Legend has it that tossing a coin over your left shoulder, standing with your back to the Trevi Fountain, guarantees you a return to Rome. Well while I can’t speak for others, I’ve reaped the rewards on more than one occasion now, most recently finding my way back for an action-packed 48 hours.
Of course, no length of time is long enough when in The Eternal City, where the old co-exists with the evolving new.
While this was my third trip to Rome, it was my husband R.R.M’s first; and so, our agenda sought to balance our – at times diverging – bucket lists. Note: it does help that one is as in thrall to the Sistine Chapel on their umpteenth visit, as they are the first time around!
So herewith is our lowdown on things to do, see and eat when you only have two days in Rome. I hope it’s as insightful for first-timers, as it is for those looking to fall in love with this indescribably-dreamy city all over again…
The First Evening: Cocktails and a View
Arriving early evening, we speed into the city from Fiumicino Airport marvelling at the subtle shift in landscape from subdued suburbia to a fascinating farrago of age-old ruins, Renaissance structures, baroque fountains and even modern architectural wonders. There’s much to explore indeed, but first we check into the ever-so-glamorous Hotel de Russie, situated right by Piazza del Popolo, a grandiose square fabled for its twin baroque churches and Egyptian obelisk (one of the oldest and largest in Rome).
Cocooned within a verdant courtyard, de Russie’s bar has long since been one of the most stylish spots to sink a cocktail in Rome and it’s but natural that we start our evening here, before zipping over to the quietly-opulent Hotel Eden where we can also drink in the surreal sunset enveloping the city’s magical skyline. With its panoramic view, the debonair drinking den on Eden’s rooftop is possibly one of Rome’s best kept secrets!
We’re back in our neighbourhood in time for supper at Dal Bolognese, a Roman darling as popular with well-heeled locals as with haute figures in film and fashion, from Karl Lagerfeld (may he rest in peace) to George and Amal Clooney. The rich furnishings and ambience here are matched by first-rate dishes majoring in traditional Emilian cuisine, including a decadently-rich parade of pastas.
The Next Day: Carpe Diem
An early start the next morning means we can truly seize the day. Santa Maria del Popolo – the Renaissance church just across the hotel on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, is an absorbing place to start as its art-rich walls shelter a multitude of masterpieces including works by Raphael and Caravaggio.
Next, hurrying past the throng at The Spanish Steps, we arrive at Via dei Condotti, the painfully-fashionable boulevard championing all manners of Italian luxury. We lose all sense of time in DOMVS – the unique gallery housed above Bvlgari’s beguiling boutique, paying tribute to the heritage jewels which have framed Bvlgari’s timeless legacy. The intricate links between the jeweller’s signature design and the city of Rome is particularly revelatory, with the treasure trove of gems featuring a trident-shaped necklace inspired by a three-way road structure leading to Piazza del Popolo, among other dazzling creations worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren to name but a few!
Elevenses are in order by this point and so we pop across to Antico Caffè Greco, the oldest and perhaps most storied cafe in Rome. Established in 1760, it was once a bolthole for writers and prolific personalities from Goethe and Keats, to Hans Christian Anderson. Of course, the high-grade coffee and impeccably-creamy cannoli ensures that it’s just as compelling today.
As tempting as it is to spend the rest of the day breezing in and out of Fendi, Gucci and Prada, we tear ourselves away and head off on a quick tour of all the check-list landmarks – including another coin toss at the magnificent Trevi Fountain (recently refurbished in collaboration with Fendi) and an awe-inspiring amble inside The Pantheon. Nearly 2000 years old, the iconic curved roof and oculus of this former Roman temple (now a church) forms the largest unsupported dome in the world!
We have a late lunch reservation a stone’s throw away at Armando al Pantheon. The family-run trattoria is a solid option for fuss-free Roman cooking at its soulful best. There’s cacio e pepe of course (a thrifty yet oh-so-decadent pasta crafted with pecorino cheese and black pepper) along with all the other classics such as penne alla amatriciana (we have a vegetarian rendition without the cured meat). But it’s a simple spaghetti which truly impresses. Tossed in olive oil and enriched by a blanket of black truffles, it’s a dish I’m still mistily dreaming of!
We heroically resist the urge to nap at this point, instead making our way to the Colosseum – once the venue for gladiator fights and wild beast hunts. The neighbouring Palatine Hill is just as captivating.
Acknowledged as the birthplace of Rome and inhabited since 1000 B.C., the Palatine is pervaded by a frisson of Rome’s past. Here you’ll find botanical gardens (the first to be created in Europe!), medieval churches and emperors’ palaces, including the magnificent 1st century palace built by the despot emperor Domitian. There’s also a breathtaking terrace looking out onto the Roman Forum and beyond.
Sadly we have to skip the ancient ruins of The Forum, if only so we have a window to discover the more bohemian side of Rome in Monti, a nearby residential area that’s undergone a trendy transformation over time. Refuelling with a glass of vino in one of the many bustling bars, we head back to de Russie to freshen up before dinner. The destination: Antica Arco, a contemporary restaurant in Trastevere, lending new thought to seasonal Italian ingredients.
Since the buzz-worthy restaurant is positioned right on the Janiculum Hill, we don’t miss the opportunity to stop by the terrace of Fontanone on the way there, for the breathtaking view (and selfie op!). As for dinner, it transpires in a series of immaculate plates underscored by zealously-sourced ingredients. Highlights include risotto al castelmagno con riduzione di Nebbiolo – a deliciously-rich risotto dressed with a Nebbiolo (red wine) reduction!
Before We Leave
It’s another early start at de Russie, this time motivated by the desire to linger for longer in the hotel’s cheery breakfast room over copious cups of coffee and freshly-baked Italian pastries.
The startlingly beautiful weather in February affords us a saunter in the lush surrounds of Borghese Gardens after, towards Via Veneto, the elegant boulevard that inspired Fellini’s masterpiece, “La Dolce Vita.”
The hotel’s formidably-resourceful concierge Masimiliano has made all the arrangements for our smooth journey to Florence by early afternoon… But before that, we have just enough time to schlep to The Vatican where we race through the labyrinth of corridors, past a spectacular blur of artworks and artefacts, until we’re finally rooted to our spot in the Raphael Rooms. Of course, we could spend hours gazing at Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel too… A reviving shot of espresso shakes us out of our reverie at the rooftop coffeeshop. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but the sweeping views from the top of the Cupola are most definitely worth it!
We would have loved to potter through the thriving jumble of Testaccio Market, wander into a few more of the city’s magnetic churches and of course, revel in continuing to eat our way across Rome’s inviting trattorias and new-age restaurants. I suppose there’s always next time – after all, we did make toss another coin in the Trevi before heading off on our next Italian adventure!
Continue reading about our travels in Italy, here.