Five secrets of Rome

KATE COUGHLAN
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013
Coloseum

SPECTACULAR: The Coloseum in Rome stands proud as a main landmark and attraction in the Italian capital city.

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From affordable shopping to taking enviable travel snaps, Kate Coughlan has this Italian capital covered.

Here's her top five tips.

1. DINING

It's possible to eat a three-course meal with wine for less than $15 in Rome. OK, so the three courses are each a piece of pizza and it's a hole-in-the-wall joint (barstool seating) and the wine is a little bottle of chilled Chianti with a plastic glass - if you ask for one. Don't be fussy.

Menu 1 is not far from the glorious Piazza Navona, the pizza is so delicious the tiny place is crammed with hungry Romans enthusiastically chewing their way though lunch while yelling into their mobile phones and simultaneously waving their arms around, so the entertainment's free.

And there'll be enough change from the lunch budget to spend $20 buying a Campari soda at a tourist trap near Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona where people-watching can take the rest of the day. Menu 1, Via Metastasio, 20f

2. WHERE TO STAY

There's no need to spend thousands of euros staying in Rome - an out-of-town hotel can still give that immersion experience, including Rome by night, at a fraction of the cost.

The Marriott Park Hotel, halfway between the international airport (Fiumicino) and the city (30km) has rates from as low as €135 ($218) for a generous bedroom with a good bathroom. Yes, it's usually an oxymoron - "good Roman bathroom".

We know the Romans invented plumbing in the second century BC to clear the debris of dead gladiators out of the Colosseum via the Cloaca Maxima, but why did they give up on improving the idea for the subsequent two millennia?

Resting on their laurels? Such a treat, then, that the Marriott Park has a separate toilet and shower in addition to a bathroom (with full-sized bath).

Wowee. The free wi-fi in the massive lobby is a bonus but best of all is the shuttle bus delivering guests right into the heart of the city every hour or so (last pick-up 11pm).

If you can't bear to be in Rome and NOT be in the heart of it, try the Hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps.

Pronounce it "Assler" and dip into your pocket for €2000 a night. Marriott Park Hotel, via Colonnello Tommaso Masala, 54

3. SHOPPING

Like to buy designer bags for a quarter of the usual price? And not from the new merchants of Rome either: those charming African gentlemen with their fake fall-apart-after-one-outing designer wares strewn across the pavements along the Tiber.

No, these are the real deal and are sourced from fashion shows and TV programmes by a pair of enterprising sisters.

The clothes tend to be on the small side but not so the handbags.

Some of the clothes look as if they might be second-hand rather than worn-just-once but when the Via Condotti - home to the ultimo-stylish designer flagship stores - gets a bit OTT, browsing Stella McCartney, Alberta Ferretti, Dior, Fendi, D&G (heaps of this), Prada and Gucci for under €1000 makes a nice change.

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Both shops are called Lesley though that's the name of only one of the sisters behind this business (the other is Wendy). Lesley, Via Lombardia, 38C and Via Vittoria, 27

4. ITALIANO

Life is a million times more fun if you try at least one or two phrases in Italiano. No matter how stilted it sounds, it's like switching on a light behind the waiter/shopkeeper/receptionist's eyes.

Even if Italiano is beyond you, never (ever) forget the politeness . . . go overboard on "please" and "thank you".

Now say after me: "Scusi, per favore, grazie, molte grazie" and "fa bello" (it's a nice day). You can't overdo it in Italiano; use them all in one sentence even.

5. PHOTO MOMENT

The best place to take an autumn or spring sunset shot of St Peter's Basilica, silhouetted against a blazing sky with Rome's ubiquitous umbrella pines dotting the fading horizon line, is from the centre of the Ponte Umberto.

Little wonder Il Papa has kept the power - it's an awesome sight indeed.

Kate Coughlan travelled to Rome with Cathay Pacific (daily flights to Rome via Hong Kong) to join the Azamara Journey for a seven-night cultural immersion tour of Tuscany and Provence; azamaracruises.com.

For Kate's story about the cruise, see NZ Life & Leisure issue 53, on sale December 30.

- Sunday Star Times

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