La dolce vita – the Italian sweet life: Does it still exist, and if so, can it be found in touristy Rome? While the critics are quick to point out that the Eternal City is pricey and over-crowded, there’s a civility to be had – full of aperitivo and gelato and lounging against cinematic backdrops – if you do Rome right. You may not find yourself actually frolicking in a fountain a la the Fellini film, but this two-day guide is all about sweet living, Roman style. Cliched? Maybe. A rosy-lit European holiday fantasy come to life? You bet!
10AM ELIZABETH MINCHILLI
One of the world’s original foodie destinations, Rome’s culinary traditions are as deeply rooted as its art and ancient sites. And there are few better people than Elizabeth Minchilli, an American-born writer and food expert, to guide you through them. Starting in the Campo de’ Fiori market, Minchilli’s food tour is as much a general orientation to the part of Rome that was once a busy corridor between Basilica of St. John Lateran and the Vatican (and even earlier was adjacent to the Pompey Theatre, the infamous site of Julius Caesar’s murder) as it is an exploration in deliciousness. Starting at a tiny hole-in-the-wall gem of a cappuccino shop, Minchilli will guide you through cheese and prosciutto shops, paninoteca and wine bars (hint: there’s no need to eat breakfast first), wrapping with a traditional lunch full of carciofi alla giudia, deep-fried artichokes, and zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy in the Jewish ghetto.
2PM VILLA BORGHESE
Food coma time – and since it’s hard-earned, we see no reason not to indulge in some idle play. Work your way over to the Villa Borghese, just above the Piazza del Popolo, where you’ll find Rome’s largest public park. Originally conceived as a private vineyard, the villa was redesigned and enlarged in 1605. Today it’s home to museums, a theatre and numerous secret gardens full of picturesque faux artifacts; it’s also where the locals come to loll about under the sweet shade of a Mediterranean pine, reading, napping or enjoying some good, old-fashioned PDA (the word romantic does, after all, come from the adverb in Roman style).
4PM VIA DEL BABUINO
Not only is the Baroque-style Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps, one of Rome’s most iconic sites, it’s also the central point to some of the city’s most upscale shopping. Via del Babuino is the classiest of the narrow streets that branch off from the square, full of “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” price-tag-free boutiques, while Via Condotti is big-name designer heaven. Indulge in a more affordable sweet treat at Venchi, a craft chocolatier, or make your way over to San Crispino, along Via della Panetteria, for artisanal gelato that many say is the best in Rome.
8PM OSTERIA GUSTO
When a friend who used to live in Rome recommended Osteria Gusto for dinner, she said it was where we’d meet for our monthly drinks, snacks and chat marathon if we were Roman. While rustic Italian osteria are all the rage in most North American cities the last few years, it’s hard to beat the real deal. Packed with young locals (and not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name, though they are related), this two-story loft offers traditional, simple Roman food – think greaseless fritti, cacio e pepe and bucatini alla amatriciana – and shelves lined with local wines. Best of all are the ground-floor cheese cave, with some 400 varietals, and page-long salumi list.
Even if you’ve been before, and even if the religious importance of the site doesn’t do it for you, the Vatican still awes. Ostensibly one of the world’s greatest art galleries, there are over nine miles of art spread over 2,000 rooms; and for the “been there, done that” among you, it’s estimated that if you were to look at each piece for just thirty seconds each, it would take seven years to work your way through the complex. Dark Rome’s young, visibly passionate expert guides (ours was a moonlighting PhD student working on a dissertation about museum websites), small groups and early-access tour time, makes for an unhurried, intimate tour. Before you leave, make sure to climb the 320 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica for one of the best views of the city.
9AM VIP TOUR OF THE SISTINE CHAPEL
If small and intimate is more your thing, consider a VIP tour with Viator that takes you behind the red ropes and allows you into secret rooms that are off limits to the public. On this tour, you'll get a private after hours Sistine Chapel viewing, meaning it's just you and 15 other people in the room. You'll also and tour of the Vatican Museum's secret rooms such as Niccoline Chapel, the Room of Gold, and Raphael’s Rooms.
Just a 15 minute walk from the Vatican (but worth going out of your way for, even if you’re not in the area), Pizzarium isn’t your typical pizza joint. You’ll spot this takeaway spot by the lines that spill out the doors and onto the street, all waiting for famed pizza-maker Gabriele Bonci’s perfect dough and inventive topping combinations. Pies are served al taglio, or by the slice (in Rome this means you tell the server how much you want and the pizza is sold by weight, rather than a set slice size), all the better for tasting lots of different creations – you’ll want to.
2PM SPA AT VILLA SPALLETTI TRIVELLI
Normally we wouldn’t advocate wasting precious time in Rome in your hotel, but then the Villa Spalletti Trivelli isn’t your typical Roman lodging. Originally belonging to the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and tucked just under the presidential palace, the hotel features a stunning basement level hammam and spa. There’s a fitness center, too, to wile away any guilt, but the name of the game being living the sweet life, we say give in to the bliss. When you’re done, complimentary prosecco awaits in the hotel library. Sip it in the garden, amid the heady scent of blooming jasmine.
7PM VILLA SPALLETTI TRIVELLI
VIA PIACENZA 4 ROME, ITALY 00184
Mix yourself an aperitivo from the hotel’s comp bar. The pre-dinner drink is, after all, a longheld Italian tradition, and Villa Spalletti Trivelli’s aforementioned gardens and parlors, which once held salons for Roman politicos and Nobel Prize winners, is the perfect place to partake.
8PM FLAVIO AL VELAVEVODETTO
Hop a cab to the Testaccio district. Known to most tourists as the city’s nightclub district, it’s also where locals and those in the know go to eat. A favorite of Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, Flavio al Velavevodetto is homey and rustic, a menu of traditional dishes made with the highest quality ingredients. No matter how full you are (and you will be full), do not pass up the unorthodox tiramisu, a slightly more liquid version that you’ve probably had in the past, topped with hot fudge.
WHERE TO STAY: VILLA SPALLETTI TRIVELLI
VIA PLACENZA 4 ROME, ITALY
With just 12 rooms in the main villa, and two stunning garden suites out back, the Villa Spalletti Trivelli is uniquely intimate and elegant, minutes away from the Trevi Fountain and other central sites.