Posts Tagged ‘Rome’


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img_4210If you can split it into two days (Saint Peter’s one day, the Vatican Museums another), even better. You could spend a year here, everyday discovering something amazing. One guide told me that as far as the Vatican Museums, if you spent one minute looking at every piece that was there, you’d be in there for TWELVE years!

So you are there for a day–to see the masterpieces that have filled your art history books: Saint Peter’s Square, The Pieta, The Sistine Chapel. Take a deep breath, relax, enjoy.

The key: AFTERNOON!!! The tour groups flood V.C. in the mornings. If you get to the Vatican Museums at 2, there may not even be a line. It happened to me in October.

Though you may want to go to Saint Peter’s on a Wednesday at 10:30 to see Papa if he’s in town.IMG_4185

It’s a rock concert! With free tickets! You can get them in advance, but if you’re last minute, go on Tuesday afternoon, to the right of the main entrance to Saint Peter’s, and up those great steps stand the Swiss Guards.

IMG_4149 For some crazy reason, the Guards act totally surprised when you ask them for a ticket. Why else would I be here? Then, with cordial ceremony, they hand you one.

So…the Basilica! The Pieta is to your right. Take your time…
And there you are, in this holiest of places that’s as big as two football fields. It’s worth it to take the steps to the top, at least once in your life.

It takes about 15 minutes to walk from there  to the Vatican Museums.

Which is why it’s so great that one of Rome’s best gelato shops is enroute: The Old Bridge…can’t miss it!

Best to make a plan for the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel visit for the AFTERNOON. Or there are those private after-hours visits, which cost much, but if you’re so inclined, you must do to enjoy this splendidly. Otherwise, choose your group. The standard audio tour is okay, but hardly anything is marked, the place is humongous, so it’s best, especially if it’s your first time, to get guidance.

For a group tour, I once again say, Context Travel is my favorite–they never take more than 6 in a group, and their docents are amazing.IMG_4234 For a tour that’s less expensive but with a bigger group, I went recently with Viator,  lead by Jeanette, who as one of the others in the group put it, is “a bit cheeky!”  She absolutely knows her art history and was totally entertaining.

Vatican Museum tips: 1. Be prepared: it is a very long walk to the Sistine Chapel–the last stop on any tour, group or private. 2. Read up on Michelangelo and the chapel before your visit, 3. There are 2 exits from the Sistine Chapel–the one to the right leads into Saint Peter’s–so it’s great to take that one and get into the Basilica without having to wait in line. The Left exit takes you back through the museum, a labyrinth (through a gift shop) to the museum entrance–perfect if you want to stay on the Vatican Museum side of Vatican City. 4. SEE THE PINACOTECA (Picture Gallery) in the Vatican Museums–it’s awesome! With paintings by Giotto and Caravaggio, and tapestries designed by Raphael which originally hung in the Sistine Chapel!

Also: The Vatican Museum gift shops are quite fine, but if you want a good choice of medals and mosaics, check out: Mondo Cattolico, which is to the left of Saint Peter’s as you approach the square.

My friend, the quintessential MOST EXCELLENT Roman Tour Guide, Iris Carulli, recommended this place to relax for lunch or a cocktail after your Vatican City visitimg_4300: La Veranda dell’ Hotel Columbus, Via della Conciliazone 33, 06 686 5435. It’s a gorgeous frescoed loggia, facing a garden…



IMG_4245Thanks to my Roman friend Gioia, I got to spend a Sunday in Calcata a few weeks ago.  She’s an adventurous gal, helped me out with advice for my book, and thought it would be a great idea to go there on a Sunday for lunch–it’s a 45-minute drive from Rome.

I’d been hankering to go to Calcata since 2007–ever since I read travel writer David Farley’s story from the Sunday New York Times’ Travel Section about it. He began with: WHETHER you arrive in Calcata by car or by one of the buses from Rome, it is impossible to remain unfazed when the village first comes into sight. Perched high atop a cake-shaped stump of tan volcanic rock — studded with a diminutive chess-piece castle and fringed by a dense forest — the fortified village plays on the travelers’ collective myth of the quintessential Italian hill town.

What’s especially intriguing about this place (that you could circle in five minutes), is that it had been practically abandoned by the 1960’s, and was about to go under the government wrecking ball. Then artists moved in, dug in their heels and saved it, so today it’s full of creative types from all over the world. They’ve opened art galleries, craft shops, and one of the most amazing-looking restaurants I’ve ever seen has been created by Pancho Garrison, a Texas native (in photo above with Gioia). The restaurant is La Grotta dei Germogli (, a mosaic lined cave that sits cliffside, where nouvelle Italian cuisine is served.

It was a thrill to meet Pancho, because I’d read about him in Farley’s book, An Irreverent Curiosity. CALCATTABLOG

It’s a fascinating and hilarious story about Farley’s quest to solve the mystery that surrounds the disappearance of Calcata’s prized relic: the foreskin of Jesus.

Farley had fired up my imaginings about the town, and on the Sunday visit, Calcata surpassed my expectations in the best way. There was a crafts fair going on, so it was especially lively, with a jazz band blasting tunes in the tiny square. Enthusiastic Romans milled about, filling every table at all the restaurants (there are about five of them) by 1:00.

For the best eats, Farley recommends La Grotta dei Germogli, Il Gato Nero (0761 588 015), and Tugurio (0761 587 388).

IMG_4257We wound up  at La Piazzetta–enjoying my favorite Roman pastas: cacio e pepe and amatriciana, with some vegetables and wine–lunch came to 15 euros each–pretty nice. It all felt very traditional–except Patti Smith’s “Gloria” was blaring in the background. Rock on, Calcata!

We poked around the village, into the church, graced with dusty crystal chandeliers, where the Holy Foreskin was once kept on the altar. We wandered through town discovering breathtaking cliffside views tucked behind jumbled stone buildings, then headed out of the village for a pleasant stroll on a lovely shaded path, serenaded by birdsongs.

A perfect Sunday.


img_4215It’s not only that I happen to like her taste in books.

Heather Hanson is the most fun person to be with  if you want to know what’s happening on the Italian wine scene. I met her years ago when I went along on a Context Travel Wine Walk of Rome that she lead-which by the way is a great thing to do in the Eternal City–go wine bar hopping with Heather, I mean, because she gives you the backstage view.

For such a young woman, she brings in loads of expertise–she’s a certified sommelier from one of Italy’s most prestigious institutions and she’s lived in Rome for nine years. Plus, she is always entertaining.

I asked her to get me up to date on Rome’s wine scene and she came back with:

A new, very casual wine bar that I like is the Cantina Lucifero (via del Pellegrino 53), run by the owners of Taverna Lucifero around the corner, one of my favorite restaurants in Rome.  The Taverna specializes in fondue (I always get the Piedmontese fondue with fontina cheese and fresh white truffle!) and they have always had a serious wine list.  Their new wine bar offers a few different whites and reds by the glass as well as a good bottle selection, and their amazing appetizers such as grilled vegetables and cheeses.

And as for local wines to order?

More and more Lazio producers are eschewing quanity and focusing on quality.  Marco Carpineti in the Cori district uses organic methods to turn out interesting, very well-priced reds and white.  Isabella Mottura, the niece of established producer Sergio, makes serious reds in the Tuscia Viterbese, an up-and-coming sub-zone.  Vini Pallavicini in the Castelli Romani makes extremely affordable wines (their most expensive wine will  run you 15 euros at the winery) in a wide range of styles. I particularly like their Frascati Superiore Poggio Verde and their Amarone-style red Amarasco.

heather_3See what I mean? Heather is the one to go to when you want to know about wine in Rome.

She has a Website, Italy Decanted, AND a book in the works. I’ll keep you posted.

Golden Day Seven: Enjoy the Flavors of Rome

Many years ago I was at a cocktail party on the terrace of the Belgain Embassy in Rome–an invitation you should never refuse, because the view from up there of the forum is amazing.

DSC00219That’s where I met food writer Carol Coviello-Malzone, who lives part time in the Eternal City, in an apartment that overlooks the Campo dei Fiori. Carol’s passion is Roman cooking–she knows the absolute best eating places in town, and has written a guide to Rome’s restaurants, “Flavors of Rome. ” When I’m lucky enough to be in Rome when she’s there, I just hand over the eating decisions to Carol, and am guaranteed a golden time.

So I asked her: If I was in Rome today, take me through a Golden Day of eating, per favore…

CAROL: “Allora, since it’s September, the season of La Vendemmia (the wine harvest) the grapes in the market are abundant and delicious, there’s fresh figs, the last of them called settembrini,  and that golden autumn light pointing the way to Rome’s best eating experiences .

IMG_0849Let’s imagine we’re two budget-conscious friends (which we are) on our last full day in Rome, not willing to deny ourselves a thing at the table.  To rev ourselves up for this exercise, our first stop is Sant’Eustachio for my caffe (espresso) and your cappuccino.

IMG_0862That done, we stroll over to the market at Campo de Fiori, buy a few of those above-mentioned settembrini, proceed a few steps forward into the Forno Campo de Fiori for warm slices of that marvelous slightly salty pizza bianca and make our own little pizza fichi,  just enough to keep us going until lunch.

For lunch, on a glorious mid-fall day, it must be al fresco, within sight of the Pantheon, so we grab a table at Da Fortunato, Via del Pantheon 55, (06/6792788, closed Sunday).

Maybe we’d even indulge in a gelato later that afternoon, near the Trevi Fountain, at the place that’s been called, “Home to the Best Gelato on Earth”: San Crispino, Via della Panetteria 42.

IMG_1379We’ll meet up at a wine bar, L’Angolo Divino at 7 for an apertivo and a last farewell to Max.

And for dinner, we’d go to Renato e Luisa (via dei Bariberi 25, closed Mon, 06 6869660) for delicious Roman classics in a cozy atmosphere. Plus Chef Renato is one of the handsomest chefs in Rome!

For more Flavors of Rome info, Carol’s newsletter, and to order her book, go to


If you need a break from the tourist crowds of Rome, escape into a museum…Not the Vatican museum or the Borghese, but smaller ones,IMG_2521

like my favorite, the Palazzo Barberini, where Audrey Hepburn lived in Roman Holiday.

Climb these stairs designed by Borromini…IMG_2522

Imagine what life was like back in those seventeenth century days when the Barberini family lived and partied here.  Now the rooms are the Galleria Nazionale dell’Arte, hung with paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Lippi.

A lovely morning stop, followed by lunch at Colline Emiliane (Via degli Avignonesi 22, 06/481 7538), for specialties of the Emilia Romagna region.


You leave the sounds of church bells and car honks behind and head to The Queen of the Roads, from 312 BC.


Okay, it’s not always peaceful. You may have heard there’s no cars allowed here on Sunday, but listen up: not true. There are all kind of specially licensed vehicles that can get through here, so Sunday is not the Appian Way bike ride day.

Come on a weekday, after 3, when the afternoon light is hazy and golden and it’s all quiet and dreamy…

Just you and the few others who took a cab from the historic center (12 euro), straight to the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, where bikes can be rented inexpensively.

 It’s a bumpy ride on the stones, but it’s good to go slow, like the chariots did…IMG_2621

And imagine pulling in here and saying “I’m home!”img_2627IMG_2625

Then hearing the bells and looking over the stone wall to discover a flock of sheep…

Sunday here can be fabulous, just not for bikeriding.  My Sunday lunch here with friends last October was one of those “we are making lifetime memories” times. So go on a Sunday morning, wander around the Catacombs, and then have lunch at Hosteria Antica Roma, 06/5940534 or 06/5132888. Say Ciao to Paolo, the owner, mangia and feel heavenly.



A beautiful thing to do to start the day, or at sunset.  Leave the historic center and cross the Ponte Sisto…


Wander through the streets of Trastevere, up Via Garibaldi to the FONTANONE!! Such a fountain, with such a view of the domes of Rome. On Sundays there are usually brides there posing…



You continue winding up until at the tippy top you come to the park, with a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi and maybe a puppet show…


And nearby, the Statue of Anita Garibaldi, The Mother of Modern Italy…


With a pistol in one hand, an infant in the other.

Reason one zillion and three of how Italy differs from America. Anita, this 28-year-old Brazilian beauty was the wife of Giuseppe Garibaldi (the George Washington of Italy). Giuseppe, with Anita by his side, lead the nineteenth century fight to form a united Italy. Compare Anita (above) with Martha Washington:


Take your gelato break up in the park, wind down slowly. Lunch in Trastevere at Romolo (Via di Porta Settimana 8, 06 581 8284), to enjoy Roman specialties where Raphael’s girlfriend once lived.


I love them all. I love how you’ll be walking along and hear water flowing, and then turn to discover something like this…rome1

Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona. Come early in the morning or very late at night to get the best experience of it, without the crowds. If you stop by at sunset, take a look and then head over to the nearby roof of the Hotel Raphael for a cocktail,


And there’s this one in the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.  Stop by the Caffe di Marzio to admire the scene–always colorful, whether morning or night. Eat nearby at D’Augusto (15 Piazza da Renzi), for classic Roman pastas at budget prices.

It’s dreamy to be walking by this one…


On the Via Giulia, behind the Palazzo Farnese. Those expert Renaissance partiers, the Farnese, would fill it with wine for their celebrations.


Here’s another Bernini, The Turtle Fountain in the Jewish Ghetto at Piazza Campitelli. Stop by on your way to one of the most romantic restaurants in Rome, Vecchia Roma,

Golden Day Two: Roaming Around Rome

When I put away the guidebook, Rome unfolds… Church doors open to masterpieces. Open the door of Sant’Ivo della Sapienza (Corso di Rinascimento 40, around the corner from Piazza Navona) and there’s this snowflake of a dome, designed by the Renaissance superstar Borromini. This is open ONLY on Sunday mornings, when there’s a folk mass–guitars and kids singing.


Mass is usually at 9:30, but check in case they’ve changed the schedules. It’s  a small church that fills up with the locals, which means you get to be amidst another Italian masterpiece: beautiful faces.

It could set you off on a Golden Sunday morning of Church Door Opening. Free art. Cool in the summer, warm in winter. Candles. Peaceful feeling.

As long as you’re in the Sant’Ivo della Sapienza area, wander over to…

San Luigi dei Francesi ( Via Di S. Giovanna D’Arco, 5–Closed Thursday afternoons). Open the door with the star on it. Go to your left for 3 Caravaggio masterpieces–the Inspiration of Saint Matthew is breathtaking.

There’s another stunning Caravaggio at  nearby Sant’Agostino (Piazza Agostino): Madonna di Loreto.

Wind your way through Piazza Navona, past Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers–a scene that will be crowded on Sunday.

It’s time fora long lunch in the narrow streets tucked behind the Piazza: Virginiae Cucina Romana, Via di Parione 41 (06 6875 150), where mamma cooks lasagna.

Best Caffe around: Caffe della Pace, Via della Pace 3

In the evening, if the timing is right, there may be a classical music concert happening at the Baroque Borromini Sacristy in Piazza Navona or in the courtyard that fronts Sant’Ivo. Check out In Rome Now for listings:

At the Borromini Sacristy, the 12 euro ticket price includes a free post-concert glass of prosecco at Cul de Sac, one of Rome’s most beloved wine bars.

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