When In Rome, Spend a Day in Monti
Take a leisurely stroll, or passeggiata, around the neighbourhood of Monti to spend a day enjoying the good life, Roman style.
These days, most major cities have a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus tour. Rome has six (yes, six) different versions from which to choose. There is so much history here, and so many tourists, that it’s easy to feel as though you are simply treading the same well-worn paths that have been explored by countless crowds before you.
So, while you may have a few highlights on your must-see list, it’s also essential to spend some time exploring a more peaceful, workaday part of the city and avoid traipsing from one guided tour to the next. After all, how many ancient ruins – or Renaissance artworks – can you really take in during the course of a visit? (Answers on a postcard of the Circus Maximus, please.)
There are few areas of the city better suited to leisurely strolling, shopping, eating and drinking than the neighbourhood – or rione – of Monti. The area got its name, meaning ‘mountains’, from the fact that it originally encompassed several of the city’s hilliest spots. It was Ancient Rome’s first ward and was associated with quite a few colourful characters. Monti was also known for its brothels and the fact that plenty of poor people lived here. The district was eventually separated from the Forum by a wall in order to protect the important public meeting place from the seedy goings on in the neighbourhood.
Flash forward to Monti today and you’ll discover a quirky, everyday part of Rome that is really central, yet relatively quiet compared to the madness of tourist attractions such as the Trevi Fountain. Sure, the Colosseum and the church of Santa Maria Maggiore are nearby – plus the ruins of the ancient Forum are even closer – but Monti has a great mix of local and expat residents, and in recent years, it’s been a place where a number of great restaurants, unusual shops and trendy bars have opened.
Start your day with a coffee (this is the one time of day when it’s socially acceptable to drink a cappuccino in Italy, so make the most of it) at La Licata (Via dei Serpenti, 165). Sit in the window and watch the world go by as you munch on a cornetto pastry and prepare to shop.
Monti is Rome’s top choice for vintage shopping. There are a number of tempting vintage clothing stores here, including the upscale Blue Goose (Via del Boschetto, 4), where I spotted a Dolce & Gabbana corset dress and some seriously fabulous designer handbags. Less high-end – and more reasonably priced – items are available at Pifebo (Via dei Serpenti, 141), where the old-school adidas sweatshirts and embellished denim jackets were especially tempting. For a bright and bold 1960s dress, try Pulp (Via del Boschetto, 140). The fab frocks on offer at Danish expat designer Tina Sondergaard’s store (Via del Boschetto, 1D) are gorgeously retro too.
But there’s much more than clothing on offer in Monti. At L’Angelus Antichità (Via dell’Angeletto, 14), you can pick up an opulent antique objet, painting or statue. And if contemporary design is more your thing, stop by at Atelier Monti (Via Panisperna, 42), where you’ll find sleek furniture and decor products by brands like Magis and Paola Lenti.
For contemporary interior items with an emphasis on the handmade, try Estremi (Via del Boschetto, 2A) and Boschettotre (Via Del Boschetto, 3). And you must pop in at Aromaticus (Via Urbana, 134), which sells all things related to small-space gardening (think cute watering cans and plants galore) as well as healthy meals and fresh juices.
By this time you’ll need some lunch, and you won’t find a better deal – or more delicious food – than that on offer at L’Asino d’Oro (Via del Boschetto, 73). Here, acclaimed Umbrian chef Lucio Sforza serves a set lunch menu of a soup, primo piatto (entrée) and secondo piatto (main course) all for €13 (about R227).
After a gloriously simple puréed-bean soup and delicate handmade pasta with artichoke pesto, I tucked into the most amazing dish of cuttlefish with tomatoes and peas.
Don’t have dessert here though – there are other sweet treats to be had close by, not least of which is gelato at Fatamorgana (Piazza degli Zingari, 5). Situated on a tiny, picturesque piazza with a church on one side and pretty window boxes of flowers all around, this lovely little gelateria sells a range of unusual flavours, including an almond-and-cardamom gelato that is, hands down, the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Monti has a number of other quaint stores that specialise in just one product, and it’s frequently made on the premises too. Check out the custom-blended teas and tisanes (herbal teas) at Il Giardino del Tè (Via del Boschetto, 107), the exquisite chocolates at La Bottega del Cioccolato (Via Leonina, 82) and the handmade candles at Candle Store (Via Urbana, 21).
For unusual handmade accessories and jewellery, head to LOL (Via Urbana, 89-92), which also sells laidback contemporary clothing for women. And up-to-the-minute menswear (think slim-cut trousers and witty printed T-shirts) and shoes are on offer at Subura (Via Urbana, 38), where half the store has drifted out onto a charming courtyard at the back. It’s too cool….
By now it will be time to relax with a drink and decide where to go for dinner. Have a Campari and soda at La Bottega del Caffè (Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, 5) as you watch people go by on the piazza. The aperitivo of fresh vegetable crudités on ice with an olive oil and coarse-salt dip is the ideal accompaniment.
There are lots of dinner options, both traditional and contemporary. For the latter, head to Sciué Sciué (Via Urbana, 56-57; sciuesciueroma.it), where I had excellent linguine with fresh sardines. If you’re in the mood for classic Roman specialities, try Osteria della Suburra (Via Urbana, 68-69). This is the place to order cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino and black pepper) or spaghetti carbonara – both of which originated in Rome – but I plumped (quite literally) for the zuppa alla suburra, a soup of vegetables, chickpeas and lentils, plus a plate of delicious polpettine di manzo al pomodoro (meatballs with tomato sauce). And a couple of glasses of Chianti, of course.
Fancy a nightcap? Head to Analemma (Via Leonina, 77), park yourself on one of their vintage sofas with a grappa or single malt, and plan the rest of your Roman holiday.
Away from Monti, Eat Like the Romans Do
One of the best ways to discover authentic Roman culture is by taking a food tour of one of the city’s oldest working-class neighbourhoods, Testaccio, often called the heart of Rome.
You’ll try Roman-style pizza sold by the slice, taste the wares of one of the city’s best pastry shops, Barberini (Via Marmorata, 43), eat a lunch that includes all three of Rome’s most famous pastas (cacio e pepe, carbonara and amatriciana), and learn all about authentic gelato. For more details and to book, visit eatingitalyfoodtours.com.
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