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My love affair with Rome

Over the years I've seen Italy from top to toe (and beyond, to the Aeolian Islands) by train, plane, ship and car – which is the best way, if you're willing to mix it with Italian drivers. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do and ditch the vehicle.  

Centro storico (central Rome) is made for walking, and you could amble around for months and never grow jaded. Visitors will find a monument a minute, interspersed with shops and restaurants, sprawling piazzas, laneways (vicolos), fountains, aqueducts, bridges, statues, obelisks, catacombs, churches and another country, Vatican City, across the river.

The wonderful thing about familiarity is that it breeds not contempt, but rather contentment. Having been to must-see sites such as the Forum, the Colosseum, the Vatican, Castel Sant'Angelo, the Palatine Hill and the Villa Borghese, it's so much more relaxing to just stay within the environs of the old walled city and simply soak up the ambience as a faux local.

The best way to do this is to rent a self-catering apartment, then shop and eat like a Roman. The best apartments have rooftop decks and outdoor eating spaces. There is any number of choices – just search online for "Rome apartments" or try a site like romesweethome.com, which has 500 on its books.

Then it's simply a matter of heading to the Campo de' Fiori, the city's best-known produce market, which has been feeding locals since 1869 in a square lined with ristorantes, pizzerias, bars and osterias.

A short walk away lies the famous Piazza Navona, home to the extraordinary Fountain of Neptune (as well as the Fiumi and Moro fountains). It features Neptune wrestling an octopus and is not far from any number of restaurants serving the marinated version for lunch (try ristorante Bernini at the northern end of the square).


Indeed, I tend to measure Rome by the piazzas. As well as Navona, at the eastern end of Via Vittorio Veneto is the Piazza Barberini, which boasts Bernini's 17th-century Triton Fountain. Then there's the legendary Piazza di Spagna, which has to be the most crowded location in the entire city. It's situated at the foot of the Spanish Steps and leads to one of the city's most fashionable shopping streets, the Via Condotti – end-to-end labelled haute couture.

And behind the Porta del Popolo, the northern gate to the city and its main entrance during the days of empire, is the Piazza del Popolo. The square is centred on the Flaminio Obelisk and anchored by two impressive churches, the Santa Maria in Montesanto, and the Santa Maria dei Miracoli. The Pincio, known as the "hill of gardens", overlooks it all.

The Piazza del Popolo is probably the best reference point for anyone just wandering aimlessly or for those whose personal GPS is faulty. From this square you can pretty much find your way to everywhere south of the gate, because it opens to the three streets which splay out like a trident and lead to the rest of the city.

To the right is Via di Ripetta, and to the left is Via del Babuino, which takes you to the Spanish Steps. At the centre between the two churches is Via del Corso, the main 1.8km thoroughfare leading directly to the city's central hub, the Piazza Venezia.

The trip down the Corso takes in churches, restaurants and plenty of good shopping at more modest prices than on the Condotti.

You can also branch off a couple of blocks to the left to throw a few euros in the Trevi Fountain or head right and roam under the dome of the Pantheon

The Piazza Venezia is only 10 minutes from the Colosseum, and a loop returns you to the Roman Forum. While the architectural monuments have obviously been around for centuries, less self-evident is the age of some of the restaurants.

Unlike in Australia, where any number of restaurants could be mistaken as pop-ups given their lifespan, in Rome (as in other European cities) restaurants have real history. Among my favourites are La Campana (Vicolo della Campana), a trattoria which lays claim to being Rome's oldest at 500 years.

But even "young" restaurants have typically been around for decades. Others on my list of regulars are Al 34 (Mario de' Fiori), open since 1968 – try the porco di stinco arrosto (roast pork shin) – and Due Ladroni (Piazza Nicosia) for great Neapolitan fare that the restaurant has been perfecting since the 19th century. For great seafood, there is the relatively recent – since 1966 – La Rosetta (Via della Rosetta).

But the thing about Rome is that is almost impossible to eat badly. Just step into pretty much any eatery for the usual warm Roman service and a meal to match.