Unmissable tours of Rome; minus the queue!

“skip the line” & private tours in Rome

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.

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The Vittoriano, aka the “Wedding Cake” (some say it’s a monstrosity, but I think it looks pretty cool at sunset!)
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Piazza Venezia – we were lucky with the weather!

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 🙂

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The Colosseum deserted for once!

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.

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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.

Please note:

  • 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 :))

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Incredible view from the Bramante Staircase, Vatican Museum
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Possibly my favourite Bernini sculpture @ the Galleria Borghese, The Rape of Proserpina
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I was lucky enough to see the Azzedine Alaia “Couture/Sculpture” exhibition @ the Galleria Borghese, where the sculpted dresses seemed to blend seamlessly in with the ancient artworks

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

Travel safe : )

Mercury Rising in Rome; part due

Il Falchetto, Sapori Lord Byron, Casina Valadier

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. 


Ristorante Il Falchetto, Via di Montecatini,12

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!

 

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Our favourite table @ Il Falchetto

 

 

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!)

Travel Safe

Mercury Rising in Rome; part uno

Hotel Lord Byron, Rome

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. 

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trying not to melt @ Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune), Piazza Navona

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.

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The stunning entrance to the Hotel Lord Byron

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.  

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Feeling like a 1930s film star on the beautiful steps of the Lord Byron

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..

Travel, adventure, a roof terrace in Amsterdam & a whole lot of bubbles!

So, who is Charlotte and why does she want us to drink champagne with her?

Good question; and thanks for visiting my blog!

In this very first post, I’ll let you know why I’ve started this blog, and what you can expect to discover as I talk about my travel experiences & adventures, life as an expat in Amsterdam and.. of course… champagne!

Firstly, if you would like to read more about me personally and my background, click here; About Charlotte


So why this blog?

It has grown out of a passion for travelling, discovering the world, visiting stunning locations and taking time to enjoy life.  I realised I had so many photos, opinions and reviews which I can share to help enhance other people’s travels as well as my own.  Friends or colleagues often ask me for recommendations when they’ve booked their trip; where to go, what to see – and I decided it would be a great idea to have all this information in one accessible place.

This blog is for those of you who have made (or are thinking about making) the leap to a new town, a new country,  a new continent.  Maybe for a holiday, or perhaps for longer.  For jet setters, pioneers and adventurers, who want to discover new destinations or re-discover classic places (with a champagne glass in one hand!)

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to and live in incredible places during my adult life.  For the most part I try and travel with as much glamour and luxury as possible!  That’s not to say I haven’t stayed in many hostels in Australia during my 20s, and I’m no stranger to travelling huge distances on a Greyhound bus!  Alongside Michelin restaurants and relaxing poolside in luxury resorts, I love to go back to my rural upbringing and trek right into the heart of incredible country like the Badlands National Park, whether by foot or horseback.  Admittedly, there’s usually a glass of champers waiting for me at the end of it ; )

Travelling, especially as a solo traveller, has quite literally broadened my horizons and increased my confidence.  Most of all, it has allowed me to meet some incredible people from all over the world, some of whom have remained in my life as good friends.  I’ll be writing a post dedicated to travelling solo soon.. watch this space. 


And what about the champagne?

Like you, I’ve always enjoyed good food, wine and champagne, which for me go hand in hand with travel and adventures.  While not an expert by any means, I like learning about tasting, food pairings and which wines I prefer.

Different champagnes and wines also hold memories of evenings spent in fantastic company in beautiful places.  Even the design or picture of a special bottle can be very emotive.

I have had the opportunity to try many beautiful wines, and have usually taken photos of the bottles and made notes for myself.  I knew I wanted to make this a part of my blog.  As you read my posts, you’ll see recommendations and reviews of champagne and wines that we have really enjoyed.  As the blog develops, my intention is to have a dedicated champagne and wine section.  I’ll also recommend retailers in this area of expertise that I know and trust.


So what next?

As I discover new places, and re-visit favourites, I’m going to share my personal experience of hotels, resorts, restaurants and other activities.  I’ll let you know what I did and didn’t like, or things I don’t think you should miss.  As my friends will attest, I’m incredibly honest!  If I’ve really enjoyed something, I won’t hesitate to recommend it.  If there is room for improvement, I’m absolutely going to mention it.

As an expat living in Amsterdam – and still navigating my way in this strange new country –  I’ll also be writing lifestyle posts, with tips and advice on everything from looking for work, renting apartments, and retailers or sites that I’ve found useful while settling in here.

The main focus of Champagne With Charlotte is to provide what I hope will be useful information, interesting and entertaining topics, and to inspire you to travel somewhere new.  Maybe you’ll stay in a boutique hotel you wouldn’t have thought of, or try a hidden gem of a restaurant that you might have walked past before and not noticed.

Whether I’m writing about great bike rides in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, boutique hotels in Barcelona, or log cabins in the Badlands, the aim is always to share the adventure.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting about various travels, starting with a sweltering visit to Rome last weekend where the temperatures reached 41 degrees!  As I share my experiences and develop my blog, it would also be great to hear from you with recommendations or questions about the places I’m visiting.

Of course, I’ll also be blogging about adventures closer to home in Amsterdam, including the beautiful coastal town of Noordwijk aan Zee, and other parts of the Netherlands which are easily accessible from the City.

So… I’m going to start on that next post (probably over a glass of bubbly!).  In the meantime, in the words of Hunter S Thomson, “buy the ticket, take the ride”, and enjoy some adventures!

Travel safe!