Off the Beaten Path in Rome’s Monti Neighborhood

by Amy Knauff

Monti is the historic area located between Termini Station and the Colosseum/Roman Forum.  It’s where Woody Allen shot a good deal of “To Rome with Love” – so it’s your picture postcard version of Rome: ivy covered buildings, narrow cobblestone streets – but it’s less touristy, more authentic and hip than the area around Piazza Navona/Pantheon.  On a rainy autumn day, here’s what we’d consider an ideal visit:

9:30am: Start at the Cavour metro stop. Walk straight up the street in front of you, via Leonina. Here you’ll find two great cafés to choose from for breakfast. Ciuri Ciuri, at nr. 18, is a classic Italian bar with yummy Sicilian pastries (cassate, cannoli, marzipan, Modica chocolate, sweets made with Avola almonds and Bronte pistacchios). 2 Periodico Café, at nr. 77, is a cozy spot where you can enjoy a more leisurely breakfast while listening to chill-out music, snuggled up in an armchair as you read the morning paper.  For a typical Roman bar, with amazing coffee and good pastries, head right up Via del Boschetto to Er Baretto on your left at nr. 132 (has a few outside tables too).

10am: Head back down via Leonina to nr. 46/48, where you’ll find a big, blocky industrial-looking building that stands out like a sore thumb from the more quaint buildings in Monti. It’s a parking garage, and on Saturdays and Sundays, the ground floor is home to Mercato Monti, a small but interesting vintage-styled market. Purists, take note: most stuff in here is not actually vintage. But it’s the style that counts, and it’s a fun spot to pick up some interesting, offbeat finds and hang out with creative types.

11am: Leave the market and head out for a wander around the narrow cobblestone streets of Monti. This neighborhood is charming, picturesque and packed to the brim with interesting, eclectic shops for clothing, jewelry, and home goods. Stop by the uninspiringly named Candle’s Store (via Urbana, 21), which has gorgeous homemade candles. Aromaticus (via Urbana, 134) is like being in an adorable greenhouse; they sell garden and home decorations (and you can enjoy lunch or an organic smoothie or snack surrounded by greenery). On via dei Serpenti (nr. 141) check out Pifebo Vintage Shop, which has authentic vintage finds.

Of course, Monti isn’t just about shopping: the architecture is fascinating, as the mix of individual homes with street entrances, ivy-draped streets, and planters exploding with red and pink flowers make you feel like you’re not in otherwise chaotic Rome. Being something of a bohemian/artsy area, there is also plenty of interesting street art and graffiti to see as you walk around. (See if you can spot the space invader mosaics!) And of course, it’s de rigueur to pay a visit to the neighborhood church – the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti right in the main piazza was designed by none other than Giacomo della Porta.

1pm: You’ve earned a long lunch. Monti is loaded with good restaurants (for all budgets). Urbana 47 (at via Urbana 47, of course) is one of the most popular ones in Monti, and it’s “zero-kilometer” (locally sourced). But in general, it’s hard to go wrong in this area – it has mostly authentic, non-tourist-menu restaurants. Even La Bottega del Caffè located smack dab in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti is good, packed with tourists and locals alike. It has covered outdoor seating (so it’s great for people-watching) and I like their pasta with salmon in cream sauce. If you’re in the mood for something non-Italian, you can also get sushi at Daruma (via dei Serpenti 1) or Indian at Maharajah (via dei Serpenti 124) or Sitar (via Cavour 256) to name two of the four different Indian restaurants in the area.  Down Via dei Madonna ai Monti, almost at the end on the right, is Taverna ai Fori Imperiali (via della Madonna dei Monti 9), a well known Roman trattoria with great food – but you’ll definitely need to make a reservation.

2:30pm: Stretch your legs after lunch – climb the stairs next to the Irish pub on via Leonina and cross the busy street (via Cavour). On the other side there is a big tunnel with stairs. Walk up the stairs and keep going straight until you get to Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli. Follow the hordes of tourists into the church and visit the stunning marble statue of Moses, sculpted by Michelangelo.

3pm: Leave the church and keep going straight, away from via Cavour. You’ll soon get to the back end of the Colle Oppio park, which overlooks the Colosseum. On Sundays the dirt soccer field (called “la polverera” for its dustiness in the summer) in this part of the park is used all day by Latin American soccer teams. They play rain or shine. Huddle under your umbrella for a while and watch the back-to-back soccer games with the Colosseum as a backdrop. The smell of South American food and the sound of Latin rhythms add to the atmosphere.

4pm: It’s time for an afternoon coffee (or hot chocolate). Get out of the rain and into the closest coffee bar. Caffe dello Studente, just across from the soccer field, is Rick Steves-recommended and has a nice view of the Colosseum.

And no visit to Monti is complete without a stop at Fata Morgana on Piazza degli Zingari (up at the end of Via degli Zingari, and not on the lower part near the Cavour metro).  This is one of the top 3 gelaterias in the entire city and not to be missed.

Want to stay in the neighborhood? Here’s some of our top suggestions:

Appartamento Baccina starting at €100/night

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B&B Suburbe from €120/night

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Apparatmento Urbana from €110/night

 

The Food Police – The Rick Steves Episode

What happens when everyone’s favorite travel writer is accused of food misconduct? Can the Food Police trio take on someone as untouchable as Rick Steves?

We’ve moved all the Food Police episodes to a dedicated site – you can read agent’s profiles and other tips about staying safe at www.foodpolice.it

 

 

The Food Police – Episode III

Food Police Episode III from Cross-Pollinate Travel on Vimeo.

Frozen food stakeout. In this newest episode, a sous chef comes to the Special Unit ready to confess her involvement in a major crime.

See earlier episodes of the Food Police here:

Episode I – the girls of the Special Unit hear from the new head of the Food Police that tourists are being ripped off in Rome.  They set out to gather evidence and show you what to look out for.

Episode II – In this episode, The Food Police – Special Unit, are in the medieval hill-town of Orvieto, famous for its black truffles, in pursuit of a dangerous perp who’s about to commit an unthinkable crime.

The Food Police – Episode II

Food Police Episode II from Cross-Pollinate Travel on Vimeo.

In this episode, The Food Police – Special Unit, are in the medieval hill-town of Orvieto, famous for its black truffles, in pursuit of a dangerous perp who’s about to commit an unthinkable crime.

Vegetarian Florence

by Linda Martinez

Recently, Steve and I had the rare opportunity to spend a couple of kid-less days in Florence.  Besides some train stopovers, I hadn’t truly visited Florence since 1995 and Steve needed to get some cross-pollinate work done – visit with some owners and inspect some new properties.  With the help of our good friend, Toni, who offered to stay with our three young daughters, we were able to have a couple of precious days away on our own.

We stayed at a cross-pollinate property, Ponte Vecchio Suite apartment.  It’s a cute and well-maintained property just a 5 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the Oltrarno neighborhood.  I immediately took a liking to this area which is the artisan neighborhood of Florence.  Just around the corner from Ponte Vecchio Suite we found Caffe degli Artigiani, a bar on a small, quiet piazza that I immediately dubbed “our bar” and knew we would be going there every day for our morning cappuccino.

While the apartment has a kitchenette,  Steve was on holiday from cooking and I was on holiday from washing dishes, so we knew we would be eating out for the two days we were in Florence.  Our family is vegetarian, so traveling offers an opportunity to check out the veggie offerings in the place we are visiting.  One of the on-line sources I check when going to a new city is Happy Cow, an on-line guide (they also have an app) that lets you find vegetarian, vegan, vegetarian friendly restaurants and natural food shops in that town.

Our first food break was lunch and we headed to Steve’s favorite which he discovered on a past trip to Florence,  5 e Cinque, Piazza della Passera, 1 – coincidentally in the same piazza as my new favorite coffee bar.  5 e Cinque is an organic restaurant, mostly vegetarian, but they do have meat options.  Their food is inspired by traditional dishes and ingredients from the region of Liguria.  Steve and I usually try to get two different dishes so we can share.  I got the curried chickpea polpette (polpette usually, meat, but means anything ground and then formed into balls) served on basmati rice and Steve got a farro (spelt) dish made with radicchio and a walnut pesto.  As you can see from the photo, it was so delicious that we had nearly cleaned our plates before I considered taking a photo of them!  I highly recommend – definitely a restaurant to include on any vegetarian (or even non-vegetarian) tour of Florence.

After lunch, Steve had a cross-pollinate appointment and so I decided to take a walk around the city.  I ended up heading toward the synagogue of Florence which is a beautiful building with a gorgeous green copper dome.  On my way, I had an urge for a little something sweet and a hot drink and ended up at Caffelatte also known as La Latteria which uses organic milk and offers fair trade coffees and teas.  Nothing fancy here and the place seems a bit run down, but I was excited by the cakes and treats in the cabinet and so I ordered a slice of a type of pound cake and a caffe latte.  Unfortunately, I left unimpressed.  The cake fell in that realm of many Italian pastries – looks great to the eyes, but a different story when you actually put it in your mouth.  The cake was stale and hard, but at least the caffe latte was good.

Dinner that night was at BVeg which I found out about through Georgette Jupe’s great blog, Girl in Florence.   I had a dish with polenta with layers of pureed broccoli and Steve had a soup with chickpeas and algae.  Both were delicious.

The next day, our last day in Florence, we tried to have lunch at Cuculia, via dei Serragli, 18r, but after sitting down and ordering some water, were told that there was a problem and a delay in the kitchen with the stoves lighting and since Steve had an appointment and didn’t have loads of time for lunch – we decided to pay for the water and find another place to eat.  Lucky for us, just around the corner was Vivanda, via Santa Monaca, 7r.  We both had the lunch special which was a soup and pasta dish.  We started off with a mushroom, cannellini  and cabbage soup followed by a spaghetti alla chitarra pasta with a kale pesto.  We had some great organic wine to go with it.

Our final night we went to a non-vegetarian specific restaurant, il Santo Bevitore, via di Santo Spirito, 66 for dinner.  About a year ago, Steve had been on an excellent Context Travel tour which features the artisans in this area and the docent who led that tour had told him about il Santo Bevitore and had highly recommended it.  It was a Friday night and we hadn’t made a reservation, but we arrived around 7:30pm and with our assurances to the staff that we would not be occupying the table all night and could be out by 9pm, we managed to get a table.  We started with some vegetables preserved in oil – sundried tomatoes, onions, eggplant, etc.  We had a great meal – my ribollita was not really that soupy, but tasted great.  The wait staff were all very accommodating and pleasant – we got into a great conversation with a waiter who is originally from Togo who has lived in Florence for 20+ years.  The meal was our priciest in Florence though – we paid double what we had at the other restaurants, but it was a nice little splurge our last evening there.

The next day, our train back home didn’t leave until 3pm, so we decided to try one last veggie place for lunch.  We had been visiting with Moraq – originally from Chicago who has been living in Italy for the past 18 years.  She’s the owner of the homey Casa di Barbano property on cross-pollinate and having two children, she was able to make some great suggestions of where I could get colored wigs for carnevale for our daughters.

With that errand under our belt, we headed to Libreria Brac, via dei Vagellai, 18r for lunch.  There is no signage for this bookstore/artistic space/cafe so keep an eye out for the number and the books out front.  The cafe is in the back.  Because of the size and popularity of this space, reservations are a definite must.  We didn’t have them and had to assure once again that we would be out quickly as we had a train to catch.  We decided to go with a couple of the specials they had off the menu.  Steve had soy polpette with cannellini beans in a tomato sauce and I had a buckwheat pasta with cream of peas and kale sauce.  Both were absolutely excellent and very filling.  Steve went to the kitchen afterward for a chat with the chef to see how his dish was made.  The great thing about Italy is that for the most part there isn’t this sense of secrecy in the kitchen.  You won’t get a written down recipe, but if you ask the right questions, the chefs will generally tell you what they used and how it was made.  It’s up to you to deal with portions and how to put it together

We were pleasantly surprised by how well put together both in terms of interior design and menus the vegetarian restaurants were that we visited in Florence.  Each restaurant that we went to was always packed with people and had great atmospheres.  All in all we had some wonderful meals and no complaints.  While every Italian restaurant has vegetables available (contorni) or pasta dishes that are meat-less – eating at a specifically Italian vegetarian restaurant will provide an excellent opportunity for anyone  – vegetarians and non-veggies alike – to try interesting and creative dishes using the excellent produce that is available here in Italy.

For many more recommendations on where to eat and drink in Florence I highly recommend Elizabeth Minchilli‘s smartphone app Eat Florence.

Linda maintains her own blog for our hotel, The Beehive, at http://www.the-beehive.com/blog with practical and irreverent information, observations and musings on Rome.