We spend hours comparing prices, airlines, and flight times, finagling points and oxy moron ‘rewards’ programs. We take the plunge, book our international tickets, and begin researching hotels. We send countless emails, read pages and pages of reviews, discuss ad nauseam with travel companions. We arrive with layers in our suitcase, prepared for the elements but all the while praying for sun. We open the curtains in our expensive hotel room, ready to begin the day, adrenaline pumping, and… it’s raining. RAINING on our vacation. How dare the sky! Didn’t the sky receive our itinerary?
After all of the planning and excitement, it would be really quite pathetic to let the elements win. We put on our rain jackets, grab an umbrella, and keep our spirits in high places. When in Rome, hit the cobble stones.
The designer shopping area between Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna is vivacious, colorful Roma any day of the year- rain or shine. Warm-hued buildings, pastel shutters, cheerful flower pots, vine-covered facades, and old-Hollywood lanterns proliferate through the cobble-stoned streets. There is little traffic, so walking with an umbrella is far easier than if you were navigating narrow sidewalks. Pop in and out of chic boutiques and designer flagships, and feel free to have a cafe outside (unless it is truly pouring); cafes have awnings for their outdoor tables, and Romans are not afraid of a little water.
For guests at the sublimely located Portrait Roma, a hidden gem in the fashion-forward Via Condotti neighborhood, a little bit of rain is hardly any excuse to miss the surrounding shopping and a meander to the Spanish Steps. The small hotel, easy to miss (I gather this is the idea), has glorious views of colorful Roman rooftops, otherwise private terraces and balconies, Vittorio Emmanuele monument in the distance, and even the giant advertisements blocking the facade at the top of the Spanish steps. If the view is glistening on a rainy day, it must be positively glittering on a sunny one; the perfect spot for breakfast, an afternoon rest, or an evening aperitivo. A few blocks away, the infamous Hotel de Russie is possibly the polar opposite of Ferragamo’s sensual, hushed, secretive haven. Often circled by paparazzi, the Hotel de Russie is a revolving door of celebrities, moguls, and those looking for a slightly larger, more animated property. The courtyard garden is unique in the big city: it is the property’s most placid space, and open to the public, it is an ideal spot for un caffè, or a leisurely lunch of octopus and cuttlefish cacciucco or ossobucco with crispy saffron risotto. Finish with one of the many poetic desserts, such as sfoglietta with pears and ricotta ice cream, montblanc, or wild berries panna cotta, surrounded by Le Jardin’s waterfalls, exquisite flowers, and orange blossoms.
Monti is Via Condotti’s distant, vintage cousin. It is Rome’s oldest neighborhood, and currently its funkiest. It has been compared to the West Village; a village within a city, it feels protected from the madness of the Circo Massimo at the bottom of the hill. Little boutiques, vegan chocolate bars, dusty artisan shops, and small cafes run the length of Via Urbana and the surrounding streets. I try to imagine the neighborhood before the most recent buildings; when the ancient buildings were not overcrowded by overlapping apartments that are now among the most pricey in the city. The mix of architectural styles is unique, and unrestrained vines are massively charming. It is no wonder that Monti is the preferred choice for architects and artists. We meet a friend for a juice at Zia Rosetta just as a small group of suited Romans finish a long workday lunch. In the evenings, a fun-loving crowd grows around the neighborhood’s central meeting spot: Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. We vie to return to Monti; we feel at home in this locals-only rione, with its plethora of gastronomic options.
Over on the other side of the river at St. Peter’s Basilica, there are less obvious choices for quality cafes. After a few moments of appreciation under the colonnades, we walk for no less than twenty minutes to the center of the Prati neighborhood. The rain has stopped just in time, because good restaurants close to St. Peter’s Basilica are few and far between. Sorpasso is packed. It is a weekday, and businessmen and women are huddled in for their lunch hour, trendy friends have convened for a proper lunch and glass of vino, and a handful of Romans sit da sola at the bar, surrounded by crates of wine, vintage furniture, and a glass-encased meat refrigerator. Il Sorpasso reminds me very much of the kind of good-vibe, cozy neighborhood restaurant that I might find in downtown New York, and the intriguing menu does not disappoint. Never have I ever had lentil soup with calamaretti and carciofi. The orecchiette with broccoli looks too good to pass up, and indeed it is simple and flavorful. I experience major order-envy the whole while we are at Il Sorpasso, and I love the bustling, spirited vibe. You will not find any tourists here; it is strictly Roman through and through, with the exception of Bob Marley, who adds to the unhurried ambience. The Roman crowd here feels vastly different from the Roman crowd around the vine-covered streets of Via Condotti, and different still from that of Monti, but all are equally characteristic to the city they call home, and it would be a shame to miss any corner of the triangle- rain or no rain.
Zia Rosetta, Via Urbana 54. Portrait Roma, via Bocca di Leone. Hotel de Russie, Via del Babuino 9. Il Sorpasso, via Properzio 31