A few iPhone snaps from a hot, blustery few days in Rome last week. I am still partly there, in my mind, dreamily pottering down renaissance streets, casually sizing up palazzos, drenched in that golden-pink light that Italy conjures up so well in the late afternoon. A little coffee, a little gelato, a little aperitivo. It was solely a pleasure caper, a city break, but of course, flowers wove their way through it too.
We had hoped to visit the infamous gardens of Ninfa but they were sadly closed, so my girlfriend Isabel took us to the delightful Roseto Communale on the slopes of the Aventine Hill, which occupies the site of the old Jewish cemetery and where there are almost a thousand varieties of roses - a permanent collection and a garden of new breeds, modern roses and competition displays. May would probably be a better month to see it, when the blooms are in their first succulent flush and it isn’t so hot, but it was an intoxicating tour of roses from around the world all the same - sculpted shrubs, miniatures, climbers intertwining themselves up and around pergolas, ramblers up pillars, a sea of fluttering, browning, plump petals and buds. It seemed to me an unusually special garden, perhaps my Jewish roots sensed a kindred place there.
And the botanic gardens in Trastevere - Orto Botanico dell'Università di Roma 'La Sapienza' - I don’t know how I missed these when I last visited - an enchanting series of gardens visited by a meandering path that takes you through palms to a valley of ferns to a grove of bamboo, to a rose garden, to a Japanese garden at the apex of the hill, through medicinal botanical specimens to glasshouses housing an extraordinary collection of cacti, bonsai and orchids. I was rather annoyed that we had to rush through the latter (on our way to lunch). Until lunch, of course, which was another insider tip from our hosts - a tiny osteria on a corner of Piazza de Renzi called Da Augusto; it doesn't have a website. Classic home-style Roman fare, a delightfully rude waitress, and they serve you whatever they like, basically, which is fine because every dish that comes out of the kitchen is divine. You have a primi piatti (in our case ravioli with tomato sauce) and a meat course (lamb), no questions asked. And then a tiramisu that has changed my perspective of tiramisu forever - without cream but with a rich custard, like a panna cotta, and dusted with thick chocolate powder. You put it in your mouth and can’t speak for a solid five minutes; the most delicious glue you have ever tasted.
My favourite area of central Rome is around the Via dei Coronari (all the antique shops and pink marble and Murano glass and gold leaf) and the surrounding streets there - the Santa Maria della Pace, the lovely Caffe della Pace, which is super expensive but the best place for people watching in the morning over coffee and one of my favourite restaurants is nearby, Santa Lucia, where I have repeatedly had the spaghetti - with lobster, with clams and latterly with black truffle shavings lavishly grated over the top and swimming in butter and garlic. And the Piazza del Fico, where we spent a leisurely hour or so over Aperol spritz watching a concentrated and very stressful game of chess under the fig tree. At a particularly tense moment, a ripe, swollen fig unloosed itself from a branch above and exploded onto one of the opponent's white-shirted back. To his credit he didn’t even flinch.
Another afternoon, made soporific by the heat and Renaissance sculpture and another splendid lunch we fell asleep under our panamas, side by side in matching velvet arm chairs on the first floor salon of the Palazzo Altemps. Not a soul disturbed us, just the sounds of the streets below, thronging with people, and this cool room, glittering with glass chandeliers lulling us to sleep. Only on holiday...