome features one of the most stunning outdoor terraces of any hotel in the world. We enjoyed their perfectly made L’architetto and il Professore martinis against the backdrop of gorgeous weather and scenery. Opting for something more local for dinner, we embarked toward our flat to find a local neighborhood haunt, the delectable Trattoria Valentino for pizza, before resting up for the next day.
CLASSIC CULTURE Neither of us had been to Rome before, so given our love for food and history, we decided it would be good to organize our three days into historic and gastronomic themes. We started with a professional tour of the city to have a better understanding of the landmarks and geography. For this we recommend Walks of Italy’s aptly named Rome in a Day tour. It’s an eight-hour, skip-the-lines VIP walking tour of Rome that hits all the high notes. It was a short 15-minute walk from our flat and a perfect way to get the blood flowing for the day ahead as we met across the street from the Colosseum at 8:30 AM sharp.
Our tour was a small group eight. Our guide Francesca, who had earned a doctorate degree in Italian History, gave us a detailed history and understanding of not just the venues we visited, but also of Italian culture. For the first half of the tour, we took in three of Rome’s most iconic landmarks: the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. All of them were beautiful, yet they paled in comparison to our walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali en route from the Colosseum to lover-laden Trevi Fountain where wishes of the heart are made with tossed coins thrown to the fates in the water. Via dei Fori Imperiali provides views of Roman ruins that are both plentiful and breathtaking, making the expanse and largesse of the Roman Empire of 2000 years ago much more relatable.
Near the Pantheon is Giolitti, a gelato shop near the Pantheon that opened in 1900 and is famous for its myriad flavors. They offer a gelato-making class, where students can work with a gelataio to make their preferred flavor and then go behind the counter of the shop where they can serve their gelato to waiting customers. A tasting of gelato follows, of course. For this gelato-loving experience, it’s 700 euros, including car and driver. Another gelato insider tip: ask for whipped cream on top like the locals. For another typically Roman experience, there’s the walk or drive down the Via Vennetto, one of the most famous, elegant, and expensive streets immortalized in the 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, glamorizing the outdoor café culture of the city.
After allowing an hour for lunch when we dined with several of our fellow tour members, Walks of Italy arranged for transportation across the River Tiber for our afternoon at Vatican City. Walking through the Vatican, Francesca continued to impress with a detailed history of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, as well as giving us time to absorb these incredible works of art and architecture. The vast and awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel, in particular, is something to behold and is a must-add item to your bucket list. From Michelangelo’s fabled ceiling to the official anterooms nearby, the richness of history is remarkable.
After a long day of sightseeing and absorbing Italian culture, we hailed our only taxi during our stay in Rome. We had our driver drop us off a few blocks from our flat near Trattoria Valentino, where we had dined the night before, since we knew there was a host of additional restaurants that we could enjoy. We decided to dine at Ai Tre Scalini, a local wine bar with delicious handmade ravioli and lasagna. Still peckish after dinner, we found a neighborhood gelateria, Fatamorgana Monti, less than a block from our flat. The best part, in addition to the amazing pistachio and lemon gelato, of course, were the pony walls on either side which made for a perch to enjoy our dairy treat while people watching. Who says you have to be in a piazza to people watch?
LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
The next morning, we laid low near our place opting to go to a little coffee shop on the corner. It was a robust way to experience the daily life of the local Romans. What impressed us the most is how Romans value and interact with their elders. We saw this in action on several occasions. The most impressive was an older gentleman who asked a young woman walking in the opposite direction for assistance. She stopped to help the older gentleman and aided him all the way up the street to his final destination.
On a high from the generosity from the native residents, we decided it would be fun to walk across the River Tiber to our Trastevere Food Tour. The brisk walk from our flat was a great way to burn calories in advance of all the eating we were about to do. Our tour guide Domenico lead us through the Trastevere region, with stops at eight different local venues, which included plenty of wine and Prosecco, sampling local delicacies such as suppli (a delicious fried risotto ball) and a visit to a vendor at the Trastevere’s San Cosimato Market. More recommended stops are Da Ivo and Ai Marmi. Our tour ended in the Jewish Ghetto for dessert in a 10th-century building built on top of ruins that date back to the first century B.C.E.
After arriving back at our flat, complete with stops at a couple of piazzas for a beverage and some people watching, we changed and took a disco nap before dinner for a night out in the neighborhood. We began our evening at Black Market, a cocktail bar for locals. Walking in, I couldn’t help feeling that this was the quintessential Monti establishment with a vibe that transported me to a still undiscovered neighborhood in an up-and-coming city. Ordering wine, which was served in one-of-a-kind, vintage glasses, we toasted our evening as we tried to discern Italian words from the people occupying the tables around us in the vintage living room environ. From there we walked a couple of blocks to La Carbonara, which has been world famous for at least seven decades. Because it’s also popular with the locals, a reservation is highly recommended. Delicious food at an affordable price, we dined for about 40 euros. The Buffalo Mozarella, Rigatoni Alla Garcia and Spaghetti ala Carbonara are must-haves. En route home, we found a small local grocery store to buy a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass al fresco on the terrace while soaking in the sounds and energy of the city.
For our final day in Rome, we followed the pattern of our first two days. History, followed by food. A good friend of ours said no trip to Rome is complete without an underground ruins tour, specifically the Basilica de San Clemente. Since we had already booked our day-long, above-ground tour of Rome, I was able to find that Walks of Italy also offered a Crypt, Bones and Catacombs tour.
Maintaining the small group nature of our first tour, the underground tour began at Santa Maria della Concezione de Cappuccini, which is across the street from the Hotel Imperiale made famous in the legendary 1953 movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn. A sight to behold, it features artistic installations of the skulls and bones of over 4,000 monks who have inhabited the space over the centuries. The tour also highlighted a must-see of the Spanish Steps, which were recently reopened to the public after years of conservation.
We then hopped on a shuttle and spent the rest of the tour underground. Our next stop was the Catabomb of Santa Priscilia where we descended several stories underground to see how Romans buried the dead over the centuries. Unlike Roman tradition of building new on top of old, the oldest tombs are buried on the top level, with subsequent generations in the layers below. Christianity was not founded in Rome until 313 A.D. which is evident on the upper layers where the tombs have no reference to Christianity. The final stop on our tour was the Basilica San Clemente, a church built on several layers of ruins, where the layers of time reveal the purposes of these grounds. Our guide shared the fascinating 2,000 plus year history of the Basilica which you can almost feel in your own bones as you descend through each level.
We wanted to cap off our time in Rome with a true five-star experience. There is no more magnificent place to do this than Aroma, a Michelin-starred restaurant atop the Palazzo Manfredi Hotel. Aroma features an outdoor terrace with views of the Colosseum. Against this backdrop, I can honestly say there is no more magical, romantic place to finish a visit to Rome – especially at night. Seated at the edge of the 8th story terrace, I looked down to see a historic surprise, exposed ruins. Seeing the above-ground and below-ground history all in one is simply remarkable. Featuring both a tasting menu and an a la carte menu, we opted for the a la carte. Enjoying the tagliolini pasta and risotto, we toasted our marriage and perfect honeymoon. And until we meet again, Rome, Arrivederci!