Rome is often described as the first great city of the modern world. All life is here. The towering political, cultural and archaeological achievements of the Romans have earned this capital the sobriquet The Eternal City – it has flourished throughout the centuries and is perhaps the greatest example of a city that has moved from the classical through medieval and Renaissance times to the modern era. It’s impossible to visit Rome without feeling some visceral stirring – if you don’t fall in love here, you may as well surrender your passport. Here’s why…
From one of the two airports, head to the centre. Regular buses or coaches run every 15 minutes or so, or the hotel will lay on a shuttle service.
There are more five-star hotels in Rome than you can shake a gladius at, but we are rooting for the famous and iconic Rome Cavalieri. It’s managed by the Waldorf-Astoria Group so we probably don’t need to tell you how luxurious it is. It’s set on its own hill – the views from your balcony are phenomenal – with the whole of Rome ahead of you, the Vatican a little to your right and St Peter’s Dome standing proudly in the foreground. Throw in terraced gardens, swimming pools, spas and an executive lounge on the seventh floor where you can sip prosecco while letting the view inspire you, and you know you’ve arrived.
Dine at the hotel’s La Pergola, where culinary genius Heinz Beck has ensured that this is the only three-Michelin starred restaurant
in Rome. To describe his signature dish as a kind of ravioli is like calling a Ferrari a little two-seater runaround. The delicate parcels are gently stuffed with
a carbonara and white wine filling that is completely divine. Step out on to the roof terrace to admire the panorama and the star-flecked sky, breathe deeply and… hold that moment.
After a sumptuous buffet breakfast – choose from cooked, continental or Japanese – it’s time to head for town. It’s hard to cram two thousand years into one weekend so we’ll pick out a couple of highlights for you. The Pantheon is, for me, one of the wonders of the world. A perfect concrete dome balances on the main structure, which has at the front a portico of eight Corinthian columns. Step inside, gaze up at the perfectly calculated dome and marvel that it was finished in 126AD. Historians record that it took around 730 workers some three years to complete. A ten-minute walk will take to you the Trevi Fountain. Be warned, though – while it’s every bit as impressive as you will have seen in countless films, you will be surprised at how small the piazza that houses it is. Wide-angled lenses, eh?
On Via Margutta, near Piazze del Popolo and right in the centre, you’ll find Babette, a lovely local bistro with a sun-trap courtyard that is part of a former convent. There is a fabulous buffet option at lunchtimes, where a table groans under the weight of salads and home-cooked pasta and sauces. A word of warning – the meatballs are a house speciality and so delicious that the temptation is to go back for more. Don’t – you will be so full that you’re likely to nod off in the sun afterwards.
One of the great beauties of Rome is the Villa Borghese, one of the greatest city centre parks in the world. It’s at the top of the hill overlooking
central Rome so the views are wonderful. To get there, the best route is to climb the Spanish Steps (don’t worry, there are bars and cafes at the top if you need replenishing.) The park itself is enormous and beautiful, with ponds, playgrounds for children and vista points. If you still have energy, hop into a cab down to the Coliseum. You can see the foundations and the rooms from where gladiators – not to mention lions and tigers – were hauled up to do battle in the arena. Like Wembley, but not on the tube.
There is only one place to head: Trastevere, where young Rome comes to see and be seen. The only rule here is that you must enjoy yourself. This traditionally working-class neighbourhood is a huddle of narrow streets with piazzas, honey-coloured townhouses and lots of young people buzzing around on Vespas or chatting in bars. Off the main square – Santa Maria in Trastevere – is a slew of neighbourhood trattorias where Romans come to eat. Wander up and down, look at the menus, take your pick, and be prepared to be told to go and have a drink until they can fit you in. These places are busy – and with menus at as little for 10 euros for two courses and a glass of wine, it’s easy to see why.
After breakfast, check your luggage in with the concierge and jump in a taxi to one of my favourite hills – and viewpoints – in the whole of Rome. Gianicolo, where you’ll find a cobbled fan-shaped area that overlooks the whole of the city, across the centre to Villa Borghese and beyond. Families mob this place on a Sunday morning, gathered around the statue of Roman hero Garibaldi, who unified the country in 1860. His motto, Roma O Morte (Rome or death), stands proudly engraved at the base of the statue. Here parents drink coffee or something a
little stronger, while children take pony rides around the park.
It’s a beautiful walk along the ridge of the Gianicolo towards the Vatican, on a hilltop path that gradually works its way down to the banks of the Tiber. Along the approach to St Peter’s Square and Basilica you’ll see a raft of family-friendly pizzerias and bistros. Grab one that takes your fancy. This is where Rome comes for lunch, and the babble of conversation and infectious laughter is as enticing as the food.
It would be sacrilege to visit Rome and not come to the Vatican. Though sceptics may view it as a religious Disneyland, the smallest state in the world has some of its most beautiful architecture, whatever your religious views. The truth is, though, if you take in St Peter’s Square and survive the queue for the Basilica you’ve done well. Tours of the Sistine Chapel require the patience of one of the many saints that can be found in relief sprouting like fungus around this neck of the woods. If you’re determined, though, skip all the above, head here first thing and bring sandwiches and water – you’re in for a long wait.
After you head back to the hotel for your luggage and the shuttle bus, stand outside the front, look to your left and take in that incredible view of the city one last time. No photo or postcard can ever do it justice.
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates flights to Rome from London Luton airport with fares, including taxes, starting from £64.99 one way (£126.99 return).
In addition to year-round low fares, Monarch also offers a bespoke “build your own class of travel” range of products and services both on the ground and inflight. All customers are allocated a seat at check-in; however seats can be pre-allocated on scheduled Monarch flights for £4.99 per one-way flight to ensure that families and groups are seated together. For customers looking for added comfort, extra legroom seats are also available offering up to six inches of extra space from only £9.99.
Customers travelling on scheduled flights can also avoid booking charges by paying for their flights using a debit card or for a fixed £10 fee, can pay by credit card – regardless of the value of the transaction or the number of people travelling. They can also take advantage of online check-in, which is available between 18 days and four and a half hours prior to departure. With a great range of tasty hot and cold meals that can be pre-booked or purchased onboard, flying with Monarch really couldn’t be simpler.