The New Roman Holiday

Serene Eller Vainicher

When in Rome, do as the real Romans do.

For even the most sophisticated travelers, director Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning La Grande Bellezza shows the Eternal City in an entirely new light. Where is the Pantheon? The Vatican? The Trevi Fountain?

We get an occasional glimpse of an icon or two, but for the most part, the movie delves into the city’s decidedly unfamiliar—and, at times, dark—side: the unknown cafés; the quietly chic restaurants; the private palaces, apartments and grand alfresco terraces of the local literati and highly social power players. This is the Rome of true Romans who know the city—more by heart than by picture postcards and cherished old cinematic constructs. With that in mind, we turned to our most trusted of Roman friends to discover more ventures off the city’s beaten path.


Everyone in Rome—whether visitor or native—­thinks he has an oh-so-hidden, oh-so-local secret eatery. But it’s Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta who has the taste and talent we rely on most when it comes to selecting insider-only spots that are unfailingly to die for. The culinary force behind, and owner of, Manhattan’s teeny little East Village trattoria/enoteca Il Posto Accanto, the Rome-born Tosti di Valminuta grew up frequently visiting the city’s chic Parioli district, rubbing elbows with aristos both ancient and nouveau. But it’s Rome’s down-home, no-frills spots that came to most excite her palate.

“More than anywhere else,” she says, “I eat at Il Bar Sotto Il Mare [Via Tunisi 27; 39-06/3972-8413]," a seafood-focused spot in Prati that does “the best vermicelli alla pescatora [long, thin seafood pasta], the best crudi, the best rigatoni with octopus. And it’s a fraction of the cost of places where the food is half as good.” It takes reservations, but, cautions Tosti di Valminuta, it’s a Roman booking, so you may still wait, and people who arrive after you may be seated before you; reserve early in the evening. Meanwhile, “if you love pizza, grilled artichokes and arancini”—deep-fried balls of meat- and cheese-stuffed risotto—“then go to Osteria da Tesone [Via Dardanelli 5; 39-06/372-5860], also in Prati, and sit outside.”

When Tosti di Valminuta’s in the mood for something more contemporary and elevated, however, she heads to Acquolina (Via Antonio Serra 60; 39-06/333-7192), where young chef Giulio Terrinoni turns out his own take on modern Roman seafood. Her recent favorites from the frequently changing menu include mixed fried fish with sour red-pepper sorbet and a seafood carbonara.

After dinner, or during a hot afternoon, it’s all about Gelateria Duse (Via Eleonora Duse 1; 39-06/807-9300), in Parioli, or da Giovanni, as the regulars call it. Owner Gio­vanni makes small batches of artisanal flavors (bitter chocolate and zabaione are tops), and one should always ask for doppio panna. “That way,” says Tosti di Val­minuta, “the gelataio will put the panna—whipped cream—both underneath and on top of your gelato. Age doesn’t matter: Whipped cream is delicious, and, if I could, I’d swim in it.”


Represented by Galleria Lorcan O’Neill (Vicolo Dei Catinari 3)—one of the city’s top contemporary galleries—­rising young artist Pietro Ruffo has lived and worked in Rome all his life. (His pieces have appeared beyond the O’Neill gallery, at the city’s MACRO museum and at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design.) Though his home­town may be better known for the arts of its antique past, Ruffo finds several particular points of inspiration with more recent vintages.

At GNAM, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (Viale delle Belle Arti 131), “there are incredible examples of Italian art of the 1960s,” says Ruffo. In particular, he’s drawn to the museum’s Spoglia d’oro su spine d’acacia (bocca) (Golden Skin on Acacia Thorns [Mouth]), 2002, a highly abstracted 40-foot-long, 30-panel image of a mouth by Giuseppe Penone, a conceptual artist and member of the Arte Povera movement.

Outside of the major cultural institutions, Ruffo recommends the gallery at the Fondazione Pastificio Cerere (Via degli Ausoni 7; 39-06/4542-2960), a pasta factory–turned–art space where you can “go into the artists’ studios,” he says, “and see where their creations are born.” (Contact the foundation ahead of time to arrange a visit.)

Artists aren’t all work and no play, however, and Ruffo and his crew can often be found hanging out at Caffè Perù (Via di Monserrato 46, 39-06/687-9548), a historic coffee and cocktail bar near Campo de’ Fiori that filmmakers Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini, among others, used to frequent.


Event designer Jean Paul Troili creates cinematic settings for weddings of such boldfaced names as Tom Cruise, so his little black book of Roman decorating sources tends toward the dramatic. One of his key addresses, in fact, is directly tied to the film industry: Cine 800 (1 Via della Marrana 100; 39-06/784-2599), where decades’ worth of furniture and objects designed for famous films, like an original painting from director Franco Zeffirelli’s Young Toscanini, are on offer. For opulent Italian textiles, Troili browses the bolts at Lisio (Via Sistina 120) and La Clessidra (Via del Governo Vecchio 8; 39-06/6880-4895).

To find less over-the-top artifacts, architect Tommaso Ziffer—whose clients include Valentino—heads to Magazzini Ruffi (Piazzale Ardeatino 7) for provincial French and Italian antiques. And for her part, interior designer Ilaria Miani—who is behind a host of in-demand Italian vacation villas in Tuscany and Venice—favors the sculptural, color-blocked lamp shades of Paola Napoleone (Via Barnaba Tortolini 23) as well as the brightly hued, hand-printed linen textiles at the by-appointment-only atelier of young designer Zazie Gnecchi Ruscone (1 39-33/9678-6354).


When asked what under-the-radar hotels she recommends, the sought-after interior decorator Alessandra Branca, who was born and raised in Rome and now splits her time among residences here, in Chicago, in New York and on the Bahamas’ Harbour Island, immediately points to Buonanotte Garibaldi (rooms, from $250; Via Giuseppe Garibaldi 83; 39-06/5833-0733). She and her family stayed in the homelike three-room guesthouse in Trastevere for several weeks before buying their current Roman apartment.

“I loved going for a walk in the neighborhood, being in the heart of Rome in an area with fewer of the tourists you have elsewhere,” says Branca. “You feel like you’re going home. That can be so much more important in Rome than being in a hotel with fancy service,” she adds, though there’s some of that, too, like a butler who makes breakfast.

In a similar vein, Filippo Cosmelli—the founder of Italy’s Finest Lifestyle Management, a concierge company that arranges immersive experiences for private clients and companies including Fendi and Bulgari—suggests several boutique stays that feel like homes, whether rented out completely or in part.

According to Cosmelli, the three-suite, classically but eclectically decorated and terraced La Regola 67 (rooms, from $340; Via di Santa Maria in Monticelli 67; 39-34/2944-3921), in an oft-overlooked piazza near Campo de’ Fiori, “most fulfills a sense of what a Roman apartment looks like. It doesn’t feel like it’s done for guests but for the owners”—a young couple who live in the same palazzo—“and their friends.” More formally decorated are the two suites at La Scelta di Goethe (rooms, from $2,175; Via del Corso 107; 39-06/6994-2219), whose position on the high-traffic central thoroughfare that is Via del Corso “doesn’t give high expectations.” Inside, however, there’s “wonderful, wonderful service,” with an ever-present major­domo, an impressive wine collection and dinners on the terrace offering views of the Pincio Hill leading up to Villa Borghese, which “gives a sense of how green Rome really is.”

Nearby, the family-run, four-room Casa Fab­brini (rooms, from $325; Vicolo delle Orsoline 13; 39-06/324-3706) displays more contemporary style despite being set in a 16th-century townhouse-like palazzetto. “It’s both charming and functional,” Cosmelli says, noting that this is no faint praise, since the two don’t often go together in Rome.

Another modern marvel, this one a full-service luxury hotel opened in December, is the boudoir-chic D.O.M (rooms, from $325; Via Giulia 131; 39-06/683-2144), whose 24 Deco-tinged rooms, black-and-platinum restaurant and bar, and sun-soaked terrace occupy a former 17th-century monastery on tony Via Giulia, a block off the Tiber River.


Ten years ago we reviewed La Cerbaia (from $8,165 a week; Strada di Cetinale 17), a Tuscan farmhouse for rent near Siena, between the Cetinale estate’s exquisite garden and Holy Wood (where the famed Palio horse race was run in the late 1600s). La Cerbaia was the next best thing to sleeping in Villa Cetinale (from $47,675 a week for up to 20 people; Strada di Cetinale 9), at left, where one had to be a friend of the late Earl of Durham (like Princess Margaret or Kate Moss) to get past the heavy gates. Since the earl died, his son, musician Ned Lambton, has spent more than $5 million on the villa’s top-to-bottom refurbishment by designer Camilla Guinness, wife of the late Jasper Guinness, who did interiors for the likes of British style icon Isabella Blow. Between them they’ve delivered the country’s top villa to book for 2015.

The 13-bedroom, 17th-century centerpiece—an elegant, light-drenched house originally built by a nephew of a pope—has been primped up with en-suite polished marble and nickel bathrooms, WiFi and a game room in the limonaia. The gardens have always had an almost mythic status, with a mile-long grass allée flanked with cypresses. The family’s aristocratic belongings, from first-edition books and antique Baldachin beds to Baroque sculptures, were kept in place, ensuring that the amply staffed house, including a chef, retains both soul and class. Both properties can be rented through Daunt Travel; 44-20/3603-8183.


Jewelry designer Fabio Salini looks for the same things in clothing, shoes and accessories that he prizes in the pieces he creates for such clients as the Queen of Jordan. “I like the idea of the workshop,” says Salini, whose selection of Rome haberdashers bears this out. “It is about the handmade and the time an artisan puts into his craft.” He gets his shirts, suits and even tuxedos, plus sweaters and scarves, at Flanella Grigia (Piazza Pitagora 8), which “has a very family-feeling approach” despite being a larger operation than a storefront tailor, the best of which, he laments, “are now all dead!”

For shoes, Salini goes to Marini Calza­ture (Via Francesco Crispi 97), a maker of traditional, handcrafted leather foot­wear since 1899, and he procures additional­ leather goods, both custom and off-the-shelf, at the tiny atelier of Federico Polidori (Via dì Piè di Marmo 7/8; 39-06/679-7191), who whips up bags, belts, wallets and other accessories with a decidedly English equestrian look. (“My family used to hunt,” Salini explains.)

On the more casual side, he likes Strategic Business Unit (Via di San Pantaleo 68/69), which sells its wares—including a wide range of its specialty denim pieces—from a wood-paneled former fabric shop.

Artfully attired artist and cultural events organizer Angelo Bucarelli, in contrast, whose curator aunt ran Rome’s modern art museum for decades, still has a tailor or two up his well-fitted sleeves. Elmerica Meschini (Viale Giotto 2; 39-06/574-1614) has been producing his shirts—in his signature horizontal stripes—since 1978. “She’s good, and she’s cheap,” he says, before warning, “she smokes like a chimney, though, so once I take the shirts home, I have to wash them right away.”

For suits, Bucarelli goes to Franco Masino (Via Belsiana 60), who, he says, generally does the form-fitting Roman cut perfected by the city’s ur-tailors, the Caraceni family (though he reports he’s gotten the tailor to loosen up a bit for him). And he gets his glasses at Mondelliani (Via dei Bergamaschi 49), which stocks top brands from around the world in addition to creating its own specs. Co-owner Rosaria Riccioli has been selling him the same tortoiseshell pair for 25 years—until a few months ago, that is. “She imposed upon me to change,” he says of his now-clear frames.


The city is having a literary resurgence these days,” says author Andrea di Robilant, citing as evidence the recent arrivals of such worldwide stars as Jhumpa Lahiri and Taiye Selasi, as well as the “incredible reception” newly received in the States by short-story writer Francesca Marciano and poet Patrizia Cavalli, both Romans.

Di Robilant, whose latest book, Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside (Knopf), was released in May, grew up in the 1960s and ’70s on Rome’s now-smart Via del Babuino, above the original Feltrinelli bookshop and near the Piazza del Popolo café Rosati (Piazza del Popolo 5A; 39-06/322-5859), then haunts of the avant-garde international intelligentsia. Today Feltrinelli is a nationwide chain, and Rosati is a tourist redoubt, but di Robilant points to other places of impeccable literary provenance. “My favorite library is the Biblioteca Angelica [Piazza di Sant’Agostino 8], which dates back to 1604 and is now Italy’s oldest public library,” he says. “It’s a room redone in the 18th century by Luigi Vanvitelli. The space and light are just so wonderful that I love to go there and write.” An added reason? “It’s right next door to the Basilica di Sant’Agostino [Piazza di Sant’Agostino; 39-06/6880-1962], which has what I think is Caravaggio’s most extraordinary painting, the Madonna dei Pellegrini,” he says. “It’s like contemporary photography; it blows your mind, really. You can take your coffee break and go check out the Caravaggio.” He also frequents the 300-plus-year-old Casanatense library (Via di Sant Ignazio 52), though he cautions that its design “is so damn gorgeous, it’s distracting, so I can’t spend much time there if I’m trying to work.”

Most of the independent bookshops di Robilant once loved have long since closed, the exception being Libreria del Viaggiatore (Via del Pellegrino 78), a store focused exclusively on travel literature, where, he says, “I always bump into friends.”

Di Robilant communes with the spirits of great authors past, Keats and Shelley among them, at the Protestant Cemetery (Via Caio Cestio 6), where non-Catholics have been interred for centuries, and in the gardens of Villa Borghese (Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5), where he stops after jogging to do his push-ups by the statues of literary giants, Pushkin in particular.


There aren’t that many shops in Rome that carry off-the-beaten-path designers,” says Pepi Marchetti Franchi, the director of the city’s branch of the Gagosian Gallery. “So finding quality, special clothing that’s not by major labels can be hard.” Among her sources are Antichi Kimono (1 Via di Monserrato, 43/B–44; 39-06/6813-5876), where Gloria Gobbi creates Eastern-accented pieces crafted from vintage kimonos; the atelier of Soledad Twombly (Via Gregoriana 34), the wife of the great artist’s son, whose jackets and shirts, made from fabrics collected around the world, Franchi describes as “chic and sensual”; and Degli Effetti (Piazza Capranica 93), a multi-brand boutique where she goes for dresses by Ludovica Amati, a young local designer whose work is “minimal and edgy but romantic at the same time.”

Degli Effetti and Twombly are also choices of architect and interior designer Marie-Louise­ Scio, who further indulges her passion for all things artisanal at Bomba (Via dell’Oca 39/41). Cristina Bomba’s slightly bohemian looks, Scio says, use “the most divine fabrics. The cashmere is the finest I’ve ever had in my life.” As for her penchant for big, bold but still delicate baubles, Scio seeks out Diego Percossi Papi (Via di Sant’Eustachio 16; 39-06/6880-1466).


There’s no end to the attention showered upon Rome’s ancient and Baroque architecture, and lately contemporary icons like Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum, Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis and Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica have all earned their share of renown, leaving the city’s 20th-century design marvels to often get short shrift, which pains Pompeo Polito to no end. For Polito—whose gallery, Forme (Via dei Coronari 217; 39-06/686-5294), specializes in furniture and objects by top Italian names of the 1900s, Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass among them—some of Rome’s most interesting buildings hail from this period. Take the fantastically pastiche Quartiere Coppedè, a micro-neighborhood combining Art Nouveau, medieval and Renaissance styles. Built in the 1910s and ’20s by architect Gino Coppedè, “it gives you the feeling of walking in a strange country,” says Polito. Then there’s the curvaceous Palazzetto dello Sport (Piazza Apollodoro 10), erected for the 1960 Olympics by architect Pier Luigi Nervi, and the British Embassy (Via XX Settembre 80A), an early-1970s fantasia of concrete that’s simultaneously delicate and fortress-like, hovering on pillars over a pair of fountained reflecting pools.


The deputy director of the American Academy in Rome and a second-generation Roman, Cristina Puglisi has spent 23 years exploring the city’s ravishing ruins and other centuries-old monuments. Some of her treasured architectural attractions aren’t necessarily unheard of, but she does have a very particular point of view about how they should be seen: “I put a lot of importance on how I get to places; it’s important how you approach.”

At the Pantheon, for example, which Puglisi describes as “completely new to me every time, even after 51 years of looking at it,” she brings people to it from the back, along Via di Torre Argentina. “Only by coming from a small street can you delay the appreciation of how big it is until you’re right upon it,” she says. “Then go around the front and you’re dazzled.” Similarly, to get to the churches at the top of the Aventine Hill, she prefers a tiny walking path called the Clivo di Rocca Savella, which wends its way up from the banks of the Tiber. “The experience of the hill becomes totally different,” Puglisi says. “No cars, much like what it was millennia ago.” And rather than getting to Michelangelo’s perfectly symmetrical piazza atop the Capitoline Hill through the chaos of Via del Corso and Piazza Venezia, Puglisi arrives from Piazza Margana, with its “wisteria that explodes in spring and its little café.”

Finally, those heading up the Gianicolo Hill to overlook the city at sunset should avoid Via Garibaldi and its stairs, “which are filled with tourists.” Instead, come up through the end of St. Peter’s Basilica, from the Salita di Sant’Onofrio, and then, on the way down, stop at the Tempietto di Bramante—a small shrine commemorating the supposed place of St. Peter’s crucifixion.


Wine practically flows through Alessia Antinori’s veins. As the 26th generation of her noble Italian family to make wine, she has 600 years of experience to call upon, including that of her maternal grandfather, Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, whose former vineyards on the outskirts of Rome she turned into an organic farm, café and winery called Fattoria di Fiorano (Via di Fioranello 34; 39-342/365-8581), which opened last September.

When it comes to finding superb vintages, Antinori prefers smaller places. The bar of Enoteca Ferrara (Piazza Trilussa 41; 39-06/5833-3920), in Trastevere, for example, has a surprising selection of high-end wines available by the glass (in particular, whites from northern Italy and sparkling Franciacortas); the bookshop-cum-café Settembrini Libri & Cucina (Piazza Martiri di Belfiore 12; 39-06/9727-7242), in Prati, offers­ “very particular wines from very small wineries”; the tiny bar at the newish trattorio Epiro (Piazza Epiro 26; 39-06/6931-7603) can’t fit more than three people, but it pours interesting organic wines from all over Italy and France; and 20mq (Via Flamina 314; 39-06/3105-2302), a year-old homewares shop in northern Rome’s Flaminio neighborhood, boasts a wine bar within its intimate design-conscious confines. As for restaurants with excellent lists, Antinori points to Michelin-starred spot Glass (Vicolo del Cinque 58; 39-06/5833-5903), in Trastevere, and she advises those looking to take bottles home to go to wineshop Trimani (Via Goito 20; 39-06/446-9661), a longtime stalwart with a broad and deep selection.


Emergency-room surgeon Cesare Aromatario, who also has a private practice specializing in the nips and tucks that keep some of Rome’s most famous faces looking youthful, is a night owl, with a direct line to the best after-dark scene. While he says the standbys Bar del Fico and Bar della Pace “are still cool, even if everyone goes” (except for Friday and Saturday nights, “when it’s too much”), these days the beautiful people head to the noir-feeling, rough-luxe Akbar (Piazza in Piscinula 51; 39-06/580-0681), in Trastevere, where they often remain from aperitivo through dinner and then late into the night. Co-owner Francesco Arca, an actor, brings in a crowd that feels “less touristy than Fico, much smaller, far cooler, with many fashion people.”

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