Our city break in Rome.
I’ve been fascinated with Rome for as long as I can remember. Roman history was the only history I took an interest in and my interest grew and left me wanting to know more.
I first visited Italy at the age of 20 with friends. We were skint and it was a hostel holiday. We travelled from Turin, across to Ancona, down to Rome, further down to Sorrento, across to Capri then back up to Turin. But one night in Rome wasn’t enough. I yearned to go back.
Last year, 12 years later and with a better budget, me and my husband took a 5 day / 4 night break from parenting and travelled back to Italy for a city break in Rome.
We remembered traversing the sights as youngsters, having a slice of awful pizza and cheap wine at a bar. Glancing longingly at the colluseum that we couldnt afford to enter and places in the guidebook we didn’t have time to visit. This time we had it all mapped out.
Arriving into Ciampino airport early on the Tuesday morning, we were met by a driver and taken into the city centre to our boutique hotel. Suite Sistina is a couples dream. The suites are catered entirely for couples in love. Ours came with a huge hottub style bath, champagne, an ipad, coffee maker, stocked mini bar, mood lighting and a round bed. That’s right! A 6ft round bed. And it was one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept in. Located on Via Sistina we were a 2min walk from the top of The Spanish Steps. A major tourist draw – I didn’t see the appeal after our third trip up and down them!
The city had moved forward in our leave and toursim is at its peak. Vendors will hail you as you walk by, men will run up and hand you flowers only to start chasing your husband for money. I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the city. But it can be forgiven for all the riches it has to offer.
We found a tiny backstreet deli and stopped for our first taste of Roman cuisine! Two steaming plates of spicy sausage pasta and glasses of good red wine were ours for €10. The waitress was so friendly and the food so good that we returned there later that week. Head off the beaten track and away from the main sites if you want good food. Look out for smaller cafes who offer great deals on pizza and pasta with wine or beer. Steer clear of anywhere that has pictures on the menu or no prices!
Our first night we went out on a walking tour, booked through The Roman Guy. We were taken to multiple locations and got to taste such delicacies as baccala (salt cod), smoked mozzarela and the most amazing gelato. Lots of drinks along with the food made it one of my best memories. We met some really friendly Americans on the tour and our guide was so informative. I was glad we did the tour on our first night as it opened up areas that we might never have ventured to on our own. Across the river lies a district called Trastevere, it’s is a hip, up and coming area that was full of great bars, restaurants and delis. We had the best pizza of our lives from a cafè here. Our tour guide also gave us some great tips for the rest of our holiday, how to spot bad gelato – should never be piled up on top of the containers like you always see in ice cream shops it should be kept under a metal lid, this shows its proper gelato. Or that pizza isn’t sold by the regular shaped slice as in the UK/USA, they are cut into huge squares. You select how much you want and they cut it and weigh it for you and you pay per gram. Also between 4pm -6pm the Italians have Aperativo. Where bars do a buffet – for free when you buy drinks! Some have started charging a little more for drinks but it makes sense to go somewhere around 5pm and have snacks with drinks if you don’t want to pay for as big a meal later on.
On our second day we travelled to the village of Frascati. A 25min train journey away, it was like a breath of fresh air. We were met by our tour guide Max and taken to a restaurant where we learnt how to make pasta. What an experience! We were then take to the Minardi Vineyard. Where we met Alfredo, his dog Lucky Vino and his dad. The vineyard is still run by this small family. We had a short tour then a tasting of their three wines, which were incredible (we bought quite a few bottles to bring home!), accompanied by some amazing porcetta – I will go back to Frascatti just for this!
We then went back to the restaurant where we were served the pasta that we cooked along with a bottle of the Minardi wine. The afternoon was ours and we spent it discovering more about this beautiful town. We booked directly through Minardi vineyard and the cost was such good value. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this tour to people looking for a bit of real Italy and not some factory-like tour. Top tip is to research before you go. Don’t be sucked in to sign up for some of the tours they promote on the street.
Then it was back into Rome for a siesta before going out for dinner over the bridge in Trastevere and had a few drinks. I found the city to have a really safe feel with lots of police about and for someone who is a crap map reader the city is really easy to navigate!
The next day I awoke early as it was the day I had been waiting for. We were visiting the Colluseum. You can’t help but be amazed at the sheer scale of the building. The fact it was built so long ago and is still standing beggars belief. We learnt some amazing facts,such as it was free to enter up until 1998! There is grafitti inside that was done when teenagers would go and sit inside to hang out. It was also nearly sold to an American who wanted to dismantle it and ship it to his ranch in the US!
Stepping inside it was everything I had hoped. We did the VIP tour that let us go under the arena floor and stand where the gladiators would have stood prior to the fight. It gave me goosebumps you can really soak up the history. Definitely a highlight of my life. We then had a tour of palatine hill and gained a lot of historical facts and information that were given in such an interesting way. Again book before you go, you get much better deals and the queue jumps are worth paying all your pension for!
That night we went to a really cool restaurant called Dilla. The atmosphere was great, the wine and food were incredible but the service was a little off. One thing I discovered about Italian waiting staff is that they believe they are doing you an enormous favour by being there. None of the British ‘thanks for coming’ from them! Once you get over that, you’re fine.
On our final day in the city we got up early and got the underground to Vatican City. On our previous visit we had been lucky enough to visit St Peter Bascilica but the queues for the Sistine Chapel had been too long for us to bother waiting in. This time we thought we would go there first. Arriving at 08.55 we found a huge queue and were told it didnt open until 10am! There were also people trying to get you to buy queue jump passes – dont bother! So many people had them that the queue jump queue was just as long! We went to a cafe round the corner and had breakfast then came back at 0940 and joined the line. We entered the Vatican museum at 1040 so it was a bit of a wait but it was worth it.
The museum itself is a spectacle. With works by Rodin and Raphael. I didn’t expect to be so amazed. There is a long corridor with frescos on the ceiling and I could have stood there all day gazing at them – if it hadn’t been so busy! Upon entering the Sistine Chapel it is strictly no phones, no talking. I was a bit underwhelemed if Im honest. The rest of the place is so glorious that by the time you get to the chapel it’s easy to be all wowed out. We left the museum and went round towards St Peters wanting to go back in but the queues this time were longer than I’ve ever seen! So we walked back across into the city centre. Stopping at a piazza for wine and snacks before strolling up through the Villa Borghese Gardens, this place was great. Beautiul walks, a small zoo, boating lake and beer stalls dotted theoughout. As well as a view to die for it was a great tip from a friend that led us to them and I pass it on to you.
That night we went across into the Monti district where we went to a few bars playing live music. The oldest residential district in Rome, Monti has a cool bohemian feel and I loved the walk through the tighlty packed streets with bars blaring out jazz. After some cocktails and food we took a moonlit stroll back through Rome city centre, past all the glorious monuments. The Colluseum at night is breathtaking, as is the Trevi Fountain. Walking by the fountain with a cockail was the perfect way to end our stay. Of course we threw our penny in to make sure we return there one day.
Prices at Suite Sistina for 4 nights for a suite with breakfast was £550 based on two sharing.
The Roman Guy food walking tour was £70 per person and the VIP colluseum tour was £97 per person.
Train tickets to Frascat from Termini cost €3 return and The Minardi wine tour was £60 per person including pasta making and lunch with wine.
Return flights to Rome Ciampino from Manchester were £110 per person including 20kg hold luggage, seat reservation and priority boarding with Ryanair.
• Use the Metro it’s a great way to get around.
• Stear clear of anyone selling flowers or tourist tat especially near the big attractions. Also know that anyone dressed up near the Colluseum will expect a big tip just to have a picture taken.
• Try some smoked mozzerella you won’t regret it.
• Take a wine tour it’s a brilliant day out.
• Head out late. Have dinner at 10pm one night and party till the small hours.
• Do some research before you go as some of the bet bars and restaurants aren’t in the main tourist thoroughfare and would be hard to find unless you know about them.
• Try some potato pizza! Sounds bizzare but it’s wonderful.
Have I inspired you? I’m free if you want to ask any questions.
Have you been to Rome too? What did you see? Everyone has such different intinaries and things that fascinate them so I’m always interested to see what I missed!