An Italian Holiday Twenty-Five Years In The Making
Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in Italy—Rome, Florence and Venice. Displaying an unexpected romantic impulse, my husband arranged a second honeymoon trip this year. And it was splendid.
Rome is, of course, The Eternal City. I had forgotten just why. I was quickly reminded. Magnificent sites—antique and modern piled on top of one another. The Coliseum, larger than life. The Pantheon, one of the most beautiful buildings on earth. The Baths of Caracalla, imposing and fascinating.
The footprint of Saint Peter’s and the Vatican is enormous, and impressive—though somewhat diminished by the hordes that visit in September—plan in advance with a guide. Michelangelo’s Pieta is sublime, the Sistine Chapel celestial. The other churches, of which there are trillions, are also full of art. See some, but unless you are there for a while you may want to ration yourself. We did, and even so we saw uncountable versions of the Annunciation, the Christ child, the Crucifixion—and all different. Astonishing how brilliant the colors remain to this day.
There are also many museums—including a new one, the MAXXI, designed by Zaha Hadid. We walked there on our one rainy day. Not a brilliant walk but a brilliant structure if you like modern architecture. We do! Especially in juxtaposition to all those ancient classics.
Every piazza is lively. Piazza Navona, Piazza de Spagna and the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo are a few of our favorites. Engaging shops everywhere. As well as lovely places to have a drink and watch the scene.
And then there is the food. We had many fabulous meals, most in restaurants recommended by friends. One of our favorites was Quinzi et Gabrieli. Elegant looks and elegant service, in a lovely courtyard. Have the lobster with pasta. Another favorite was Hostaria da Pietro. Eat outside, in the street. Chewy Roman bread, olive oil, bitter greens and pasta. We knew we had to sample cacio e pepe before we left Rome, so we ordered it for lunch when we stumbled into Roma Sparita, in Trastavere. It was delicious, served in a parmesan bowl. (Do share—one bowl is sufficient for two.) We later learned that Anthony Bourdain felt warmly about this particular cacio e pepe, so we felt very smart. Ristorante Clotilde, located in another small, somewhat industrial courtyard, and all the better for that, was delightful. The restaurant offers excellent zucchini and artichokes and bread and wine. And then there was Ristorante Aroma. The view of the Coliseum, lit, at night, was incredible.
We stayed at Hotel de Russie, in recognition of the celebratory nature of the trip. Whether you stay there or not, do have a drink in the courtyard, one of the most celebrated in Rome. One night the bar was stocked with beautiful young people in evening clothes, part of the large retinue of a celebrity wedding. The others stayed in the other Rocco Forte hotel. Fun people-watching as their champagne flowed.
Then it was off to Florence—on the train, easy and quick. Again, I had forgotten how amazing Florence is. Brilliant art—and the tombs of the famous—in every church. Amerigo Vespucci is buried in the church near our hotel.
Museums are everywhere. The Uffizi Galleries is a bit overwhelming, but we loved its scenic cafeteria—new to us—with its huge terrace and amazing views. The Pitti Palace. The Bargello. Many more. Do not leave Florence without seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia. You may have seen him before but his purity and power amaze every time.
Do get outdoors. The Florentine light is luminous. Take a walk in the Boboli Gardens, named after the Bobolis, a little known and largely unseen lunar people who plainly had an appreciation for a commanding aspect and a great view.
Florence has good shopping too. The Ponte Vecchio remains a lively expression of commercial energy. and there are lots of fun little shops on it and all around it. Very nearby is the shop of our friend, Jennifer Tattanelli. Refined leather goods in every color. Somewhat more surprisingly, attractive acrylic drinkware is also sold in every color. And, in both Florence and Rome, you can find city-specific rubber duckies in their own stores. No idea why.
Of course, we ate well. Borgo San Jacopo is a stylish place, and if you plan ahead you can sit at one of four tables on a little balcony with an intimate view of the Arno. Blissful. Go for lunch to the Cantinetta Antinori. A sophisticated room in an old palazzo, with polished food and a fashionable clientele. Have some wine, obviously. If you are going for a Boboli walk, go to Osteria dell’Enoteca for lunch before or dinner after. Spare modern architecture in an old old building. Refined food. And ten steps from the entrance to the gardens.
A side trip to Fiesole, a small jewel of a town high in the hills near Florence, is also a fine idea. On the way up the hill, enjoy the sight of more enormous villas than one can count, and think about how you might get to know these people. Then go see Fiesole’s austere and commanding cathedral, its Roman amphitheater, its lively town square and stylish food shops.
We wandered, and then walked to the Villa San Michele, a transformed medieval monastery. The guest rooms that were former monks’ cells retain a sacerdotal feel, and there is a gorgeous terrace for dinner. Twenty five years ago we spent a night here, and the magic is unchanged even though the hotel has expanded. We watched the sun go down and the stars come out as we sipped prosecco, and had a marvelous dinner. So do go if you are in Florence. But on no account walk from Fiesole to the Villa, as we did—the walk, along a highway with no sidewalks and lots of parked cars, is perilous and petrifying.
My husband made it all happen—he is a fine travel agent/concierge trapped in the body of a lawyer. It was a great trip, and a superb way to celebrate twenty five years together.