We dropped into Rome for a quick visit with our son, daughter-in-law and 3-year-old granddaughter who live there. We booked an AirBnB apartment for the last five days of the visit. But for the first two days, a splurge: we’d taken a room at the extraordinary Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria property perched atop Monte Mario, one of the highest hills that ring the city. It’s outrageously beautiful, with luxe rooms (each one with its own balcony), a museum’s worth of art, and 15 acres of meticulously maintained park, pools, tennis courts and walking paths.
This is the perfect place to recover from jetlag, floating on the finest mattress and one’s head on a pillow that feels like a cloud. It’s the kind of place you would choose if you wanted to plunge into Rome’s high-energy center during the day, but wished to have total peace and tranquility at night. (The hotel provides regular complimentary shuttle service to the city center.)
Stunning views of the city –I highly recommend requesting rooms that overlook Rome—the experience is priceless. There is a fine spa and fitness facility, and, for a capper, La Pergola restaurant, Italy’s only Michelin rated three-star restaurant.
We didn’t get to La Pergola, as we had a much more important mission: to hang out with our beautiful granddaughter Sofia. Since at her age she’s not into the European custom of late dinners (Romans start around 8:30 at the earliest) we asked her to join us at Eataly, the international shopping center and food emporium, for a six pm meal.
Eataly is kind of like a food truck experience, but in a renovated air terminal building instead of on the street. Over here is a seafood counter with raw oysters and lightly battered fish that you select, raw, on a bed of ice, to be cooked in front of you; over there is a roasting station. There are also hamburgers, pizza (there’s always pizza wherever you go), a beer bar, a wine bar, and, when we were there, a Cacio e pepe festival going on – this is a traditional Roman comfort food, pasta tossed with olive oil, butter, black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
(It’s worth noting that you can also experience Eataly in New York, Chicago, and Boston as well as other US locations.)
On our second and last day at the Cavalieri, Estelle got a text message that our AirBnB reservation had been cancelled. Something about a problem with the electricity. AirBnB’s office, apologizing for the trouble, offering four alternative locations in the same neighborhood and vaguely promising a “partial” refund if we choose a pricier alternative to the cancelled property.
But with help from our son, who has lived in Rome for the past five years and is fluent in Italian, we found a place that a block from his family’s apartment, looked sunny and open and (for the record) did cost a bit more than the apartment we’d originally selected. (Within a few minutes of it being booked, AirBnB did come through with a credit, although not a refund, for the difference in price.)
So, in the course of a week, we spanned two worlds—one of glamor and service that caters to your every wish and the more mundane, but comfortable existence of managing by yourself. The luxury weekend was spectacular. The AirBnB experience in Rome was, well, it was just fine. If booking AirBnB, you need to know that what’s considered very comfortable in Rome is small by American standards. The elevator is a squeeze for more than two people; the kitchen is packed into a corner; and the bathrooms barely offer the space to turn around. On the other hand, the price is right. Comfortable, clean AirBnB rentals outside of the city center, but a short subway or bus ride to downtown, run about $70-$120/night.
With our family we visited Foro Italico, a spectacular park and also the site of the Rome Tennis Open. It’s a beautiful place for a walk. Flat-topped stone pine trees flanked by pointy cypress trees. That extraordinary sunken tennis court lined with marble statues of the gods. It happens there’s a health fair going on this day, drawing a good crowd. Why do Romans, with their free health care, flock to a health fair to get blood tests, mammograms, and various other free screenings? Because it may take months to get an appointment. Here, you merely stand in line for 20 minutes or so.
(Speaking of health, during our week in Rome my wife paid a visit to a local pharmacy to fill several prescriptions at a fraction of the U.S. price. The pharmacist laughed out loud when we told him what these medications cost in America.)
Back in our digs that evening, we get take-out dinner from a delicious neighborhood Middle-eastern restaurant, Meze, where we put the owner’s limited English to the test.
On another day, we picked up some cold cuts at a local deli where the briny odor of cured ham filled the air. There were at least six varieties of prosciutto, plus numerous sausages and other delights. An elderly woman in front of us on line, a regular we later learn, engaged the checkout clerk in a lengthy conversation. No one seemed rushed. It’s Rome.
The grown-up highlight of the trip (for me) was a late dinner at Osteria Monte Verde. I would describe the food as a hipster twist on classic Italian cooking. You can order Cacio e pepe there, for example, and have it prepared in the traditional way, but we opted for the tasting menu (42 Euro), which consisted of seven small plates (plus two desserts and coffee). We had a raw oyster in a tangy soy broth for starters, followed by a lightly seared piece of tuna, a gnocci, pork belly, stewed lamb, beef carpaccio with raw egg and several others, the dishes just coming and coming — way more than seven, it seemed —leaving us a bit delirious. For dessert, a sorbet and just when we were expecting coffee, a substantial portion of tiramisu made from scratch with fresh whipped cream.
That extraordinary dinner enhanced a truly wonderful week. We skipped all the “official” tourist wonders of Rome this time, but enjoying the coffee, the food, the blend of fast-paced and laid-back culture–always surrounded by the spectacular architecture and antiquities of this ancient city—transformed a lovely family visit into a unique and special adventure.