travel bite: Rome, Italy

I HAVE unfinished business in Rome. I came, I saw, but I did not conquer. There is a slice of Pizza Bianca in a renowned bakery on Campo dei Fiori, awaiting my return…

Within the first few hours of arrival in this city I quickly learnt that my travelling companion and I were of two very different breeds. I was there for the food, to sample the dizzying heights of Rome’s pizza, ice-cream and regional specialties; whereas M had come for the ‘bricks’, a term coined in our family for those obsessed with the photography of their surroundings when abroad.

Luckily both of us were happy to meet in the middle. I would never have queued for an hour to enter the Vatican Museum (even if the Sistine Chapel was the prize jewel at the end) despite ultimately being very glad that I did. Whereas for M, it may have seemed a vast exaggeration when I claimed that I was on the brink of tears at missing the lunchtime opportunity to sample Rome’s ‘best’ Pizza Bianca al taglio, but she did offer to return later that day – in spite of it being completely out of our way.

Now, it is easy to become overwhelmed by Rome – a city steeped in things that many feel they ‘should’ see or do. As a result it’s been a struggle to summarise our obscenely jam packed weekend into a concise piece of prose that would not reduce you all to droopy eyed monsters before your computer screens.

Instead I will recommend going by instinct. Even by wandering casually through the city there is much to behold, especially as ancient sites seem to have a tendency to pop up on every street corner. But just for your information, here are what I considered to be the highlights:

FOR SEEING
Palazzo Barberini

We approached the Palazzo – nestled amongst palm trees beyond its gates – as it was bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun. This was the time to go. A cool and quiet escape from the bustling streets, it no doubt provides a welcome respite for those visiting in the sweltering summer months. Entry was cheap (free for under 25s) and the artwork amazing. Strong religious overtones would be an understatement, but mastery of skill won out in the end. It was here that I coined my tip for Rome: “look up”. You will be amazed by what you see, whether it be within a gallery, church or out on the street.

Via Giulia

As it neatly tied in with the walk we were doing from the Vatican to Campo de’ Fiori, we chose the scenic route of Via Giulia as recommended by a friend. Its entrance is slightly hidden from the Vittorio Emanuele II Bridge’s exit, but worth finding. Characterful buildings in warm pastel shades line this cobbled street. Passing by beautiful balconied apartments, shops and tavernas, we even encountered the Museo Criminologico, housing a gruesome collection within a 19th Century prison.We then meandered through the back streets leading from Via Giulia towards Campo de’ Fiori. These narrow lanes at times only just accommodate the tuk-tuk-type vans that zip down them, squeezing through laden with fresh produce and wicker baskets. Then there were artists’ studios and tiny antique shops, which finally burst us out onto the square…


Campo de’ Fiori

A vibrant market filled the confine of this square, with restaurants, cafes and bars on the sidelines. A multitude of fresh fruit and vegetables were on offer, of the kind not typically found in your local greengrocer. The variety of salad leaves, squash and purple cauliflowers made me want to snap then up instantly and run home to cook up a feast; and that’s without even mentioning the courgette flowers, olives, pastas, chestnut pastes and cured meats that whet the appetite further. The selection of sun-dried tomatoes were the icing on the cake. I’d never known of the form and range that these staples of antipasti came in!

Via Panisperna

We passed through this road many times as it was near our hotel, but never actually made the most of what it had to offer. Down here you will find boutiques, bars and restaurants of the slightly trendier ilk (think Notting Hill, not Shoreditch). These included Noro P, Mia Market, La Carbonara, and a fabulous looking little rustic wine bar / restaurant called Ai Tre Scalini. My next trip to Rome will definitely include further exploration of this area.


Porta Portese

Entering this market through the remains of a large stone arch you are faced with the thrilling (and slightly daunting) prospect of stalls as far as the eye can see, brimming with potential bargain purchases. Get ready to sift through mounds of clothing, handbags, leather and fur, with signs announcing prices starting from just 50 cents.

And it is by no means a market simply for clothing. Here you may purchase bric-a-brac, antiques, food (both Italian and other), novelty gifts, records, cacti and yes, a multi-purpose mop – complete with demonstration…

FOR EATING

Forno del Campo de’ Fiori

My nemesis. I arrived in hope of sampling a truly fabulous slice of Pizza Bianca, but instead was met by a closed sign and a large glass window tantalisingly displaying that evening’s batch being baked. Take Note: if you want a taste of their Pizza al Taglio, it is not available between 1430 – 1630.

However all was not lost. If pizza is not your thing, they have a small outlet on the opposite corner open throughout the day, offering delicious fresh sandwiches and mini sweet baked goods. I opted for Fior di Latte and rocket encased in a wonderfully light, salty, olive oil infused bread, followed by a little ball of fried dough filled with ricotta and berries. I was not disappointed.

Take your chosen treats and perch on the edge of the water fountain, nestled beside a colourful flower stall, and devour whilst participating in some people watching over the square.

 

 

Giolitti

With ice cream available between 0700 – 0200 this place is dangerous. Over the course of our short stay I managed to squeeze in two visits in order to sample as many of their divine flavours as possible. Opening in 1900 on via Uffici del Vicario, once you have tasted what’s on offer at Giolitti you will understand why it has been a stalwart ever since. 

It’s a bargain too: €2.50 for three small (generous) scoops, and €4.50 for three large (gigantic) scoops. Flavours worth noting were Hazelnut, Blueberry, Pistachio and Zabaione – all exemplary. Pine Nut was subtle and creamy; Tartufo al Cioccolato indulgent but not too sweet.

Roma Sparita

Hidden away in the corner of a quiet square not far from the entrance of Porta Portese sits an unassuming establishment that calls itself ‘Lost Rome’. Family run and family filled, it provided us with the perfect ending to our hectic weekend away. Seated upstairs, amongst large groups of Italians leisurely making their way through Sunday lunch, we instantly new that we were onto a winner. Service was provided in true Roman style – a mixture of brusque Italian stallions and energetic showmen – with little English spoken.

Our starters of carciofo and zucchini flowers were perfect in their salty crispness, and a meltingly smooth ball of buffalo mozzarella was chosen to accompany them. This was followed by deep yellow ribbons of fettuccine lightly tossed in a sauce of fresh tomatoes and lardo di Colonnata, and their specialty of tagliolini cacio e pepe: a divine combination of cracked black pepper and pecorino cheese served in a Parmesan basket. We rounded off the meal with Vin Santo and a considerable amount of biscotti.

This was my ‘wish-I-could-take-you-home’ find. I was instantly sad that I would not be able to return the following week to sample more of what this simple restaurant had to offer (for we hadn’t even broached their secondi piatti or pizzas). That said, the Italian friends we went with have returned in our place, and I know that next time I am in Rome I will be heading straight there for some home-style food made with Roman flair.


FOR SLEEPING

Hotel Santa Prassede

I may have had my doubts about this place when traipsing in search of it down a not so appealing back street, but luckily I was proven wrong. A hotel of two parts, we were staying in the half across the street from the main reception. What used to be a Granary has now been re-appropriated as part hotel, part private apartments. The wide curving stone steps alluding to its past led us up to a beautifully tiled entrance, replete with fountain, which took you through to the breakfast room. And a couple of floors up was our room.

Tucked away at the end of a narrow corridor we were pleasantly surprised to find our room to be a compact bounty of all that would be needed for our stay. A sloping roof with exposed beams gave character to otherwise standard furnishings, and clever placement of mirrors both brightened and opened up the space.

This was not a luxury hotel, but perfect for a short stay throughout which you are mostly out-and-about. It’s reasonably priced, or even an absolute steal if you stay during one of their special offer periods (we paid €55 per night including a simple yet ample buffet-style breakfast).

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  • and all that’s in between

    loves and hates, hints and tips, observations, musings and reviews; on food, fashion, travel and art; and all that's in between...
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