Benissimo a Roma!

Steeped in splendour, a visit to Rome is a must for those who appreciate history and art – and a good pasta.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, stops off in Italy to soak up the atmosphere of a city renowned for its culture.

I don’t mean to start a debate on the subject but I have to say that for all the talk about brooding French men, Italian men certainly seem to give them a good run for their money. The flirting and seduction starts in Rome, where there are offers for help with bags from a George Clooney-lookalike and ends with strangers in the street blowing kisses from a distance. It’s enough to make you feel 16 again.

Our train ride from Paris to Rome involves just one change of train. It’s a smooth and comfortable ride, though includes a very dodgy sandwich. Once the borders are crossed and announcements change from French to Italian, the sun appears and shines as bright as a sunflower. We are on our way to the second-to-last destination in our round-the-world trip which saw us visiting Guangzhou, Amsterdam and Paris prior.

We arrive in Rome and make our way to our hotel, the Sofitel Villa Borghese, named after the famous royal family Borghese, who branched out into skincare and makeup among other ventures.

The hotel building is steeped in neoclassical design and has played host to a slew of celebrities including Federico Fellini, Ava Gardner, Sting, Leonard Cohen and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers among others. It is ideally positioned near the top of the Spanish Steps (Piazza de Spagna) and Villa Medici. Caravaggio used to find refuge in the stables – now the breakfast room...

After the sunset, it’s time for our first dinner in Rome. It came as a recommendation from Jenny, the chef at La Cuisine Paris. Sacro e Profano is a restaurant where the walls and ceilings are painted with voluptuous Renaissance beauties. The order of the day is definitely pizza and pasta and the ravioli sounds particularly enticing. For good measure, we also try a couple of pizzas.

The ravioli comes as eight pieces of half moons filled with swordfish and topped with tiny chopped shrimp and a smooth, sweet tomato based sauce. The pasta is handmade and there is a fresh seafood flavour to the dish and it is perfectly seasoned.

The margarita pizza, the simplest with tomato, cheese and oregano has a good crust although the flavour is quite mild. We were hoping for more oregano flavour but alas this had none, which it needed.

The capricciosa has a topping of tomato, mushrooms, artichoke, mozzarella and olive but needs some seasoning on this too. Both pizzas were absent of herbs and we asked for some anchovies to go with them to flavour them up.

rome food

With bellies full of pizza and pasta, we go back to the room to sleep like babies.

The next morning I skip breakfast as I'm still full from the pasta and pizza (big mistake apparently according to the rest of the group) and go downstairs for a tour of Rome’s most famous places, including the Trevi Fountain. Our guide Simona recommends we avoid looking at it until we are in front of it to witness the full splendour – and it is a beauty. A relative youngster from 1730 – youth being a relative term in a country where things from the 2nd century still stand – there is a plethora of people eager to make wishes by tossing coins into the fountain.

The custom is to throw in one coin if you want to return to Rome, two coins if you want to return and fall in love and three if you want to return, fall in love and get married! You throw each coin separately using your right hand over your left shoulder. And proof that people live in hope is that fact that they collect about €12,000 worth of coins a week from the fountain (the money apparently goes to the homeless). The fountain, made out of travertine, is cleaned weekly and water is supplied from one of the many aquaducts that service the city.

rome food

Another stop is the Colosseum, the last monument of Ancient Rome. What remains after an earthquake and vandals is spectacular still and it is hard to imagine that in the second century, this was where everyone gathered to watch spectacles like gladiators and animals fight. Tickets were sold to these events and people sat in sections according to social roles although apparently all women sat together no matter what their social station was...

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