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Trip report March - April 2007

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Calgary, Canada
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Trip report March - April 2007

I found a lot of helpful information in this forum and would like to give back a little. We were in Rome March 29-April 4, went to Venice and Tuscany, mainly Lucca, and returned to Rome April 13-14.

My report is in the next post.

Thank you to all the forum participants; your questions and information were of great assistance to our planning.

Calgary, Canada
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1. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

I won’t give a day by day description because it would be too long, but will summarize under categories:

Hotels:

We stayed at Hotel Scalinata di Spagna [Piazza Trinità dei Monti 17, Rome 00187 Ph. 39.06.69940896] for 6 nights. We picked this hotel because of its fairly central location for what we want to do; it's a boutique hotel with only 16 rooms; and they offered what they call a family suite. The family suite is two rooms connected both by a door and a small private terrace. The larger room has an additional private terrace which we made use of during the fine weather. This arrangement was ideal as we were joined in Rome by our son.

The rooms are not large but were very comfortable and clean.

Breakfast at the hotel is included. The breakfast room and terrace was just outside our rooms. It has a fairly substantial buffet of cereals, breads, eggs, fruits, yoghurt, cheeses, cakes, juices and coffee, even espresso if you ask. Because it was close to our room, we could bring cups of coffee into our room before were ready to go out and eat. This was a real convenience.

Three free hours of internet use is included, which also was convenient since my cellular phone would not work for telephone calls although the text messaging function was fine.

We also stayed at Hotel Eden [Via Ludovisi 49, 39.06.478.121] for one night at the end of our trip, without our son.

Hotel Eden is the most over the top luxury hotel we have stayed at. Tons of little extras in the room, and lots of attention like when I ask to use the internet and get walked through the entire process of logging on, yet it costs less than some Manhattan hotels we've stayed at. However, everything else is an additional cost: internet use, telephone calls. The room we booked was a deluxe king, but this one had a separate sitting room. I don’t know if that was standard or an upgrade. I would have liked to import the bathroom, all in marble, to my home. It was spacious and beautiful.

Tours:

We booked the Antica Roma and the Arte Vaticana tour with Context Rome. We were also given a complimentary orientation tour. We tend to be independent travelers, but I cannot say enough about how valuable we found these tours. Their docents all have masters or doctorates in relevant fields. Their knowledge makes the tours a great education. They could get us to what we wanted to see without our searching and deciphering a floor plan. In addition, they were so helpful about everything else as well, especially the docents who were native Romans. They had lots to pass on about getting the most out of our visit and where we could enjoy Rome away from the big tourist spots.

Churches and art galleries:

We toured ourselves through the art and architectural highlights in the Quirinale, Centro Storico and Tridente areas focusing mainly on Caravaggio, Bernini and Borromini.

In the Quirinale area:

Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica (Palazzo Barberini, Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13) T-Sa 8:30-7:30;Su 9-1pm, admission: €5. Despite the name, this is not a gallery of ancient art. We primarily went to see paintings of Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holefernes, and Raphael’s Fornarina.

Santa Maria della Vittoria, [Via XX Settembre 17, M-Su 7-noon, 3:30-7] - inside: Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa – his best sculptural work.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, [Via del Quirinale, 23, M-Sa 10-1, 3-6, Sa noon-1, 3-6], church designed by Borromini.

Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, [Via del Quirinale 29, W-M 8-noon, 4-7], designed by Bernini.

In the Tridente area:

Santa Maria del Popolo, [Piazza del Popolo 12, M-Su 7-12, 4-7]. Inside is a Raphael in the Chigi Chapel, along with Bernini’s Daniel and Habakkuk. In the Cerasi Chapel is Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul.

Galleria Borghese, [Piazzale del Museo Borghese] - we had bought tickets before leaving for Rome.

Highlights: Caravaggio’s Young Sick Bacchus, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Portrait of Pope Paul V, Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge, Madonna and Child with St. Anne (M. de Palafrenieri), David with the Head of Goliath, John the Baptist; Bernini’s Aeneas and Anchises, Rape of Proserpine, Apollo and Daphne, David, Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Self portrait; Raphael’s Deposition, Lady with Unicorn, Portrait of a Man, Julius II; and Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love.

In the Centro Storico:

Fontana di Trevi, Piazza di Trevi, where we threw our coins in.

Sant’Agostino, [Piazza Sant’Agostino, 7:45 - noon, 4-7:30] - inside: Raphael’s Isaiah fresco, and Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto.

San Luigi dei Francesi, [Via S. Giovanna d’Arco, F-W8-12:30,3:30-7;Th8-12:30] - inside: Caravaggio in the Contarelli Chapel, his 3 paintings of St Matthew.

Piazza Navona for Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, della Porta’s Fontana del Nettuno and Fontana del Moro, and Borromini’s Sant’Agnese in Agone.

Pantheon [M-Sa 8:30-7:30;Sun 9-6]

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, [Piazza del Minerva, M-Su 8-7], one of Rome’s few Gothic church; inside: Michelangelo’s Christ bearing the Cross, outside in Piazza della Minerva: Bernini’s elephant, topped by the obelisk, Pulcin della Minerva.

Galleria Doria Pamphijl, [Via del Collegio Romano 2, F-W 10-5pm admission €8.] Highlights: Bernini’s and Velazquez’s Innocent X, Titian’s Salome, Caravaggio’s Mary Magdelene, St John the Baptist, and Flight into Egypt.

Restaurants and other places to eat and drink:

Pentagrappolo, [Via Celimontana, 21] 3 or 4 streets away from the Colosseo. It is a small (aren’t they all?) attractive looking enoteca with a piano set up in the corner.

Most enoteca are little wine bars where you can stand and have a glass of vino and some little bites to eat, or sit and have table service. The food is fairly casual and simple as is the service.

At this place, their wine list is very good. We had a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino and were brought little snacks called, I think, stuzzichetti. (I can’t remember and can’t find it in my dictionary). Tiny sandwiches, olives, pieces of frittata, and crostini. When we ordered a second bottle, we got a whole new array of snacks, crostini with different toppings, different fillings in the sandwiches, fried balls of ceci and I can’t recall what else. In any event, very tasty.

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali [Via Madonna dei Monti, 16, Rome, tel: 06 679 8643]. We were given precise directions but were not yet used to the narrowness of the streets nor their darkness and were questioning whether we got the right street when we saw the awning for the trattoria. It is a small traditional family run place and the owners' son, Aldo, was expecting us.

We order another bottle of Brunello (this becomes one of the themes of our trip) and can't decide whether to have both primi and secondi. Aldo suggests starting with the primi and decide later if we want secondi. We each order the pasta specials of the day as recommended: carbonara; clams and fresh tomato; wild boar. The food is great. My husband, who is a carbonara afficionado, thinks his is one of the best carbonaras he's ever had. We have no room for secondi but each order a dolci: pear, bananas and chocolate, fresh ricotta and chocolate; lemon cake and fresh strawberries. Simple but delicious.

The place is tiny and when I go to il bagno, I can see the crates of fresh produce stacked outside the kitchen. The artichokes look especially gorgeous and nothing like the brownish things with dry cracked edges we see in Calgary. The place is extremely busy and people get turned away. Cats are hanging around; some get put out but one very fat calico is allowed to wander or waddle among the tables. At one point, an accordian player comes in and plays. After we paid our bill, Aldo brings us each a limoncello.

We’d go back in a heartbeat and moreover, it’s quite inexpensive.

Trattoria. [Via del Pozzo delle Cornacchie ph: 39 06/6830 1427]. Our reservation is at 8:00 and when we arrived, no one else was there; in fact, the staff seem slightly surprised by our arrival. The place started to fill up around 9:00 with a number of younger diners who look like they're staying all night. The restaurant has modern decor, an open kitchen in the back and modern Sicilian cuisine.

Like more formal high end dining places in North America, they bring us a plate of amuse bouche and an extensive array of breads. The grissini was particularly thin and crispy. I could have eaten them like popcorn. We start to order wine, but the waiter tells us to order our food and then he’ll help select the wine. I order the chef’s mixed hors d’oeuvres which consist of bean soup, fried rice ball with cheese, fried legumes, caponata, and Sicilian ham and cheese sandwich. The guys order pasta norma and pasta with tuna. For secondi, filet of beef with stuffed pumpkin flowers, meatballs and Sicilian roast beef. None of the dishes are quite what you would expect from the names. The food all has a unique twist. We have a Sicilian red wine, Nero D’Avola, which is somewhat lighter in body than Tuscan reds but darker in taste. For dolci, we have cannoli, almond parfait and lemon gelato with strawberries and blackberries.

This is the only place where I manage to eat every bite of three courses.

It was great food, great atmosphere – very lively once other diners arrived – and the cost was quite reasonable especially because the Sicilian wines are inexpensive.

Ristorante Mirabelle, 7th flr. Hotel Splendide Royal, [Via di Porta Pinciana, 14, Rome, tel: 39 06 42168838]. This is a Michelin starred restaurant which describes its cuisine as Italian Mediterranean, but is has a very French feel to it. Roccoco old fashioned style decor and very formal service like North American restaurants, rather than the more casual Italian style. There is a good view out the windows of Villa Borghese and St. Peter's in the distance.

They bring a three tiered tray of amuse bouches and a basket of crispy cold crudites to nibble as we peruse the menu. For antipasti we have eggplant and zucchini stuffed with ricotta and basil; onion soup and tuna tartare. Secondi: lamb two ways -- loin and lamb leg stuffed with sweetbreads and peas, spinach, onion, potato and artichoke; pigeon with spinach and carrot wrapped in pastry; rack of lamb. I think we had a bottle of Brunello, definitely a vino rosso in any case. Dolci: Seventh heaven which is a slice of alcohol soaked chocolate cake topped with chocolate mousse and covered with chocolate, gold leaf and chocolate wafers; apple crumble with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and chocolate wafers; chocolate ice cream with berries. Each of us had a different grappa as recommended by the sommelier.

We really liked our food here, much more formal ambiance than most places, but very friendly staff. Expensive, as you would expect.

Enoteca Antica, [Via della Croce 76B, Rome, tel: 06-6790896] We stopped at this enoteca at least 4 times to buy wine, so on an evening when we wanted something lighter, we had dinner.

The salads were all very fresh and tasty. By this time, I’m in love with the rucola, (arugula or rocket) smaller than what you see here but with much more flavour and so crisp. We each had a pizza, more rucola with mozzarella and fresh tomato (another vegetable which is so much better everywhere we ate than anywhere you can find it in Calgary), capricciola and a margherita with anchovies and fresh tomato. Another bottle of Brunello. We didn’t order dessert but the waitress brought us a tiramisu to share.

An inexpensive and tasty meal and it goes without saying, good wines.

Isola che non c'e [Via Crescenzio 39, Roma, tel: 39 0668134162] is a small place a bit away from St. Peter’s but still conveniently close. The tables are in the basement. One of our favourite restaurants in Edinburgh is in the basement so this didn't discourage us. We wanted a quick lunch. The two waitresses serving us didn’t speak much English, but we managed. An insalata mista was huge; parmagiano e carciofi salad was unusual. For primi, we had risotto con salmone, a carbonara and pennette crema di broccoli. They were all pretty good. We had a Castello Banfi Brunello for €40, which is about $65 Canadian. That would be a good retail price in Calgary. One of the reasons we really like being in Italy.

Il Convivio [Vicolo dei Soldati, 31, Rome, Tel: 39 06 6869432] This was our one evening of rain the entire trip so we took a taxi. Instead of dropping us at the restaurant, the driver stopped on a major road and pointed us to a small parallel street barely wide enough for a scooter. That wasn’t even the street, the restaurant is on an equally narrow alley which isn’t even named on the huge map of Rome I had.

This was described as having typical Roman recipes reinvented and presented in an elegant setting. The more modern but formal decor is matched by impeccable, equally formal service. There are three vaulted dining rooms filled with a large number of older men in suits. The wine list, with bottles from all over the world, is a pleasure.

We are brought an amuse of a mozzarella stuffed mussel. It is amazing. We have sole and crispy artichoke with a curry spice in the sauce, rigatoni with quail meatballs, roast pigeon with fried noodles and tangerines; duck carpaccio with rucola and pineapple foam, baccala with artichokes; bufalo mozzarella wrapped in strings of potato and deep fried accompanied with anchovy and a sweet and sour red pepper sorbet; lamb four ways – a chop, stuffed outside of a chop, tripe and sweetbreads.

We manage two bottles of Brunello this evening and see for the first time, the sommelier “curing” the wine glasses. He takes the small amount of wine after the initial tasting, swirls it over the inside of the glass, then transfers the wine to each of the other glasses and swirls it in those glasses, then he serves the wine from the decanter.

We also managed dolci: cake with apple, raspberry coulis and champagne sorbet; fresh fruit with pineapple, lemon and strawberry sorbet and bucccello, a traditional Tuscan cake.

An incredible meal. Again, expensive, € 286 (about $450 Cdn) not including the wine, but for three courses of food for three of us, that’s less than we’ve paid at many restaurants including some in Calgary. And vastly unlike our usual experiences in Calgary, the bar bill was less than the food despite having 2 bottles of Brunello and post-prandial drinks.

Gina [Via San Sebastianello, 7a, Rome tel: 06.678 0251], which we had tried to go to before when it was closed. This time we're early for lunch, so we're in. The look of Gina is very different from other Italian restaurants we’ve been in. Very white, clean lines, abstract paintings and pale blue cushions on the seats.

We have a bottle of vino rosso and have an antipasti misti, which is very tasty. It includes the palest orange smoke salmon I've ever seen. We had a mozzarella and fresh tomato pasta and a tuna, corn and fresh tomato pasta. They come without sauce but we see others taking the olive oil, salt and pepper and dressing the pasta themselves. We try it and because the olive oil is good, it makes a nice light tasting pasta dish, but deceptively filling. The lunch menu is mostly salads, pasta, and panini. What we can see, all looks good. One young woman is having a plate of rare roast beef thinly sliced atop a bed of rucola, nothing else. She just dresses it with olive oil and salt and digs in.

By 1:00 pm, the place is packed and we're the only people not speaking Italian. When we leave at 2:00, there’s a line waiting to go in. It seems very popular with locals despite the fact that it is close to the Spanish Steps, yet this street has no tourists wandering along it. There's an expensive private school down the street and a number of the diners are teenagers in their uniforms sitting with middle aged people, presumably their parents. There are a good number of men in suits, so definitely, not tourists. We enjoyed the ambiance of hearing nothing but excited Italian chatter and watching the very well dressed older women, many of whom are dining inside with their sunglasses on.

La Terrazza, top floor Hotel Eden [Via Ludovisi 49, Rome, tel: 39 06 478 121] We have dinner reservations at the Hotel Eden rooftop restaurant, La Terrazza. Before we go to dinner, we visit the bar for a pre-dinner libation. We have a great view of Villa Borghese, St. Peter's, Vittorio Emanuele monument and the Quirinale. As we sit, we watch the sunset and sip on sparkling Italian white and a martini. These come with a tray of nibbles including some delicious huge green olives. We eat them all and they give us another tray. Oops. Have to remember we’re here for dinner.

For dinner, we get another waiter who indulges us by speaking Italian throughout the meal. When we hesitate or look confused, he translates into English. The menu is very French influenced Italian dishes. Not as innovative as Il Convivio or the Met in Venice but very good.

We order our last bottle of Brunello. For an amuse, we get a tuna sushi. We start with a pumpkin risotto, which is divine, and large shrimps on a “chitarra” spaghetti, a thicker spaghetti.For secondi, we have fillet of beef which is very good and comes with a great layered eggplant dish, and duck breast which is very flavourful but mild. For dessert, S a raspberry torte and chocolate flan with a basil chocolate center. The desserts come with sweet wines to accompany them. The wines chosen perfectly match the desserts.

Excellent but, of course, expensive. The setting and the food made a great last night in Italy.

Rome, Italy
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2. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

You tour like a scholar and a gourmet. Well done.

DETROIT
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3. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

OMG, I am so Loving Your Report. I'm really happy you and the mrs. got to go somewhere all on your own to do something Romantic. Hotel Eden, My Husband would have been a Hero. It looks Fab.

I am dying for food in Roma again they way you are describing each place and meal. I can't wait to show this post to my Hubby. And I can't wait to get back to Roma. It would take a lifetime or two to see it all.

Whole Lot of Love outta Detroit! Theresa

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4. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

Thanks so much for sharing your information. I am an art lover too, and your report was invaluable for helping me decide where to go. I bought the Italy Touring Club Guide to the art and archaeology of Rome, but it is still difficult to find the works of art that I really want to see. Thanks to artslover, I have added several museums to the itinerary.

My husband and I leave on Friday, and this forum has been extremely helpful. I will share any new information that I acquire during our trip.

DETROIT
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5. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

N I am so happy for you and your husband. Have the greatest time in Roma. I look forward to reading your post when you get home.

If you get the chance eat at a place called Henry Cow's (now that's italian) the food and service is fantastic. I loved the fettucini with meat sauce.

Theresa in Detroit.

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6. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

I second Solo Roma.

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7. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

Your report is a foodie's delight. I was hanging on the every word and sipping that vino right there with you!

Stasz

Calgary, Canada
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8. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

And if I didn't say it clearly enough in my report, we just loved Rome. Other than one rainy evening going to a restaurant and going to the train station with heavy bags, we walked everywhere rather than take a taxi. It meant you found wonderful surprises every time you turn a corner. What a city filled with treasures for the eye and for the stomach.

Best of all, with all the walking, I didn't put on any weight despite all the eating and drinking.

9. Re: Trip report March - April 2007

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