One of the great pleasures of a visit to Rome is seeking out its hidden
treasures -- places that only the savviest of Romans know. Here is a selection
of the city’s best-kept secrets.
St Peter’s Basilica receives up to 20,000 visitors each day. However, there are other great
basilicas in Rome that are magnificent, huge and exquisite, yet have
astoundingly little tourist traffic. For instance, take the Metro out a few
stops to San Paolo Fuori le Mura (get off at San Paolo), the third-largest church
in Christendom, and you may well be the only visitor. It is humbling in its
vast scale, with mostly 19th Century architecture. But there is a 5th-century
triumphal arch that dates from its original incarnation and medieval Cosmati
mosaics in the cloister.
Another gloriously beautiful patriarchal basilica is that of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura in the university
district of San Lorenzo. Arguably one of Rome’s loveliest churches, with a
stark, haunting beauty, it receives just the occasional visitor, which only
adds to its atmosphere.
However, if you are looking for a secret-feeling place closer to St
Peter’s, take a tour of the Vatican Gardens, open to the select few who have the foresight to book a week in
advance. It is a chance to peek into the Vatican’s rarefied world: these finely
manicured gardens have an Alice-in-Wonderland ambience, styled with groomed
symmetrical box hedges and grottoes.
Crossing over to the other side of the Tiber River, as hordes mill
around the Spanish Steps, walk a few paces from the madding crowd and you can
visit the little-known Museum Missionario di Propaganda Fide. It houses centuries-worth of fascinating bounty that priests have
brought back from overseas in a building designed by baroque masters Bernini
and Borromini, and also allows a chance to peep into Bernini’s wood-lined
library and Borromini’s Chapel of the Magi.
In the Tridente district, which glitters with designer shops, there are
several stuck-in-time leather artisanal workshops. For example, at Armando
Rioda (Via Belsiana 90; 06-83-603-008),
tucked away on the first floor, you can have a custom-made bespoke bag, wallet
or belt made to your exact specifications, at a fraction of the price of the
designer glitz on sale in the surrounding stores.
Also in Tridente are several other fabulous, little-known spots. For a
cheap and delicious lunch, try tiny pasta shop Pasticcio (Via della Croce),
where two fresh pasta dishes are served from Monday to Saturday between 1 and 3
pm; those in the know wait around for the food to be freshly delivered. You can
eat here for four euro – an incredible bargain in this upscale area.
Afterwards, if you are in need of the perfect pudding, head to Re di
Roma, just one stop away from San Giovanni on the Metro. Near here is a place
legendary in Rome, but which few tourists ever discover. Bar Pompi is famous for Rome’s finest tiramisu in flavours from classic to pina
colada. Spot it by the crowds of young locals outside, lolling around their
scooters, all tucking into the light-as-air dessert.
However, you might prefer ice cream, in which case you are advised to go
to the master, Claudio Torcè (Viale Aventino 59; 39-06-512-8948), who has a
little-known franchise near the Circus Maximus. This place rarely appears
in guidebooks, yet local connoisseurs swear that this is Rome’s best ice cream.
It is certainly its most inventive, specialising in flavours such as celery,
carrot and gorgonzola.
Trastevere, the vibrantly pretty district south of the Vatican, is
everyone’s favourite setting for an evening drink, with its gorgeous tangle of
ochre and orange ivy-draped buildings. It is the perfect place to pass the time,
but can get extraordinarily busy, especially in summer. To escape the crowds
and embrace Roman cool, walk a short way up the Gianicolo (Janiculum hill) to Il
Baretto, a beautifully-designed cocktail bar with a vintage feel, leafy
terrace and plate-glass views over the neighbourhood. If you are hankering
after a taste of Rome’s contemporary dolce vita (sweet life), then this
is where to head.
The article 'Hidden Rome' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.