The secret terraces of Rome

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The World

ROME, Italy — The line outside the Coliseum snakes around the fence for a mile. It’s hot and your throat is parched. You could cross the street to the first kiosk reading “Drinks, Gelato, Panini,” and buy just anything, like thousands of tourists do in a panicky impulse; or you could walk a further off the beaten path and into Rome’s hidden terraces, for an afternoon aperitivo or dinner that you won’t easily forget.


The view of the coliseum from Palazzo Manfredi. (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

Just one block east of the Coliseum is a terrace seven floors up, which most Romans know about from driving around the monument. This terrace is easily missed by tourists on foot, and with it one of the world's most breathtaking views of the Coliseum. It "belongs" to the 16th-century Palazzo Manfredi, a 5-star hotel that opened their terrace earlier this year and whose tiny entrance is found along Via Labicana.

However the view comes at a price — affordable only to those dining in the hotel’s restaurant, Aroma, where a three-course meal can cost up to 100 euros ($130) per person.

Cocktails at the Palazzo Manfredi.                          (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

If your pockets aren’t deep enough to enjoy the sea-bass carpaccio with ginger-scented fresh tuna tartare or veal filet served on a crunchy ratatouille flower, cocktails are served in the back terrace, where there is no view of the Coliseum. But the peach-capirosca accompanied by deep-fried arancini and sushi, might be enough to cope with the loss.

Besides, the restaurant does promise value for money. “Our goal is to exceed customers’ expectations,” said hotel manager Ruggero Penza. Penza impresses patrons who find their way to Aroma by suggesting the right dishes with the tactful insight of a therapist. “I create harmony at my tables,” he said. “If I see a couple that doesn’t get along, I find ways to intervene.”


A woman  on the Grand Hotel de la Minerve terrace. (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

The gastronomic choices on offer outside the Pantheon hardly suit the elegance of the nearly 2,000-year-old temple. Hosting the tombs of Italy's kings and renaissance great, Raphael, it's the best preserved Roman monument. Leaving behind the touristy bars and the fast food across the piazza, and walking behind the Pantheon to the smaller square with a marbled elephant with an obelisk on its back, opens up a new world of choice. There you’ll find the Grand Hotel de la Minerve, the oldest hotel in Rome, which recently turned 200.

A quick elevator ride takes you to the hotel’s L-shaped terrace overlooking the Pantheon dome on one side and Venice Square on the other.

Despite its luxurious look, no dress code is required. “I’d want for all of them to wear shorts, so I could wear them, too,” said Ezio Sacrini, the jovial hotel director.

The view from the Grand Hotel de la Minerve.    (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

As a piano ushers you into the evening, the barkeep offers mojitos made with three different kinds of fresh mint. Or you can try a local variant of the drink, the Basiliquito, with Genoa and Greek basil picked fresh from pots along the terrace. Or better yet, surprise him or her by asking for an Angelica Martini, a cocktail invented by yours truly the night we visited the hotel. Drinks are 15 euros ($20) on average.

Dinner is as memorable as the view. For 90 euros ($116) you can try the tasting menu, an elegant parade of gourmet fish and meat dishes, such as prawns with citrus fruits or duck breast with a raspberry and olive oil dressing. The cannelloni — fresh dough rolls — with veggies and smoked scamorza cheese are something else.


The terrace of Hotel Forum, near the Roman ruins. (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

Trekking through the Roman Forum can be a dizzying experience in the midday summer heat. Concentrated inside this ancient city are monuments at every turn —basilicas, triumphant arches, temples dedicated to military heroes like Julius Caesar and traces of the first Roman settlement on Palatine Hill.  But if you are insistent on expanding your knowledge of ancient Roman history, then be sure to treat yourself to a great drink afterward. Retrace your steps back to the entrance of the Forum, cross the street to Via Cavour, and at the first intersection make a left to Hotel Forum.

The hotel’s roof garden is the domain of a smiling barman who speaks several languages but prefers to let his cocktails speak for themselves. Gulls fly above customers as they relax on cushioned benches or at their tables. Lounge music plays from speakers hidden by a wall of purple bougainvillea.

“Working here is like being on vacation every day,” said barman Paolo Farina, in Italian, as he positions bowls of chips and pistachios at a table.

Try his "Americano," a vermouth and Campari drink with bitter and soda that was conceived in the 1930s to emulate American cocktails. The terrace bar serves everything from beer and basic cocktails to Champagne and refined spirits – drinks run from 8 to 30 euros ($10-39).


A rendition of the Hercules Temple at Hotel 47.  (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

With its private collection of Italian contemporary art from modernist painters Amedeo Modigliani and Piero Guccione, Hotel 47’s exclusive and quiet terrace offers a refreshing evening-break from ancient Rome.

The hotel is walking distance from the Circus Maximus, Rome's ancient racing track where gladiators steering four-horse carriages would battle to their death in front of 250,000 spectators. It is located inside an unassuming and bulky palace across the street from the Hercules Temple, the landmark for Rome's ancient cattle market.

The terrace is open year-round, but serves dinner only during the summer. You can swirl your glass of wine while critiquing contemporary renditions of the second century Hercules Temple, which are hung on the walls of the terrace.

Dinner with a view at Hotel 47.                               (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

Try the dishes from their Roman menu, such as creamy pasta carbonara, or the typical panzanella bread and tomato served with fresh buffalo mozzarella. The restaurant also offers the catch of the day and more Mediterranean plates. A full meal costs 65 euros ($84) per person.

Publicity manager Gabriella Pergamo recommends an after-dinner walk to Monte Caprino — a park behind Capitol Hill dotted with ruins. “It’s very evocative,” Pergamo said. On your way out, you can purchase a work of art at the hotel lobby.


A night view from Hotel Sofitel Villa Borghese.  (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

In the popular Via Veneto la “Dolce Vita” is passe.

These days, you won’t find any of the old glamour that gave Italian cinema of the 1960s its fame. So if you happen to be at Piazza Barberini, save your time and go straight to upper Via Veneto, then turn two blocks west where a hotel winks at those days long gone.

The luxurious La Terrasse Cuisine & Lounge (formerly known as the Hotel Sofitel Villa Borghese), managed by a French company, is a majestic marbled palace where film director Federico Fellini was often seen drinking a nightcap after courting the Roman scene.

Sundown is the best time to enjoy the “Bellavista” terrace on the seventh floor, far away from the rowdy urban noise. It’s the perfect place to take a panoramic night shot of the Vatican's St. Peter’s Basilica. 

The bar at the Hotel Sofitel Villa Borghese.           (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

At the bar, two young French bartenders will accommodate your most demanding requests, always with a smile — from sour Sidecars and sweet Passion Love Martinis, to La Terrasse's signature drink AroMojito, a fragrant take on a Mojito made with cinnamon or rose petals. Prices for cocktails can go up to 18 euros ($23), and up to 80 euros ($103) for a four-course meal.

“You must try their pizza with figs and prosciutto … It’s amazing,” said Emanuela Bucci, who manages PR for La Terrasse.

When night falls on the Eternal City, the hotel's terrace provides its customers with a shawl to keep warm — even during summer.


The rooftop terrace at Hotel Valadier.                   (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

Anywhere around Piazza del Popolo, bars and restaurants offer $10 drinks to merely people-watch under an umbrella. With a quick walk and $5, you can afford to go to Hotel Valadier. Go to Via del Corso and make a left at the first street.

Atop Hotel Valadier, you’ll find HI-Res restaurant, a bright and loungy terrace with a look so modern, that you could very well think to be in a New York bar — but the Roman domes will bring you back.

Exclusive clients, aficionados, politicians and Italian actors cross the HI-Res threshold on any given night. As the music of an attractive Brazilian DJ plays in the background, waiters dish out appetizers inspired by Italian, French and Asian cuisines.

 A couple enjoying dinner at the Hotel Valadier. (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

“Our cuisine is minimalist,” said HI-Res Manager Andrea Ciotoli. “We try to change as little as possible the original flavors of the food we serve.”

The steel-framed veranda shades customers who come in earlier for an afternoon aperitivo. The cocktails are generous and bold. Whether you order a Brazilian Caipirosca or a HI-Res Summer cocktail with vodka, kiwi and apple juice, one drink will be enough to unleash your appetite. Try the tartar bar, with its raw or blanched bites to accompany your cocktail. Prices run from 15 euros ($20).

Update: The Sofitel Villa Borghese Hotel changed its name on Aug. 6, to "La Terrasse Cuisine & Lounge."