Winter in Rome blogger weekend

It’s easy to conjure an image of Paris, New York, or London in the winter.  But what about Rome?  For most people, it’s a city famous for its piazzas, public fountains and other statues that adorn the city; outdoor monuments like the Pantheon and the Colosseum.  It’s a place to have a long, leisurely dinner al fresco and a coffee at a sidewalk cafe.  It’s true – the summertime in Rome is dreamy, and it’s a living, outdoor museum.  In the summer, the days are long, light is gorgeous, and the sky is always clear and blue.  However, it can also be hot, crowded, and expensive in the summer.

Visiting Rome in the winter is like visiting an entirely different city.  There are a number of relatively unknown advantages, such as cheaper stays, shorter (or no) lines, and some activities and experiences that just aren’t available in other seasons.  And it’s still just as beautiful – we might get some dark, rainy days, but more often than not, the weather is fairly mild and the skies are still clear and blue and the city is just as magical as it is in the summer.

For the last 3 years, to take advantage of empty rooms in our hostel, The Beehive, and to make up for the fact that not many people really have an image in their heads of Rome in the winter, we invite around 10 bloggers and social media experts to come and stay and experience #winterinrome. We put together a weekend of activities, tours, walks, and meals – some that we do ourselves and others from friends and colleagues doing interesting things.  The goal is for these bloggers and social media influencers to spread the word (and images) of what Rome is like in the winter – to help promote our city in the off-season.

Our weekend began with an eat-with-locals dinner experience from BonAppetour, a start-up that makes it possible for you, as a visitor, to score a meal at the home of a local.  I’ve written about a previous experience with them and what they do here.

On Friday we started the day with a great food tour in Trastevere, by Eating Italy Food Tours.  Our guide, Domenico, who also runs Tram Tracks, (an unforgettable, live music/dinner alternate reality experience aboard an old tram), took us around the neighbourhood, tasting all kinds of goodies, from supplì, to the best porchetta and pizza bianca ever, to creme brûlée and vin santo at a restaurant whose wine cellar is 160 years older than the Colosseum!

We then did an e-bike tour around the Roman Forum, Imperial Forum and Colosseum with The Roman Guy, who then took everyone out to find the best cocktails in Rome.

Saturday was vespa day with Scooteroma, visiting street art and covering lots of ground.

Lunch was made back at the Beehive by Viola (my 10 year old sous-chef) and I, and then the group headed back out with Personalised Italy to visit San Giovanni and San Clemente.

That night we had our monthly Storytellers night back at the Beehive, with tales of getting “busted”, and then were treated to a Tuscan dinner, prepared by Pamela Sheldon Johns of Poggio Etrusco.


On Sunday we were taken by Context Travel to the Palazzo Massimo, Rome’s best underrated/unknown museum and saw frescoes and mosaics that date back to the 2nd century BC – we’re talking entire rooms of villas preserved in ways that blow Pompeii out of the water.  This museum deserves an entire post not just for the collection inside, but because it’s an amazing example of how certain sites never make the “bucket list” even though they have some of the most important and insightful works inside.

Lunch was hosted at the Gatsby Cafe at Piazza Vittorio, a laid back, hip, vintage cafe on three levels with food provided by other locals such as Panella, Radici Pizzicheria and Gelateria Fassi – all gems in an area that doesn’t get the acclaim it deserves.

For more information, pics or just to follow along with the rest of group, here’s a list of the bloggers and sponsors that participated:

 

Denya Pandolfi  - Grazie a Te  Facebook & Instagram:  @grazieateblog  Twitter: @denyapandolfi

 

Diana Simon  - Browsing Italy & Browsing Rome:  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter:  @browsingitaly @browsingrome

 

Elyssa Bernard - Romewise  Facebook, IG, Twitter:  @romewise

 

Estrella Gomez  - La Casa Bloga  Instagram: @lacasabloga Twitter:  @lacasabloga

 

Jared Chuba - What If We  Facebook: @whatifweblog  Instagram: @what.if.we Twitter:  @whatifweblog

 

Katie Dawes - The Hostel Girl  Facebook:  @thehostelgirl  Instagram & Twitter:  @the_hostelgirl

 

Natalie Kennedy - An American in Rome  Facebook & Instagram:  @anamericaninrome  Twitter: @natalierae

 

Orna O’Reilly - Travelling Italy  Facebook: @orna.oreilly Twitter: @ornaOR

 

Robyn Woodman - Curated Travel  Facebook:  @woodmanrobyn  Instagram & Twitter: @robynwoodman

 

Saskia Balmaekers & Carola Willemsen - Ciao Tutti  Facebook, Instagram & Twitter:  @blogciaotutti

 

Tom Weber -  The Palladian Traveler  Facebook: @ThePalladianTraveler  Twitter: @tompalladioink

 

Trish McNeill - Go, See, Write - Facebook, Twitter: @goseewrite Instagram: @michaelshodson

 

Viola (our 10 year old sous-chef and helper) took many of these shots.  She can be found on Instagram @ristoviola

 

Scooteroma
Instagram & Twitter:  @scooteromatours

 

Personalized Italy
Instagram & Twitter: @personalitaly

 

Context Travel
Instagram & Twitter:  @contexttravel

 

The Roman Guy
Instagram & Twitter:  @theromanguy

 

Eating Italy Food Tours
Facebook:  @eatingeuropefoodtours
Instagram & Twitter:  @eatingeurope

 

BonAppetour
Facebook:  @BonAppetour
Instagram: @bonappetourofficial
Twitter: @bonappetour

 

Gatsby Cafe
Facebook & Instagram @gatsbycafe

 

Pamela Sheldon Johns
Facebook:  @poggioeetrusco @italian-food-artisans
Instagram:  pamela_sheldon_johns
Twitter: @PamelaInTuscany

BonAppetour – Dining with Locals

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy came from home chefs, and not in restaurants.  Italian cuisine is the result of poverty + resourcefulness over lots and lots of time to prefect the dishes that remain unique to each area of Italy, and change from town to town, and region to region.   So it makes sense that if you want to eat something really authentic, you need to get something homemade.

I was lucky to recently meet two young entrepreneurs out of Singapore, who started BonAppetour, hoping to capture, and make available to tourists, something that restaurants cannot.  Below is Rinita, one of the founders, on the right, and Alexandra, their local community manager/organizer.

On their site, you can select filters that show you what dinners (and often, classes) are available, and you can read other diner’s comments.  You reserve and pay online and are then basically invited to someone’s home for a kind of dinner party – with the host present.  This makes it not just an experience of the food, but also a way to connect tourists to locals.  It’s not often easy, or possible, to score an invite into someone’s home!  This way, you get a great meal, and the kind of insight that comes with meeting people of different cultures, who are happy to share their knowledge and open up their homes to you.

Our host, Francesca, made us a Milanese-themed dinner of liver paté, ossobuco (veal shanks) and risotto alla Milanese (flavoured with saffron), finished with a kind of tiramisù cream and pavese biscuits.

They seem to have a strong presence in Asia, their stomping ground, but also have many hosts/chefs in France, Spain in Italy – probably the three places most people want to have a home dining experience in.

Just a note though – authenticity is not synonymous with the postcard perfect/stereotypical vision that many people have of their destination.  So be prepared to get out to areas that real locals live in and to perhaps engage in conversations that reflect surprising opinions!

Bonappetour can be found on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.

 

 

La Taqueria – Mexican street food in Rome

For expats in Rome, and some visitors as well, the lack of good Mexican food is a hardship.  After living here over 16 years, we’ve given up on certain foods we used to love – such as Mexican and Chinese, either not finding any of it edible, or not being able to justify the high price tag for something “exotic”.  All that changed today when I popped in to La Taqueria for lunch.

Located right around the corner from the Piazza Bologna metro station, it’s impossible to miss – the three large, bright, colorful windows that face the street are in bright contrast to the monochromatic neighborhood.  Once inside, I was struck by the creative design.  Plastic crates, tires, and old gasoline cans have all be repurposed to become suspension lamps, and plant holders.

The menu has all the basics – tacos made with homemade, corn, soft-shell tacos, stuffed with either meat or a vegetarian bean and soy version.  Nachos, made with their own fried corn chips, and burritos, either with meat or vegan option, wrapped up in homemade tortillas.  They make fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and a variety of other salsas.

All in all, I was seriously impressed with how good it was, and found it affordable as well (from 6-8 euro for tacos or a huge burrito).  The owner, a young guy from Honduras who speaks perfect English, was super nice and helpful and added the perfect vibe to his lively and delicious little place.

La Taqueria
Via Giacomo Boni, 26
Metro:  Bologna (blue line)

Open from 12-3pm for lunch and 7-11pm all week (except Sunday at lunchtime)

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:

Piccola Venere from €129/night

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Appartamento Panisperna from €114/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