Everywhere you turn looks like a film set
City Slicker: Rome - Eternal it may be, but autumn is one of the best times to see this city. Rhiannon Batten has tips for new and returning visitors
Sunday 31 October 2010
The timeless pulling power of the Eternal City means there's little need for an excuse to visit but, for committed jet-setters, now is very much the time to go, as the autumn weather sets in and the tourist hordes subside.
Eat Pray Love mania is finally dying down (though you'll still find groups following in Julia Roberts's footsteps on themed walking tours and fans queueing for ice cream at San Crispino, a gelateria mentioned in the film), and a more discerning kind of movie fan is moving in, lured by the International Rome Film Festival (romacinemafest.it). Running from 28 October to 5 November, the festival promises a celebrity-strewn red carpet as well as screenings, talks and a wider programme of events and performances. And what better location for taking time out between screenings than a city where you can follow your own trail around the backdrop to such films as Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita or The Talented Mr Ripley?
The Colosseum, a vast amphitheatre built in AD72 by Emperor Vespasian and infamously the site of gruesome contests between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and animals. The Colosseum (rome.info/colosseum) is the best-known feature of Rome's landscape of ancient monuments. Even for regular visitors, it's worth scheduling an imminent trip as areas of the amphitheatre previously off-limits to the public, such as the hypogeum, were opened up earlier this month.
A stroll around the Forum. Just next door to the Colosseum, it was the political centre of ancient Rome (rome.info/roman-forum).
Taking in St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, where more contemporary pomp and ceremony are on offer (saintpetersbasilica.org). It has the largest interior of any Christian church (holding up to 60,000). The awe-inspiring papal basilica is believed to be the burial place of St Peter.
Gazing at the Sistine Chapel. The other great Vatican City attraction (vatican.va), whose famous frescos by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, Rosselli and Ghirlandaio are enjoyed by Pope Benedict XVI when he's saying his private prayers here.
Marvelling at the Pantheon. Originally built about 2,000 years ago as a temple to the gods of ancient Rome, the Pantheon (rome.info/pantheon) has undergone several reinventions over the centuries, most lately to become a Catholic church. What sets it apart is its ceiling, which is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome and, with its central opening, operates as a kind of sundial.
Climbing the Spanish Steps. Funded by a French diplomat in the early 18th century, the 138 Spanish Steps, or Scalinata (rome.info/squares/piazza-di-spagna) run gracefully from the Piazza di Spagna's Fontana della Barcaccia ("Fountain of the Old Boat") to the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. Also at their base is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House (keats-shelley-house.org) where the 25-year-old poet Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821.
Tarrying by the Trevi Fountain. The largest Baroque fountain in the city (rome.info/sights/trevi-fountain) is a gargantuan monument to Roman engineering. It marks the end point of one of the aqueducts that once supplied water to the city. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the water you'll return to the city, but more legendary is the fountain's appearance in Fellini's La Dolce Vita as a smooching spot for Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni.
It may still be a little rough round the edges but this authentically Roman district, in the east of the city, is now full of artists, architects, film-makers and writers. Aim to visit at lunchtime if you want to catch its outdoor market (on Via del Pigneto), a hot spot of activity among the area's sleepy lanes and crumbling, colourful houses. Pigneto is home to some of Rome's most interesting restaurants, such as Necci (necci1924.com), a cosy space with white-painted chairs, bright wallpaper, old cabinets laden with wine, a long counter packed with delicious cakes, and chalkboards listing daily specials. Other modern rustic restaurants worth the detour are L'Infernotto (Via del Pigneto 31) and Primo (primoalpigneto.it). For clubbing and live music, go to Fanfulla (Via Fanfulla Da Lodi 101).
The Perfect Bun
It is unusual to find authentic American food in Italy, so it's little surprise that this recently opened restaurant, just by Piazza Navona, has quickly become the place to eat among the city's cool thirtysomething crowd. Its industrial styling is heavy on glass, wood and brick; a changing airport departure board takes pride of place on the wall. Food focuses on simple, freshly made burgers, steaks and salads and the friendly vibe is helped along by a big communal wooden table at its heart – and disco lights in the loo.
It originally opened a couple of years ago as an upmarket grooming salon offering tailoring services, a barbershop, clothes store, personal training and beauty treatments for men. This soothingly pared-down day spa has just started offering women's treatments too. This is the perfect retreat from Rome's chaotic streets. Book in advance to guarantee a slot in its steam room.
Winner of this year's Sterling Prize for architecture, the new Zaha Hadid-designed Maxxi (Museum of the Art of the XXI century) is an attempt to create a series of spaces that "rather than prescribing routes, gives the visitor a sense of exploration". That might be true, but I found these meandering spaces made for a slightly frustrating visitor experience and left me unsure if I'd seen everything or not. Fortunately, the exhibitions make a trip worthwhile; current attractions incorporate a series of displays dedicated to the work of Italian artist Gino de Dominicis – including a ghoulish giant skeleton reclining outside the museum's entrance.
The latest member of the Design Hotel collective to arrive in Rome, Leon's Place is a 19th-century palazzo re-imagined as a shimmering 21st-century boutique hotel. It's a new kid on the block but Leon's theatrical lobby, sybaritic rooms, helpful staff and central location already make it one of the city's most popular hotel choices. Doubles from €200 (£175), room only.
Where to find the best ice cream in the city
Vanessa Jones, writer
"The Antica Gelateria De Matteis has the best ice cream in the city. It's all made on site from natural ingredients and its interesting variety of flavours range from chilli and chocolate to fig or pine nut. It's right by the Colosseum but away from the main drag so you can get a bit of respite from the crowds while you enjoy your gelato."
How to get there
EasyJet (0871-244 2366; easyjet.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Alitalia (0844 815 3649; alitalia.com) and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) fly to Rome's main airport, Fiumicino. EasyJet and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) fly to Rome Ciampino.
Italian Tourist Board (020-7408 1254; italiantouristboard.co.uk).
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