One of my favorite and most romantic things to do in Rome is to stroll through the Villa Borghese parks and gardens to one of the most elegant and sensual villa art museums on earth: The Galleria Borghese.
The Renaissance and Baroque gardens of umbrella pines, cypresses, palm trees, flowers, hedges, and exquisite lemon, orange, and magnolia trees surround the gorgeous villa, bringing one back into the past glories of Roman country estates, free and open to the public for generations.
The parks were private gardens for the aristocrats of Roman society until they were opened for the 19th century Grand Tourists. In 1820 English Romantic poet John Keats himself strolled through these same hallowed grounds before he succumbed to tuberculosis in his rooms at the Piazza di Spagna. Goethe mused through the art collection of the Borghese’s a generation before that, recording his impressions of the palazzo and of the art in his grand book, Italian Journey.
Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn is a painting by Raphael.
The beautiful Galleria Borghese is home to part of the Borghese art collection curated by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V (reign 1605-1621).
The Villa was commissioned to be designed and built by the architect Flaminio Ponzi, partly based on sketches by Scipione, as a “villa suburbana” on the country edge of Rome. Scipione was one of the first patrons of Bernini and collected many pieces by Caravaggio, including The Sick Bacchus, Boy With a Basket of Fruit, and the poignant Saint Jerome Writing.
The Borghese collection also includes the breathtaking Bernini sculptures of David, Rape of Proserpine, and Apollo and Daphne, – and the Tiziano masterpiece, Sacred and Profane Love.
Other maestros are Raffaello “Lady With A Unicorn” (purported to be the Lady Giulia Farnese, commissioned by Pope Alexander aka Rodrigo Borgia), alongside countless pieces by Rubens, Barocci, Antonio Canova, Coreggio, Dosso Dossi, Domenichino, Veronese, Lorenzo Lotto, and Parmigianino.
Sacred and Profane Love by Titian. c. 1514
I love the gorgeous architectural details in stone and in fountains and statues lining the entrance of the Galleria Borghese.
Remnants of the past play out as well in “ancienne” statue fragments and the fountains outside the museum’s grand entrance.
The walk to the Galleria Borghese always has that lazy Sunday feeling, surrounded by Roman families and visitors enjoying the greenery and fresh air. Young and old lovers can be spied kissing under a tree or lying on a picnic blanket enjoying the sunshine and the sounds of songbirds above them.
There are homages to temples, gods and goddesses, Greek Tragedies and Comedies, and to Rome’s storied past in the “Romantic era ruins” among the pleasure walks and dreamy Umbrella pines. As you approach the museum you feel you are in for something really special… and are not disappointed in the great architectural reveal.
More architectural details by Flaminio Ponzi and Scipione Borghese create a feast for the eyes, before entering the villa with a ticket… for the Roman antiquities and Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, … in room after sumptuously decorated room.
Tickets are recommended bought IN ADVANCE, online or at the ticket office down the stairs. To enter the museum, proceed up the stone stairs to the stunning Classical Antiquity portico where they will take your ticket.
You don’t want to miss this experience!
After an afternoon stroll and a few hours in the museum, head to the Pincio at the Golden Hour (an hour before dusk) and watch the sun set over the cupolas and ruins and houses behind the glittering Piazza del Popolo.
The golden and orange light eventually turns a deep violet, and there is an enchanting glow about Rome at its most magnificent! It is a heady, Romantic vision, and every one seems to be under a collective spell of beauty and the feeling of immortality in Éros in the Eternal City.
This is one of the best, most beautiful, and unforgettable days you could spend in Rome. It could be the most romantic Valentine’s Day of your lives. Rome seen and felt like this is truly writ on the heart for an eternity.
You can eat at the romantic nearby Casina Valadier for sweeping sunset views and aperitivos or an early dinner – they have a Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu for lovebirds.
Looking for something quicker? Walk a short distance to the late Renaissance church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, (French: La Trinité-des-Monts).
Pop into the sanctity and quiet beauty of the French Roman Catholic church and you may luck out with a choir of nuns singing en français classical songs of devotion while you peer at lush murals, sculptures, paintings, and the altar.
Light a candle together and head down the famed Spanish Steps just outside and whisper a snippet of a Keats ode into your beloved’s ear outside of the Keats Shelley (Byron) House Museum (worth a visit if you’re there earlier when it is open!).
Stop for a late tea at Babington’s and try their Rome in Love Tea inspired by the Paolina Borghese sculpture and Female Beauty at the Borghese, or enjoy some cocktails or champagne and light fare – offered in the luxurious comfort of their 125 year old tea room. It’s a cute British afternoon tea room with Italian flare.
Looking for something sexier? Cross the avenue and stop in at the nearby Romantics’ saucy hangout, the Antico Caffè Greco, decorated in 18th century red satin and marble decor, for drinks and desserts.
The Santissima Trinità dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps from the Via Condotti.
Gregory Peck’s apartment in Roman Holiday where he brings Audrey Hepburn in the film.
If you’re still in the mood for a short early evening walk hand in hand past the glamorous shops and passersby, head to the most romantic street in Rome, the charmingly low-lit, ivy covered boutiques and artisan art shops, boutique hotels, and restaurants, Via Margutta (made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday!) I love the vegetarian restaurant created by film director Federico Fellini, Il Margutta! They have many vegetable creations, handmade pasta and smoked cheeses, and a vegan and gluten free menu, with exceptional organic wines, mocktails, and delicious desserts, including house made gelato.
Casino Valadier’s LOVE ELIXIR
€25 per person.
La Grande Cucina S.p.A.
Piazza Bucarest, Villa Borghese
P. I.V.A. 05901701002
Tel (+39) 06 69922090
Fax (+39) 06 6791280
GALLERIA BORGHESE (english site)
Via del Collegio
00186 Roma, Italia
tel. 39 06 67231
map by Guilbert Gates
Antico Caffè Greco
Via dei Condotti, 86, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
Babington’s Tea Room
Piazza di Spagna, 23, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
And Happy Valentine’s Day from A Love Letter To Rome… to everyone lucky enough to be in the sexiest and most romantic (and Romantic) city in the world, Roma, Italia! May Cupid’s arrows always find you when you least expect (but need) amore!