Rome begins for me at the Piazza di Spagna. I lived nearby until I was two and learnt to walk by tottering up and down its 120 steps. I know there is this many because one of my daughters, aged nine, has just discovered numbers. "Rome wasn't built in a day," my husband told the children when we touched down at Rome airport. "It took two." "Two whole days?" said Leo, aged six. He's obviously been living in Abu Dhabi for too long.
The first morning we opened the curtains of our room at the lovely Hotel Byron in Villa Borghese to torrential rain. The children were still on Abu Dhabi time so had woken at 4.45am. Predictably by the time we managed to heave ourselves out of bed at 6am they were fighting and feral. "It's going to be a long day," I said to my husband. "What were we thinking?" he sighed. After breakfast we took a taxi to Trastevere. This is not normally the first stop for eager tourists but, being half-Italian, I have been to Rome many times but never to Trastevere. We were on our way to the botanical gardens (we always like to visit a garden in the torrential rain) when we spotted a sign outside a beautiful palazzo: Galleria Corsini it read. We decided to investigate. Entrance was free and we walked into stunning room after stunning room of art. Caravaggio, Beato Angelico, Van Dyck and Poussin among others. In one of the rooms there was a plaque, which said that Queen Christina of Sweden died there.
"She probably didn't like the frescoes," said my husband. The children were as amazed as we were to find this treasure trove hidden away. Bea and Leo discussed what foods they would like to eat from the still lifes and made copious drawings in their notebooks of their favourite images. On the way out we spotted a sign, which informed us of another palazzo across the road full of frescoes by Raphael. So off we trotted there to be amazed once more by the quality of a museum tucked away in a lesser-visited corner of Rome. By the time we reached the botanical gardens it was sunny.
There is something magical about a garden after rain; the smells, the glistening grass and the freshness of it. The children ran around exploring as we meandered through the wet grass. Leo was particularly impressed with the palm trees, which he said were like dinosaurs and a rose that smelled "like strawberries". Walking is the way to get around Rome, and with the children trotting behind us and dodging the motorini like veterans, we went on a whistle-stop tour of the sights. Leo liked the Colosseum best, while Bea wants us to build her a replica of the Trevi Fountain at our house in France. Olivia, aged 10, was very taken with the shopping on the Via Frattina and Cafe Greco, the most expensive cafe in Rome. My husband liked the bars in Trastevere, but for me, Rome begins and ends on the Spanish steps - even if I find them harder to get up and down these days.
Helena and her family stayed at The Hotel Byron Rome (www.lordbyronhotel.com; 00 39 06 322 0404); double rooms cost from US$485 (Dh1,782) per night including breakfast and taxes.