It was our summer guests Sarah and John from England who first got us thinking about whether it really was possible to travel from Villasfor2 for a day out in Rome.
Bearing in mind Rome’s notorious traffic problems – not to mention the driving involved – taking the car didn’t seem like a good idea. The train’s worse. Even the fastest journey takes well over four hours.
The only way you’re going to spend a day out in Rome – and have enough time there to enjoy it – is to go by coach.
Di Fonzo Autolinee run a terrific service from nearby Lanciano to the Tiburtina bus station just outside Rome’s centre.
Catch the 8am service and you’ll arrive at 11am. A 100m walk to the Tiburtina metro station and you can be at the Vatican; the Colosseum; or the Spanish Steps about 20 minutes later. It’s a no-brainer.
We went in early December, planning the day around a visit to the Pantheon and the Christmas market which runs daily in the Piazza Navona from December 1 to January 6, the traditional date in Italy on which Christmas festivities end.
The Piazza Navona is an easy 30 minute stroll from the Spagna metro station at the Spanish Steps. A walk easily made longer as you amble down Rome’s premier shopping street, the Via Condotti, which is so smart and swish it makes Rodeo Drive and Bond Street look like slums.
Think of a designer label – it’s here. The prices induce nosebleeds. You need to be super-rich, super-cool, or super-confident just to go into one of these glitzy emporia. The Via Condotti is probably where window shopping was invented.
The Christmas market is a bit more approachable. It’s part-market; part-funfair. There’s an awful lot of tat on display, but enough stalls selling merchandise of genuine quality to more than hold your interest.
And if you’re not in retail mode – or it’s outside the Christmas period – you can always admire Bernini’s stunning ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’. An hour or more slips by quite effortlessly.
Though momentarily tempted by L’Arcano (06.67.86.929), We lunched at Antonio di Pantheon (06.67.90.798), a proper Roman trattoria that stands out like a beacon of gastronomic honesty in a sea of Pantheon restaurants where a fast turnover and maximising profits seem more the order of the day.
Both L’Arcano and Antonio di Pantheon are in Via dei Pastini, a restuarant-lined lane that links the Pantheon to the Via del Corso.
At Antonio’s, we shared a starter of deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy; some pasta; Scallopine al Limone and Polpettine with borlotti beans; a bottle of house red, water and coffee, which came to €71. Expensive by Abruzzo standards; cheap when compared to other Pantheon restaurants.
A short and satisfied waddle later had us admiring the Pantheon. Built in 125AD by the Emperor Hadrian, it houses the tombs of Italy’s first two kings, Vittorio Emanuele and his son Umberto, and the Renassiance artist Raphael.
But the real show-stopper is the Oculus, a 27-foot hole at the top of the dome that’s open to the elements. When rain or snow cascade through the Oculus down to the marble floor 142 feet below it’s reckoned to be the best bad-weather sight in Rome.
Incidentally, take a moment when you’re outside the Pantheon to walk around the back for a glimpse of a few surviving fragments of the Basilica of Neptune dating from 25BC.
By a happy accident, almost literally across the Via del Corso from the Pantheon is another of Rome’s must-sees, the Trevi Fountains.
Follow tradition and throw a coin (over your shoulder) into the fountains to ensure you’ll one day return to La Citta Eterna and try not to get too annoyed with the touts and conmen offering with monotonous regularity to take your photo.
Perhaps the sheer romanticism of the Trevi Fountains makes it so popular – even on an early evening in December. It’s spectacularly and satisfyingly big and the fountains and gushing water are loud enough to drown out the crowds.
Couldn’t help but feel smug that while the weather in Rome had been beautiful, it had rained all day in Ascigno.
We travelled by Di Fonzo Autolinee – www.difonzobus.com – and paid €61 for two return tickets. But you can travel for as little as €10 return at quieter times of the year.
Recommended ? Unhesitatingly. A day out in Rome could be one of the highlights of your Abruzzo villa holiday !