In his memoir, the artist Giorgio de Chirico writes, “It is said that Rome is the center of the world and Piazza di Spagna is the center of Rome.” Not much has changed since he lived near the Spanish Steps, and the area is still a bustling destination. In fact, not much ever changes in Rome and Italians are proud of it too! The city is marvelously elegant, paradoxically modern and old world, yet seemingly impervious to trends. In recent years, it has been tidied up and the winding streets of sanpietrini cobblestones are trash free, with nary a graffiti stroke to be seen. Central Rome is benignly devoid of serious crime and it’s safe to walk the streets at night.
Spending most of September at an Airbnb apartment a block away from Piazza di Spagna, there was time to discover Rome’s wonders and marvels at every turn. Evenings were devoted to long walks as we joined locals who were out and about in droves, many with arms linked together and happily chatting away — and the rare sight, or in this case, the non-sight of mobile phones that were mostly tucked away.
Found nowhere else in the world, this architectural abundance of sublime masterpieces of antique, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings, are like so many gems overflowing a treasure box. Adding more pleasure to the eye, Romans are world renowned for their sprezzatura — looking effortlessly chic. Turns out the French did not invent the effortless look, and reading about Catherine de Medici or the Florentine Renaissance makes it apparent that much of early French art and culture was influenced by the Italian.
Enjoying splendid meals, spending time with family and friends, taking pride in looking and feeling the best you can — call it la dolce vita if you like. The pleasures of life, like the city itself, are eternal.
Some places to visit in and around Piazza di Spagna…
Synonymous with Italian luxury goods, the renowned establishment was founded by a Greek silversmith in 1884, which is considered rather recent by Roman standards. At Bulgari on Via Condotti, you can sit on the very same velvet couch where Elizabeth Taylor sipped champagne and added to her jewelry collection, Richard Burton at her side. He famously quipped that Bulgari was the only Italian she knew. Taylor’s bejeweled gold Serpenti watch can be had in a similar stainless steel version for about the cost of an entry level Rolex. Just saying.
Pentastudio Roma, Italian Interior Design Consultation
Maybe it’s time to sprinkle some Italian design magic on your home renovation project?
If you’ve ever admired the artistry of sleek Italian home interiors and wished you could incorporate those design elements in your own home, well, now you can. This top firm designs super-elegant houses and apartments throughout the Eternal City, Italy, and abroad, and Partner Roberto Tripi helps foreign English speakers source the latest in Italian kitchen, bath and lighting products, expertly tailored to their project. He can work from your dream house doodle to professional specs, and help you accomplish anything from a masterplan to a kitchen renovation that’s doable in the U.S. or elsewhere.
Hosteria del Mercato Restaurant and Biosupermarket
The Hosteria biosupermarket is a small but excellent organic shop where you can find daily provisions or buy pre-made food to go, made fresh on a daily basis. Connected to the biosupermarket is a large and popular neighborhood restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating. If you’re looking for a daily greens infusion, you can opt for the juice bar where for 5 euros you can get a freshly squeezed take-out drink.
Simona Floris Painting Restoration
Tucked away in the secret garden on Via Margutta — well, not so secret but one now needs a key to enter the area — is not only the balcony where Audrey Hepburn posed in Roman Holiday, but a vine and plant covered Shangri-la which was once home to flourishing artists and artisans. Now, many of the fine artisanal workshops are disappearing, but Simona Floris has been restoring paintings for an international clientele in her via Margutta studio for over 37 years. She works on everything from modern art to old masters. The day we visited, she was restoring a painting from 1786. The glorious artwork (I’m not allowed to identify it) was headed for a major auction house.
Known as the most romantic street in Rome — a high bar indeed — Federico Fellini and his wife Giulietta Masina lived at number 110 Via Margutta. The vine covered walls of this street are lined with shops, antique stores, restaurants, and huge courtyard doors suitable to swing open and allow horsemen in full gear to pass through. Behind one of these gigantic double doors lies a courtyard and the secret, gated garden mentioned above. An antique wood restorer I met informed me that the garden complex was recently sold to an Italian developer, and will soon be torn down and transformed into a luxury hotel.
Grand Hotel Plaza
A grand hotel in old-world style which translates to refinement and plush comfort. There’s no mold-mustiness or faulty plumbing in this luxury venue, sparklingly renovated to modern conveniences. An in-the-know spot for Romans is the 5th floor Terrace Bar Accademia di Francia, a room with a view where one can get an expertly mixed cocktail or an espresso pick me up (remember Romans NEVER drink cappuccino in the afternoon). If you’re looking for the Rome of classic Italian films, you can still find it here.
Reminiscent of hippie trail wear, women’s clothing in splashy prints and jewel toned fabrics are designed in Italy and manufactured in India but look more like the hybrid lovechild of a Palm Beach hook-up with St. Tropez. Long cotton shift dresses to wear around the house (and while writing this article) at the equally comfy 30 euros or so price point are rock-bottom for the artfully designed and often lace saturated garments that would be perfect for lounging on a yacht, poolside at Villa d’ Este, or equally suited for sitting in front of an Apple desktop.
Bottega Tredici: Il Laboratorio Delle Cose Buone
The buzz is accelerating when it comes to this new restaurant where most ingredients are locally sourced, artfully arranged, and plain delicious. Each morsel has layers of flavor. Nordically inspired perched-on-stones appetizers, a loaf-ball of freshly baked bread, a bottle of Monte Rossa sparkling wine to accompany the main course — this restaurant excels. The website says it all: Italian culinary tradition married with the modernity of our times.