Timeless beauty ... the Hotel InterContinental de la Ville.
Looking for love in this hotbed of history? It's easy, just avoid the cliches, writes Julietta Jameson.
You can take a horse-and-carriage ride. You can buy a rose from any number of insistent touts. You can stare into each other's eyes as you're berated for coinage by gypsies who have, uninvited, just played That's Amore on their violin and clarinet right next to your alfresco table.
But that's Roman romance for dummies. You don't need to be spoon-fed romance in the Eternal City. It's on nearly every corner of nearly every street: the bubbling Bernini fountains, the parks with their lawns full of canoodling lovers, the candle-lit art of the churches, the flower stalls, the cosy wine bars, evocative cobbled lanes, the graceful piazzas and the seductive green hills offering views of a nearly 3000-year-old golden-tinged city with not a high rise, a space needle or giant Ferris wheel in sight.
To experience romantic Rome, you just need to feel the amore in your heart. The city's voluptuous charms will do the rest.
But even in a city as bountiful in seductive power as Rome, some romantic corners are more romantic than others. This is one Rome-lover's pick of the passion-inducing pockets.
Number 51 Via Margutta is one of the world's most romantic addresses. It's where Gregory Peck took Audrey Hepburn to sleep when he found her groggy and disoriented in the opening scenes of Roman Holiday.
Unfortunately, the courtyard is rarely open these days: too many tourists have crowded it for the photo opportunity. But it's still lovely to amble by.
This is one of Rome's oldest streets. Cobbled, mostly car-free and festooned with oleander and spilling vines, it is an old artist enclave, these days given over to ritzy antique stores, private studios and upscale B&Bs. One of Rome's prettier water fountains makes a lovely pit stop at which to fill up your water bottles. It's just down the Spanish Steps and along to the right from the hotel.
King and queen of the world
The Hotel InterContinental de la Ville has a 17th-century elegance that is effortlessly romantic from top to toe. Better yet, the terraces of the city-view suites are next to Imago, the Hassler Hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant. While dressed-up diners share the view from one of the highest points in the city next door, you can be in your robes enjoying a bottle of bubbly or room service with exactly the same view - and in private. And, ah, those sunsets: bellissimo.
The hotel has grandeur but it's comfortable and returning from your sightseeing is like coming home to a rich Italian uncle's apartment block. Everyone's so nice. The concierge is super and La Piazzetta restaurant, with its flower-filled courtyard, is truly one of the most romantic places to breakfast ever. The sixth-floor terrace bar opens in the evening and it has an amazing view of the roof of the Pantheon.
The InterContinental de la Ville's location is the best in Rome, right in the action, yet on a fairly quiet (for Rome) street, right at the top of the Spanish Steps, with Via dei Condotti a stone's throw and the stupendous Piazza del Popolo, with its perfect sidewalk bars and cafes, a five-minute walk away.
Eat like the locals
Piazza Sant'Ignazio is a baroque confection featuring two palaces designed by Filippo Raguzzini in the 18th century. The unusually shaped buildings fit together like jigsaw puzzles and face off with the church of San Ignazio.
Of an evening it's quiet here. The church is closed and there's nothing much here except those lovely buildings - and Da Sabatino, one of Rome's more delightful restaurants.
Sabatino's family has run the place for 40 years and, according to their website, once hosted Winston Churchill, among other luminaries. Traditional Italian food is on offer in a classical trattoria-style restaurant or, better still, on long tables under umbrellas out in that piazza.
The best time is evening, when you can watch the church change colours in the sunset. The antipasti, morsels of which you can pick from a big glass cabinet, is meal enough and delicious. And the house red is really pretty good.
Best yet, it's not full of tourists, or hasn't been when I've been there. Locals eat at Da Sabatino. That's a pretty big recommendation on its own. It's reasonably priced, too.
A river runs through it
Taking a long walk along the Tiber from Trastevere to Castel Sant'Angelo, you pass all manner of things: beautiful bridges, men fishing off rocks, ancient aqueducts, old ladies nattering on a bench and ice-cream and granita stands.
You will also come upon the Jewish ghetto, one of Rome's truly authentic neighbourhoods. At the entrance to it from the river is the Portico d'Ottavia, built at the end of the first century BC by the emperor Augustus for his sister.
The banks of the Tiber are surprisingly shady in the summer or in winter, evocative like only a historic waterway can be, with its amazing views of the Vatican near the Castel Sant'Angelo, itself a remarkable monument, built by Hadrian.
There's a cafe on the roof with great views, a perfect place for a coffee, and the bridge out front, the Ponte Sant'Angelo, features a guard of honour formed by Bernini angels.
In the middle of the river is Tiber Island, which hosts a film festival in summer, a perfect romantic date night.
View to the past
Campidoglio, or Capitoline Hill, is home to a Michelangelo masterpiece, the astonishingly harmonious Piazza del Campidoglio. Take a moment there. The uneven, awkward space was an urban planner's nightmare that Michelangelo's genius turned into something so aesthetically pleasing. It's nothing short of a miracle.
Urban planning is hardly romantic, though; just soak up the beauty. Maybe pop the question here.
Just over the hill is one of Rome's most breathtaking views: a fish-eye expanse of the Forum. At night, when it's floodlit, the Forum radiates an unearthly beauty.
A bicycle built for two
There are few prettier gardens in the world than the rolling expanse of the Villa Borghese, once the private lands of a well-to-do family, now a favourite of Roman families of all walks.
In spring, the gardens are full of blossoms; in summer, it's full of lovers canoodling on cool, green lawns. Hire a couple of bikes, or a tandem job if you like, and take your time to enjoy the statues, sun dials, fountains and quaint little touches such as the puppet theatre and children's playground, which is one of Rome's big Sunday family outings.
There is a bike hire stand at the entrance closest to the InterContinental de la Ville.
Here's something to make you grateful for jet lag. I discovered it when, unable to sleep in Rome beyond 5am, I decided to just get up and go.
The city is at her most glorious at that time and in the wee hours from the other end of the day too. So night owl or early bird, take advantage and head to the likes of the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona while the city is sleepy.
You may have the Trevi all to yourself, the surrounds of the Pantheon for you and the street cleaners and Navona just you and dog walkers.
To experience these wonderful sites without the crowds is to really know Rome's romance.
The writer was a guest of Singapore Airlines and the InterContinental Hotels Group.
Singapore Airlines flies from Sydney via Singapore to Rome. For bookings and schedules see singaporeairlines.com.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hotel InterContinental de la Ville is at via Sistina 67/69, Rome. Classic rooms for doubles from $336 advanced purchase and shoulder season. King suites are upward of $2000 a night. For bookings and current rates see ichotelsgroup.com