Rome certainly not only lived up to, but exceeded my expectations. I was scared of going in winter, I don’t much like the cold, but it was fine – some nice leather gloves, a scarf and a jacket did the trick.
The location of the boutique hotel we stayed at could not be beaten. Literally at the foot of the Spanish Steps in the popular and trendy Spagna area. It is called The Inn at the Spanish Steps and they have a sister hotel right next door, The View at the Spanish Steps. We walked everywhere, but still: in five days, I gained two kilograms! The food was so fantastic and fresh, plus, off course we had a glass of wine with lunch AND dinner! (Btw, Rome is famous for Carbonara, be sure to have some while you are here!)
The quaint little streets and alleys, with surprisingly big brand shops hidden around, were a treat. They also had their winter sales on and the bargains amazed me. This is also where I appreciated going in winter, outside of the normal tourist seasons – because the streets are small and narrow, it gets crowded very easy. Even with not even half the normal number of tourists around, it was very busy.
Rome Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour
We did the hop-on hop-off and it was great for visiting all the famous sites, like the Trevi Fountain, the Coloseum, Vatican City etc. You can buy tickets at the numerous sellers and booths across Rome. If you are not pressed for time. Like we were, you could also just visit these sites on your own. At all the sites (and the booths) you can buy “Skip the line” tickets from tour guides. Everywhere was busy, even in the off season, so this is a great way to save yourself from wasting time in a que, plus you could get a guide to show you around and explain things. There are also numerous audio tours if you prefer to go on your own.
You can easily blow your whole budget by buying things you don’t need because the sales are so good. My friend referred me to the Castle Romano Designer Outlet, just outside Rome and luckily we decided to make a day of it, as it is full of top brand stores with items on sale for between 30% – 70% off. If you are into shopping and fashion, I would recommend this place. You can buy tickets for the shuttle bus online OR at the stops (which was not clear on the website). If you do buy it online, you will need to print them out, which may be tricky if you are travelling (our hotel had to print it for us). The stop at 48 Via Ludivisi is only a few blocks from the Inn at the Spanish Steps!
Apart from the outlets and boutiques in Rome, there are many local shops that sell real Italian leather goods, cashmere etc. for much lower prices. If you are just after some quality items and don’t care for brands, then you will love these shops! The area around the Spanish Steps are full of both boutiques and these kinds of shops, as well, off course, restaurants and cafes!
Day trip to Amalfi Coast and Pompeii
We booked our semi-private tour to these UNESCO World Heritage sites through Tripadvisor with a company called Welcome Italy. Both our driver, Stefano, and guide, Edda were fantastic. There was only one other, lovely couple with us on this tour.
At Pompeii we met up with a local guide from Naples, called Hector, who was both funny and charming. I also saw the biggest lemons I have ever seen in my life! They make Limoncello from these – a palate cleanser or after-dinner drink. The wind out in the open can be icy and I am very thankful for my beanie, that I pulled down over my ears.
For lunch we visited a lovely estate in the national park at the foot of the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. The estate, Tenuta Le Lune el Vesuvio, produces, amongst others, an award winning wine, Lacryma Christi, as well as local produce, fava beans, apricots, broccoli and the famous Vesuvius tomatoes, know as spongillo or piennolo. They also have donkeys, horses, ponies and goats and you can take a leisurely stroll around the estate. We enjoyed a lunch, made from local products and wine tasting before heading to the Amalfi Coast.
Even in winter, the Amalfi coast is a wonderful scenic drive. Positano, Amalfi and the numerous small villages along the way are very unique. A lot of the shops are closed out of season though, but we did manage to find a few, including a pottery shop, open. If you get car sick, this may not be a good idea for you as the roads are narrow and winding, and cars can barely squeeze by one another in some places.
This was a long day, pick-up was at 6:30am and we only got back after 9pm, but totally worth it!
We had a late, last dinner in Rome of a magnificent Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail with carrots and celery) – yum! No wonder I gained so much weight…
I already miss this place!
We found the Italians we met to be very friendly and warm people, passionate about their food and country. Next time I’m in Italy, I’ll be visiting Tuscany for sure!
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