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See + Do
Rome is a series of villages. And as in all Italian villages, life revolves around the piazza. Admittedly, few villages can lay claim to squares as gloriously theatrical as Piazza Navona, with Bernini's melodramatic Four Rivers fountain at its heart. Or to anything as elegantly urbane as Piazza di Spagna, from which the Spanish Steps ascend.
In centuries past, the piazza was where markets were set up, executions took place, business was done, or papal edicts were pronounced. Piazza del Popolo combined many of these functions and was also Rome's main gateway, standing at the end of the Via Flaminia, which carried travelers and pilgrims from the north. A makeover in the early 19th century by Giuseppe Valadier gave it its current neoclassical look, while a car ban in the 1990s restored its elegance. Campo de' Fiori, on the other hand, was and still is resoundingly a market square, packed with food shoppers every morning but Sunday. Once, though, it was also used for executions: A Darth Vader–like monument reminds us that the Inquisition burned unorthodox philosopher Giordano Bruno at the stake here in 1600. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is Rome's largest square; its rather dull modern gardens contrast with the ramshackle vibrancy of the surrounding neighborhood, which today houses much of the city's Asian and African communities. Piazza Venezia, dominated by a bombastic waste of marble known as the Altare della Patria, is one big traffic intersection. A diminutive fountain, adorned by bronze sculptures of mossy boys hoisting turtles into the bowl at the top, makes tiny Piazza Mattei in the Ghetto arguably the city's most charming square.
Designers for Less, Italy
You've window-shopped along Via Condotti, your credit card has wilted, but your spirit's willing. So where do you turn? Rome's city center stock houses won't always have the outfit you're dreaming of, but a rifle through the rails at Il Discount dell'Alta Moda may turn up some heavily reduced Prada, Miu Miu, Gucci, or Roberto Cavalli. Gucci bags are the main draw at sister store Il Discount delle Firme, along with significant markdowns on Alberta Ferretti, Versace, and others. The discount is generally 50 percent, rising to 60–70 percent during sales.
Il Discount dell' Alta Moda
16A Via Gesù e Maria
Tel: 39 06 361 3796
Il Discount Delle Firme
27 Via dei Serviti
Tel: 39 06 482 7790
Tel: 39 06 3974 5416
If hours of admiring the priceless masterpieces of the Vatican Museums has you craving a humble piece of pizza, you'll be grateful for this tiny to-go outlet, hidden away on an anonymous street less than ten minutes' walk from the museum entrance (walk down the steps to Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, take your first left, then your first right). Gabriele Bonci, a young chef expert in the use of flours and leavens, lets his pizza dough rise for 72 hours, and sells it by weight. The fresh, organic toppings include treats like wild asparagus; pesto and eggplant; and buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and anchovies. Bonci also bakes bread: The rye loaf and sourdough are both particularly good—and long-lasting.
Rome 00187, Italy
Tel: 39 06 6920 2132
The regional government of Lazio, of which Rome is the capital, opened this stylish and high-tech–looking wine bar and restaurant, near the Spanish Steps, to promote local wine and food. Eat downstairs at one of the tables that crowd around the bar, or in the coolly minimalist upstairs room. The wine list proves that when it comes to wines from this region, there is life beyond Frascati: You might be tempted by a bottle of the aromatic red Cesanese del Piglio, or by the excellent chardonnays produced by Paolo and Noemi D'Amico in Lazio's far north. A menu based exclusively on local produce includes specialties such as Monte San Biagio sausages and cannellini beans from Atina. The healthy, veggie-rich dishes on offer include an excellent fried baccalà (salt cod), crunchy on the outside and butter-soft within, served with endives, pine nuts, and golden raisins. There are also several kosher options.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 to 3 pm and 8 to 10:30 pm.
La Campana, Italy
Rome 00186, Italy
Tel: 39 06 686 7820
This is one of those places that hasn't changed since Fellini was a bambino. La Campana claims to be the oldest restaurant in Rome, and you'll believe it when you see the venerable waiters. But the service is impeccable, and the classic Roman cooking is as reliable as the midday cannon on the Gianicolo hill. Alongside ubiquitous staples such as spaghetti alla carbonara are more recherché seasonal delights like vignarola, a spring soup of artichokes, fava beans, and guanciale. The wine list is limited, and the ambience rather stuffy. But like the more expensive (and less worthwhile) Dal Bolognese in Piazza del Popolo, this is the sort of trattoria that attracts everyone from artists to bankers to contessas, which makes it great for people-watching.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm and 7:30 to 11 pm, September through July.
Dal Cavalier Gino, Italy
Rome 00186, Italy
Tel: 39 06 687 3434
Good centro storico trattorias are hard to find, and Gino's is no exception: It's tucked away in a tiny cul-de-sac just around the corner from the Camera dei Deputati, the lower house of the Italian parliament. It pays to book, as the place tends to fill up with homesick deputati who come for the next best thing to Mamma's cooking. The day's specials are chalked up at the entrance to this rustic time capsule; they generally include Roman classics like tonnarelli cacio e pepe (pasta with crumbled sheep's-milk cheese and plenty of black pepper) and pasta e ceci in brodo di arzilla (a soup of pasta and chickpeas in skate broth). The house wine is onesto, as they say around these parts: rustic and unrefined, but gratifyingly low in price.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 to 2:45 pm and 8 to 10:45 pm.
Tel: 39 06 581 5274
The "Old Arch" on the Gianicolo hill above Trastevere has established itself as a reference point for Roman gourmets who want to eat well without breaking the bank. "Creative Italian cuisine" is an overused term, but that is exactly what chef Patrizia Mattei offers in dishes like tonnarelli with gray mullet bottarga, wild fennel, and breadcrumbs, or duck breast in vin santo sauce with stewed cannellini beans. The recipes are based on the kind of roots-y local ingredients an Italian grandma might use, but in combinations that Nonna would never attempt. The menu changes according to the season, but even in winter, lightness is a key word, with plenty of vegetables and herbs. Main courses go beyond the usual binary meat-or-fish option to embrace game (rabbit, pheasant, guinea fowl), and a small selection of side dishes (such as grilled vegetables with Piedmontese Toma cheese) can easily take the place of a secondo. There's no outside space, but the air-conditioned interior, fresh from a 2007 makeover in tones of white, cream, and dark chocolate, balances seriousness and friendly intimacy, as does the generally excellent service. Wine is another forte: If you're unsure what to order, ask knowledgeable sommelier Domenico for advice. Be sure to book at least a day in advance.
Open daily 6 pm to 11:30 pm.