Sunday, 30 August 2015

What's the Time?

In Rome there are many unusual ways of finding out the time of day.

Take the Pantheon, for example, where the oculus appears to act as a giant sundial. You can tell the time of day by observing the beam of light which  crosses the doorway at noon.
On 21st April, Rome's birthday, the sunbeam hits the metal grille above the door and floods the outside courtyard with light. Imagine what the ancient Romans thought when they saw their Emperor bathed in this glow. No wonder they believed Emperors were Gods.

 Another sundial can be found in Piazza Montecitorio, behind the parliament buildings.

The obelisk was bought to Rome from Heliopolis by Emperor Augustus and originally stood in Campo Marzio. It was re-erected here after being excavated in five pieces in the 18th century.
Originally a solar meridian line was drawn at the foot of the obelisk which demonstrated the accuracy of the calendar introduced by Julius Caesar. A modern meridian line can be found in the paving in Piazza Montecitorio.

The meridian line seen above can be found in Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri near Termini station. The sun shines through a hole in the wall and hits the line at various points throughout the year.

If you wish to know the time in the Villa Borghese Gardens you can consult the Water Clock which runs on a hydraulic mechanism. It fits in beautifully within the surroundings, appearing to be almost part of the rocks and foliage. The clock was exhibited at the Paris Expo in 1867

Perhaps my favourite way of telling the time in Rome is to look up to the Torre dell'Orologio in the piazza of the same name. This Borromini designed  tower is a delight to behold but is close to my heart as I think of it as the 'Magic of the Movies' clock. It appears outside the window of Joe Bradleys Via Margutta apartment in Roman Holiday, miles away from the real location.

Friday, 21 August 2015


Summer 2015 in Rome has been amazingly hot and even though the temperatures have cooled down a little (30's instead of 40's) tricks to keep cool are always a good idea.


A shot of espresso, poured over ice and shaken to a froth - delicious & refreshing on a hot day. I particularly like this version at Vivi Bistrot, served in a coupe glass. 

Long, Lazy Lunches
Obviously it makes sense to be out of the midday heat, especially if you choose to lunch in a naturally air conditioned restaurant like Flavio al Velavevodetto. Set in a cave dug deep into Monte Testaccio,  the remains of amphorae that built up this man made hill can be seen in the glass fronted walls of the dining room.

Or head to the hills and enjoy lunch in one of the hill top towns. It doesn't come much better than Sora Maria e Arcangelo in Olevano Romano

Going Underground
Rome has so many underground possibilities - catacombs, crypts and archaeological sites all provide respite from the heat.
We booked a tour of the Domus Aurea through Co-op Culture and were lucky enough to have a guide that bought Nero's Golden House alive. The frescoes that inspired Michelangelo & Raphael amongst others were was the cool interior deep below the Esquiline Hill.

This cold dessert consists of fresh fruit juices or syrup over shaved ice. It was first invented in the last century in Rome and can be bought from stalls dotted around the city. We sampled ours at the lovely Liberty era kiosk, Alla Fonte D'Oro, close by Ponte Garibaldi

OS Club
My top tip for keeping cool would be to take advantage of the swimming pool at the OS club. For the princely some of €10 (Tue-Thurs), €12 (Fri-Sat) or €15 (Sun) you can enjoy an afternoon relaxing in lush surroundings under the shade of umbrella pine trees. This ultimate 'chill out' destination is literally minutes away from the Colosseum.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Location, Location, Location

Prior to becoming Emperor, Augustus, or Octavian as he was known, bought the house of Hortensius on the Palatine. This was to become his main residence or Domus Augusti. The fact that it had a direct line of sight to the spot on the River Tiber where Romulus and Remus washed up on shore in a basket, and is also right next to the Hut of Romulus is no accident. By purchasing this property Octavian was making a direct connection to the mythical history of Rome, and what is more, is representing himself as the new founder of the city.

Even when he became Emperor, Augustus continued to live in this comparatively modest abode, as was commented on by the historian Suetonious

'It is generally agreed that he was most temperate and without even the suspicion of any fault. He lived at first near the Forum Romanum, afterwards on the Palatine in a modest dwelling remarkable neither for size or elegance, having but a short colonnade with columns of local stone and rooms without any marble decorations or handsome pavements. For more than 40 years he used the same bedroom in winter and summer'

Modest it may have been but the glorious frescoes can still be seen today and are wonderful examples of Second Style wall decoration. This style was an extraordinary Roman innovation. The ideas used in the First Style had been imported from Greece but the Second Style opens up walls as windows and gives a view in to what lies beyond.

One of the rooms is designed to look like a theatre, complete with theatrical masks.

The barrel vaulted ceilings are impressive too.

Whilst we had visited part of the House of Augustus on a previous trip, this year was the first time that we have been able to see the House of Livia. You know it is a special tour when the guide lets you through a locked door and leads you down stairs to the past.

The wall decoration here is much more feminine with luscious garlands of fruits and flowers between delicate golden columns.

Winged female figures, possibly Victories, also make an appearance

Booking a tour of the houses is very straightforward. Details here

Friday, 14 August 2015

Summer Nights

Many people may shy away from visiting Rome in the summer months but some of the best events can be experienced when the heat is on.

Lungo il Tevere

From mid June until September the banks of the Tiber are transformed into entertainment central with bars, restaurants and game stalls appearing along the riverside.
Well established restaurants often have 'pop ups' here. This year both Rec 23  from Testaccio and La Crostaceria from Monti made an appearance.
In previous years we have enjoyed eating at Salvatore Danaro's  Il Bacco al Tevere which had the most amazing location on the tip of Tiber Island.

It is worth enduring the midsummer heat for this event alone

Baths of Caracalla
Even if you are not opera fans (and we are not!) you can't pass up a chance to see a performance in this spectacular setting. The season usually runs from the end of June until the beginning of August. We opted for the cheapest seats but still had an amazing view of the proceedings. The libretto is projected on to large screens on either side of the stage so even novices like us could follow what was happening. The use of lighting on the ancient ruins was incredible.

Courtyard of Sant'Ivo
Between mid July - Mid August the beautiful 17th century courtyard of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza holds evening concerts. This year the programme ranged from Rossini, Mozart and Beethoven to Swing and Tango. We enjoyed Music from the Movies with a stunning backdrop of Baroque architecture.

Miracle Players
On a Friday night in July we picked up a cushion, staked our place on the steps of the church overlooking the Arch of Septimius Severus and prepared to be entertained.
'Rome in a Nutshell' was this years offering from the Miracle Players, a small theatre group - actually miniscule theatre group, three adults & various Barbarians. Oops, no, that should read children. Performances take place every Friday at 7.30 from the end of June until the end of July
Were we entertained? We most definitely were - 45 minutes of sheer joy. Our only regret was that we didn't go a week later, for the final performance, when the mayor made an appearance on the balcony & Eric, founder of the group, proposed to Denise, writer and partner - she accepted. If that isn't a Grand Slam Finish I don't know what is.

Finally, dinner on a rooftop terrace on a balmy evening is the perfect way to end a summers day in Rome. Our venue of choice this year was Guida Ballerino at Hotel Bernini Bristol where chef Andrea Fusco creates culinary magic in a wonderful setting. Details of what we ate here but for now feast your eyes on these views of an eternally beautiful city.


Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Day in the Lazio Countryside

Our love of Cesanse wine goes back to 2010 when we were stranded in Rome thanks to the Icelandic volcano. Late afternoons were spent in our local bar, Vino Veritas, now sadly closed, where Andreas introduced us to this local wine.

Thanks to Gina & Casa Mia we are privileged to be able to spend time with a talented winemaker who understands the potential of this grape variety which dates back to the days of the Roman Empire.
Our day that will never be forgotten began with Gina and chauffer driven car picking us up at 8.30am for our journey that would take us an hour south east of the city.
The traffic leaving Rome was at a snail's pace but we barely noticed as we were so busy catching up with Gina. However, we did pause for breath once the city gave way to the rolling hills of Lazio.

Our destination was to the vineyard of winemaker Damiano Ciolli, whose family have been making wine for five generations. In the past quantity had triumphed over quality with the wine made from the Cesanese grape sold off in bulk. When Damiano took over the vines at the age of 24 he reversed this tradition and he now produces two Cesanese wines of superior quality.

Damiano's passion shines through the language barrier as he shows us around the vineyard and  explains the elements that come together to produce a vintage.

The vines, some of which are 64 years old, grow in red volcanic soil and thrive in a microclimate that sees the air cooled by breezes from the nearby coast and the grapes protected from extreme weather by the surrounding three mountain ranges.

Dotted amongst the vines are these pretty little flowers known as Silene
The grapes are harvested manually and imperfect specimens rejected.
We then move on to the Cantine where the grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats then aged in concrete or French oak barrels.
This is where we get to taste the two wines that are produced here, Silene & Cirsium, named after plants that grow in the vineyard, that we saw earlier.

I don't think we will ever taste wine in a more perfect setting.
If this wasn't enough we then drove a short distance in to the town of Olevano Romano to Ristorante Sora Maria e Arcangelo. This is the destination you dream of when longing for a lazy Lazio lunch.
The dining room is all dark wood and tradition with the requisite hill town views from the open windows.
To be honest I would have been content with this alone.....but then came the food.

A  'welcome' dish of Polpetta di melanzane -a sort of aubergine suppli with a very light touch and just a hint of smokiness in the aubergine.

Polpette di Allesso di Manzo alla Picchiapo Estiva.
These shredded beef meatballs were stuffed with  tomato salsa and served with pesto made with Pecorino Falisco from the Viterbo area of Lazio.

Il Fiore di Zucca Croccante farcito alla Ricotta di Bufala
Stuffed zucchini flowers delicately fried - the creaminess of the ricotta contrasted beautifully with the crisp batter.

Cannelloni della Sora Maria
The signature dish and with good reason. The thin, light pasta dough (made by Mamma, I'm assuming!) was filled with veal and baked with in a bittersweet San Marzano tomato sauce  then topped with a local mozzarella.

Le Fettucine Tirate al Mattarello
I think the translation means 'hand rolled'. This silky pasta was served with the freshest garden vegetables and a quenelle of buffalo ricotta.

La Parmigiana nel Coniglio
I had never eaten rabbit before but, boy, was this the place to try it. The meat was succulent and delicious and paired perfectly with the tomato confit & mozzarella cream

Brasato di Sottopaletta di Vitello al Vino Malvasia e Pepe Jamaica
Food envy reigns. I loved my rabbit dish but my goodness how luscious is this. Fortunately Gina was happy for us to have a taste, and yes, those vegetables were as tender and sweet as they look. The veal braised in wine was delicious too.

Parfait Ghiacciato al Pistacchi di Bronte e Canditi di Agrumi Artigianali in Crostata di Cioccolato Fondente
I'm not usually a pudding person ( shoot me) but this could convert me. We knew we were on to a winner when Gina whispered in awe ' Giovanni's take on cannoli'. As she has Sicilian parentage she knows what she is talking about. All I can say is that this made up in spades for missing out on the cannoli from Dess'Art (we had eaten too much did that happen?!)
The little biscuit underneath had a hint of salt which complemented the chocolate and fondant perfectly.
The wine, chosen by Gina, was a Cesanese (of course!) from Cantine Riccardi Reale
This cantine was founded by Piero Riccardi, who formally worked in Italian TV, and Lorella Reale, a sommelier. Lorella designed the label - it is so pretty.
The meal ended with espresso, biscotti and Amarone made in house.
Honestly this was one of our best meals ever.
Who knew this little hill town south of Rome could hide such treasures.
We didn't feel like paying guests on this tour but privileged friends let in on a secret, which is the ethos of Casa Mia Tours.
It works
You are the best