- The sprawling elegance of the Villa Borghese Gardens – Living in the Northern quartiere, I consider the equisitely Italianate gardens of the Borghese nobility to be a little more central, but are a grand starting point to wander from the city centre (known as centro and pronounced – chen-tro) towards the North. From Piazza del Popolo, with Via del Corso behind you, head up the road that is on the right and wind up the paths to the beginning of the gardens. When you arrive, hopefully not too out of breath, head towards the “Pincio” viewing platform to treat your eyes to sprawling views of the city. Alternatively, you could start from destination 10 on this list and end up there last to view the sunset effusing over the city skyline. Whilst in Villa Borghese, go on a treasure hunt for a few special locations including:
- The water clock
- The world’s smallest cinema
- The seahorse fountain
- The Globe Theatre replica
- The Temple of Esculapius and the row boats
- Various galleries including your next stop…. (which you will have booked in advanced here)
2. The Historical Film Set that is Galleria Borghese
This is a must if want to feel like you have stepped onto a sumptous period movie set and swan about the various rooms. Although it is an art gallery, the building is actually from the legacy of the Borghese family who rose to prominence in the 17th Century. Their power was historically cemented through Camillo Borghese who was elected Pope Paul V and enriched their cultural wealth through grand buildings and mammoth hauls of art purchases. The gallery boasts all the big names: Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and Giovanni Bellini and sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (of Piazza Navona fame) and Canova. All of these masterpieces are housed in 24 frescoed rooms.
From the Galleria, meander through the symmetrical gardens to the back exit and head towards your next destination. You are now fully in the Trieste Quarter!
3. Il Quartiere Coppedè
If you have ever been to Barcellona and seen that wacky wonderland of Gaudí, you will appreciate how this early 20th century “quarter” transports you into the outlandish mind of its Art Nouveau architect, Gino Coppedè. Modelled off a grand cathedral, its religious imagery is undeniable: be sure to enter from the Piazza Buenos Aires to appreciate the complexity of the design. Brace your eyes to be drowned in detail: the Medici crest, frescoed facades, a small fountain on the left the represents a holy water font, an outdoor chandelier that is turned on at night.
As you wander towards the “Fontana delle Rane” (Frog Fountain), notice its bizzare chalice shape. Once again here, the religious imagery emerges: the cup is the Holy Grail and the frogs symbols of heresy. Even the layout of the street is in the shape of a cross.
Behind the fountain is Coppedè’s masterpiece dedicated to cities that were crucial to his artistic identity -Florence, Rome and Messina. The “Casina delle Fate” or Fairy House is burnished by the light that reflects off the golden mosaics. Its location at the top of the cross in the road is clearly an ostenatious movie to showcase his opus artis.
4. Villa Ada – Rome’s second largest villa with a hidden bunker
180 hectares of wild gardens, artifical lakes, a former noble residence, ruins and a bunker that hid the royal Savoy family in WWII, this place is a perfect stop for a picnic lunch in the Spring (your final stop). Formerly owned by King Vittorio Emanuele III, Villa Ada is rambling, wild and makes you forget that you are still very much in the upper class Art Nouveau area of the city. Get lost in the shaded paths, wander past the Egyptian embassy, the Temple of Flora, feed the ducks and don’t forget to find the bunkers, which you can enter by booking an exclusive private tour (here).
5. Lunch stop – Have a picnic in the villa.
Bring a ball, playing cards, a book and just enjoy the Spring atmosphere. You have sucessfully moved from being a tourist to hanging out in a local spot without the hoards of tourists. Sometimes, we try and do everything and are never truly present. You are, officially, a local.
From here, I normally walk to my house and collapse in a heap, but if you wish to continue your wandering, may it worth your while and grab some local desserts: head towards Viale Nemorense and try the most famous Millefoglie dessert in Rome at Cavalletti, or head up to Dolce to try the most decadent cheescakes or Marinari for divine pastries (trust me, they are all local favourites!).
The next 5 spots will be up this weekend! In the meantime, enjoy the wandering.
Un bacio x