Magazine article The Spectator

NOTES ON . . . Romey

Magazine article The Spectator

NOTES ON . . . Romey

Article excerpt

Leave Florence and Sienna to the aesthetes. Let the in-crowd do Naples and Palermo. For the amateur Italophile, Rome is the destination. The eternal city is endlessly glorious, chaotic, stylish and funny: where else do you see nuns listening to iPods? Or medieval churches with condom machines by the doors?

You can barely walk ten feet without coming across something that might change your life: obelisks, piazzas, churches, gardens and statues. All that antiquity makes Roman Catholicism seem distinctly modern. And there's the hotels. I spent a Friday night in Rocco Forte's Hotel de Russie on the Via del Babuino, near the Spanish steps, slap-bang in the best part of town. The room was more of a suite, or what a London estate agent would call a spacious nine-bedroom apartment. Out back, you could sit and drink in the Secret Garden, surrounded by trees and birds and surgically enhanced septuagenarians, and feel like an emperor - or a mafia don.

The next two nights, I stayed at the Hotel D'Inghilterra, so-called because it was a res idence for 19th-century British romantics who wanted to hang out with Keats and Shelley. It is less grandiose, but equally charming. There is a James Bond bar where they played soft jazz. Not exactly 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', but groovy nonetheless.

From there, I took a tour of the Vatican Museum. My Italian guide was called Fulvio De Bonis. Fulvio looked considerably less Italian than me. He was about 6 ft 4 and had red hair ('fulvo means ginger, ' he told me proudly). He was great: enthusiastic, expert, completely unpretentious - and pally with the Vatican security, which meant we were able to visit certain chambers that the rest of the crowd weren't allowed into. …

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