- As we whizzed along the Autostrada heading for the airport at the end of our honeymoon, the afternoon sun glinted off Rome’s domes and spires, Mr CW promised that we would visit Rome soon. Seventeen years and two children later we finally made that trip. After waiting so long it was only fitting that our accommodation was pretty special, a Roman room with a view.
26 PIAZZA DI SPAGNA
The Grand Tour was to young wealthy Georgian young men what the gap year is now. Rome was top of any Grand Tour itinerary and the streets surrounding the Spanish Steps (or Piazza di Spagna in Italian) was THE place to stay. When the Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats came to Rome they took an apartment in 26 Piazza di Spagna. Unfortunately Keats took a turn for the worse and died. The apartment where the poets lived is now a museum and the identical set of rooms above are available to rent through the Landmark Trust.
Staying at 26 Piazza di Spagna is not for the infirm, you need to climb up three steep flights of steps before you get to the apartment’s front door and there is no lift. Once you open the door you leave the twenty-first century behind. You enter into an elegant dining room.
Doors lead off into two bedrooms.
Another door takes you to the sitting room, equipped with comfy chairs and a well-stocked bookshelf.
In the kitchen, a tray of tea-making equipment was laid out, with milk in the fridge.
Every room has sensational ceilings; be sure to look up.
Once you’ve finished looking up, look out. The scene has not changed outside the windows for more than two centuries, sure the tourist wear different clothes now but other than that. This is view from the sitting room.
And this from the shower room!
Landmark Trust properties don’t have wi-fi which meant that we all put our devices down and talked to each other, read books and played games ….. just like my own childhood! The Spanish Steps are a magnet for tourists and those tourists stay until well into the night. As we were staying in January, cold drove them to warm hotel beds at some point after our bedtime. But in the morning we had the steps all to ourselves. Walking up to the building in the evening and unlocking the door made me feel like a resident rather than one of the other tourists. One of the biggest thrills? Walking past the velvet rope that divided ‘our’ part of the building from the museum!
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA or SPANISH STEPS
First thing to know about the Spanish Steps is that they are not Spanish at all. They were financed in 1723 by Etienne Gueffier, a French diplomat, to create a route up to the church at the top of hill, the Trinita dei Monti. Why was he so interested in having such fancy steps up to the church? Because the Church was French and the square below surrounded the Spanish Embassy and was considered to be Spanish territory. Surely the steps would curry favour with the Pope, might even become known as the French Steps. How wrong can you be?!
Francesco de Santis was the architect behind the steps and he made them to be a tribute to the Holy Trinity. There are three distinct flights of steps and each flight is divided into three. At the foot of the steps is a rather unusual fountain depicting a sinking boat. Pietro Bernini was faced with the problem of low water pressure for his fountain and so came up with the idea of commemorating the occasion when the flooding of the River Tiber caused a fishing boat to be washed up on this very spot. Whatever the reason it makes for a pleasant place to eat an ice-cream.
WHERE WE ATE
The streets around Piazza di Spagna contain some of the most expensive shops that you will find anywhere in the world and the restaurants tend to be of the type that have people in the street trying to tempt you in using illustrated menus. We managed to find places that served good food and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
‘GUSTO OSTERIA – Via della Frezza 16
First of all I concede that we were actually heading for ‘Gusto Pizzeria but mistakenly ended up in the ‘Gusto Osteria (wine bar). It didn’t matter as the food (and wine) was excellent in the Osteria. We had huge bowls of pasta but all around us Romans were feasting on plates ham and salami or cheese.
HOSTARIA al 31 – Via delle Carrozze 31
On our first morning we headed out bright and early to get to the Colosseum before the crowds. On our way we stopped for a quick coffee and pastry in the tiny Hostaria al 31. There is a bigger room at the back and in the evening the place transforms into a restaurant.
L’ANTICA ENOTECA – Via delle Croce 76
Now that the teens are, well, teens we have been known to leave them on their own for short periods of time at home. One evening when they were absorbed by their phones we took the rash decision to pop out for a drink ON OUR OWN. They were on the third floor of a locked building, they had phones, we had phones and would be yards away. We sat at the bar in Antica Entoteca for our Bellinis, it has been on via delle Croce since 1842 and not much seems to have changed. So nice did the food look that we headed there the next evening for dinner with the teens and very good it was too.
ANTICO CAFFÉ GRECO – Via dei Condotti 86
Keats and Bryon both drank coffee in the Caffé Greco. White aproned waiters glide around the coffee house taking orders. The interior is lovely, you can imagine Byron drinking coffee or maybe something a bit stronger here. It is however the most expensive coffee that I have ever drunk. So if you are looking for history and atmosphere pop in and savour every last drop, if you just want a quick pitstop head for Hosteria al 31 and drink your coffee standing up at the bar.
The Landmark Trust is a holiday rental company with a difference. Well, not a company at all, but a charity. Its aim is to rescue and restore buildings that are at risk. Once rescued and restored those buildings pay for themselves by being holiday rentals. Over the years I have stayed in a Scottish castle, a Napoleonic fort, a clocktower (complete with a chiming clock) and a mine among others. Staying in the Keats and Shelley House has been an ambition since I stayed in my first landmark back in the late 80s and read about it in the Landmark Handbook.
Every Landmark has a copy of the handbook in it, along with a well stocked bookcase covering local literary heroes, architecture and guidebooks. Every Landmark property is in the book, along with a brief description and floor plans. I realise that gazing at floor plans might not be everybody’s idea of fun but I love them. During our stay in Rome the teens browsed the handbook and now have a wishlist of their own, chips of the old block!
You can book Landmarks (as they are known) by simply clicking on the website, if you would like to support the charity more then you can do so in numerous ways. For £55 a year you can become a friend for which you get a copy of the handbook, priority booking and invitations to various events.
To see our first sight of our Roman Landmark Trust .
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