Roma, non basta una vita. Rome, a lifetime is not enough. Twenty five years ago, when Massimo Vanini, property dealer and art specialist, invited me to spend a fortnight in Rome, little did I know that it would be a life-transforming visit. Since then I have been a guest at his palatial home, situated a 15 minute walk away from the Vatican, no less than 20 times.
During balmy summers, I have taught Vittorio, Massimo’s only son, English diction; discussed current issues with his wife Francesca; dined in the finest restaurants with Italian film stars, politicians and the Pope’s personal photographer; drank prossecco with wealthy socialites whose lives revolves around cocktails and cruises; eaten simple but delicious fare in austere monasteries around Rome thanks to Father Sidival, a Franciscan monk; and toured ancient churches all around.
I have feasted not just on art and culture but also on food. Massimo’s family believes only in fresh produce, bought from local open air markets in their neighbourhood. It’s a delight to see rows of fresh salami, artisanal cheese, green salads, vegetables, fruits arrayed and sold in hygienic stalls. The banter between seller and buyer, all known to each other, usually ends in something extra being tossed in with a laugh and a grazia, ciao. At home, Massimo rolls out his own pasta and as I write this, I can still taste the Mince Meat Lasagne, Fettuccine Al Carbonara, Linguini With Calm Sauce and Tagliatelle Ai Funghi.
One fact has emerged from my love affair with Rome: the Roman lifestyle was always larger than life. Their palaces, churches, gardens and villas were natural extensions of their passion for wine, women (men too), song and political power – the ultimate aphrodisiac. Most of the wealthy and the powerful built summer palaces in the countryside (Umbria, Tuscany), where they would repair to for more wheeling dealing and orgies.
Some of you who also have two lifetimes have already sampled Rome’s ample charms. Now use the second one to discover some lesser known attractions within an hour’s drive of Rome’s circumference. Here are some insights into my favourites, places I never grow tired of visiting.
Thirty minutes northeast out of the city centre along Via Salaria (the ancient route along which salt was transported from the Mediterranean to the interiors) lies Rome’s largest park, Villa Ada. Here the Piazza Mincio (Via Nemorense) is adorned by fantastical eccentricities created by Art Noveau architect Gino Coppede in the 1920s. Flamboyant flourishes include gargoyle embellishments where Gothic marries Renaissance to create a truly surreal ambience.