Frommer's EasyGuide to Rome, Florence and Venice 2017 - Stephen Keeling, Melanie Renzulli, Donald Strachan (2016)
1. THE BEST OF ROME, FLORENCE & VENICE
By Donald Strachan
Italy is a country that needs no fanfare to introduce it. The mere name conjures up vivid images: The noble ruins of Ancient Rome, the paintings and palaces of Florence, the secret canals and mazelike layout of Venice. For centuries, visitors have headed to Italy looking for their own slice of the good life, and these three cities supply the highpoint of any trip around the country.
Nowhere in the world is the impact of the Renaissance seen more fully than in its birthplace, Florence, the repository of artistic works left by Masaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and many others. The entire Mediterranean (and more) was once ruled from Rome, a city mythically founded by twins Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C. Its fortunes have fallen, a little, but it remains timeless. There’s no place with more artistic monuments—not even Venice, an impossible floating city that was shaped by its merchants and centuries of trade with the Byzantine world farther east.
And there’s more. Long before Italy was a country, it was a loose collection of city-states. Centuries of alliance and rivalry left a legacy dotted across the hinterlands of these three great cities, and much of it lies within easy day-trip distance. It is a short hop from the former maritime republic to the “Venetian Arc”: Verona, with its romance and its intact Roman Arena; or Padua and its sublime Giotto frescoes. In Siena, the ethereal art and Gothic palaces survive, barely altered since the city’s heyday in the 1300s. The eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 preserved Pompeii under volcanic ash for 2 millennia. It remains the best place to get up close with the world of the ancients.
ITALY’S BEST AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES
Dining Italian Style: The most cherished pastime of most Italians is eating—and each region and city has its own recipes handed down through generations. If the weather is fine and you’re dining outdoors, perhaps with a view of a medieval church or piazza, you’ll find the closest thing to food heaven. Buon appetito!
Catching an Opera at Verona’s Arena: Summertime opera festivals in Verona are produced on a scale more human than those in such cities as Milan—and best of all, they are held under the stars. The setting is the ancient Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheater that’s grand enough to accommodate as many elephants as required for a performance of “Aïda.” See p. 293.
St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
Cicchetti and a Spritz in Venice: Cicchetti—tapaslike small servings, usually eaten while standing at a bar—are a Venetian tradition. Accompany the cicchetti with a spritz made with Aperol and sparkling prosecco wine from the Veneto hills, to make the experience complete. See p. 248.
Exploring Rome’s Mercato di Testaccio: The famous old Testaccio Market has made way for a glass-paneled, modernist beauty across the street from a slaughterhouse-turned-art-museum. Mingle with busy signoras with trolleys chock-full of celery, carrots, and onions for the day’s ragù. Grab a slice of focaccia or some Roman street food, and pick up a genuine flavor of the Eternal City. See p. 131.
Food shopping at Florence’s Mercato Centrale.
ITALY’S BEST RESTAURANTS
Pizzarium: Chef-entrepreneur Gabriele Bonci elevates the simple slice of pizza to extraordinary levels. There’s nothing fussy about the place, or the prices, but every single ingredient that goes onto or into a Pizzarium creation is carefully sourced and expertly prepared. It shows from the first bite. See p. 67.
Mercato Centrale, Florence: Not just a restaurant…. more the food hall of your dreams. You can pick and choose from multiple kiosks prepping and cooking the best Tuscan and modern Italian ingredients, and wash it all down with a fine wine from its well-stocked enoteca. From noon until nighttime, there’s a constant buzz about the place. See p. 168.
Ai Artisti, Venice: Venice’s culinary rep is founded on the quality of the fish sold at its famous market. Both primi and secondi at Ai Artisti feature the freshest catch from the lagoon and farther afield. See p. 254.
Il Gelato Bistrò, Rome: Savory ice cream may sound nuts—and occasionally it contains nuts—but gelato maestro Claudio Torcè pulls it off. For evening aperigelato or a light lunch, pair natural flavors such as sesamo nero (black sesame) with Parma ham served in a savory pancake. It really works. See p. 69.
ITALY’S BEST HOTELS
Villa Spalletti Trivelli, Rome: All-inclusive can be exclusive, especially when the experience of staying in an Italian noble mansion is part of the package. Opulence and impeccable service comes at a price, of course. When our lottery numbers come up, we will be booking a stay here. See p. 60.
A suite at Villa Spalletti Trevelli, Rome.
Continentale, Florence: Echoes of la dolce vita fill every sculpted corner of this modern hotel, whose rooms are flooded in natural light. If you want to relax away from your 1950s-styled bedroom, there are day beds arranged by a huge picture window facing the Ponte Vecchio. On the roof, La Terrazza is Florence’s best gathering spot for evening cocktails. See p. 156.
Metropole, Venice: The Grand Old Lady of Venetian hospitality was transformed from a medieval building into a luxury hotel in the 19th century. Today it remains a chic choice, filled with antiques and Asian art. See p. 238.
Palazzo Tolomei, Florence: A palace where Raphael once stayed—and maybe even gifted former owners a painting in lieu of rent—sounds grand, and you won’t be disappointed. The Renaissance layout and a baroque redecoration from the 1600s have been left gloriously intact. See p. 157.
On top of Pisa’s leaning tower.
ITALY’S BEST FOR FAMILIES
Climbing Pisa’s Wonky Tower: Are we walking up or down? Pleasantly disoriented kids are bound to ask, as you spiral your way to the rooftop viewing balcony atop one of the world’s most famous pieces of botched engineering. Pisa is an easy day trip from Florence, and 8 is the minimum age for heading up its Torre Pendente, or Leaning Tower. See p. 214.
Boat Tripping on the Venice Lagoon: Who doesn’t like a day boating on a lake, any lake? Throw in the floating city and its bell tower of San Marco as fixtures on the horizon and you have one unforgettable family moment. See p. 231.
The Venice lagoon, with the domes of St. Mark’s in the background.
Attending a Fiorentina Soccer Match: Forget lions battling gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum, or Guelphs fighting Ghibellines in Florence’s medieval lanes. For a modern showdown, hit a Florence soccer game. Home side Fiorentina plays Serie A matches at the city’s Stadio Comunale alternate weekends from September to June. Wear something lilac—the team’s nickname is i viola (“the purples”). See p. 204.
Taking a Trip to an Artisan Gelateria: Fluffy heaps of gelato, however pretty, are built with additives, stabilizers, and air pumped into the blend. Blue “Smurf” or bubblegum-pink flavors denote chemical color enhancement, and ice crystals or grainy texture are telltale signs of engineered gelato—so steer clear. Authentic artisan gelaterie produce good stuff from scratch daily, with fresh ingredients and less bravado. Believe us, you’ll taste the difference. See “Gelato,” p. 82, 173, and 258.
Visiting Rome’s Centrale Montemartini: Where industrial archaeology became a museum: The restored rooms of Rome’s first public electricity plant now house Greek and Roman statues from the city collection. The museum always has drawing and painting materials onsite, and guided tours for children are available on request. Plus on Sundays, there’s free admission for kids 11 and under. See p. 120.
ITALY’S BEST MUSEUMS
Vatican Museums, Rome: The 100 galleries that constitute the Musei Vaticani are loaded with papal treasures accumulated over the centuries. Musts include the Sistine Chapel, such ancient Greek and Roman sculptures as “Laocoön” and “Belvedere Apollo,” and the frescoed “Stanze” executed by Raphael, among which is his “School of Athens.” See p. 89.
The courtyard of Florence's Galleria degli Uffizi.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence: This U-shaped High Renaissance building designed by Giorgio Vasari was the administrative headquarters, or uffizi (offices), for the Medici dukes of Tuscany. It’s now the crown jewel of Europe’s art museums, housing the world’s greatest collection of Renaissance paintings, including icons by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. See p. 181.
Accademia, Venice: The “Academy” houses an incomparable collection of Venetian painting, exhibited chronologically from the 13th to the 18th century. It’s one of the most richly stocked museums in Italy, displaying works by Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto. See p. 270.
Galleria Borghese, Rome: Housed amid the frescoes and decor of a 1613 palace in the heart of the Villa Borghese gardens, this gem of a building is merely the backdrop for its collections, which include masterpieces of baroque sculpture by a young Bernini and Canova, and paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael. See p. 115.
Santa Maria della Scala, Siena: The building is as much the star as the artworks. This was a hospital from medieval times until the 1990s, when the building was closed and its frescoed wards, ancient chapels and sacristy, and labyrinthine basement floors were gradually opened up for public viewing. See p. 213.
ITALY’S BEST FREE THINGS TO DO
Being Rained on in Rome’s Pantheon: People often wonder whether the 9m (30-ft.) oculus in the Pantheon’s dome has a glass covering. Visit the ancient temple in the middle of a downpour for your answer: The oculus is open to the elements, transforming the Pantheon into a giant shower on wet days. In light rain, the building fills with mist, and during a full-fledged thunderstorm, the drops come down in a perfect 9m-wide shaft, splattering on the polychrome marble floor. Visitors on Pentecost get rained on by a cloud of rose petals. See p. 106.
Inside the Pantheon, Rome.
Basking in the Lights of the Renaissance: At dusk, make the steep climb up to the ancient church of San Miniato al Monte, Florence. Sit down on the steps and watch the city begin its evening twinkle. See p. 200.
Encountering the Gothic on the Streets of Siena: The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo stands at the heart of one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities. Steep, canyonlike streets, icons of Gothic architecture like the Palazzo Pubblico, and ethereal Madonnas painted on shimmering gold altarpieces transport you back to a time before the Renaissance. See p. 212.
Gazing in Wonder at Caravaggio’s Greatest Paintings: Rome’s French church, San Luigi dei Francesi is home to three panels by bad-boy of the baroque, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. His “Calling of St. Matthew” was painted at the height of his fame (and powers), and incorporates the uncompromising realism and chiaroscuro (extremes of light and dark) style that was Caravaggio’s trademark. See p. 106.
Getting Hopelessly Lost in Venice: You haven’t experienced Venice until you’ve turned a corner convinced you’re on the way somewhere, only to find yourself smack against a canal with no bridge, or in a little courtyard with no way out. All you can do is shrug, smile, and give the city’s maze of narrow streets another try. Because getting lost in Venice is a pleasure. See p. 227.
* San Frediano, Florence: Most Florentines have abandoned their centro storico to the visitors, but on the Arno’s Left Bank in San Frediano, you’ll find plenty of local action after dark. Dine at iO (p. 171), slurp a gelato by the river at La Carraia (p. 173), then drink until late at Diorama (p. 210) or Il Santino (p. 210), or catch an offbeat gig at Libreria-Café La Cité (p. 208). See “Where to Eat” and “Entertainment & Nightlife” in chapter 6.
Aperitivo time in Rome.
The Aperitivo Spots and Craft Beer Bars in Rome: Don’t confuse aperitivo with happy hour: Predinner cocktails tickle appetites, induce conversation and flirting, and allow free access to all-you-can-eat buffets if you buy one drink. And Romans are increasingly turning to artisan-brewed beers for that one drink. See “Entertainment & Nightlife” in chapter 4.
The Bacari of Venice: At bacari (neighborhood bars) all over Venice, locals nibble on tapaslike cicchetti, small fried bites, served alongside regional drinks such as prosecco or a spritz (prosecco mixed with Aperol and soda water). It’s finger food at its best: quick, inexpensive, tasty, and fun, plus an easy way to meet some people who call Venice home. See “Where to Dine” in chapter 8.
Florence’s Vegetarian Dining Scene: The days when you had to be a carnivore to fully enjoy a meal in the Renaissance city are long gone. The modern menu at Vagalume (p. 171) is populated with veggie dishes to fit any appetite, and A Crudo (p. 171) serves vegetarian tartares alongside its classic and reinvented meat versions. Vegans, as well as celiacs, are looked after by the inventive menus at Brac (p. 170) and Konnubio (p. 168).