Magazine article The Spectator

All Roads Lead to Rome

Magazine article The Spectator

All Roads Lead to Rome

Article excerpt

It's ridiculous, I know, but there I was in my late forties rueing the fact that I'd never been to Rome. I'd hate you to think that I was a complete philistine, however, for I have been to Venice dozens of times (I even got engaged there, thanks to a Bellinifuelled rush of blood to the head in Harry's Bar). I also know Florence, Siena, Milan, Naples, the Amalfi coast and so on. Somehow, though, Rome had slipped through the net.

'It's like ignoring Gina Lollobrigida because you're distracted by Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale, ' mused my Italian-film-buff mate Mark. 'No crime in that. But if this gap in your education bothers you, then go.' It did, so I went.

A quick call to my new favourite travel agent, Kirker Holidays, and Marina and I were booked into the reassuringly swish and swanky Hotel de Russie for the weekend.

This, we were told, was the favoured Roman hangout of George Clooney and Brad Pitt (the news of which put quite a spring in Mrs Ray's step) not to mention Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts (which put quite a spring in mine).

The Russie certainly ain't cheap, but it's a fab, elegant spot, located yards from the Piazza del Popolo. The grub is superb and the wine list extremely drinkable. A supplementary list -- I Vini Delle Stelle -- features wines produced by stars such as Mick Hucknall, Francis Ford Coppola, Gérard Depardieu, Bob Dylan and Carole Bouquet. We made fair inroads into this during our stay, agreeing that the excellent Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from racing driver Jarno Trulli was our pick of the pops.

We didn't spend all our time eating and drinking, although Marina did her best to divert us into every gelateria, osteria or enoteca that we passed. 'Might as well, ' she'd say. 'When were we last in Rome?' My chum, Elizabeth, who once lived here, sent us three suggested itineraries. So detailed and concise were they, we didn't even bother to buy a guidebook.

Her first walk took us from the Spanish Steps down Via Condotti (shops and boutiques galore), Via Borghese and Via Marzo to the Pantheon, the remarkable circular temple built by Hadrian in AD119-128, complete with oculus (gaping hole in the roof to you and me).

Then to Piazza Novona, a vast bustling square once used for chariot racing, now filled with the same crap painters and paintings that you find in Montmartre and along the Green Park railings on Sundays. …

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