“It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.” Erica Jon
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that we like to visit our favourite European cities in the quieter times of the year, during school term time and often during the colder months. If you are able to travel during these times – and you don’t mind some winter weather – you will discover a very different side to these beautiful and historical cities. In my first post about Venice, here, I talked about how it is perfectly possible to wander the canals and bridges without encountering crowds (and sometimes find yourself completely alone at night!). You just need to know the best times to travel and where to stay.
This month, my partner chose his Birthday weekend to visit Venice again (we needed an excuse to go back as we were having withdrawal symptoms 😆). This trip was all about relaxing, taking strolls around the city, and dining in fantastic restaurants. Of course with some Opera thrown in!
Read on to discover some more of my recommendations for this spectacular city..
“My heart remembers fountains where children played…
Gardens where dreams were made”
Of all the times to visit this magnificent city, Autumn is probably my favourite. The first time I visited Rome was at this time of year, and we have travelled there each October since (as well as summer and winter, of course 😊). For warm sunny weather (around 23/24°C) with fewer crowds, October in Rome is hard to beat. Tony Bennett (and Andy Williams and Peggy Lee….) felt the need to sing about it, and it’s easy to see why.
Read on to discover some more of my recommendations and dining highlights. Don’t forget to check out my previous Rome posts for more ideas and inspiration..
“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.” Alexander Herzen
Before I ever visited Venice, I had in my mind a beautiful and powerful city, of merchants and gondoliers and opera and art. A place from a bygone era, of great beauty and romance. I couldn’t wait to cross the quiet bridges in the evening, cutting through narrow alley ways on the way to a secret opera, dine in opulent surroundings overlooking the canals and wake to the beautiful sound of the water gently lapping outside my Juliet balcony.
Sounds a little unrealistic? Think again.. Venice can give you all those things and more. Especially if you visit out of season. In this post I’ll be writing about the hotel and restaurants I recommend, as well as a very special opera performance that is a must do if you are in town at the right time…
Where we stay
Boscolo Venezia (part of the Marriott Autograph Collection), Fondamenta Madonna dell’Orto, 3500, 30121 Venezia
We always get a private water taxi from the airport directly to the Boscolo hotel. Previously I’ve booked these in advance online, but there’s no real need to. As long as you’re at the official water taxi rank, they’re regulated, so can’t overcharge you. The one way trip should cost around €120. I’m always enjoying feeling like a Bond girl too much to notice how long it takes, but I think its around 15-20 mins! The driver will drop you and your luggage right outside the hotel doors (stilettos not recommended for getting in and out of the boat – although I wore them and I was fine!)
The hotel itself is set in an antique mansion, beautifully restored to a very luxurious standard, while recreating the opulent Venetian style of the 18th century. It’s in a very quiet part of Venice, which is lovely to walk around without the crowds. We’ve walked back to the Boscolo many evenings and felt like we had the city to ourselves.
We have stayed in Deluxe rooms and a Superior rooms. All were superb, and were right on the water. One of them had its own jetty, where we were dropped off after a trip to nearby Murano! The rooms and hotel are incredibly quiet, and very respectful of privacy. The room service is also excellent.
I highly recommend the Boscolo for the friendly staff, beautiful hotel, and location
Where we dined
Ristorante Fiaschetteria Toscana, Cannaregio 5719, Salizada S. Giovanni Grisostomo, 30121 Venezia
It’s easy to walk past this little restaurant on your way to or from the Rialto Bridge, without really noticing, as it has an unassuming facade. Don’t let that fool you – the food and service are first class. It’s become one of our favourite restaurants in Venice.
It’s been run by the Busatto family since the 1950s, and has retained its casual, family atmosphere.
The pasta dishes are some of the best I’ve had in Italy, and the fish is as fresh as it comes, creating an incredible display at the front of the restaurant.
The waiters will be happy to suggest a specific fish for you, and cook it in a simple and delicious way, with fresh vegetables. There is also a fantastic wine list & beautiful desserts.
Highly recommended for fresh delicious seafood and pasta in a friendly atmosphere
We first happened upon this restaurant when looking for a late dinner after an opera performance – and it couldn’t have been a more perfect setting. We sat towards the back of the restaurant, in a window next to the canal and had some lovely food and wine in the opulent Venetian surroundings.
The Bistrot has been around since 1993, but feels as though it’s been there forever. It’s beautifully decorated, with very attentive and knowledgable staff.
Bistrot de Venice has an incredible list of over 300 Italian & French wines (they also sell some of them online for shipment worldwide), and are recommended highly by TripAdvisor and Michelin. And me!
We have managed to get a table twice without a reservation, but that was after 10pm, and low season, so it’s probably advisable to book if you’re heading there earlier.
L’Alcova Restaurant @ Ca’Sagredo Hotel
The Ca’Sagredo Hotel is one of the Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) group (I reviewed the Lord Byron Hotel in Rome in a previous post), and I imagine is a beautiful place to stay. If I ever stay there for a change, I will let you know!
The L’Alcova Restaurant is intimate and refined, overlooking the Grand Canal and opposite the Rialto Market. We have always had the same table with a view of the water, as it’s our preferred spot.
The extensive menu has everything from traditional Italian pasta, to fresh fish from the markets, and specific Venetian dishes. Being Venice, most of the choices are fish and seafood based, and very well presented.
Pre-dinner bubbly @ Ca’Sagredo Hotel
We’ve had a couple of really lovely experiences here, and then one which wasn’t great. There were different staff, and the service and food just wasn’t up to the standard we had expected from previous visits. There wasn’t anyone there with knowledge of the wine list, and, especially at this price point, we would expect better.
I gave honest feedback to the Manager about our last visit, and received a very polite response, and a promise to use the feedback and improve things. We’re going to re-visit on the next trip to Venice, so watch this space!
I found out about the Musica a Palazzo on our 2nd trip to Venice, and I’ve now seen two of their three performances; La Traviata and Rigoletto. The operas take place in the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto, an incredible 15th Century palace on the Grand Canal.
The opera performers and orchestra move around the beautiful rooms of the palace with each act, and the audience moves with them. There is a short break for a glass of bubbly after the first act : ) As the audience size is small, it creates an intimate and interactive experience, which for me adds to the emotive experience of the opera.
I’ve seen La Traviata in the Royal Opera House in London, and to me this performance was just as professional and moving.
The performances take place on set days each week. The link above will take you to the website and full details. You need to pay a fee for membership of the Musica a Palazzo, which is €70 per person, and covers all opera performances you see at the Palazzo for a year.
This is a must do in my opinion when you’re in Venice. Book as far in advance as you can – the performances have been full both times I’ve been
In my next post about Venice, I’ll be talking about museums, palaces and of course, the San Marco Campanile!
It’s well known that we Brits don’t like to queue! Visiting the beautiful museums, seeing the architecture and learning about the history of a city can often mean long waiting lines, and hours spent moving between locations. In this post, I’ll talk about my favourite “skip the line” tours in Rome.
If you want to make sure you see the most important parts of Rome, while still having time for other important pursuits (shopping and a bottle of bubbly!), read on!
Colosseum Night Tour with Exclusive Underground Access (Walks of Italy)
When researching tours in Rome, Walks of Italy frequently pops up, as one of the most popular and well established tour companies. They’ve been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 4 years in a row, and have close to a thousand 5 star reviews on their website, so I was confident in booking this tour, even though our usual preference would be a more private one (website and full details in the link above).
We met around 8pm, just in time for sunset (we did this tour in August 2016). The website says that the tour will have a maximum of 24 people, which is a relatively small size. There were around 15 on ours (an interesting mix of all nationalities – mainly couples & families). You are given headsets to hear the guide the whole way round.
The initial walk around Piazza Venezia and up to the Capitoline Hill is a route I’ve walked before, but with a knowledgeable guide, it’s given a more interesting and historical context. The climax of the tour, and my reason for booking, is of course, being able to walk under the Colosseum at night. I won’t ruin your experience by describing this too fully, but in my opinion it’s a must do.
Because of the special access required, and small size of the tour group, it creates a very quiet atmosphere, which allows you to enjoy the majesty of the actual arena at night, and the macabre history of the tunnels underneath. You’ll see where the tigers in the movie, Gladiator, would have come up through the trap doors!
Overall – highly recommended and one of the best ways to experience the Colosseum. The tour finishes around 10:45pm (in the summer) – just in time for a late supper and a glass of vino 🙂
Visits to the Tomb of Saint Peter and the Necropolis under the Vatican Basilica
This tour can only be arranged through the Excavations Office (Ufficio Scavi) at the Basilica of St Peter’s, Here
The tours are set by the office at specific times when they have been granted the required permissions, so it seems to be hit and miss as to whether you will be able to do the tour during your trip.
We were lucky to get to do the tour in December 2016, after I emailed the office ahead of our trip. I was very flexible, and was prepared to do the tour on any day of our trip. If you have an idea of when you want to travel, and can book your travels around the tour, even better!
The tour size is maximum 12 people, which is quite small. The meeting point is at the Excavations Office, and you need to show your confirmation of your visit to the colourful Swiss Guards nearby.
The guide we had for the tour of the Necropolis is an archaeologist, who has specifically worked on this project, so was obviously very knowledgeable! The mausoleums have remained incredibly well preserved since the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with beautiful frescoes & mosaics, and the experience really feels like a walk through time.
Towards the end of the underground tour, you are given the opportunity to look through to what is known as the “graffiti wall” and view the glass case holding what are believed by many to be the bones of St Peter. You can have a look at a virtual tour of the Necropolis on the Vatican website before you go here: Virtual tour of the Vatican Necropolis
The total tour of all levels of the Basilica is around 1.5 hours – a fantastic experience which literally walks you through centuries of buried history, coming up through the Grottoes and finishing on the main floor of the current Basilica, for you to explore as you wish.
as per the note on the Scavi website, if you are at all claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend this tour! One lady who came down to start the tour with us was too uncomfortable even in the initial underground area, and decided wisely not to continue. The tunnels get a lot smaller as you go along!
It gets warm in the tunnels of the Necropolis, so wearing layers you can remove, and carrying some water would be a good idea
This is an excavation – so the ground is uneven! Wear walking or flat shoes. One lady on our tour did it in heels, which, while impressive, isn’t recommended!
Private tours of the Vatican Museums & The Galleria Borghese
On my first ever visit to Rome, In October 2015, we had a private tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. We booked it through Rome-museum.com (link & full details Here)
In November the same year, we did an incredible private tour of the Galleria Borghese, booked through City Wonders, Here (€199 for 2 adults)
For both tours, we had very knowledgeable female guides, who spoke fluent English, were well-travelled, and of course had a degree or two in Art History!
If this is the first time you are visiting the above locations, I think its well worth doing a private tour. They are quite expensive, but can’t be beaten for the detailed descriptions of the artworks and history, and being able to learn alongside someone who is so passionate about the museums and art. Aside from this, you will be skipping the lines for tickets, avoiding crowds, and moving a lot more quickly between locations.
Even with some history of art behind me, I would have found the Vatican Museums & Galleria overwhelming if we hadn’t been expertly guided through them. Having gained a better understanding of the art & artists I’m now be more confident going back to these locations and exploring them more in my own time.
Apparently if you stood in front of each single exhibit in the Vatican Museum for a certain number of seconds, the vast amount of objects would mean that you would be lost in there for years! (I can’t remember the exact amount, but I would rather have an interesting tour, see the most important art, and be finished in time for lunch :))
I hope this gives you some inspiration for fantastic tours to integrate into your next trip to Rome. Feel free to contact me Here for any more info
Following on from my previous post where I talked about our stay in Rome last weekend, here are some of our dining highlights for you to try!
Where we ate
Il Salotto Lounge bar & Restaurant Sapori del Lord Byron, at the Hotel Lord Byron (for my full review of the hotel, please see my previous post here)
After arrival, we headed downstairs to the lounge bar for a pre-dinner bottle of bubbly. The lounge is beautifully decorated, as with the rest of the hotel, with sumptuous furnishings & paintings in an Art Deco style. It is restful and cool, in dark, rich colours.
Taking advice from the barman (who later told us he has worked at the Lord Byron for 15 years), we chose a bottle of Cuvee Annamaria Clementi Ca’ del Bosco, 2004, an elegant and mature Franciacorta. This came expertly served with the perfect amount of elegant nibbles & blinis. If you would like more details of the wine, click the name above which will take you to the data sheet on the Ca’del Bosco website.
It was the perfect relaxation time in a cool quiet lounge after our flight from Amsterdam and taxi ride.
When we came down for dinner, we basically had the whole place to ourselves, which was an unexpected luxury for us – maybe not so good for the restaurant business!
The menu has some interesting dishes, with a mix of traditional and more contemporary options. I had the beetroot carpaccio salad to start, then a lovely spaghettoni dish. I usually find two courses are enough for me in Italian restaurants, especially if I have a dessert! Everything was fresh, perfectly cooked and tasty.
The barman I mentioned is friendly, relaxed, and very knowledgable around the wine cellar and list, as well as an excellent host at dinner. Unfortunately even he couldn’t persuade us to drink grappa after the meal!
We discovered that this restaurant was once Michelin starred, and very popular with the rich and famous in its day. I hope that it returns to this status at some point under Executive Chef Jean Luc Fruneau. It’s well worth a visit whether staying at the Lord Byron or otherwise for a luxurious dining experience.
Casina Valadier, Piazza Bucarest
This was our second time dining at Casina Valadier, a beautiful 19th century building in the Villa Borghese park. We previously dined in in the Restaurant Vista, which has incredible views from the third floor. This time, we were on the first floor, the Terrazze floor, in an outside area, with a view over Rome and St Peter’s Basilica. It was the perfect spot in such balmy weather.
After a cold glass of Pommery Brut, I had a baked buffalo ricotta, which was really good, but I hadn’t really looked properly at the menu and later realised that it had courgette flowers in it. It was a bit too floral for me! We shared a first course of delicious fusilli pasta, and then I went for the sea bass medallion. It was all well presented and delicious.
The recommended wine pairing of Venica & Venica Ronco delle Mele Sauvignon 2016, went perfectly with both main courses.
I would highly recommend Casina Valadier for dinner with a view in a beautiful location.
We first discovered this restaurant in late 2015, when looking for a lunch spot after sightseeing and shopping. It is now one of our firm favourites in Rome. We will never go to Rome without stopping in for a late lunch. You’ll see one of their friendly waiters at the end of Via di Montecatini with a menu, trying to entice you off the crowded hectic shopping street of Via del Corso. My advice is to definitely go in!
Il Falchetto recently celebrated its centenary, and I don’t think it will be going anywhere for the next 100! We love it for the friendly and professional staff, excellent food & drinks, and relaxing family atmosphere and location. We can easily while away 3 hours here ordering various things from the menu and enjoying their impressive wine list!
The menu offers the traditional Italian dishes such as strozzapreti carbonara or lasagne (catering for tourists like us!), made with delicious home-made pasta, as well as more interesting modern twists on dishes from Rome and beyond. One of my favourites is the spaghetti with pecorino cheese and black pepper. I’m getting hungry just writing about it!
The staff mostly know us as we have become regulars whenever we visit Rome, and we always feel welcome! I’ll talk more about them in future posts, but if you see Francesco, definitely mention you know me! 🙂
We had an incredible franciacorta here last weekend, Brut la santissima 2010 (Castello di Gussago / lombardia). If I drank it with a blindfold, it could almost be a champagne, it was so rich and with very soft bubbles. For €35, it’s well worth trying.
Overall – potentially our favourite restaurant in Rome – I’ll be talking about it more in future posts. Do not leave Rome without paying them a visit!
Other eateries worth mentioning on this trip!
Spice & Wine Bistro, Via della Lungaretta
One of those places we just happened upon during a warm evening stroll in the Trastevere area. Tucked away from the main streets in a corner with a nice outside area, which gives the impression of a secret garden. We were given a delicious starter with various Italian meats and cheese. They have a great menu, including pizzas, and the service was very good. They have a surprisingly large wine “bible” and extensive cellar. We chose a nice Flaccianello Della Pieve 2011.
Well worth visiting for a late evening meal and great wine after a stroll around Trastevere
Ristorante Panzirone, Piazza Navona 73
Foodies and purists I’m sure will tell you that the many pizzerias and ristorantes dotted around Piazza Navona are “tourist traps” and not really worth blogging about. In fact, I am a tourist, and we have found some of our favourite meals in Rome by stopping in random little places as we take in the sights.
This is one of our favourites on the Piazza, and we’ve been back a few times. It’s a perfect spot to watch the world go by with a backdrop of the beautiful fountains and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone (I’ll be covering my favourite churches in a separate post)
Good food, friendly staff, and a nice selection of Italian wines & drinks. They also have water misting fans, which are a godsend in the hot weather!
So.. I hope this gives you some initial ideas of where to eat when in Rome.. Im signing off now for Saturday night champagne time at home, with a lovely bottle of Arteis & Co Extra Brut!
I’ll be posting again soon with details of incredible tours for you to do in Rome (including going under the Colosseum at night!)
Sitting at my desk on a pretty gloomy Amsterdam day, its hard to imagine that a few days ago I was in Rome, attempting not to melt in an average temperature of 41°C! I visit Rome on average probably 3 times a year, but this is the hottest I have known it. Apparently they have been having daily average temperatures in the mid to late 30s since July. While it’s nice to experience as tourists for a couple of days, I think the restauranteurs and wait staff are desperate for a break in the heat!
On this trip to one of our favorite cities, we took it easy and did less sight seeing than normal, heading out later in the afternoon, as at times it was just too hot. And not just for English people.. I saw a couple of Australians wilting as well! Of course, then, there’s nothing to be done but pull up a chair at a nearby ristorante and watch the world go by over bruschetta and a nice Chianti.
Where we stayed
The Hotel Lord Byron, Via Giuseppe de Notaris
This was our first stay at this hotel – a departure from our usual choice of the Boscolo Exedra (one of the Marriott Autograph collection – which I’ll review in another post).
The Lord Byron is a 1930s villa which has been refurbished to an incredible 5* standard, with gorgeous Art Deco style furnishings, sculptures and detailing. The first thing we noticed is how quiet the area is – at the Northern side of the Villa Borghese park, in a quiet enclave opposite the Belgian Embassy.
The entrance to the hotel not so much screams but firmly states that this is a place of luxury. The wrought iron gates, with travel quotations on both sides, give way to an immaculate carpeted stairway to the main door.
The check-in experience was welcoming and efficient, and we were presented with our huge brass antique-style key to the room. Whenever we left the hotel, we left the key at reception as suggested, since it would be clunky to carry around. We were only given one key to the room, but I’m sure you can request another if needed.
The lift in the hotel is just as antique & Art Deco as the rest of the building – beautifully designed but tiny and slow. Expect to be waiting a while if you’re on a higher floor!
Our room had been upgraded to what I think was a junior suite, with a separate living room and walk in wardrobe. It was beautifully presented, spacious, with a gorgeous bathroom, incredibly comfortable bed and most importantly, very efficient air conditioning! (this isn’t always the case – even in upscale hotels. It’s either too hot or too cold for me). Once we set the temperature we were able to just leave it ticking over. With soaring temperatures outside, the room was our oasis of cool decadence.
Any decor which includes pictures of Audrey Hepburn gets the thumbs up from me!
The housekeeping was efficient, and as with the best hotels, obviously performed by actual fairies. When we came back to our room after dinners in the evenings, a magical turn-down service had taken place, with slippers laid out and the room tidied. This hotel really respects the privacy of its guests.
Location & transport
We organised a private car transfer from the airport via email to the concierge prior to travelling. The car was on time and efficient, costing €80 each way.
The hotel is a nice 10 minute walk into the actual Villa Borghese park. Turn left out of the hotel, then right onto Via Adolfo Cancani. You’ll walk past the British School and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea.
Both because of the location at the North of the park, and because of the heat, we mainly used taxis to get around. If you visit in cooler temperatures, you may prefer the walk, taking in more sights on the way. To give an indication – the hotel would be around a 30-40 minute walk to Piazza Navona or the Pantheon.
The reception staff will have a taxi for you within 2 minutes outside the hotel, so there is no need to book in advance. Taxis around Rome are reasonable (around €8 from the hotel to Piazza Navona) and for the most part, the drivers know exactly where they are going!
We didn’t use the local trams to get around but the concierge or reception staff can provide you with all the details and are very helpful. There is a tram stop a short walk from the hotel.
The only slight issue at the hotel was that the pin machine didn’t accept an ABN AMRO bank card from the Netherlands, which had been accepted all over Rome. The Lord Byron have said that they will look into the issue and try and resolve it with their bank. I’ll update you on this on our next visit. Just to be aware, especially if you’re travelling from the Netherlands, you may need to carry some extra cash in the meantime.
Overall, this hotel comes highly recommended for a luxurious and decadent stay in Rome in a beautiful and peaceful part of the city.
We booked the Hotel Lord Byron for 4 nights through lastminute.com
I’ll let you know about the restaurants I visited in the next part of this post.. coming shortly..