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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!
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A sleek soft bedside or coffee table book, each book contains 38 pages printed edge-to-edge on 100% recycled photo-paper, perfectly bound in a soft matte cover.
I’ve filled with the A LOVE LETTER TO ROME aesthetic of classical and Renaissance art details, paintings of Aphrodite and Venus, photographs of art, Roman ruins, the Pantheon, sculptures, columns, the Tyrrhenian Sea on Capri where the Roman Emperors lived and holidayed, images of cupolas among the ancients, images of beauty, sensuality, and Eros. It’s an elegant gift for a lover or Classical Antiquity or Italy or ART enthusiast. It’s gorgeous and romantic! BUY HERE only $50. See the site for deals as low as $5
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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.
An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.
Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.
The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.
Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.
Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.
Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.
A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.
Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.
From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London
From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.
From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.
You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.
This sign is so British it hurts.
One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.
Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.
The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.
Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.
The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!
Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.
I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.
Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.
Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.
A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.
Meeting new friends abroad 🙂
Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.
Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!
Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.
The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.
My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.
A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.
The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.
Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.
On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.
Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.
Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.
For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.
Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!
I’m posting some recommendations I wrote in Rome last year for the tumblr blog where I get a lot of travel advice questions.
I am currently on the island of Capri so I am writing this by memory and pasting on my iPad – so bear with any mistakes or typos.
I am in Italy for the 11th time, my last visit was also Capri and Naples, four months ago in May. I was last in Rome a year ago but I have spent more time in Rome than anywhere else in Italy over the years.
Sadly, I return home on Tuesday, flying from Naples to Dublin to Boston. But it is Friday night, I had a magical afternoon swimming in the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea, I am completely knackered and holed up in my hotel room praying it doesn’t rain all weekend as it is supposed to do, thunderstorms and all.
From my entry: champagne.tumblr.com/travel (updated and expanded tonight)
I get tumblr asks and emails, sometimes daily, on some of my favorite recommendations in Rome.
This is advice and Rome recommendations I wrote a year ago.
I’ll throw out some names and recommend some books:
Villa Sciarra and the Monteverde neighborhood. If you are going to visit the very off the beaten path Monteverde area, you may as well start at the Giancolo (Janiculum Hill) for the panorama view, which is nice, and the interesting area around it.
Then walk down the hill to the Monteverde neighborhood. It’s a long walk. Via Dandolo area.
You can hit Trastevere after the Villa Sciarra park. It’s an even longer walk.
Buses run all over too. And taxis.
Trastevere (church, food, la Renelle bakery, the Almost Corner Bookshop, graffiti, passersby).
The Aventine. (the Knights of Malta keyhole)!
Testaccio (the Protestant Cemetery!!
It’s peaceful, away from it all, gorgeous, Keats is buried there, Shelley has ashes, all the greats have visited, I am in love with the spot), mount Testaccio, the pyramid of Cestius.
Villa Aldobrandini (I have managed to miss this every time but the book Quiet Corners of Rome has breathtaking shots of it and it’s been recommended to me by travelers online so I am going to visit it next visit! It’s in the great Monti area (quiet, off the busy coliseum, Via Mazzarino 11.
The romantic renaissance walk on Via Giulia in the heart of Rome.
Boutique villa art museums. Spada, Doria Pamphlij, Galleria Borghese, Villa Farnesina, etc!
Lunch and outdoor market shopping at Campo dei Fiori!
See the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and the ruins in the daytime AND by moonlight when the world looks ancient and is silent.
Picnic on Palatine Hill.
Climb the steps to Capitoline Hill, designed by Michaelangelo!!!
Walk on Sunday on the Appian Way and pass through the ancient portico by the Aurelian Wall!!!
Have a coffee by the Pantheon at night.
Stroll through the Piazza Navona.
Fountain hop several piazzas every night!!!
Have a drink at five different cafe bars on the same evening.
Try something local, in season and daring!
Get a little lost.
Cross the bridge of angels at sunset or even better, sunrise to get to the Vatican along side the Tiber.
http://wantedinrome.com/ (exhibitions and strikes info) http://thepinesofrome.blogspot.com/ (exhibitions and reviews)! 10 off the beaten path places in Rome (esp 2 & 7-10)!
http://www.revealedrome.com/2012/04/off-the-beaten-path-in-rome.html A good site in general: http://www.revealedrome.com/ Summer in Rome tips and tricks!
City Secrets Rome by Robert Kahn (2011 edition) (incredible!!)
Quiet Corners of Rome by David Downie and Alison Harris (a MUST)
Frommer’s Rome (The one classic guide I’ve learned the most from, consistent tips, great walks and itineraries, clear directions, the most practical info)
HV Morton’s (1950s classic!!!) A Traveller In Rome (love him)!!!
Secret Rome (Local Guides by Local People) – Jonglez (INVALUABLE BOOK)!!
The Secrets Of Rome – Love and Death in the Eternal City by Corrado Augias (incredible well written history of Rome – ancient to modern – one of my all time favorite books ever)!!!
Rome in the morning, Rome in the afternoon, Rome at sunset, Rome in the evening – are almost like different cities.
Have dinner one place, a spumante somewhere else, an espresso some where else, a gelato somewhere else.
Enjoy the stroll, see the Caravaggios, embrace the green parks, look for the views, get lost and go for a ramble.
And fall for Artemisia Gentileschi and John Keats, like I did a long time ago.
VILLA BORGHESE AREA
(1). Arrive an hour or two before sunset. Start near the bottom of Via Veneto, there’s a train stop there, around the Harry’s Bar area. That’s La Dolce Vita, 1960s, Rome. Cross through the Aurelian walls and into the Villa Borghese Park. Pause at the Lord Byron statue. Find your way on Viale dell Magnoile (ask for directions if lost).
Follow it through the park, by the cyclists and the children playing, past young lovers kissing on the grass or eating picnics on makeshift blankets. When you see a long line of white faded busts you’re approaching the pincian hill (pincio).
Wander around there a bit but don’t get too sidetracked. Eventually you’ll come to a fountain with a goddess (I’ve featured her on the blog).
In the distance ahead is the beginning of the most perfect view in the world.
The sun should be a little low slung by now, the colors softening, the golden hour already descending with deepening shades of orange, peach and purple in the sky.
You’ll see a palm tree up ahead.
Keep walking to where others are probably gathering at this point.
As you approach the marble fencing you’ll catch your breath at the shock of how close the cupolas seem contrasted to the distant and lovely vatican.
Rome from this angle is layered and rich to me, it’s up close and personal view is worth the plane ticket.
Far down below to the right of the pinccio is the impressive piazza del poppolo.
You’ll want to venture there too, but first watch the sun set over Rome from the best spot in the city, possibly the best spot in the world.
You see it’s really the kind of thing you can do in one day but preferably you can visit the area at least twice on your trip.
Because earlier in the afternoon I highly recommend (to the far left of the Pincio) walking down past Villa Medici and down the Spanish Steps. (I know, the crowds are deafening, the guys selling plastic junk are pushy, watch out for the harmless but sometimes annoying panhandlers (referred to as gypsies by some although I am told that is a derogatory label).
Walk down the nicely designed stairs (don’t forget to pop into the French church at the top of the stairs first) then walk down them (sidestepping American (and European) teenagers absentmindedly texting their friends with blasé looks on their faces and trying to be noticed).
Admire the Bernini (padre) fountain.
On your left is the Keats Shelley (Byron) House, an almost spiritual place for me.
The house Keats died in, a museum dedicated to English Romantic Poets and writers.
To your right is the classic more British than England tea house, Babington’s Tea Rooms (I take tea in there often. It’s a wonderful experience, the tea is exceptional, the scones are Scottish and delicious, the food is very good. It’s deadly expensive but worth the oasis from the noise and crowds and the afternoon tea is served in silver pots and in china cups. They also have drinks).
Back outside, you walk past the Bernini fountain and you go down the street a bit and on your right is Caffe Greco. Keats, Shelley, Byron, Gogol, Wilde, countless other poets, artists, writers, you name it, drank here!
The decor is still 18th/19th century marble top tables, red lush decor, decadent pastries, strong espresso, tea, champagne, aperitifs. It’s worth a drink and a meander. Local artists and writers gather there. Look out for the “caffe greco” sketch artist, he sits at a table and chats with the waiters, sketching people in the cafe for his own collection.
I have managed a few shots of him over the years. He’s been written up in magazines and guidebooks.
My latest visit to Rome was about the hidden spots, little not often visited places I’d never seen before and finding the best views.
I had nearly two weeks and I didn’t get through half my list!
But you see where the day takes you, what you are in the mood for and you see a few rare places and it is a pleasure. Then you hope to return one day and continue.
I love trying to get to know the city in pieces and nooks and crannies, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing in a superficial, not so grand tour.
I like to read and ponder and fall deeply into the art and architecture and the history of the centuries of the city.
Some times I just fall into the sensuality of the Italian sun, the verdant greenery, people watching, eating and drinking and walking.
This last visit I slipped on discreet earphones and listened to the voices of British men recite Keats poetry and I wandered the streets. Absolute heaven.
I listened to the Rome soundtrack on the busy Corso and through the Forum.
“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
— Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934
The Villa Farnesina is an early 16th century Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome, central Italy. It has incredible frescoes by Raphäel, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giulio Romano, and Il Sodoma. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of Pope Julius II. It was later purchased by Cardinale Farnese (future pope and brother to the Borgia mistress, Giulia Farnese).
I had always missed visiting the lovely Villa Farnesina on earlier trips to Rome so I was delighted to finally see it in person in October 2012. The villa has a pretty little garden in the courtyard and larger gardens (fenced off) on one side. There is an understated elegance to the grounds and exterior architecture for a Renaissance palazzo. There are pink roses and pomegranate trees in clay pots.
And little lemon trees and stone lined pathways. Trastevere is a great neighborhood to visit when in Rome and this villa is even more off the beaten path if you are looking for an alternative to the usual Roman Holiday Tour.
After the initial two or three visits to Rome I’ve tried to visit more of the quiet corners of the city and get to know my favorite spots better. It’s a “slow food” approach to travel and it’s worked pretty well for us. The large grande dame museums of Rome are wonderful to visit, especially if you have limited time in the city. But if you have an extra day or the off the beaten path vacation is more your speed, I suggest visiting one, two or three small villa or palazzo art museums. Farnesina, Doria Pamphlij, Spada, Borghese (the Queen) and a few others.
The Loggia of Psyche by Raphaël and his workshop
It’s difficult to convey how astounding it is just standing on the marble floors, looking up at all the beautiful frescoes. Walking the same halls so many infamous and interesting figures had crossed centuries before.
The museum was quiet and there were a few small groups moving in and out of the rooms. I had time to view the work in complete silence and solitude which rarely happens in a larger, more popular museum.
Venus, Ceres and Juno
I had run out of color film so I shot these magnificent frescoes in black and white. I think they at least capture the richness of the dark colors and the creaminess of the “skin”. The color in person was vibrant for such old masterpieces.
Cupid and The Three Graces, 1517-1518
A part of the great appeal Renaissance art has for me is it’s allusions to classical literature and mythology. In order to understand the works beyond my emotional response to them or my aesthetic pleasure in them, the allegorical works force me to learn the meaning behind them and catch a glimpse of the artist’s intention behind the work. What does the piece mean philosophically? Politically? What does it say about love? Man? And God? About life? And death? What historical event are they re-imagining? Beyond the beauty I am hungry for the history.
Venus on the Chariot Pulled by Doves, 1517-1518
The Council of the Gods, 1517-1518
When I was there I was amused to find graffiti carved into one of the walls in German! Well, normally I’d be less amused but it’s from a later Barbarian Invasion of Rome in the 16th century! At the time I couldn’t find anyone to translate it for me.
During recent restorations, an ancient “graffiti”, in German gothic, came to light between the columns. It marks the passage of the Lansquenets and states: “1528 – why shouldn’t I laugh: the Lansquenets have put the Pope to flight.”
From the windows on the first floor there is a beautiful view of the gardens. A pleasant stroll under the laurel bower leads to a marble plaque which bears the inscription:
Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum.
[Trad.: Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me. ] – Academia Nazionale die Lincei
The Villa Farnesina in Rome, Italy is open from
Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,
Closed on Sundays and holidays
Guided tours on Monday, Friday and Saturday at 12.30
//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …