x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Treasures at every step in the buzzing streets of Rome

My Kind of Place Sakhr Al Makhadhi offers his guide to the best way to see the Italian capital.

Why Rome?

The zip of a Vespa whizzing out of an alley. The trickle of a public fountain in a tiny piazza surrounded by crumbling buildings. The taste of fresh pizza by the slice, hot out of the oven. Rome attacks your senses - there is so much to see, taste and hear that it can become quite addictive.

And then there are the Romans, those beautiful, stylish people who look like they've stepped off the catwalk even when they've just climbed out of bed. They complain - in their poetic language - that nothing works. But for a few days, that relaxed shrug-of-the-shoulders culture in such a romantic, tasty place is the best medicine for city living.

A comfortable bed

After a lengthy renovation, Hotel Campo De' Fiori (www.hotelcampodefiori.com; 00 39 06 6880 6865) has been transformed from a backpacker's lodge into one of the city's smallest luxury hotels (double rooms cost from €136 [Dh680] per night). But what this tall former private residence loses in size it makes up for in location, right on one of the old city's main squares.

Find your feet

The historic centre (Centro Storico) of Rome is walkable; indeed, cars are banned from its cobbled streets for most of the day. Start your day at the cafe that sits atop the riverside Castel Sant'Angelo. The views - east into Rome and west towards the Vatican - will show you the size of the task that lies ahead.

Cross the River Tiber and delve into the rabbit warren of tiny streets heading east to the majestic Piazza Navona. The long public square, built around three statue-filled fountains, is the heart of the old city. Follow your instinct - or the crowd - to Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè (www.santeustachioilcaffe.it; 00 39 06 6880 2048) for what some claim is Rome's best coffee. The surly staff keep their espresso machine covered by a screen to make sure their secret recipe stays secret.

When the caffeine high starts to kick in, make straight for the Pantheon, possibly the most underrated building in the city. It seems to appear from nowhere as you emerge from a narrow alley. The 2,000 year-old cylindrical stone structure rubs up against more modern buildings just a few metres away. Inside, it's just as dramatic. The only light in the former Roman temple (now a working church) comes from a hole in the ceiling that turns the entire building into a huge sundial. Just north of the Pantheon is the gelato triangle, home to some of the world's best ice cream. Take your pick from northern-Italian newcomer Grom, the century-old Giolitti, San Crispino (Julia Roberts' obsession in Eat Pray Love), or lose yourself in the dozens of flavours (from fig to Snickers and everything in between) at Della Palma.

Follow the sound of trickling water until it turns into a gush. The first time you catch sight of the Trevi Fountain you'll be hooked. It is every bit as romantic as it looked in La Dolce Vita and you won't have to hang around for long before you see a man on bended knee or a couple posing for wedding portraits. The waterfall is as high and as wide as the buildings that surround it, and the tiny piazza it sits in is packed with snap-happy tourists day and night.

Fight your way through the crowds and keep heading east, crossing through the shopping district, and you'll soon arrive at the Spanish Steps. If you're not tired by this point, climb the staircase, watch the sunset from the top and remind yourself that you haven't even reached the Colosseum yet.

Meet the locals

Take a beautiful old tram (number 5 or 14) from Stazione Termini to Pigneto. A couple of years ago, few would venture out to this eastern suburb unless they were a poor immigrant living in a bedsit. Now, the shabby chic area is starting to attract artists and designers. The market dominates the area during the day. Get chatting to the residents - they are proud to show off their undiscovered neighbourhood. At lunch, pop into Lo Yeti (www.loyeti.org; 00 39 06 702 5633), a bright bookshop-cafe with an intellectual buzz. By early evening, the warehouse bars will be opening - expect to find impromptu concerts and plays.

Book a table

If you're in Rome for pizza, you're in the wrong city. Head south to Napoli for the good stuff. Grab an paper-covered outdoor table at Filetti di Baccalà (00 39 06 686 4018). Sitting in a tiny piazza that is totally dominated by tall orange-stone buildings, this place does one dish very well: fried cod. The juicy, crumbly deep-fried fish (€5; Dh25) is served in paper and eaten by hand. You'll never be able to eat the heavy British-style fish and chips again.

Shopper's paradise

Via del Corso, running from Piazza Venezia to the pedestrianised Piazza del Popolo, is the city's main shopping street. The long, straight drag was built this way because it was originally designed for horse racing. These days you're more likely to find high heels than riding boots in stores like Stefanel, Sisley and Diesel. If your wallet is still bulging, duck out of Via del Corso on to Via Condotti (it runs straight to the Spanish Steps). It's here that you'll find men in black manning the doors of Gucci, Bulgari, Armani, Prada and Louis Vuitton - surely one of the world's priciest 100 metres.

What to avoid

The morning market at Campo de' Fiori is touted in guide books as an authentic slice of Roman life. It isn't. Few of the overpriced fruit, veg and spices are local, and you'll struggle to find an Italian shopping here.

Don't miss

Buried deep in a residential street, I Caruso (00 39 06 4291 8674) is far enough away from any of the tourist areas to be a locals-only gelataria. There are only a handful of flavours to choose from, but I Caruso will change the way you think about ice cream. Go for the chocolate - rich and velvety, it hangs off the spoon as you dig in. Be sure to ask for their (off-menu) zabaglione whipped cream topping.