Rome holds high esteem as one of the best city break destinations in the world. The capital of Italy, a food mecca, the gateway to Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast and the ancient capital of the world. So unsurprisingly, Rome’s visitor numbers are extraordinary. In fact, in any given ‘normal year’ nine million people flock to see the Eternal City’s copious sights and sounds.
There are no stats yet for just how many visitor numbers there will be this compromised year, but I saw it with my own eyes and the crowds were certainly gone. As an average 16,500 people visit the Colosseum on any given normal day. Yet, in the two hours I spent at the attraction, there can’t have been more than a little over 100. Feeling smug, I spared a thought for Roberto Cercelletta’s successor, the infamous Roman thief who routinely stole up to $1,000 a day from the waters of the Trevi Fountain. Looking at the loose change in the basin this summer, they might have been best to seek out the Italian furlough scheme.
As distinct to Rome as a marble column are the conga lines of tour groups. Guides wielding flags in the sky, stalked by stickered and colour coded gangs vying for space close enough to hear their rehashed commentary. Yet, not a single flag bearing tour leader was weaving through the city this September. Without them, you can criss-cross and zig-zag from Roman Forum to Trevi Fountain, whistle through a list of secret churches famed for frescos, Caravaggios and courtyards, frustration and fancy-free. There was no destination where this was more rewarding than the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Entire collections to ourselves and the opportunity to stand back and truly take in a tapestry, ancient map or Roman bust without it being obscured by others. The Sistine Chapel takes on an entirely different level of serene calm when you have it almost entirely to yourself.
All this talk of emptiness might have you concerned about the atmosphere in places that need a bit of action. The city is still abuzz, just not awash. Italians are still charging around throughout the city, obliging and patient with government rules and regulations. Masks are mandatory indoors and I cannot say I once saw someone ignoring the guidelines. Without the crowds, you are afforded the essential socially distant space between one another which we have all become accustomed to. Traverstare is still humming with locals spilling out on to the streets to eat their four-course meals and meet over a glass of Italian wine. Da Enzo, our favourite trattoria in the area, still had a waiting list of two hours for dinner on a Friday night. Fortunately, in Rome, there’s more than one extraordinary place to dine.
I stayed at the wonderful Hotel de la Ville, sister hotel to the institution Hotel de Russie. Hotel de la Ville could well sit in the shadow of sister hotel, Hotel de Russie – an icon of Rome since it opened in 1901. Even Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau stayed in February of 1917, plucking oranges from the trees outside the windows of their adjoining rooms. The hotel routinely graces the Conde Nast Gold List, is always filled to the rafters with the most glamorous members of society and hosts one of the city’s most famous drink spots – The Stravinskij Bar. It is the unrivalled and popular ruler of the Roman five-star hotel scene.
Perhaps sadly for de Russie, de la Ville doesn’t have sitting in the shadows in its DNA. It rivals its sister across the board when it comes to five-star specification. Sitting at the top of the Spanish Steps with sweeping views of the city, the hotel’s location is second to none. On the seventh floor sits the highest restaurant bar in the ancient part of the city. Here you can take it all in, or better still – test the charming staff to name each rooftop and spire you can see on the skyline. Literally the only name drop attraction missing from your birds-eye view is the Colosseum. But, selling points of the hotel do not stop there. Rooms are an elegant ode to the city you are in; Roman prints, mosaics and design in your room with immaculate marble en-suite bathrooms. No well-heeled Roman who had ever graced the city would be disappointed by this setup, service and style.
For the time being, Italy remains on the UK green list and there is no better time to make the most of the country’s extraordinary cities. The crowds are depleted beyond your wildest imagination, but the attractions, sights and restaurants are all running as usual. If you have the opportunity, you must take it.
A long weekend at Hotel de la Ville starts from £3,000 inclusive of three nights on a bed and breakfast basis in a Deluxe Room, airport transfers and return flights.
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