Exploring the city by foot, through its cobbled streets and winding paths, Martin Love and family discovered la dolce vita in beautiful art, cultural classics and sublime pizza.
If you have children who are in Year Four, you’ll know about the horrors of the ‘Roman project’. The nine-year-olds, at our school at least, do the project in the spring term and the extended piece of homework brings out the worst in their competitive parents, who go into battle wielding scissors, industrial-sized Pritt sticks, armfuls of library books and computer printouts. On the day the projects are handed in, the playground is crowded with matchstick Colosseums, scale-model chariots and boys in full gladiator costumes. As each of my three children (Liberty, Rufus and Vita) have passed through Year 4 – they are now 18, 16 and 11 – my wife and I have learnt more than we ever wanted to know about the labyrinthine functioning of the Senate, Nero’s sexual excesses, the miserable life of a slave and the washing habits of ordinary Romans. We have even cooked an ancient Roman breakfast (essentially porridge followed by eggy bread).
After so much suffering, we figured the time was right for us to have a family holiday in Rome or, as that great sage of our times Googlus Translaticus would put it, ‘Tempus familia in ferias Romae’. Thanks to a reasonable offering from easyJeticus, I booked the flights.
Location, location, location
My wife Juliet (a pleasingly Roman name) stuck a pin in the map and came up with a place just off the Campo de’ Fiori, which to our kids’ great good fortune turned out to be the party centre of the Centro Storico – the ancient city. The two bedroom apartment had a tiny kitchen, rattling aircon and a surprisingly decent bathroom; more importantly it was 25 feet from a pizza restaurant and about 20 feet from a brilliant ice-cream shop. We planned our holiday for the last week of August.
Before we went everyone I mentioned it to told me the city was a nightmare at that time, that it was deserted and the only vendors left in town were rip-off merchants, that the kids would be bored and if all that didn’t finish us off we’d probably die of heat stroke. They were all wrong on all counts. It wasn’t deserted, it’s not outrageously expensive, the kids loved it (intravenous pizza and ice cream, how could they not?) and the heat was perfectly tolerable – you just have to drink a lot of cold beer and eat a lot of long lunches.
These days, Rome is keen to accentuate the fact that it is more than just a vast museum of antiquity. There are contemporary art spaces, an open-air music and film festival, modern restaurants. But we took no notice. You can get all of that at home. What you can’t get is the most extraordinary jumble of ancient monuments packed into winding cobbled streets, polka-dotted with stunning piazzas.
It’s a cliché to say that Rome is a living museum dripping with history and architectural marvels at every turn, but it’s true. It’s the ‘eternal city’ and that’s what we wanted to see.
Planning an itinerary in Rome is pretty straightforward. There is a hit list of classics that simply must be ticketed off.
One of the most gob-smacking buildings you will ever stroll into. It’s Rome’s best-preserved ancient edifice – built first as a temple more than 2,000 years ago, it’s been a church for a mere 1,400 years. Its perfect, hemispherical dome will have even surly teenagers gazing upwards and scratching their heads in awe.
Amble through Piazza Navona, past the incredible Trevi Fountain, made famous by Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (and where, it’s said, if you throw a coin over your shoulder you’ll return to the city). On to the Spanish Steps, Keats died of consumptionand today’s tourists are fleeced of their ice-cream money.
One ticket gets you into both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It’s really is worth booking online before you leave for Italy. Print off your ticket and wave it in the sweating faces of your fellow tourists as you head for the front of the queue.
Built by the emperor Vespasian on the site of the reviled Nero’s artificial lake in AD72, the Colosseum is every bit as impressive as you might hope. The bloody horrors its stones have witnessed over the centuries still make the hairs stand up on your neck.
The Vatican museum houses one of the most lavish art collections in the world. Corridor after corridor, which seem to run for miles, are crammed with statues, paintings and tapestries. Next stop the Sistine Chapel.
St Peter’s nextdoor truly is astounding. It can accommodate 60,000, the floor area is bigger than two football pitches, it contains Bernini’s baldacchino of 1633 – at 66ft the world’s largest free-standing bronze sculpture – and La Pietà, the most moving statue you will ever see. Michelangelo carved it when he was just 25 and it was the only piece of work he ever signed. For the best views of the city be sure to climb the curving 360-step staircase that takes you to the top of the dome.
Where to stay
Hotel Campo de’ Fiori (+39 06 6880 6865) has doubles from around £90.
For a cheaper option, try the Hotel Santa Maria (+39 06 589 4626) has family rooms from £124, including breakfast.
When to go: Capital of Italy, Rome is a bustling destination all year round. Sunniest from June-August; cooling down with a Gelato ice-cream will surely beat the heat.
How to get there:
easyJet flies from Bristol and London Gatwick to Rome Fiumicino, from around £70 return.
Travel time: A flight from the UK to Rome vary between 2hours 20 minutes and 3 hours.