Weekend in... Rome

28 Nov 2013 by GrahamSmith
Already visited the Vatican and Colosseum? Jenny Southan offers some alternative sights to see in the Italian capital In 2013, Rome welcomed its 266th Pope – the Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio (also known as Pope Francis), who not only became the first pontiff to come from Latin America but is also an avid tweeter (@Pontifex) with more than three million followers. For many visitors with free time in the Italian capital, the Vatican City is a special place to visit, especially on Wednesday mornings, when there is often the opportunity to take part in a papal audience. Of course, there are all the other famous sights, too – the Spanish Steps, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon – but for those who are more familiar with Rome, here is a selection of lesser-known places to take in. Campo de Fiori One of the best ways to get a sense of local life in a city is to visit a market, and the one that takes place Monday to Saturday on Campo de Fiori is particularly colourful. Packed around the statue of Giordano Bruno (a philosopher who was burnt at the stake here in 1600), the majority of stalls display food – be it bunches of young asparagus, piles of peaches, sacks of dried herbs, bottles of olive oil, bags of pasta, jars of pesto or cups of freshly chopped fruit. The sellers are good humoured, calling to each other jovially and encouraging you to try things as you walk by. One particularly entertaining man sits demonstrating all the magical things his vegetable peeling gizmos can do – cut spirals of potato and courgette, “a necklace for your wife” – before trying to sell them to you. Villa Borghese gardens Ascend the Spanish Steps and turn left up the hill (Piazza della Trinita dei Monti) until you get to the elevated plateau at the front of the Villa Borghese public gardens. From here, there are panoramic views over Rome, and the lush landscaped park makes a refreshing retreat from the hubbub of the city streets. Bring a picnic, take a walk or rent a Segway to zoom around on. Then make your way to the far end, where Galleria Borghese (galleriaborghese.it) is located. Dating back to the 17th century, the museum is crammed with Renaissance and Baroque antiquities, paintings and sculpture. Note that you will need to book a ticket (€11) in advance and it is closed on Mondays. Basilica di San Clemente A ten-minute walk from the Colosseum, just off Via Labicana, is the ancient church of St Clemente. Although the 12th-century basilica is a gem in itself, with its richly decorated Byzantine apse covered in golden mosaics, it has been built on the site of two even older churches dating back to the fourth and first centuries, both of which have been excavated. Buy a ticket (€5) and take a flight of stone steps down into the cool, dark, damp chambers below, where you can explore underground walkways, see faded frescos and hear the rushing water of subterranean rivers. There’s even a pagan altar, inscribed with an image of the god Mithras sacrificing a bull, in a second-century cave-like Mithraeum. Open Mon-Sat 9am-12.30pm, 3pm-6pm, Sun 12pm-6pm. basilicasanclemente.com   Capuchin crypt Living an ascetic life modelled on that of their founder, St Francis of Assisi, Capuchin monks advocate a poverty-stricken, hermit-like existence in constant contemplation of God, but they have also exhibited a dark side. The Capuchin Crypt experience begins with a tour of its museum, which houses numerous glass cases displaying, among other oddities, instruments of self-punishment – metal scourges, a whip of knotted cords, and a cilice of metal hooks worn around the body to cause constant pain. After this, you will arrive at a long, stone-walled corridor with six macabre chambers decorated floor-to-ceiling with the bones of 3,700 long-dead monks. “The soul sinks forlorn and wretched under all this burden of dusty death,” wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne upon visiting it in 1860. The ossuary, stacked with skulls and embellished with ribs, shoulder blades and pelvises, is thought to have been created by one of the fathers in the early 1700s – some skeletons still stand in robes, the skin of their grinning faces turned to leather, and there are even the mortal remains of children. Via Veneto 27; open daily 9am-6.30pm; entry €6. Palatine Hill Most people head straight for the Colosseum and the Forum, where the best-known ruins of ancient Rome still stand, but the Palatine Hill is also worth exploring. One of the capital’s seven famous hills, it is also the one most steeped in myth – it is here that city founder Romulus and his baby brother Remus were raised in a cave by a she-wolf. Enjoying sweeping views, you can walk among the walls of what were once mighty Imperial Palaces, havens of luxury complete with spas, gardens and villas. If it’s a hot day, you will be glad to find that the water from the natural springs – once used by Roman emperors to drink and bathe in – still flows out of the rocks and continues to be safe to consume. A combo ticket to the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill costs €20.50 but ask your hotel to book one for you in advance as queues can be long. Open from 8.30am to an hour before sunset. Trastevere A quintessential Italian district of cobbled streets lined with tables draped in red and white cloths outside lively local trattorias, Trastevere is situated on the west bank of the Tiber river. Visit in the evening, when the area comes to life with people tucking into plates of spaghetti vongole and clinking glasses of vino rosso in the candlelight. Relax with an aperitivo before choosing where to dine – La Canonica (Vicolo del Piede 13) is nestled in a cinematic side street frequented by trios of musicians, while Il Duca (Vicolo del Cinque 56) and Carlo Menta (Via della Lungaretta 101) also have a lively buzz. In the heart of medieval Trastevere is the Piazza di Santa Maria, home to a church of the same name and, at night, street hawkers who throw glowing helicopter toys into the sky, which flutter down in a rainbow of LEDs. italia.it/en  

Eating and drinking

NEW: Romeo Chef and Baker A short walk from the Vatican, this slick new eatery-cum-deli opened at the end of 2012 and is a great place to stop for a quick lunch. The menu is extensive, and the antipasti, gourmet panini and slices of pizza – drizzled in olive oil with a crisp, chewy base – are moreishly good. When it comes to the last, choose from cream cheese and salmon, potato and rosemary, or Buffalo mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil. Via Silla 26; romeo.roma.it APERITIVO: Freni e Frizioni The Italian aperitivo tradition is essentially happy hour with free food, and one of the best places to experience it is at quirky Freni e Frizioni on the edge of bohemian Trastevere. Every day between 7pm and 10pm, a long table is laid out with a generous buffet of salads, pasta, bread and risotto, while out on the street, everyone from students to suits chat, drink and eat. Via del Politeama 4/6; freniefrizioni.com TAKEAWAY: Antico Forno Roscioli Around the corner from Campo de Fiori is one of Rome’s most authentic bakeries. Join the locals on their lunch break for a juicy slab of pizza – it is sold by weight, heaped with toppings and served wrapped in a sheet of paper. The recipes have been perfected by three generations of the Roscioli family, who also own the characterful, upmarket Salumeria a few paces away. Via dei Chiavari 34; salumeriaroscioli.com BAR: Antico Caffe Della Pace With its crumbling, ivy-clad exterior, this 19th-century bar on the corner of Via della Pace (3-7) could have featured in any Fellini movie. Enjoy an Aperol spritz or a strong espresso while people-watching from a table outside. caffedellapace.it GOURMET: Aroma It’s hard to believe there could be anywhere in Rome with better views of the Colosseum than this – and what makes Aroma really special is that it also serves superb Italian cuisine. The rooftop restaurant is part of the 14-room Palazzo Manfredi boutique hotel, a member of Relais and Châteaux, and although pricey – about €40 for a main course – offers a truly memorable fine-dining experience. Arrive for a sunset cocktail before ordering, perhaps, the black mezzelune pasta filled with fish ragout, asparagus and coriander, followed by saddle of rabbit with potato flan and herbs from the kitchen garden. The fluffy chocolate soufflé is beautifully paired with a glass of Giovanni Allegrini Recioto della Valpolicella Classico dessert wine. Via Labicana 125; aromarestaurant.it  
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