The Piazza di Spagna glimmering at dusk
Sofia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Roma – they are all the same in my book – Italian glamor girls of the 50s & 60s: past their prime, a bit jaded, a bit old-school, but still sexy enough to enjoy a great night. It is a wonderful, magical, crazy place filled with more treasures than I can write down in just one post…it takes a lifetime of visits to see everything and she will always surprise you.
Arriving in the late afternoon in November, her charms are hidden by an early sunset. The subtleties of this very in-your-face city unveil themselves at night. Glimpses of her Best Bits appear in the moonlight: the Castel S’Angelo, St. Peter’s Dome, a column here, a column there, you get the idea.
The Hotel D’Inghilterra, steps away from Via Condotti and Piazza di Spagna, is the perfect place to stay at this time of year. The rooms are small but beautifully decorated and the top floor rooms have lovely terraces that look over Rome’s spire-studded rooftops! The best part is you are in the center of the maelstrom of Roman shopping, heaving even as the night approaches.
After unpacking, I always head to one of my favorite squares, Piazza Del Popolo and its Church of Santa Maria Del Popolo. This hidden sanctuary, with its tiny uninviting door, opens into an unexpected baroque wonder and the home of two of Caravaggio’s most famous paintings: Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul. They were painted for this specific chapel and have remained here for more than 300 years. There are also some other hidden treasures by Bernini, Annibale Carracci and also the Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael. At night, it’s rare to have anyone else there to disturb your contemplation of these masterpieces.
Head back to Via Condotti via Via Margutta, down a quick coffee at my local, Caffe Greco (local since 1760), and stroll up to the Ara Pacis & Mausoleum of Augustus. To the naked eye, the Mausoleum looks like an unkempt park with a slight hill on which tons of cats are calling it home. It is really a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC. No longer open to tourists, you have to imagine what it’s like inside.
Turn around and you will be in front of a building that has caused tons of controversy. The American architect, Richard Meier, was asked to design a new building to protect the 9th Century Ara Pacis, erected to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus’s victories.
Peace was not something that Richard Meier had after the new building was consecrated and even the Italian President of the time said he would personally like to tear it down. I am no architect but I don’t know why everyone was in a tizzy – it seems like a perfectly respectable effort to me. I think people have calmed down a bit, especially after a sip or two of Prosecco at Gusto restaurant, where I suggest having dinner. You can make your own decisions about it while enjoying your first Italian dinner of the weekend.
After supper, make your way down the busy Via del Corso and don’t be ashamed to throw three coins in the one and only fountain where it’s a must! The Trevi Fountain just glimmers in the moonlight. It was recently restored and looks as bling as it did when opened to the public in 1762. Looking good enough to eat – it reminds you that you haven’t had your first gelato of the trip.
San Crispino is right around the corner so get your cone and come back to eat it, sitting in front of Salvi’s work of beauty. Wandering back to the hotel through a maze of streets arm-in-arm with your friend, partner, lover, you can’t help but slip your jacket onto your shoulders and feel like Marcello Mastroanni in La Dolce Vita.
BEST BITS – AN EVENING IN ROME
- Hotel D’Inghilterra – Via Bocca di Leone, 14, 00187 Roma, Italy +39 06 699811
- Piazza Del Popolo & Church of Santa Maria Del Popolo
- Caffe Greco – Via Condotti 86
- Ara Pacis & Mausoleum of Augustus
- Gusto – Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 9, 00186 Roma, Italy +39 06 322 6273
- Trevi Fountain
- San Crispino – Via della Panetteria, 42, 00187 Roma, Italy +39 06 679 3924