Rome is a beautiful mixture of old and new: from the crumbling edifices of what remains of the Roman Empire, to the innovative and groundbreaking cuisine of its 23 Michelin-starred restaurants - the second most decorated city in Italy.
Everywhere you turn there’s something to delight your senses: the feel of the cool travertine limestone that makes up the curved exterior of the Colosseum under your hand, the irresistible smell of fresh pasta tossed in a simplistic medley of black pepper and pecorino cheese, and the sound of local farmers, florists and fishermen vying for your attention as they show off their fresh produce at the Campo de Fiori.
Every year at Orillo, for the last three years, we have embarked upon a group away trip as both an opportunity to build ourselves into a stronger team, and as a thank you for the uncompromisable effort and passion that everyone puts into the business. We have done laid back country-life on the Isle of Wight, a vibrant metropolitan city break to Lisbon, and this year I was looking for something with a little more backbone, a little more history.
Having been to the Eternal City back in 2010, I knew its mesmerising sights and incredibly extensive history would make the perfect city break for the team, not to mention the culinary delights on offer. So I went ahead and booked three nights in a beautiful AirBnb right in the heart of the action, and began planning the best itinerary I could.
I’ve detailed everything about the trip below, in case you’re planning a trip to Rome and would like some inspiration!
We flew from London Stansted into Rome’s Ciampino airport, and I had initially looked at getting a public bus from the airport into the city, which is probably the best and cheapest option if there’s only a few of you, but for a large group like ours I opted for taxis. There’s a law in the city that enforces a set fare for taxi trips to and from the airport - from Ciampino it’s €30, and from Fiumicino it’s €48 - so if you go for a taxi, make sure you don’t pay a single cent more!
We did get taxis for most of the time we were there, but the public buses and Metro are a great way to get around, and the city is quite walkable for the most part. Definitely bring your comfiest footwear for daytime sightseeing.
We stayed at a beautiful AirBnb a stone’s throw away from the famous Piazza Navona. A huge wooden Baroque door opened up to a delightfully cool stone corridor, ushering us in from the busy streets and into a gorgeous sunny corridor. A small water feature bubbling away in the background created a sense that we were in our own private oasis, hidden away from the hustle and bustle outside.
The apartment itself was simple and elegant, with teak floors, high ceilings and soft, pastel shades. Minimalist, abstract artwork portraying famous films adorned the walls, which felt satisfyingly appropriate for a bunch of filmmakers. The whole place had a lovely light, airiness to it, with large windows and linen curtains making you feel as though you’d stepped into a scene from Eat Pray Love. It had plenty if single beds too, which is a rare find and a life saver for a group of individuals like us!
Activities & the ROMA Pass
Our itinerary was a mixture of classic sightseeing and quirky activities. One thing I would recommend buying as soon as you get to the airport is a ROMA Pass - you can buy one for 24 or 72 hours, and it gets you free entry into your first main attraction [I believe you get two attractions with the 72 hour one], free use of public transport, and discount on other attractions.
We used our passes to gain entry into the Colosseum, which was first on our agenda. I had reserved an early time slot so we didn’t have to wait in the queue, we just arrived 30 minutes before our allocated time of 9am, picked up our tickets and went straight through - you can reserve a time slot on the official Colosseum website. I would recommend spending a bit of extra money to get an audioguide - as impressive as the Colosseum is to look at, it’s the incredible history behind the place that makes the visit worthwhile. We spent three hours walking around at our own pace, learning everything there is to know about the iconic Amphitheatre.
To continue the cultural and historical element of the day, I had pre-planned a walking tour of the main sights for the afternoon. This is something you can easily do yourself, and I simply used Google’s My Maps tool to plan out a suitable, circular route that encompassed some of the most iconic spots in Rome. On the day, I just loaded up Google Maps and followed the route, reading out a pre-prepared set of stats about each icon to give the tour a little more of an informative edge 🤓. If you’re interested in doing your own walking tour, I would recommend including the following stops:
The Altar of the Fatherland [Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II]
The Trevi Fountain [Fontana di Trevi]
The Spanish Steps [Piazza di Spagna]
In total, it took us around 2.5 hours to complete the tour, which was at a very leisurely pace with a couple of stops for gelato and drinks along the way [more about gelato to come].
On Friday evenings from April to October, you can visit the Vatican Museums from 7pm-11pm. Not only does that mean watching the sun sloping lazily down behind the curved dome of St Peter’s Basilica, but the 8,000 person limit also means you can enjoy the museums at a leisurely pace with your personal space still in tact. I opted for the “Happy Hour” package, which gets you a free glass of wine and finger buffet to enjoy while watching the evening concert performance that happens at 8pm. The whole experience feels really exclusive, and I would highly recommend it - the only downside is that you don’t get access to inside St. Peter’s, but there is so much else to see that you hardly notice.
The next morning, we had a couple of hours of downtime. I spent them going for a relaxed breakfast and coffee, followed by a wander around the Campo de Flori farmer’s market.
We headed over to traditional Trattoria [informal restaurant] Sugo d’oro at lunchtime to learn how to make pizzas like pros - I booked this activity through Viator, and it was so much fun. We had our own private room in the restaurant and were given a welcome glass of Prosecco on arrival. Our instructor was lovely, teaching us how to create the perfect dough, as well as the science behind using active yeast and proofing times. He then took us in smaller groups into the kitchen, where we adorned our pizza bases with deliciously fresh toppings - I went for blue cheese, spicy salami and basil 🤤 - and lined them up ready to go into the pizza oven, which was a roaring 370°C. With the oven being so hot, the pizzas only needed cooking for 2 minutes, so we had just had time to order our second inclusive drink and settle into our seats when they were brought out to us. I have honestly never been so excited to eat a pizza - they looked incredible, and the fact that we had made them ourselves made them taste even better.
With the rest of the afternoon stretching out before us with no other activities until the evening, the majority of us decided to hire electric bikes. I was dead set against this at first, as I had seen the way the Romans drove their cars, but I ended up caving and it was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me. We found a cycle path down by the Tiber river and spent an hour cruising down below the rest of the city, winding our way past runners and dog walkers and revving the bikes to their maximum speeds to try and outdo each other - it wasn’t the most scenic part of Rome, but it was a more-than-pleasant way to while away an afternoon.
After dinner, we headed over to our final activity of the trip - a 2-hour life drawing class at La Porta Blu Art School. We followed Google Maps down a dark, nondescript street and to a large metal door, studded with doorbells for the businesses within. Spotting the art school, I pressed the bell and the door opened onto a dark corridor. We filed in, unsure where to go until we spotted the large sapphire blue door at the end of the corridor - La Porta Blu, after all, translates to The Blue Door. Down a series of stone steps, winding our way into the basement level of the building, we finally found our teacher Alberto - a really friendly guy with a shock of white hair and a gentle demeanour.
The heady scent of incense wafted through the air as he led us into the main studio - the white stone walls and soft, dim lighting making it feel cave-like, yet cosy. Ambient, chilled music played gently in the background as he introduced us to our model who stood in the centre of the room. Alberto beckoned for us to help ourselves to paper and materials before sitting us down in chairs encircling the model. I was expecting him to give us some rudimentary guidelines on how to draw people, but he simply told us that we would be drawing several poses, some for 10-15 minutes, some for a matter of seconds, and before we knew it our lovely model had de-robed and she was in her first position.
We worked for an hour, using chalk, pencils and charcoal to mark out our interpretations of each pose and were then given a short break to sip some red wine and nibble on some Antipasto. The whole evening was really authentic, and I think everyone truly connected to their inner Michelangelo - I would highly recommend it as a creative, fun way to spend an evening.
Rome is not short on offerings when it comes to culinary delights, and dining is a very subjective topic, but I’ve included here some of the best places we ate while in the city for you to peruse.
Taverna della Scala
Tucked away in a quaint little courtyard of bohemian Trastevere, this traditional Ristorante may look unassuming and perhaps a tad outdated, but it offers up amazingly fresh, delicious food and a great selection of wine. Service is a little slow, but that’s kind of the norm in European countries - evening meals revolve around the gathering of family and friends, a time to share stories and regale on the events of the day.
Ristoro della Salute
Settled in the shadow of the Colosseum, the prices at this contemporary restaurant reflect its location, but if you’re looking for somewhere conveniently close to Rome’s biggest attraction, that serves the tastiest Carbonara you’ve ever tried, and has a living wall to boot, then Ristoro della Salute is the place!
Origano, Campo de’Fiori
Origano was so good that we went back for dessert after our life drawing class. The staff are super friendly, the food is cooked to perfection and the prices are incredibly reasonable for the restaurant’s central location. The interior is stylishly decorated, with hanging bulbs and flashes of teal set against a slate and white backdrop. The menu is extensive but not overwhelming, with plenty of vegan options as well as traditional pizzas and pastas, and the desserts are satisfyingly sumptuous.
Gelato & Coffee
Two of my favourite things in this world - and the first to be added to my map of any city - are coffee and gelato. Rome is infamous for its decadent, creamy contribution to the latter, and the city is fast-evolving with modern times by offering vegan options and seasonal, creative flavour combinations at many of its gelaterias. Speciality coffee is also on the rise, with a decent handful of options popping up over the last few years. Here’s my run down of the best places we went for both.
Opened in 1900, Giolitti has certainly had a long time to master the art of gelato-making. It’s one of the most famous traditional gelaterias in Rome, so prepare for crowds, but the unique ordering process in which you pay at the till for what you want and then take your ticket to the ice cream counter ensures that the queue moves quickly. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where whipped cream as a topping is quite the norm, and I would advise being strict and only going for a small serving, as the gelato itself is extremely rich and can be a little sickly for some.
Il Gelato di San Crispino
With two locations to choose from, making a stop to San Crispino should be easy enough, even if you’re short on time in the city. We went to the shop near the Trevi fountain, and walked passed the entrance twice even though we were specifically looking for it - there is no shop front, just a doorway with a sign above it. There’s an amazing selection on offer here, including some really interesting flavour combinations - I went for salted caramel with meringue and it was unbelievable.
This cosy, bohemian cafe is a real gem for speciality coffee and delicious brunches. It has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, giving you the sense that you could easily spend the whole day sipping filter coffee and watching the world go by from the glass entranceway. I went for the avocado toast with organic, free range poached eggs and a side of bacon, which came with a freshly squeezed orange juice and a filter coffee - all of which were suitably delicious.
And so I conclude my round up of Rome, one of the only places abroad that I’ve visited more than once, and would happily go to time and time again for its romance, intrigue and heritage - it really is la dolce vita.