The first time I visited Rome, I was 19 years old. I went to study for a month, hoping to begin to learn the language, as well as take in the beauty of this famous city. Both my parents were born in Italy: my mother on the island of Capri, off Naples, and my dad in the outskirts of Genoa. But neither had returned to their country, and I was very interested in learning something more about my background.
That month in Rome, and the two weeks afterward when my parents picked me up and took me to their birthplaces, changed me. (My decision to visit Italy prompted my parents to go back as well.) First, the excitement of being 19 in Rome with American friends, studying and free to discover this complex city was really a step in moving away from the protection of living at home. I grew up in Queens and went to college in NYC, but back then I had lived a pretty sheltered life.
Going to Rome was the most exciting thing I had ever done, beating out Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale by a long shot!
And, of course, I fell in love with Rome. How could I not? The history, the art, the fountains, the hills, the ruins, the food, the beach, the Italian men! It was mind boggling that people lived in houses that were ancient. That beauty was everywhere, on such a grand scale, and in so many different ways. And, to top it all off, this was MY heritage.
My heart would beat faster when sitting in the Piazza Navona, thinking it was the most beautiful square in the world with the most beautiful fountains in the world. I had never fallen in love with a place before, but I fell hard for Rome. It made my heart beat faster. A place, a city, had never quite done that.
I loved Manhattan, but it was a place I knew and chose and understood.
Rome was an adventure because it shook me up - it said look at me, know me, I am part of your history and I welcome you.
I had been seduced.
How wonderful was that month seeing everything we could in Rome, falling in love with Bernini, with the Sistene Chapel, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Villa Borgese, the Capitoline. The Trevi fountain thrilled, the Churches inspired, the streets charmed. And, the food was so wonderful, so familiar, like mom's home cooking. And the gelato was exceptional, a new experience and a delight.
I will never forget that first trip to Rome - the beginning of a love affair with the city and with Italy. I will never forget the shock of being there, the emotions it aroused and the world it opened up to me. I have returned to Italy many times and I am always thrilled to be there.
Recently, I returned on a short trip to Rome on a tour put together by PromaRoma, a division of the Chamber of Commerce of Rome. It was to be an educational tour to remind us of what Rome has to offer. And, as tour guides, PromaRoma chose Antonio Rinaldini and Paolo Meschini of Roam Around Rome (www.roamaroundrome.com), who develop customized tours for very small groups who are discerning tourists and want to discover Rome and her secrets.
From the very first moments, I realized this would be a special tour. Because Antonio and Paola were passionate about Rome, choosing to live there from other areas of Italy. And because they were so knowledgeable about Rome, its architecture, its history and its art. Their desire is to share their passion for Rome and they were very successful. We saw many things in Rome in four days and many of them I had seen before. But not with their eyes, their perspective, their passion.
So, here are some ideas for you to consider for a Spring visit to Rome. Spring is an ideal time to go, before the tourists invade en masse, and before the temperatures rise too much. Spring is for lovers, too, and it’s a perfect time for long walks, taking in the art of the city and allowing yourself to start a love affair with Roma.
In a city over 2700 years old, with magnificent art everywhere, I always like to find a hidden place to view the city and grab a delicious bite. One of our favorite places in Rome is the Capitoline Museums, which were traced to 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze statues to the People of Rome. The steps leading up to the museum are very wide and dramatic, and getting to the top lets you see Rome from a beautiful perch. In Piazzale Caffarelli,4, with external access from the steps of the Capitol, on the top floor of the building in which the Capitoline Museums are contained, is Terrazza Caffarelli, From this Terrace, there are spectacular views of Rome, and you can enjoy a pleasant lunch and some wine. Relais le Jardin manages this space and does a wonderful job. Having a glass of Prosecco and taking in this view of Rome, is a wonderful way to start your Roman adventure!
Another wonderful place to visit is Palazzo Valentini, originally commissioned to be built in 1585 by Cardinal Michele Bonelli, a nephew of Pope Pius V. Over many years, this building underwent renovations, demolitions and additions. It once housed an Imperial Library with about 24,000 volumes. It was also a private theatre and housed famous musicians from 1705-1713. The whole building was purchased in 1827 by a Prussian banker Vincenzo Valentini, who lived in it as his home and thereby gave it his name.
What’s amazing about visiting this Palazzo is that there are archaeological remains of ancient Roman houses beneath it. A team of art historians, archaeologists and architects, working for the Provincial Administration, has created a most outstanding reconstruction of ancient Rome. It is lit from below, has a terrific sound track explaining all that is below, and even has visual suggestions as to what was built so many years ago. Walking on clear resin floors, in dim light, makes this experience a very dramatic one, highlighting how the Romans lived. If you go, you will never forget the experience.
Of course, visiting Rome always includes a walk on the Via Veneto, the city’s most famous street, made famous by Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and his other movies. From the Piazza Barberini to Porta Pinciana, this road is charming and full of cafes, stores and history. An ideal place to stop for a glass of wine, or for a cappuccino! If you are interested in stopping, try Harry’s Bar, an establishment famous for its welcome to all. It is at Via Vittorio Veneto, 150 (www.harrysbar.it) and was also made famous in “La Dolce Vita.” Try its signature drink, the Bellini, a fusion of fresh peach juice and champagne (about $25US). A truly Roman experience!
No visit to Rome can leave out the Piazza Navona, my favorite square in Rome. This piazza dates back to 90 A.D. and was originally Emperor Domitian’s stadium, with a capacity of over 30,000 spectators. Centuries later, it hosted carousels, competitions,and parades. Its concave pavement was flooded with water to turn it into a large pool! Buildings and churches frame the piazza, and surround three magnificent fountains.
My favorite is Fontana dei Fiumi by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, It represents the major rivers in the world and is an unforgettable piece of art. Bernini’s art is all over Rome, and you will become very familiar with him as you walk the city. He was a very famous and revered Baroque architect of the 17th century.
The other famous fountain that is most visited in Rome is the Fontana di Trevi, made famous by Anita Ekberg wading in its waters at night in “La Dolce Vita”. It took Nicola Salvi 30 years to mold this complex structure and it was completed in 1762. It has statues, Corinthian columns and sea-inspired sculptures that glorifies the Baroque shapes of those times. The tradition calls for visitors to throw a coin in the fountain to ensure a return visit!
Fontana di Trevi
As the weather warms, a visit to the Villa Borghese gardens and its museum is a must! While many say the best museum in Rome is the city itself, the Villa Borghese is worth a visit. You must reserve tickets to see its 20 rooms of art and sculpture, and it will be worth planning ahead. Here you will see many antiquities of the Renaissance and the beginnings of the Baroque era, and many Bernini works. Reservations keep the crowds down, allowing you to really take in this magnificent art. The park include 226 acres of gardens, paths filled with statues, fountains, theatres and lakes. Plan to rent a bike and spend a few hours enjoying this tranquil art-filled park. And look for the Cinema Dei Piccoli, the smallest movie theatre for bambinos you have ever seen!
If you want to leave the urban center of Rome, you can visit a vineyard – the only one within city limits, and taste their delicious wines, and even stay at their guesthouse. Visit Gelso Della Valchetta (www.gelsodellavalchetts.com). This is a new vineyard, planted in 1997 by the Caldani family. It is situated in a valley in the Veio Park. Their wines, Il Gelso and Lilium, are high quality and amazing. As you drive up to the vineyard, you can spy the family dogs, some big and white, others small, but all well-loved. They welcome you into the farmhouse, where you can sample the wines and taste some Roman dishes, homemade by Flaminia Caldoni herself! They are located at Via Formeliese 173/c,00123 Roma. Call ahead to set up a tasting. (+39 3497605946).
Back in the heart of Rome, you cannot leave without seeing the Coliseum. This is a place to visit by day AND by night. It was build by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and opened by his son Titus in 80 AD. It was called “Amphitheatrum Flavlum.” It is the largest amphitheatre in the world and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman engineering and architecture. The Coliseum could hold up to 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles, like animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, etc. It was later used for housing, workshops, as a quarry, housing for a religious order. Though much of it has been destroyed by earthquakes and stone robbers, it remains an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is deemed World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is one of the most visited sites in the world.
One View of the Coliseum
These are some ideas for you as you plan your Spring trip to Roma. Happy Travels!!