Once the power center of the world, the Eternal City shines and inspires anew if you take your time with it. (Just don’t order cappuccino afternoon.)
Author Joe Keohane Photography Mark Read
DAY THREE | You rise early, walk over to the nearby Piazza del Popolo and take a seat at Canova (1), favored by the late Federico Fellini, the director responsible for making Rome cool again in 1960 with La Dolce Vita. You order cappuccino and another chocolate croissant. It’s becoming a problem, but you’ll need the caffeine and carbs for what’s next.
You wisely arrive at the Vatican Museums (2) via taxi at 9 a.m. sharp, and when the doors open, you hustle in. This is key. If you hesitate, you’ll be quickly swamped by tour groups so dense you won’t be able to get past. The big attractions are at the very end, so you practically jog through the exhibits of lesser interest and beat the mobs to Rafael’s rooms and the Sistine Chapel. Both of which, indeed, are breathtaking, almost overwhelming. You take it all in, then exit through the endless sequence of merchandise stands and gift shops.
The Vatican wore you out, so you make your way back to Popolo and mount the steps to Rome’s central park, Villa Borghese (3), which is dotted with statuary and high enough above the rest of the city that it feels like a world apart. You head north across the park to the Galleria Borghese (4), the former mansion of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, favorite nephew of Pope Paul V, who used his clout to assemble an art collection that rivals that of the Vatican in quality, if not quantity. Of special interest is Bernini’s sculpture of David, which is all slingshot and sinew and frankly makes Michelangelo’s version look, well, a li le inert.
For dinner, you walk to Baby (5), the Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by world-renowned chef Alfonso Iaccarino, located just north of the park. You get a table looking out at the courtyard from the stark white dining room and order stir-fried spinach with a runny egg and crunchy pork cheek and an entrée of veal roll with buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes. The food, like the service, is top-notch.
You have one last stop to make: Monti, for a drink and a final stroll. Until fairly recently it was home to mostly craftsmen; recently it’s been taken over by more well-heeled creative types, as evidenced by the many new design shops and cafés. You stop at the unpretentious Al Vino Al Vino (6) for a nightcap and some conversation. It’s late, but just as you’re ready to hail a cab back to the hotel, you walk out and look le down Via dei Serpenti, and there looms the Colosseum (7) in the distance. You walk 10 minutes down and take a seat on a wall across the street. This is how the Colosseum is meant to be seen: half-lit at night, in near-total silence. Like Rome, it’s a living monument to both power and its loss, and like Rome it makes everything around it seem piddling—and yet it somehow does so in a way that strikes you as almost impossibly inspiring.