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18/01/2016

Rome for Romance

There’s no finer place to pursue everlasting love than the Eternal City. To make sure that path runs smooth, Roman resident, food writer and author of more than 20 books on the city, Katie Parla, plans a heart-warming weekend of crowd-outsmarting activity, exquisite eating and amore.

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You can’t spell romance without Roma, and the Italian capital’s undeniable beauty makes it a natural backdrop for an amorous getaway. Of course, the city’s iconic sites – like the newly restored Trevi Fountain or the millennia-old Colosseum – have obvious appeal, but they also come with predictable crowds. For a more intimate approach to the city, head to its lesser-known sites and collections, where you may find you have Renaissance halls and Baroque art galleries all to yourselves. The Villa Farnesina (pictured) in the charming Trastevere rione, for example, attracts far fewer visitors to its frescoed spaces. The 16th-century villa was built for the spectacularly wealthy banker Agostino Chigi, who employed the era’s leading artists and architects – Raphael among them. Chigi commissioned Raphael to paint the ground floor entrance hall with scenes depicting the tumultuous engagement and subsequent marriage of Cupid and Psyche, an allegory for his own well-publicised relationships.

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From Trastevere, follow Via Garibaldi uphill to the summit of the Janiculum Hill. As you climb, the mosaic of Rome’s terra cotta rooftops will appear, revealing scattered church domes across the skyline. The finest views are from the so-called Il Fontanone, a large decorative fountain built by Pope Paul V, and from the nearby Piazza Garibaldi.

A short walk away, the grounds of Villa Pamphili (pictured) – Rome’s largest landscaped public park – are ideal for a hand-in-hand stroll. From the main entrance near Porta San Pancrazio, wander the umbrella pine-shaded paths, recline in the shadow of the 17th-century Pamphilj palace, and pause at the turtle pond. In warmer weather bring a picnic lunch, or visit Antico Arco near the park entrance for updated Roman classics like cacio e pepe with fried squash blossoms and carbonara with black truffles.

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Down the hill and across the Tiber river, the Galleria Doria Pamphilj (pictured) is housed within the city’s largest privately owned palace. The gilded halls of the family-owned estate are embellished with masterpieces in oil and marble. Fittingly, the vast collection grew through marriages between noble clans and, in spite of its richness, the gallery manages to feel personal and intimate.

With the evening upon you, it’s time to toast to each other with a refreshing apéritif atop the nearby Grand Hotel de la Minerve, which affords unmatched views over the Pantheon’s dome, then round off the day’s impassioned pursuits with memorable dinner à deux. For an all-out affair, make it Michelin-starred Metamorfosi. Here, amidst atmospheric low lighting and warm woods, esteemed chef Roy Caceres and his team transform seasonal Italian ingredients into contemporary dishes like smoked Wagyu beef and a show-stopping seafood Abruzzo spaghetti. For an equally celebratory supper on a less extravagant scale, Salumeria Roscioli is an acclaimed wine bar and restaurant in Rome’s historical centre. Pair the excellent-value sparkling wine list with oysters, raw shrimp, or soft burrata cheese served with half-tart, half-sweet semi-sundried tomatoes.

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Hearts and stomachs suitably full, it’s time to retire. Try boutique hotel Campo de’ Fiori, its 23 warmly furnished rooms accessioned with tapestries, oil paintings and antiques. Try to nab a top-floor suite for canopy beds, frescoed ceilings and private terraces. Alternatively, make your love nest the five-star Hotel Raphaël (pictured), a grand ivy-covered ‘maison’ which does double duty as a hotel and art museum, teeming with antiques and artifacts – not least Mayan art and Picasso ceramics – with several suites designed by American architect Richard Meier.

While breakfast in bed has to be the order of the day the next morning, do make time later on to drink in the panoramic views of the city from Raphaël’s rooftop bar and restaurant, spanning the Pantheon to St. Peter’s Basilica. Minutes from the Piazza Navona, it’s also wonderfully placed for the city’s main sites and, busy with other lovers though they may be, no tryst of a trip is entirely complete without taking in at least one of these classic attractions:

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  1. Trevi Fountain One for the family album. As mentioned, you won’t be the only pilgrim to this classic Hollywood setting, but it’s worth tossing in a coin for tradition’s sake and attempting a Dolce Vita-esque embrace there while you’re at it.
  2. Ponte Milvio While the many padlocks signifying love ever-after which once adorned this famous bridge have since been removed, it still stands as a symbol of Rome’s many romances. Go after-dark for an enchanting view of the river Tiber.
  3. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Plush red velvet, cosy boxes and rousing contralto: who can resist a night at the opera? If you, or your other half, can, Rome’s iconic 19th-century theatre also plays host to ballet and theatre.

But Rome is for life – not just for Valentine’s. Try our guide to Easter in the Eternal City too.

Katie Parla’s forthcoming cookbook, Tasting Rome, is published March 2016.

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