Rome

ROME, ITALY

The Hotel Lancelot

The Hotel Romae, at The Yellow

 

ATTRACTIONS

The Colosseum & Forum - A VIP tour offering exclusive access to the Colosseum arena floor, underground and the 3rd tier's amazing views.

The Pristine Sistine Tour - Another VIP tour that allows you to view the sights in peace, rather than as part of a heaving, hundreds-strong mass.

Welcome to Rome Tour - A physical and historial orientation tour of central Rome.

Food Tasting Tour - Markets, tastings and the chance to make your own pizza.

Day Tour to Tuscany - A full day out visiting Tuscan hill towns, castles and vineyards.

Half Day Tour to Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa and the incredible gardens and fountains of Villa d'Este.

Rome Driving Tour - Visiting the Appian Way, aqueducts and panoramic city viewing points.

Underground Rome Tour - Spend an afternoon viewing crypts, bones and catacombs.

Trastevere Evening Food Tour - Plenty of tastings and an organic farmers market/shop as well.

Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary - Here you can visit, every day of the week, over 250 cats sheltered among the oldest temples in Rome.

 

 

 

 

RESTAURANTS

Aroma at Palazzo Manfredi - Superb service, food and atmosphere, overlooking the Colosseum.

Freetto - A fast/fried/snack food place with plenty of vegetarian options, near Termini Station.

Sapori del Lord Byron - An excellent option for a relaxed, fine dining treat.

Rooftop Hotel Forum - A good option for a luxurious lunch, with great views over the Forum.

Casa Coppelle - Fine dining in a visually stunning environment near the Pantheon.

Fior di Luna Gelateria - A gelateria run by true artists who use only the best organic ingredients.

Fatamorgana Gelateria - Another superb gelateria offering unique, hand crafted flavours.

Dolce Sorriso Gelateria - A gelateria to take the family to as it has lots of fun options.

 

 

 

 

HOTELS

Hotel Lancelot - A superb, photogenic family run hotel five minutes walk from the Colosseum.

The Hotel Romae - A great value hotel near to the Termini train station but also only half hour walk from sites such as the Colosseum and Forum.

Rome is a terrific destination for photographers. Whatever your chosen subject matter - ruins, fashion, architecture, food, animals (cats!), landscapes - you're going to discover a visually captivating version of it here. What's more, nobody is going to treat you badly for raising your camera (unlike many other Mediterranean tourist destinations such as Morocco, Tunisia, etc) or for using alternative process methods involving tripods or cameras that aren't easily recognizable as such (try using a Box Brownie in the Middle East or even London nowadays and there's always somebody ready to start acting like you're about to plant a bomb). The police are smart in Italy and still act like they think for themselves and the general public are cool as well; if you like to practice the age old tradition of street photography and their kids happen to wander into the frame, they're going to give you the benefit of the doubt rather than see you as a predator. In short, you're free to enjoy your photography in Rome!

 

If you like to look at as well as make photography we did locate a couple of photogaphic galleries in Rome but the only one that seemed to be actually interested in photography (as opposed to selling it for large sums of money) is 10b Photography.

 

There is also a National Museum of Photography being planned for Rome but the authorities have been talking about it for some years now; best to Google it yourself to see if there's any progress on it opening by the time of your visit.

 

Another good source of information regarding looking at photography in Rome is Romephotoblog where you'll find an events section. We'd also advise you check the listings at Buzzinrome.

 

I'd been to Rome several times before this trip, as a general tourist, as a photographer and as a marathon runner so I was keen to see another side to the city during this visit. To aid in this we got in touch with Walks of Italy, City Wonders and The Roman Guy, all of whom operate tours that aim to highlight parts of the city that would otherwise be difficult, or impossible, to see as an independent tourist. I'm glad we did, I certainly saw things I've never seen before and I can't really imagine experiencing Rome without them now. The VIP Colosseum Tour and the Pristine Sistine Tour are absolute must-do's for any tourist and if you find that you pass through the Roman Forum or St Peter's too fast, you can always go back on your own and photograph at leisure after you've seen the highlights.

 

Now you may be thinking, what can I possibly photograph in Rome that hasn't been photographed a million times before, by people who probably have far better equipement than me. In reply we'd say, perhaps your gear is too expensive, or you're trying too hard to excel at the things that aren't really important.

 

For instance, I took the following photo with a 1930's Box Brownie, straight onto a photo paper negative. I balanced the camera on a post, so in effect I didn't choose my camera angle, the city of Rome's town planners did, and I guessed at the exposure, which was somewhere around 12 seconds. I'm happy that this represents my own vision and feelings about the Colosseum, and I certainly haven't seen anybody else portray it like this; how could they, it wasn't so much skill on my part as a combination of circumstance, guesswork and luck.

 

Based on our own experiences, our advice to you for a rewarding week in Rome packed full of photographic opportunities is as follows (we haven't allocated all meal times, you're sure to have some choices of your own that you want to visit. Don't skimp on your research though, it's very easy to eat well in Rome but it's equally easy to eat very badly indeed);

 

Day 1; Arrive at the hotel. If you've time, take a walk around central Rome in the afternoon and join the 'Walk's of Italy Welcome to Rome Tour' in the early evening. A dinner at Aroma Restaurant in Palazzo Manfredi, overlooking the Colosseum, would be an incredible way to finish a first day.

Day 2; Take the 'Walks of Italy Food Tasting Tour' in the morning. This finishes with a chance to make pizza for yourself, which you then eat for lunch. You'll also learn a great deal about where and where not to eat in central Rome. In the afternoon take the 'Walks of Italy VIP Tour to the Coloseum and Ancient Rome'. Pop into Freetto and pick up some tasty fried snacks before heading back to the hotel.

Day 3; Take the 'Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine Tour', then visit Fior de Luna for a gelato lunch. Visit the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary in the afternoon then dine at Casa Coppelle, followed by an evening stroll, giving you a chance to capture the city whilst lit up. The Pantheon area, near Casa Coppelle, is particularly pretty at night.

Day 4; The 'Walks of Italy full day Tour to Tuscany' was one of the best travel days we've ever had, so we recommend you fit it in somewhere. Day 4 is a good time; you've had your intial urge to see Rome satisfied so it's good to have a short change of scenery before you delve back into the Eternal City once again.

Day 5; Have a relaxing morning photographing the city, a gelato lunch at Fatamorgana and then take the 'City Wonders Tivoli half day Tour'; the water gardens of the Villa d'Este shouldn't be missed.

Day 6; Another relaxing morning wandering about, this time perhaps around the Spanish Steps and Borghese Gardens area, followed by lunch at Sapori del Lord Byron and then the 'Walks of Italy Underground Rome Tour'.

Day 7; The 'Walks of Italy Driving Tour' gives you excellent viewpoints over the city, although if you're not interested in that the Roman Forum repays a return visit; there's enough there to please your camera for many days. In the evening pehaps take 'The Roman Guy's Trastevere Food Tour', you'll get to see the Campo di Fiore and also the other side of the Tiber, and sample some tasty dishes as you do so. You won't need a dinner after this tour, there's a lot of sampling involved!

 

Below are some of the digital images we created during our stay. Alternatively, there are some Pinhole Photographs we created during our stay Here

The Hotel Lancelot

The Hotel Lancelot was one of the highlights of our stay in Rome. It’s a beautifully appointed, very photogenic hotel with a timeless feel in a wonderful location and run by the sort of charming, experienced and knowledgeable owners that you have to search seriously hard for nowadays.

 

It's a twenty minute walk from Termini Station and just five minutes to the Colosseum and every one of the seventy-plus rooms have been individually designed by the owners, many with a 'Grand Tour' feel to them. A feature of eating at the Lancelot is that the large tables are round in shape and guests are encouraged to sit and share their meals with other guests, as they would have been in any civilised hotel during the golden era of modern travel, the 1950’s and 60’s, when a more international, friendly atmosphere reined in hotels. We'd urge you to consider making this fantastic hotel your base whilst in Rome.

 

See our Review of the Hotel Lancelot Here, or visit http://www.lancelothotel.com/

The Hotel Romae

Since we stayed at the Romae last, in 2012, the hotel has been taken over by The Yellow, a bar and hostel that sits on the opposite side of the street. We noticed on our most recent 8 day stay, in 2014, that things have changed as a result, but not by too much that's going to effect the average guest. The general vibe has altered so as to appeal to a younger market - paintings in reception have been replaced by large noticeboards/blackboards and the hotel's social media presence has veered more towards portraying the place as party central - but in reality the only way this altered our stay was that the wifi is super fast now and you have more choice of accomodation - private rooms for up to 4 people or dorms if you're travelling alone and want to save money by sharing. The Romae is literally 10 minutes walk from Termini Station, and about half an hour from the Colosseum. We recommend it; it's clean, good value, friendly and well located.

Aroma Restaurant at Palazzo Manfredi

Aroma Restaurant is our favourite evening-time eatery in Rome. It’s not easy to say that either considering how many good places to eat in Rome there are and also, that there are very few vegetarian options on the Aroma menu (and we do try our hardest to be vegetarian). The service and location were beyond excellent, however, as was the food and wine where content most definitely matched style; the presentation was great and the quality lived up to it. A few more vegetarian options and a nod towards vegan and gluten/lactose free would propel the Aroma to the stars (they've already got a Michelin Star but I think you know what I mean)!

We lingered over our food, enjoying the beautiful presentation, the heavy, hallmarked cutlery and thick, white plates. Service was enthusiastic but real; nobody was racing to push my chair in or diving to catch my napkin every time it fell to the floor (thanks goodness, I do hate that sort of fussy service) but the staff were always looking for an opportunity to smile and glancing in our direction to check if we did require anything. It made us feel relaxed and welcome, and that isn’t something that many fancy restaurants excel at.

One of my dishes was a white truffle rice filled “ravioli” on red chicory cream and parsley chlorophyll. The waiter shaved off pieces from a whole truffle onto the dish at the table. The shaving created one of those heavy, dense smells that you can’t be indifferent to; I’ve grown to love it. It reminds me of drizzly winter mornings in a friendly England woodland. Once again the chef had worked to present the colours of Italy within the dish (as they had also done with another dish I ate, a pasta). There was a rich creaminess to the ravioli that matched perfectly the scent of the white truffle.

Value 5/5

Atmosphere 3.5/5

Service 5/5

Flavours 5/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 2/5

The Aroma is justly popular, so do make a reservation if you're going to dine here. To discover more, visit http://www.aromarestaurant.it/en/

Sapori del Lord Byron

It’s not difficult to understand why the Sapori restaurant is held in such high regard by Romans. The food is superb, the service excellent, the location classy and tranquil. The art on display is very much like something you’d expect Vanessa Bell or Duncan Grant of the Bloomsbury group to have painted and sitting there among it is kind of like being in an art gallery or an arty home such as Charleston or Fife, or any National Trust place that has been preserved as though it was 1920. There's a strong Byron connection in the decor (the walls are covered with portraits of strong looking women, recalling Byron's love of the Sapphic ideal) and our set menu was intelligently crafted to illustrate Rome's geographical location and expertly executed. The pasta was among the best we've ever had and the chocolate dessert was supreme.

Looking back on the meal, we could see that the first course was created to refresh us, the main course to be tasty and filling and the dessert was like a fireworks display, an explosion of taste and colour that will stay with us for quite some time.

Coffee was offered, and we don’t usually drink it but when in Rome… espresso, cappuccino or americano? We asked what americano was (we knew but it’s best to ask an expert in case what we thought we knew from a brief, solo Starbucks experience was wrong).

“Black water,” came the humorous reply. We settled for a cappuccino.

The restaurant and hotel are located just outside of the Borghese Gardens, a 15 minute walk from the Spanish Steps.

Value 4/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Service 5/5

Flavours 4/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 3/5

To discover more visit http://lordbyronhotel.com/restaurant/

Fior di Luna Gelateria

Fior di Luna’s modest shop front hides the fact that this is one of the cities most authentic gelateria, creating gelato with no preservatives and only the finest ingredients, all of which are organic. If you’re somebody who appreciates excellent gelato, or somebody who doesn’t understand the difference between gelato and ice cream but would like to, then we highly recommend you pay this small place a visit. Aldo and his younger brother Fabio run the shop, along with a small staff, and if there was a place in Rome to experience a gelato artist at work, then along with the brilliant Fatamorgana, this is it. The shop also sells fair trade coffee from Peru and Tanzania, local organic honey, pastas, sauces, pistachios, almonds, preserves, tomatoes and olives, all of which were labelled organic, fair trade and ethically sourced.

Aldo, the store owner, had told us that real gelato should always taste like the fruit itself, rather than an imitation of it. And for sure, when we tried this banana gelato, we could really taste the fruit. It didn’t taste too sweet or artificial, it was just like eating a good banana and it was so light that we could’ve had two or three cups of it without feeling full.

In the corner of the room was a stone grinding machine through which pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds were crushed;

from nuts to paste in the case of pistachios and from nuts to a thick syrup in the case of hazelnuts. The pistachios hailed from Bronte in Sicily and were certified organic from the ministry of agriculture.

‘The taste of a gelato is the most important thing to consider,’ Aldo said, ‘and then the texture is a close second. There are certain ways to do things, but whilst I have a deep respect to traditional recipes and the past, I’m continually trying to improve.’

‘What’s the most popular flavour?’ I asked him.

‘Chocolate, of course,’ he said.

‘I heard that there’s a nation wide competition for gelato artists, have you ever entered such a thing?’ I asked.

‘There are many competitions,’ Aldo explained, ‘but we’re not interested in entering, we don’t measure ourselves against anybody else. We have our own standards, we use fully natural and organic ingredients and we learn from our tradition, and we even run classes to teach people how to make gelato and run gelato shops if they wish to start their own business or make their own. But we don’t like to enter competitions, no.’

‘When did you start using organic ingredients and why?’ I asked.

‘In 1996. Our family have been eating completely organic since 1990. We’re a family of farmers so we understand about modern food production and how bad it can be because of the use of pesticide, so we stay away from that sort of food.’

‘Many people in England this gelato is the same as ice cream,’ I said. Aldo smiled.

‘No, it’s nothing like it. Ice cream is full of artificial flavours, and preservatives, and also, it’s generally frozen to around -25 so it’s much colder and firmer than gelato. Real gelato, on the other hand, is made according to a tradition that stretches back over 500 years and uses only fresh, organic ingredients, absolutely no preservatives, is only frozen to between -15 and -18 and because it’s fresh, can only be sold for 3 days after it’s made. Ice cream, though, that can last for years, it’s so full of chemicals.’

Value 5/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Service 4/5

Flavours 5/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 3/5

After you've enjoyed your gelato we recommend a walk along the road to visit Trastevere's brilliant 'Open Door' bookshop.

To discover more, visit http://www.fiordiluna.com/

Freetto Fine Italian Food Restaurant

FREEtto is a take away/dine in restaurant focused on Italian fine fried food. At the moment they have two restaurants, the first in the city center near to via Veneto, which is the one we visited, and the second (bigger) one near the Collie Albani metro station, and more are due to open soon. We’d heard that they do excellent food, using organic ingredients, with plenty of options for vegetarians and those with other preferences and since they were easy to get to on foot (many vegetarian places in Rome are a metro ride out and we didn’t want the bother of that after a day sightseeing) we paid them a visit. We were so happy we did! Locals of all ages were in there when we ate and even though it’s only a fifteen minute walk from the budget hotels around Termini Station we were the only non-Italian’s, which isn’t something you can say for many eateries in Rome. They serve cheap, tasty food at Freetto that's full of good, organic ingredients and equally importantly it’s very filling. We were certainly very satisfied when we came away. Something we ate a lot of were These first things that came to us were called suppli, they’re made from rice mainly and are lightly crunchy outside and pleasantly gooey inside and ours had a mixture of fillings and seasonings; tomato and beef, bacon and pecorino cheese, parmesan cheese and pepper and plain tomato.

Considering their size and tastiness, they were excellent value at €1.20 each. Next up was pizzotte, or fried pizza. It reminded me of a light English muffin topped with rich tomato sauce and an olive and was another great value snack at just €1.50.

If you can’t understand Italian then just put the addresses into Google maps and find your way there, the staff speak English and we’re sure that you’ll have a great, uncomplicated, cheap meal. The addresses are;

Via Silvio Spaventa, 20 – 00187 ROMA – this one is central, near Barberini Metro

and L.go Colli Albani 9/10 – 00179 ROMA

Value 5/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Service 3/5

Flavours 3/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 3/5

To discover more, visit http://www.freetto.it/

The Walks of Italy VIP Tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum

This 4 hour tour gives you an overview of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and also access to the Colosseum that you wouldn't get if you took a regular tour, or bought your own ticket and guided yourself. The four main advantages of this VIP Tour is that you get to jump the queue at the Colosseum (and when you've seen the hundreds of people lining up waiting for entrance you'll appreciate that) and you visit the reconstructed arena floor, the underground section where the gladiators and animals used in shows entered the arena and also the third tier, where you get the best vantage points for wide angle views of the whole structure. All of these three places are off limits to regular tours and ticket holders so if you want to see the view that the gladiators would have had 2,000 years ago, looking up at the crowds in the stands of this magnificent stadium, then it's the VIP Tour for you. The tour finale was incredible. We walked through the crowds and up to the third tier of the Colosseum which, like the arena floor and underground area, you can only visit whilst on a VIP tour after passing through a series of locked gates. The lack of crowds and relaxed time schedule was the perfect conditions in which to take in this iconic view.

From our 8 days in Rome we concluded this; that if you want to visit a major Roman attraction you have 3 choices: you buy a general entry ticket, guide yourself round at a slow pace and miss out on the best bits; you sign up for a VIP Tour and get intimate access to everything that it’s possible to visit in 4 hours; or, and this is our advice to photographers, you go on a VIP Tour and then return to the sites the next day, at a more leisurely pace to add photographs taken through the day’s varying light conditions to your experience.

Now we’ve been on several Walks of Italy tours, we couldn’t imagine seeing Rome without them. And coming from a hardcore backpacker who’s spent his life guiding himself around most of the world’s great sights, that’s saying something.

See the Walks of Italy website Here

The Walks of Italy Food Tasting Tour

This Walks of Italy food tour could also be called the ‘Alternative Intro Tour to Rome’ if you’re the type of person who likes to explore a culture through your stomach (that’s us). One of the most important things for any tourist to know, I believe, is where to find good food in any given destination and to understand how to get the most out of the local cuisine. On this tour we discovered those things and so much more and for that reason we’d say, if we had our time in Rome all over again, this is the tour we’d take on the first morning, to make our restaurant experience thereafter that bit more special. First we visited a bakery, then a market stall selling olive oil, balsamic vinegar and liqueurs, then a butchers and finally a cheese makers, at each place learning about and tasting the produce. After that we went to a pizzeria and, with expert instruction and a lot of fresh ingredients, made our own pizza! This was the highlight of the tour for us and I've got to say, even though I made my own pizza, it was one of the best I’ve ever eaten!

Visit the Walks of Italy website Here

The Walks of Italy VIP Pristine Sistine Tour

In the recent past, if you wanted to see the Sistine Chapel in any sort of civilized fashion, you queued up at the Vatican Museum entrance, very early, and at opening time you cut a direct line to the chapel, missing everything else out on the way. Then after your visit you’d double back and see the magnificent art laden corridors that you missed the first time around, only by now they’d be packed out and you’d join the infamous ‘Vatican shuffle’, moving slowly as if in Kings Cross Underground Station at rush hour. If you didn’t get in there early then sure, you could still see the Chapel, only you’d be seeing it with literally hundreds of others and the guards would be announcing over loudspeaker ‘No talking, no photos please!’ every minute, and George from Texas in front of you would ignore them totally and talk to Ethel from London about the time he was at the Louvre because, as you know, it’s the unwritten law of tourism that when you’re somewhere brilliant you must always ignore it and instead talk about someplace else that was really good... Anyway, all that's in the past, if you want it to be. Now you can join a VIP tour and have the sort of exclusive access to the Sistine Chapel, and more, that any art lover would dream of. Visit the Walks of Italy website Here

The City Wonders Tivoli Half Day Tour

This tour takes in the ruins of Hadrian's Villa and also the magnficient gardens of the Villa d'Este, with it's huge number of fountains. Our visit to Hadrian’s Villa took just under two hours and we had about 75 minutes at Villa d'Este. At Hadrian's Villa there are few sites recognizable to the casual tourist so we were happy to have a guide who could interpret the huge shells of buildings for us. All of the marble used on the floors and walls had been mined for other building projects through the ages (buildings such as Villa d’Este, which we were to visit next) and I think if you visit Hadrian’s Villa on your own you’ve got to be a very committed historian to bring the place to life because for most of us it’s just going to be a series of relatively incomplete, gigantic ruins. As for the gardens of the Villa d'Este, with their 51 fountains and 64 waterfalls, they are simply amazing. I've never seen a water garden like them, and the views from the top of the garden are special too.

 

Visit the City Wonders website Here

The Walks of Italy Tuscan Hill Towns, Castle & Vineyards Tour

I think it’s fair to say that this was one of the best days of our travel lives. No exaggeration. It delivered everything we wanted from a Tuscany day trip and more and we recommend you seriously consider it if you’ve a spare day in your Rome schedule. You might think it expensive on first glance (it’s 159 Euro for the 13 hour tour) but believe us it’s not, it’s actually very good value considering the overall experience, the views, the wine tasting and the incredible lunch stop that you get for your money. It’s true that I haven’t retained all of the information about food and drink that was imparted to me on the tour. The experiences were too numerous and the wine far too free flowing for me to remember everything. But what I do know is that my attitude towards certain foods such as balsamic vinegar and cheese has changed forever and that I have images to remind me of that amazing lunch and the magnificent, iconic Tuscan countryside that looks more beautiful in person than it does in any National Geographic photograph.

 

Visit the Walks of Italy website Here

The Roman Guy Trastevere 'Locals' Food Tour

We met Rachele, our guide from The Roman Guy, in front of a fountain in Piazza Farnese at 5.30 on a warm November evening.

“Mostly I guide this tour in the summer so it’s still very bright at the start,” Rachele explained, “but the nights are getting longer now so tonight we’ll be under lamplight all the way!” That was fine by us, Rome looks lovely lit up, especially the square we walked into at first, the Campo di Fiori, where fresh produce and flowers (‘Fiori’ means flower in Italian) are traded daily.

Our first stop of the tour, in a little square just off Camp di Fiori, was a bar called Verso Sera, which means ‘Towards Evening’. We were happy that we were getting straight into the eating; we’d been told to expect lots to eat and drink on this tour so we hadn’t had anything since a late breakfast and were pretty hungry.

“We’re going to start the evening as Romans often do, with an aperitif,” said Rachele. “An aperitif is a drink accompanied by a snack, in our case that’ll be a chilled glass of Prosecco with tomato and artichoke bruschetta served on a bed of rocket. Romans usually lunch around noon and won’t have dinner until eight or nine in the evening so it’s common to have something early evening to keep them going and that’s where aperitivos come in.”

We enjoyed half hour at this first stop, each introducing ourselves as we snacked (the bruschetta was fresh and tasty), it was a pleasant, un-pressurized way to get to know each other. Rachele told us that she’s from Connecticut and since her fathers side of the family is from Italy she decided to seek out her Italian heritage by moving to Rome. She was a very knowledgeable, passionate and cheerful girl who had answers for everything we asked her about Italian food; we were happy to have her as our guide. We moved on through a spooky short-cut tunnel and were quickly into Largo di Librariour where our second stop, ‘Filetti di Baccala’, was located. Inside the shop we were greeted with an archetypal Roman scene. A sign on the wall carved into wood stated “If I die and am reborn I pray to god to be reborn in Rome,” Roma played football on TV and families shared plates of fresh baccala.

“Baccala, which is fried cod, is another very popular aperitivo here,” said Rachele. “It’s rare that you see Romans eating on the street but they’ll make an exception for this fish. There were groups of people eating outside as we entered, you remember? You can see the queue there, at the back of the shop, people are queuing to get the fish straight from the cook, it’s as freshly made as it’s possible to find.” Full of fish we moved on through the busy streets and on across the River Tiber, via the Ponte Sisto, into the part of Rome known as Trastevere. We were in no rush, there was plenty of time to stop and talk about what we were seeing as we walked. Our first stop on this side of the river was Forno La Renella. They’re a popular bakery, making 2000 loaves of bread a day and distributing it to restaurants all over this part of Rome. We was there to try the pizza. We walked through the shop and into the production area. It was incredibly hot but smelt wonderful. The oven here is fired by hazelnut shells as there are ample hazelnuts in Italy and the shells burn at a very hot temperature. A friendly bearded chap passed us fresh coconut and chocolate chip scones; he was very jolly, which he attributed to enjoying a sip or two of Limoncello before coming on shift. He then invited us to taste some of his Margarita pizza.

Our next stop was just around the corner.

“It’s apericena time,” said Rachele, “here in Rome that means a dining experience that’s a mix between happy hour and dinner.” We entered a little shop that had the feeling of the country about it. There were dark terracotta painted walls and wooden crates full of colourful fresh vegetables and fruits. Lorenzo, who introduced us to the shop, was very friendly, hip and smart, explaining everything to us in great English.

“We’re un-certified organic here,” he said, “we get our produce from a couple of local farms and the farming methods they use are all natural. The produce isn’t certified organic though, it’s expensive to get the licence and anyway, the production method is about a philosophy, a way of living for the farmers as well as us and the finished product. We’ll be using locally produced olive oil today, it’s the last of the good oil for a while as last winter was hard with some hail, which affected production of all fresh produce across Italy as well as Greece and Tunisia. So, let’s enjoy it whilst it lasts and try some different types of our best bruschetta!”

The finale was the cabbage and saffron bruschetta. We’d studied saffron production in Marrakech and knew it to be a labour intensive crop to cultivate and thus a very expensive product to buy. The taste of saffron is always distinctive but slow to appear, as it was in this case, taking between twenty and forty seconds to let itself be known on the back of the throat.

We had the chance to buy some artisan spreads and chutneys before, already full of great food, we moved onto a restaurant called ‘Le Mani in Pasta’, or ‘Hands in Pasta’.

“Here we’re going to try two of the most popular Roman pastas; Spaghetti Carbonara and Ravioli Amatriciana,” explained Rachele, “along with some prosecco and red wine.” The restaurant was full of the smell of home cooking; the kitchen was open and in full view. A man at the table next to us ordered a truffle based dish and with it’s arrival came the unmistakably powerful smell which Lamia doesn’t like very much but after a couple of weeks in Italy I’m getting used to. As for us, we shared our two dishes between the three of us.

“Different types of pasta are used according to how much sauce they can grab onto, and what sort and thickness of sauce it is,” said Rachele.

Lamia doesn’t eat pork and the restaurant was happy to accommodate her by leaving it out of both dishes (the Carbonara is usually made with pork cheek, pecorino cheese – a sheeps milk popular in Lazio – and egg whilst the Amatriciana sauce uses the same pork along with tomato and minced onions).

We crossed back over the Tiber, over Ponte Cestio onto Isola Tiberina (apparently if you’re not born in the hospital here you’re not really considered Roman) and onwards across Ponte Fabricio into the former Jewish ghetto. A chap sat outside his restaurant peeling artichokes, a very traditional ingredient in Roman cooking, and the pavement tables of all the restaurants were full.

“This area plays on it’s Jewish heritage,” said Rachele, “but not all the restaurants are actually Jewish, even though they say they are. A good way of telling which restaurant is actually kosher is to pass by on a Friday evening at which time all of the real Jewish restaurants should be closed. Obviously not so easy for a tourist to do though!”

We came to a gelateria on the corner of Largo di Torre Argentina where our tour was to end, after dessert at a gelato shop.

“It’s never an easy task to find a good place to eat gelato or to make a decision as to what flavours of gelato are best in this shop or that,” said Rachele. “If you have any Roman friends then do take the time to listen to their opinion. In general Romans are very well informed about food and they always have an opinion on where the best can be had in the city. And if you can’t ask anybody then look for a gelateria that says ‘artisano’ above the door. But of course anyone can put this above their shop if they wish to. Another good sign is to look at the colours of the gelato, pistachio flavour in particular. It should come from Bronte and should be a dark browny-green rather than the bright green you see in so many gelato shops.”

We learnt a lot about Roman food during our evening and we’d say that if you’re after an insight into local eating culture, or just looking to learn a little as you eat, then we thoroughly recommend this tour. There’s not much walking involved – we’re certain that almost everybody could comfortably handle the short distances to be covered – but there’s plenty of tasty food, drink and fun on offer and Rachele is a knowledgeable, friendly guide.

Visit The Roman Guy website Here

Fatamorgana Gelateria

We were encouraged to seek out Fatamorgana gelateria for several reasons.

Firstly, the Romans we asked all nodded when we mentioned the place and said “Yes, you should go there, it’s excellent ice cream!” The Romans we know all seem pretty great judges of good food, including gelato, so that was a positive sign.

Secondly, we’d heard that the owner (and creator of all the gelato on offer at each of the seven Fatamorgana shops in Rome), Maria Agnese Spagnuolo, still peels and prepares all of the organic ingredients used in the gelato (fruits, nuts) by hand herself (with the help of two assistants). Something created with that amount of care, we considered, was going to be amazing eating.

And thirdly, we’re trying to be healthy – even when we eat traditionally unhealthy things like ice cream – so when we read on their website that they use only the best organic ingredients (and nothing artificial) we knew we had to check the Fatamorgana gelato shop out.

Maria, the owner, and her two assistants looks very healthy so I asked,

“Don’t you eat any gelato? You’re all very slim.”

“We have one or two a day,” Maria said, “if you eat good gelato, it’s a healthy addition to a balanced diet. You don’t feel bloated either if the ingredients are the ones we use.”

We can vouch for that. We had a great deal of gelato from the shop during our visit (we tried every flavour!) and it just left us wanting more rather than regretting our choices. As we left, Maria offered us a taste of a chocolate and tobacco flavour made from ground up tobacco leaves. I’ve never smoked in my life but I could taste the tobacco clearly thanks to what I knew about tobacco from smelling it in the past. This is how it should be with real gelato; whatever the flavour is, you should be able to guess it with your eyes shut, the ingredients should be so good that it’s obvious what it is the moment you taste it, and at Fatamorgana that is certainly the case.

We’re returning to Rome this autumn and Fatamorgana will be on our list of places we’ve just got to visit; if you want to taste real gelato (or ice cream as it should be) we advise you to make your way there too.

Value 5/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Service 4/5

Flavours 5/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 3/5

Visit the Fatamorgana website Here

Casa Coppelle Restaurant

If you’re looking for a contemporary Roman meal at a classy, romantic restaurant that’s popular with locals and tourists alike in the Pantheon/Piazza Navona area, we’d say you should consider Casa Coppelle. It’s not cheap but the service is superb, the food imaginative and the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. Throughout our evening dinner there we saw the staff interacting warmly with all customers (and their children if they had them) and our own waiter wasn’t shy to put his opinion forward regarding what we might like to eat or drink, as a friend would. He didn’t recommend the most expensive things either (as some waiters do when it comes to the wine list); he was smart enough to consider what we’d ordered already and then he worked us out from there.

We chose to sit outside - it was a warm Roman night - although the interior had just been renovated and looks glorious. The texture of my first dish, a ravioli, was all in the pasta as the bed of tomatoes and olives made for a very thin sauce, enough to show you a taste of what was inside the ravioli but not enough to soak the pasta or offer any texture. I liked it’s light freshness and the slight hit of sea salt. It was perfectly presented too, a visual treat for those of us with cameras!

My dessert was exceptional; I can describe what I ate - crunchy meringue base and nests filled with soft whipped cream and raspberries – but the words just cannot do any justice at all to how delicious this dessert was. Relatively expensive it might have been (around £9), but worth it? Absolutely, yes.

Value 4/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Service 3/5

Flavours 3.5/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 2/5

To discover more, visit the Casa Coppelle website Here

Rooftop Hotel Forum Restaurant

The Hotel Forum is an impressive 4 star hotel with an amazing location and view over Via dei Fori Imperiali, the thoroughfare that leads from the Colosseum past the Ancient Roman Forum to Piazza Venezia and the Vittoriano, the symbolic heart of the modern city. If you're used to dining in classy surroundings then the Rooftop Hotel Forum won't dissapoint and if you want to get used to such things then this isn't a bad place to start. The beginning of our evening - being introduced to the 5th storey restaurant and seeing the lovely panorama from our table (I can imagine in the daytime it’ll be even more so as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill would be in full view then) - was fantastic, the staff are experienced and intelligent and whilst we felt that our four course meal was very good rather than superb, any slight shortcoming was more than made up for by the candlelit, red rose scattered surroundings and the sense of romance they created. This is definitely a place to bring your loved one.

Generally I try my best to be a vegetarian but it was clear that to get the most out of this menu I was going to have to put that aside for the night. Hypocritical of me, most certainly, but my selfish passion for experiencing other human cultures outweighs my other belief systems, at the moment. I had the traditional Italian starter; slices of chorizo Milan salami, buffalo mozzarella, button mushrooms and artichoke hearts and black olives, large sun dried tomatoes and Parma ham on a bed of lettuce. The buffalo mozzarella was creamy and subtle and therefore a foil to the spicy meat, and the sun dried tomato went some way to alleviate the blandness of the ham. I was surprised by this subtle taste. I expect it with, say, vegetables and general ingredients in an organic restaurant as everything is geared towards emphasizing natural flavours there but with ham I’ve never known one of it’s aims to be an attempt to achieve subtle-ness. That could be a lost in translation thing though; perhaps it’s normal for Romans to eat some ham this way. Apart from this slight issue though, you could call my dish fine dining but without the small portion size and fussiness that so often accompanied that phrase in the past. The rustic, no nonsense feel and presentation of this dish was certainly it’s strength. For main course I had the swordfish, Sicilian style. The fish was topped with cherry tomatoes, black olives and capers and a thin jus with a hint of citrus and herb. It was another very light dish. To give an indication of the swordfish texture, the black olives were firmer than the steak. There was no need to cut the steak, it fell apart under my knife.

The only slight dip in the evening was when we tried to find a waiter at the end. They’d all disappeared after bringing dessert, although they did make a swift reappearance when we tired of waiting and rose to leave. We finished the last of our wine as the moon rose over the Palatine Hill and the ruins below began to glow marble-white. The pedestrianized Via dei Fori Imperiali, just a few steps from the hotel, beckoned; the wide cobbled street was a perfect place to promenade and walk off what had been a classically Roman dinner.

Value 3/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Service 3/5

Flavours 3.5/5

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly? 0/5

To discover more, visit the Rooftop Hotel Forum website Here

The Walks of Italy Welcome to Rome Tour

Alongside the Walks of Italy ‘VIP Colosseum and Ancient Rome’ tour and their food tour, both of which we took later in our stay, this Intro Tour to Rome is a must for all visitors to the city. It’s suitable for everybody – a few of us had flown in that day and were pretty tired so we didn’t walk at a fast pace and one couple had walking difficulties but they were fine as apart from the Spanish Steps (where there’s a lift if needed) there were very little, if any, ups and downs – and also it’s cracking value at only 29 Euro considering it’s 2.5 hours long, the free gelato you get and all the insider tips and knowledge that our guide Amy gave us which really enhanced the rest of our stay in Rome. From the Spanish Steps, our small group walked through the centre of Rome, passing numerous sites including the Pantheon and ending in the grand Pizza Navona, in the middle of which is the grand fountain by Bernini that you can see in the film ‘Angels and Demons’.

 

Visit the Walks of Italy website Here

The Walks of Italy Underground Rome Tour

Beneath the streets of Rome lie ancient ruins, cult temples and secret burial sites and this tour gives you a sample of all that and an opportunity to descend through several layers of history at Basilica di San Clemente. Even though you can't take photos in any of the three main sights you visit, we really enjoyed our afternoon. I didn’t personally have much of an interest in the catacombs before our tour (Lamia did though and she was entranced and very emotionally moved by it all) but it was good to visit them all the same and it was also great to have the various layers of Rome pointed out so graphically as we descended from 12th century church to 4th century church and then down again to 1st century temple and street. It was difficult not taking photos at times as there were so many fascinating sights to be seen but we understood the reasons for acting in a respectful manner in such surroundings and anyway, it didn’t do us any harm to put our cameras down for a few hours. If anything the break made us more eager than ever to continue trying to capture this amazing city, and after our tour we didn’t have to wait long at all until we saw sights worthy of our attention! Visit the Walks of Italy website Here

The Walks of Italy Driving Tour

This driving tour takes in some of the well known but lesser visited sites of Rome outside of the historic centre and also three superb viewpoints, some of which would be pretty near impossible to visit on your own without a car and a guide. The Appian Way was the main attraction for me – I knew how difficult it would be to see this on our own – closely followed by the view from Janiculum Hill (the best over the city, according to all the guide books, and our guide) and the Park of the Aqueducts whose historic ruins are seldom to be found on any tourist’s itinerary (although after seeing them it was clear that if you have the time, they should be!). This is a tour for history lovers who want to see something beyond the crowded central Rome sights; it’s also great for photographers. There were three excellent viewpoints to take in and the historical ruins we visited were devoid of tourists or anybody else, an absence that made for uncluttered photos (bring a wide angle zoom or a telephoto to make the most of the opportunities).

 

Visit the Walks of Italy website Here

Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary

Torre Argentina is home to about 250 cats, sheltered amongst the oldest temples in Rome (400-300 BC). Seven days a week, volunteers from different countries feed, clean and look after them. Visitors are always welcome to look around, visit the cats and browse the CatShop or adopt one of the cats at a distance. The entrance to the sanctuary is at Largo di Torre Argentina, down the steps at the corner of Via Florida & Via di Torre Argentina and you can visit everyday between noon and 6pm.

 

Take some money when you visit; they have some interesting gifts in the shop (jewellery, mugs, clothes, paintings) and a gift from here - if you or whoever you're buying it for is an animal lover - is going to mean so much more than a mass produced model of the Colosseum. It's not going to cost you a lot (Lamia got a cat charm necklace for about £5) and all the profits go towards caring for abandoned cats and undertaking a neutering program to control the breeding of strays.

To discover more, please visit the sanctuary's own website Here

Il Dolce Sorriso Gelateria

If you're after unusual flavours this gelateria might be for you. Raffaello Fracassi hasn't been making gelato long yet he serves up some interesting fare and his shop is always full of locals which is a good sign. Flavours that you'll struggle to find elsewhere include Whiskey, Tennants Beer, Mojito, Banana and Nutella, Snickers, Baileys Cream and Ricotta and Pear..

 

There's also a section for kids where they can create their own ice lolly toppings - dipping the base into a variety of cream liquids and then scattering it with sweets or chocolates - and a large selection of cakes, hand made by Raffaello's wife. There's no real attempt to stick to organic ingredients as far as we could work out - we may be mistaken but Raffaello's English is similar to our Italian (not so good) - but if you don't mind that, it's a good bet and you can find it about fifteen minutes walk from Piazza Navona towards the Tiber.

 

To discover more, please visit Il Dolce Sorriso's own website Here

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