Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Eternal City is its historical continuity. The Ponte Fabricio, which spans the Tiber to the Isola Tiberina, dates from 62 B.C. and remains in daily use. And 2,000 years after it was built, the Pantheon still has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. One of the best introductions to the city remains “The Companion Guide to Rome,” by Georgina Masson, first published in 1965. We have long enjoyed following its detailed walking itineraries.
The inhabitants of the Eternal City love their food, and in few places do people enjoy the pleasures of the table with such obvious relish. But bear in mind that the best fare is not necessarily found in fancy restaurants but rather in the lively trattorias and osterias that the Romans tend to favor.
The city is particularly beautiful during the so-called “ottobrate,” from mid-September to the end of October. High summer is hot and disagreeable, and the Romans themselves leave for the seaside.
On my first evening back in Rome, we like to climb Michelangelo’s Cordonata Capitolina (Capitoline Stairway) to the Capitoline Hill. There’s an atmospheric spot where you can lean on a wall and look out over the Forum. Piranesi made etchings of this view, and it’s the place where Gibbon decided to write “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
Many of Caravaggio’s greatest works are to be found in Rome. The Cerasi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo contains the sensational “The Conversion on the Way to Damascus.” The church of San Luigi dei Francesi holds three paintings, including the masterpiece “The Calling of Saint Matthew.” There are also three Caravaggios in the Palazzo Barberini, and the Galleria Borghese contains his “David With the Head of Goliath.” To learn more about the artist, I recommend “Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane,” by Andrew Graham-Dixon.
Rome's Best Gelato and Coffee
A mandatory stop in Rome is Giolitti (Via Uffici del Vicario 40), steps from the Pantheon and the city’s oldest ice cream parlor. Try the fruit-flavored varieties, the essence of each season. And for some of the best coffee and people-watching in the city, make it a point to spend an interlude at Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82).
Prati's Unending Charm
On my most recent visit to the city, I found a temporary home in Rome’s affluent, untouristy Prati neighborhood with the aid of the excellent company Italy Perfect, which has an extensive inventory of handpicked, upscale apartments throughout the city. Our arrangements were flawless, and the staff in Rome, who handled the cleaning, laundry and so forth, were friendly, efficient and reliable.
Prati's Best Dining Option
My favorite restaurant in Prati is Sorpasso (Via Properzio 31-33). This is a no-frills establishment (reservations are not accepted), which is customarily full of locals and their children. However, the staff are extremely friendly, and the food is delicious. The restaurant’s philosophy is to prepare simple and natural dishes using the “genuine products of the countryside.” If you have to wait for a table there is a small but congenial bar.
When In Rome, Shop As the Romans Do
Whenever we visit Rome, we love to visit Del Giudice (Via della Stelletta 24) for the striking leather handbags. The store is a few blocks north of the now closed Claudio Cutuli boutique, which used to be our favorite place to buy scarves (the store has re-located to Milan).