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When in Rome, and in Rome...

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29th Apr 2009

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Rome, and Rome

There are two Romes. The eye-candy Rome of Trajan columns, mighty Caesars, crazy Vespas and delicious Pizza; and Christian Rome, with the imposing Vatican City, home to formidable marble, Michaelangelo's longest lasting commission and weekly Sunday sermons given out of his Holiness' Pope Benedict XVI's apartment balcony. You'll be lucky if you catch a glimpse of his hand gesturing, but his voice and message are loud and clear thanks to the all-weather sound system permeating Vatican City.

Romulus, Marcus Aurelius, Tiberius - Roman originators from afore. Later Cardinals and Popes - Roman to the core. This life loving, food loving, indulgent and stylish 'gioia di vivere' transcends and permeates every aspect of Roman living, still today.

You'd be forgiven for spending your time in Rome staring at the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, Raphael's frescos and standing in line to hear the choir sing inside Basilica St. Pietro. The four hour queue on free Sundays is worth the spectacle, but there are better ways to get at all the pomp. If your home country is Catholic, a phone call to the consulate can secure VIP tickets to Christmas Eve mass, for example, inside the Basilica while the other masses watch the Pope on 'TV Vaticano' ... on the largest screen in Italy, in the rain.

TIP: To avoid queues of unimaginable hours at any of Rome's sites during peak visiting months you can either pre-book or join a 'tour'. Sounds terribly touristy, except you'll hop the line, shimmy past hundreds and get straight to Michelangelo. Engage a private guide.

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Hotel Arte, Roma
Your home in Rome

Where you are staying in Rome can result in how much style or culture you get to experience upon stepping off your stoop. Either way, for the full Roman experience, your pair of extra large sunglasses, Superga footware, a Trussardi puffer jacket and an air of 'who are you?' are required.

The Hotel Arte you'll like, especially if you enjoy Trussardi, Valentino, Villa Borghese and the Spanish Steps - in that order! Arte is location, location, location for so much of Rome, but most notably for high-end Italian shopping. In the bustle of the chic cobblestone streets surrounded by Buccellati, Fendi and Cavalli, it is walkable distance from anything (otherwise) important. Arte is classy boutique chic.

Sleeping in a good location for shopping and sites is great, but you can't beat the ultimate, and that is sleeping within the Forum itself at The Fourtyseven. On the grounds of the Forum, the exclusive Fourtyseven recalls Mastroiani, Modigliani and Guccione with a modern, yet austere twist. (Then peek out your 5th floor window onto nearby pre-B.C. columns). The Fourtyseven is rather hip so don't miss the opportunity to dine in the rooftop Circus restaurant at a table 'al fresco.' The view will have you reaching out to touch the illuminated monuments, as stunning at night as during the day.

Or stay at Hotel de Russie. Glamour, grandeur, and a central giardino is a Berluti kick from the Piazza del Popolo and Via Corso. Pricey it is, but 'the place' if you can swing it. Stay there only if they don't have a booking for you at the Vatican private residences. And speaking of private residences, if you would prefer your own pied-a-terre for privacy and independence, and lets face it the coffee bar on the corner is better than any hotel room service, you might like an elegant neo-Baroque apartment called Crossing Condotti. There are five rooms available, each decorated to chic standards to match the neighborhood.

One can't really wake up on the wrong side of the bed at the Hotel Baglioni either. Sumptuous decor and their restaurant and lounge, Brunello, top the charts for going 'above and beyond.'

Now that you're staying comfortably in your private palazzo, suite or 'ciao Mario, this place will do', its time to get a laurel leaf on and head out!

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Ponte Sant'Angelo, Fiume Tevere
Where to?

If you had to do Rome in a day (its been done), here is what to consider:

- Start at the Colosseo. Rome's colusseum is so quintessentially Roman, those gladiator mirages will have you forgetting there ever was a Catholic church. Truthfully, the Colosseo is what makes Rome. (Join an Alessandra or a Luigi 'tour' just to skip the colossal queue).

- From the Colosseo, walk the length of Via dei Fori Imperiali toward Piazza Venezia for some of the most famous Roman (on the left) and Trajan (on the right) ruins you'll ever see. Be jealous that Romans get to drive past this every day on their way to work.

- Walk through the tiny narrow streets and discover the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain (throw a Euro in) before having a typically Italian lunch off of Piazza Navonna.

- Recommended as the best restaurant in Rome by romans, visit Pietro Valentini, at Via dei Pianellari 19 , Phone: 06.6868565, where Pietro's family specializes in Roman delicacies from stuffed courgette flowers to their 'piece de resistance': homemade gnocchi with gorgonzola. They top the dish with very generous donations from Italy's white and black truffle forests. If you dine with Pietro at night he might sit at your table (one of only 5!), sing and offer you Limoncello.

- Walk off those delicious gnocchi along the bank of the Fiume Tevere, but don't cross to the Vatican side until you reach Ponte St. Angelo, where you are blessed with one of the most beautiful views in Rome incorporating the river, Castello St. Angelo and perfect photo opps of Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica. Castello St. Angelo is one of Rome's only remaining medieval structures. It is impressive, but remember, you're on the left bank to experience those ceilings in the Vatican.

- There are only two ways to get through the winding lines of people at the entrance of the Vatican: one is to arrive in a wheelchair and enter via the exit where an opulent elevator awaits to whisk you right up; the other is to brave the queue. It does move, even if it looks painful. And the interior chambers of the Vatican are worth it, even if you b-line it to to the Sistine Chapel to gaze at Michelangelo's wonder and that is all you see.

- If you can't brave the Vatican queue, do walk around to St. Peter's Basilica. You'll get the Michelangelo you were after in the elegant and beautiful 'Pieta', his famous sculpture of the Madonna and child. If you wondered where all the Colosseum and Forum's marble went when you were walking around those grounds, it went here, sequestered by the Popes to build the Vatican.

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Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescos
To shop Rome you only need to know two words: Corso and Condotti. You will find that Trussardi puffer, giant Fendis or a slinky Cavalli here. These two streets will keep you busy for hours, or days if you let them!

The Non Solo Tarli - Fiera di Roma on Via Cristoforo Colombo is a vast antiques market held only twice a year. It attracts the most serious collectors from all over Italy. In 2009, it runs from the 19-26th of June. With such a variety of goods, including furniture, china, ornaments, paintings and jewelry on more than 200 stands, it is easy to see why people travel so far. Plan your trip accordingly.
We like morning antique markets like Porta Portese in Trestevere and sunset from the Palatine Hill, but the best of Rome carries on well past dark. Evenings strolling the tiny streets, popping into a vibrant Trestevere enoteca or roaming the well-lit ancient Roman ruins around the Forum, Collosseo and Vittorio-Emmanuele are all formidable.
The LUXE City Guide ROME, available for purchase at our online Store, give you more of the inside scoop on the best restaurants, bars and shopping in Rome. Definitely pick up a copy before you go!