It was great to be back in Rome. After two art-packed and highly scheduled trips seen on these pages, this junket was going to be spontaneous; and relaxing. Plus, there is plenty of art to see on the streets of Rome itself and I wanted to wander and explore. And shop! Not having somewhere to be at an appointed time was a great luxury.
The beauty of Rome remains. So do some of the same problems that persist. The potholes have gotten smaller, but you need to be careful when maneuvering the streets. There is still a lot of garbage everywhere, some of it caused by the proliferation of restaurant and bar tables filling the streets. There may not be wild boars roaming the streets anymore, instead the city is littered with rental scooters. Hordes of tourists, too, from Europe, the States, and Japan. It’s going to be a busy summer.
We arrived early in the morning. To avoid rush hour, we entered Rome behind the Vatican. As we passed the Vatican Museum at 8:45 a.m. there were hundreds of people already on the entrance line.
We were staying at the top of the Spanish Steps on the via Gregoriana. Lucky for us, our room was ready and so we had a full day in front of us. I had forgotten that this singular 16th-century house was across the street from our accommodations. Gabriele D’Annuzio made it a star in one of his books, artists lived here, and it is now the Biblioteca Hertziana. The Palazzo Zuccari was a big welcome to Rome.
The via Condotti stretched ahead. The steps were crowded. It was hot and muggy, but the city was at our feet. Rome has forbidden people to sit and linger on the steps, and the polizia are enforcing the ban with fines. I had done most of my shopping in other areas of Rome in the past few years, but Condotti was so close that exploring the area seemed like a good idea. And it was.
Prada is one of the first stores off the Piazza di Spagna. The Rome outpost is so much larger than any of the boutiques in New York. Women’s has a good size ground floor and a huge first floor filled with fun. With the dollar almost at parity with the Euro, shoes were also a good idea.
Prada, via Condotti, 92 for women. 88-90 for men
Bulgari was just across the street. My husband Michael needed a new watch band. We waited while they were changing the flowers in the store. The jewelry is amazing (Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly were lifelong fans for a reason), but even parity does not make the best affordable.
Bulgari, via Condotti, 10
There is another jewely store around the corner that is a Roman secret. Mr. Delettrez designs moody sculpted jewelry with gothic symbology — think spider webs, fingers, leaves, etc. There is fashion jewelry and fine jewelry. He is also the father of jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez of the Fendi family. I had lost one of the eyes on a ring I had bought on my last trip. Without asking, I was given a brand new ring.
Bernard Delettrez, via Bocca di Leon 33
The area teems with shops. The Italian family-owned and run label, Bluemarine, has a large boutique full of colorful clothing. Bluemarine is a label that is not easy to find in New York, with only one or two stores that might stock the clothing. It is colorful, sexy and flattering.
Bluemarine, via Bocca di Leone, 65a
Malloni has five or six boutiques in Italy. There is a spacious one in Rome. Along with clothing, one can find a large range of shoes and bags — all very well priced. The clothing is clean, fluid and mostly in neutrals. Chic simplicity. Another one of those stores you only find in Rome. However, you can order their merch on the web and they deliver to the States.
Malloni, Via Bocca di Leone, 34
We lunched at Fiaschetteria Beltramme, a Roman style restaurant that has been there for ages. Across the street is one of my favorite stores in the city, Vertecchi Roma. While they do carry paints, canvas, easels, pastels, paper, and anything you may want to create artworks — it is more than an art store. There is also a luxury pen boutique, seasonal and party decor for the home, children’s toys, and more. The entrance is a simple door that is easy to miss. DON’T … as it is worth exploring.
Vertecchi, via della Croce 70 a/b
Asole & Bottoni is a store for shirts, and some ties. Roman men dress with flair, and are slightly classic. The shirts come in several fits and a variety of stripes, prints and solids. In the summer they have linen shirts in a range of fun colors. An inexpensive way to tweak your wardrobe.
Asole & Bottoni, via del Corso, 113
Fausto Santini specializes in leather goods. Their shoes and bags are minimal with a twist. Beautifully made, they are not a fortune. A small selection of clean clothing is at the back. It’s a uniquely Roman store. And you can shop their website and have items shipped to the US.
Fausto Santini, via Frattina, 120
Gallassia is one of the many cool multi-brand boutiques in Rome. The clothing and accessories for men and women leans towards the eclectic, with a nice assortment of international and Italian brands. The store also has made-in-Italy accessories that you won’t find elsewhere.
Gallassia, via Frattina 20-21
Marni has moved to a larger and better location. Men’s and women’s clothing flows along the length of the boutique, and shoes are at the back. There is also a home collection displayed in a courtyard.
Marni, via del Babuino 75
Gente has two locations (and an offwhite store and an outlet) in Rome. This multi-label retailer has a lock on chic clothing and a huge selection of shoes and bags. American brands are stocked here alongside European ones.
Gente, via del Babuino, 77
After a fun long day, we walked past the Valentino boutique and offices and took the back way to the hotel, rather than hiking up the Spanish Steps. The ochre buildings of the city are a welcome sight.
We had booked an earlyish dinner as restaurants all over the city are jammed and so reservations are needed. We went to a long-time favorite, Otello alla Concordia. The third generation of the family is now in charge, and almost nothing has changed. One used to enter through this courtyard garden, but the upstairs neighbors in the condo insisted that the front entrance be closed off. Two courses, including a perfect saltimbocca and wine were all of 91 euros.
Otello alla Concordia, via della Croce, 81
The crowds were milling about and the Piazza di Spagna was still jammed.
The next morning, we headed towards one of the older parts of Rome. The Fendi flagship, on the right, is a must visit. It is luxury personified. There is a stylish rooftop restaurant and the Fendi Suites Hotel with seven rooms. The Palazzo Ruspoli also contains a stylish hidden hotel. The Residenza Napoleone III consists of three suites in the Palazzo. We had stayed in one of them, and found the experience dazzling. The suite we enjoyed was huge, the large paintings on the walls had TVs hidden behind them, and the entrance to the bathroom was concealed behind another painting. Napoleon III stayed in these rooms in the 1830s. Not bad company.
The Residenza Napoleon III, Via Fontanella Borghese, 56 Fendi, Largo Carlo Goldoni, 420
Walking up the street we noticed a courtyard in the Palazzo Ruspoli. There was a sign for a gallery belonging to the Fondazione Memmo. The art-loving Mr. Memmo married one of the Ruspoli daughters, and the Palazzo has a long history of hosting art exibits. This show, Quasi, mixes word play and sculpture.
Fonazione Memmo, via Fontanella Borghese 56/b
Just down the street is the Fay boutique. The Italian brand makes outerwear and casual clothing for men and women. This is another brand that you will not find in New York, although I am not sure why as it is well designed and well made. I guess that’s a good reason to go to Rome and shop!
Fay, via della Fontanella di Borghese, 56/c
I would be surprised if you haven’t heard of Schostal. A Roman fixture for generations, they sell perfectly made socks, underwear, pyjamas, shirts and more. A celebrity favorite, they moved several years ago to this new location. If you like quiet luxury, you’ll find it here.
Schostal dal 1870 in Roma, via della Fontanella di Borghese, 29
There are many antique and home decor stores in this part of Rome. Verdini is an antiquariato with beautiful Roman paintings and works of art. Look for many antique stores around the Piazza Navona and the Via Giulia.
Verdini, Via del Clementino, 98
Ripetta Design has an assortment of furniture and decorative garniture gathered from around the world. They offer wonderfully over-the-top wallpapers and fabrics as well.
Ripetta Design, Via del Clementino, 92 Roma
It was a hot, sticky day with overcast skies. Southern Italy was in the middle of a heat wave. We were wandering towards the Piazza Navonna. Following our noses, we got deliberately and delightfully lost.
We came upon my favorite church in Rome, Santa Maria della Pace. It is exquisite and tiny. Above is Raphael’s frescoes of the Sibyls — one of the many frescoes found here. Next door is the Chiostro del Bramante, a small ex-convent that now houses cultural events and exhibitions.
The Piazza Navona was just around the corner. It was crowded at this end, but still lovely.
Al Sogno is the place to go if you need or love toys. I have never seen so many unusual stuffed animals and dolls anywhere. They also offer vintage toys and music boxes.
Al Sogno, Piazza Navona, 53
The streets surrounding the Piazza Navona are full of stores. And there are few vacancies. Acid Drop is a small independent brand that produces unique and eclectic products exclusively by hand. The bags are hand-painted with artistic themes — Banksy, Van Gogh, and Klimt are among the sources. The jewelry is quite imaginative and amusing, and hand-painted sneakers and printed tee shirts are also for sale.
Acid Drop, via di Parione, 19
A lot of favorite stores in year’s past were located in the Campo di Fiore area. They are all gone, vanished. Although disappointed and a bit dispirited, it is still a lovely area to visit. And always lively. The elegant Palazzo Farnese is being restored. The original building design had input from Michaelangelo. It now houses the French Embassy. French artist JR was called upon to create a piece to disguise the facade under renovation. You can make an appointment for a tour of frescoes and public rooms of the embassy.
Walking back towards the Pantheon, we decided it was time for lunch. It was too hot and sticky to eat outdoors, so we chose Fortunato, a classic Roman white tablecloth restaurant with high ceilings, good air conditioning and delicious food. As with dinner the night before, most of the other patrons were Italian.
The streets around the Pantheon are filled with boutiques, but some of my valued shoe stores had closed. The multi-brand Degli Effetti is still there. The designer boutique is full of avant-guard designers with looks for men and women. The owner picks the right items.
Degli Effetti since 1979, Piazza Capranica, 93b
Men’s wear abounds in this neighborhood. There are plenty of stores that carry super classic Roman looks like Davide Cence, Spada Roma, Paul Taylor and others, but there are new and more fashion focused boutiques. Empresa is one of them. Casual street inspired clothing with a Roman touch fills the boutique.
Empresa, Piazza del Parlamento, 32-33
Vintage 55 is a new men’s boutique that has recently opened. It mixes DJ turntables and images of Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday with more American inspired street wear. A very shopable store.
Vintage 55, Via di Campo Marzio, 53
Walking back to the hotel, we ended up in the Condotti area. MdE was full of a lot of clothing with attitude for men and women from different labels. What caught my eye was the vintage TV set that had been turned into an aquarium. The owner showed us how he fed the fish and keeps them happy.
MdE, via delle Carrozze, 28
Nearby was a shop filled with affordable summery bags, shoes and clothing. Martino Midali owns and operates his namesake boutiques in Italy. The clothing is casual and flattering. And only found in Italy.
Martino Midali, via delle Carrozze, 41
We walked back to the Campo di Fiore for dinner. The classic Carbonara is one of our favorite places in Rome. The terrace was packed, so we headed upstairs to take advantage of the AC. We walked home via the small streets behind the Campo, and discovered another reason to love Rome. An artistic installation of sorts on the corner.
It was still extremely hot the next day, but at least there was a touch of blue sky. Not making plans led to one dissapointment. We had wanted to take a walk on the Palantine Hill and enjoy the gardens. When we got off the Metro at the Colosseo stop we were overwhelmed by the crowds. The underground areas of the Coliseum opened last year. It seems that Rome was not quite ready for the crowds, and none of the ticket booths anywhere near the Forum were open. So much for no-planning.
And then there was all the heavy construction in and around the Forum. The Metro is being expanded. You can no longer see the Forum from the street. Who knows how long it will take to complete the new metro line, and what they will find as they dig. We decided to take a detour and visit something nearby.
The Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli is close to the Forum. It contains Michelangelo’s unfinished tomb for Pope Julius II. The powerful piece was supposed to have a total of 40 larger-than-life statues. Instead, it has three and the Pope is buried in St Peter’s. There is other inspiring art in the church.
The Monti district is a short walk from the church. Pre-Covid it was a vibrant area full of small boutiques and vintage stores. Today, some of the vintage shops are still there although many of the stores are gone for good. What I did find was a Roman shoe store that was bigger and newer than my old favorites that had shuttered. The styles are fun, and the prices impossibly low. 29, 39 and 49 euros will buy you summer sandals and heels. Boots and winter shoes are slightly more. They come in a wide range of colors.
It was even hotter that day. We walked back to the hotel, and had lunch on the way. Ciampini is a cafe and bistrot that is a Roman institution. It is known for its ice creams and sweets as well. The street terrace was packed, so again we headed upstairs to the AC and had a delicious lunch.
Now, Via dei Serpenti, 154/155
We had dinner with friends at Due Ladroni. This restaurant, favored by Romans in the know, specializes in fish and all things fish-y. Whole fish are impeccably filleted and served. Oysters, tartares, ricci, scampi, fritos and frito mistos are all delicious.
Due Ladroni, Piazza Nicosia, 24
The next morning we flew to Palermo and headed south for a week at the beach. Our destination was an hour south of Palermo. The plan was to spend days visiting cities like Sciacca and Mazara del Vallo as well as hit the beach. The heat wave had gotten worse. It had been humid in the low to mid-nineties in Rome. It was in the mid- to high nineties in the south, and the skies were hazy and humid. The real-feel was over one hundred degrees. Thankfully, our rental house was beautiful with a gorgeous pool. Mother Nature altered our plans. It was too hot to be walking around and exploring new cities.
We decided that an at-the-beach holiday made more sense; and we were only one kilometer from a gorgeous beach. And the whole area was a protected riserva, or nature preserve. It was so hot that our feet burned as we hiked over the dune to the sea. But the water was warm, blue and welcoming. The beach was empty during the week, so we ended up going several times a day.
There were miles of Blue Flag beaches (very clean). And some beach clubs with really delicious food. This was at the Salisa beach club where dogs are definitely welcome. This pretty girl was a born swimmer and very happy diving into the waves and swimming very far out. The food at lunch was perfection.
Salisa, Via degli Oleandri, Porto Palo
The beach got extremely hot after lunch and we noticed that all the Italians evaporated soon after.
We followed their example. Although our landscaped pool did not have a ton of shade, it did have beautiful views. Our vacation oasis was perfect.
Maka was another favorite club. The food was delicious here, too.
Maka Beach Club, via dei Pioppi, Lido Fiori
The area is very rural. Olive grove and vineyards covered the hills. I spotted this working dog tending to his flock of goats. He did not have to worry about rounding them up as they clung to the shade.
There was one beach club at the far end of the riserva. A pretty short walk down the dune brought you to a rustic restaurant with more great food. Even in the extreme heat, life was good. But too soon it was time to head elsewhere.
Ristorante La Pineta, Marinella di Sellinuti
We stopped in Palermo for a few days. It was still searingly hot. There was a new museum down the street from our hotel. The Palazzo Butera had been purchased in 2015 by art collectors and gallery owners Massimo and Francesca Valsecchi. They gut renovated the Baroque palace, mixing extremely modern architecture in with the classic. They installed their vast collection of centuries worth of art. It is a must-see collection. They also welcome architects to take a peek at how the palace was renovated. It is a major addition to the artistic life of the city.
Palazzo Butera, vai Butera 8
We also found another Oratorio that is a museum. The ground floor has terracotta statues by Serpotta that came from a church demolished to build the grand Theatro Massimo. Upstairs is a beautiful chapel.
Oratorio dei Bianchi, Piazzetta dei Bianchi
Nearby is the Palazzo Abatellis, housing the Galleria Regionale di Sicilia. It holds the huge fresco, The Triumph of Death. The piece dates to the 1440s and the name of the artist is unknown. I had seen the piece in 2019, and the image stuck with me … especially as the pandemic unfolded.
It was created about 100 years after the Black Death rolled through Italy. Death lets arrows fly in a seemingly random way, striking down some and sparing others. It is a disturbing, but beautiful piece.
There are many other important pieces in the museum.
Galleria Regionale di Sicilia, via Alloro, 4
The museums and churches in Palermo are not air conditioned. We decided to rent a car and drive an hour to the coastal town of Cefalu. The Duomo was built by the Norman king Roger II in the 12th century. It has a stunning mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the apse. It is a concise and beautifully ornamented church.
The Duomo’s exterior is austere and romanesque in style with a moorish flavor. You can climb to the top of the tower, or take the path up La Rocca at the right. From the top of La Rocca you can see Palermo and the Aeolian islands on a clear day. There is also a Temple of Diana. It was too hot to do either.
The small town is beautiful and full of tourists. It has a spectacular beach. Unlike Palermo, the streets are spotless. Cefalu has a medieval quarter and streets stretching down to the water. There are many boutiques, but this one was the most fun. The owner, in the foreground, designs all the graphics on the clothing and objects in the store. Originality counts!
Sarama Designs, Corso Ruggero, 154 Cefalu
A row of restaurants lines one cobblestone street. As you look through the restaurant you can see the sea. Porticciolo has a terrace that sits over the rocks. There is a path below the restaurant that leads to the water. Lunch was, as usual, perfect.
We drove back to Palermo and learned that there would be a two-day national taxi strike the next morning.
Welcome back to the reality!
Porticciolo, via C.O. Bordonaro
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.