Since moving to Italy I have come to love Rome in winter. As spring is scattering blossoms and birds are chirping and cheeping to announce its arrival, the Eternal City is slowly taken over by hordes of curious and loud tourists. While in winter it feels closer to my heart, somehow old-fashioned and almost cosy.
A while ago, I watched a video footage of Rome from the 1950s. Local children kicking a ball on Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, scarce orderly groups of tourists near the Coliseum with a noticeable absence of fake gladiators, quiet streets with lazy cats napping on the pavement. Since then, I have been searching for what I call Roma Sparita, Rome that has disappeared. Well, almost. It is like a shy rare animal that might show up only when the high-season mayhem dies down but you need to slow down and know where to look to catch a glimpse of Roma Sparita. Here is a list of my favourite spots where you can see the Rome invisible to those who rush through it.
Is a quiet residential neighbourhood between via Tagliamento and Piazza Buenos Aires. Its buildings are a fascinating mix of Liberty, Moorish and Gothic styles created by architect Gino Coppedè in the 1920s. I like walking past frescoed whimsical houses peeking through iron-cast gates into private lush courtyards that look like illustrations from some exotic gardening book. One of the buildings was inspired by the Italian epic silent movie Cabiria, another has a huge spider above the entrance, a few others have Florentine symbolic and “Firenze sei bella” written on them. The heart of the quarter is quaint Piazza Mincio with the Fountain of the Frogs.
The Parco della Caffarella
The park is part of Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica and is the last reminder of how green Rome used to be only a century ago. Construction is now allowed here, it is just vast green spaces with elegant pines, dramatic ruins and flocks of sheep. The perfect spot for a picnic!
It is hard to believe that this residential quarter is only a short walk from the Coliseum. Monti is cool and bohemian, filled with atmospheric cafes, shops selling gourmet street food and local designers’ boutiques. For a heavenly snack check out Dall’Antò (Via della Madonna dei Monti,16), a modern bakery that uses artisan organic flours and ancient recipes for making delicious flatbreads. Make sure you try their divine “farinata di ceci” made from chickpea flour, water and olive oil, yes, that’s all. This is slow food at its purest!
Located in the historic quarter of Testaccio, the non-Catholic cemetery is one of my favourite corners of Rome. It is tiny and peaceful, with cicadas singing on the trees napping between graves of Shelley, Keats and many famous painters, sculptors, scholars and authors.
I discovered this pretty park thanks to Linda and Steve from The Beehive Hotel (see below), who brought us here during the #winterinrome visit a few weeks ago. The park is choke-full with locals on sunny days but there is always a quiet corner if you don’t feel like people watching and making new friends. Mussolini rented the stunning neoclassical villa for his residence from the Torlonia family for… one lira a year (!!) Another hidden gem in the park is Casina delle Civette, a bizarre fanciful building that I want to spend more time exploring next time I am in Rome.
The Capitoline Museums
Forget about long queues to the Vatican Museum and head to the Capitoline Hill. The museums here are unjustly ignored by many and quiet most of the time (except the last Sunday of every months when the entrance is free and Romans rush in to discover their past). As Frank Dabell, an art historian and one of the greatest tour guides in the city who works with Context Travel showed us, some incredible Roman treasures are on display there.
The Beehive Hotel
I can write poems about this place! Is there any other hotel in Rome that is more friendly and green thanThe Beehive? Linda and Steve, American expats, who settled in Rome almost 20 years ago, have done a fantastic job creating a tranquil oasis near the hustle and bustle of the Termini station. There is a walled garden with a huge banyan tree, organic breakfasts, honey-based natural soaps and shampoo, furniture made from recycled wood. The Beehive is small and personal where you feel respected and taken care of. A rare thing in Rome nowadays! In the coming weeks I will write a separate post about this hotel in my Green Stays section of the blog.