Have I mentioned that I have a new, favourite neighbourhood in Rome? Yes, I have become a Monti convert. (Above, the twins Castor and Pollux from the Quirinale Hill in Monti.)
Monti is a very old part of Rome (which is saying something in a city so old) and a bit off the tourist path. To my surprise, I found that extremely appealing when I rented an apartment in Monti in June.
A bit of background: I always stay in the Campo de' Fiori area, which is adjacent to the Piazza Navona neighbourhood and therefore, Tourist Central in Rome. Usually, I like this. I think of myself as a traveller, not a tourist (an important distinction) but I admit that popular tourist areas are popular for a reason -- that's often where many of most interesting, appealing sights are.
But I found this year that I really enjoyed being just a bit off the tourist grid. Monti (which was a slum in Ancient Rome) was close enough that I could walk (or take a quick bus ride) to the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and other popular spots. But the June crowds quickly drove me back to the relative quiet of Monti.
Don't get me wrong: Monti is a scene, but a more Roman scene. The shops are mostly local (though there was an American Apparel outlet just around the corner from me. And a faux Irish pub drawing North American students. Sigh.) And there were lots of very small coffee bars, a bustling piazza and not a Blue Ice gelato chain store in sight.
BTW, to help you get your bearings: Monti is very roughly bordered on the east by the Colosseum, with Santa Maria Maggiore on its northern border and the Quirinale on the western side.
A feature published in the New York Times recently about Monti described it as “a working-class neighbourhood in the heart of the historic centre, gentrifying around the edges. It is a place where a knife sharpener still makes monthly rounds even as young entrepreneurs are opening artsy bookstore-cafes, vintage clothing shops, organic markets and galleries.”
Alas, I did not see the knife sharpener! But I did find several good restaurants, amazing (and inexpensive) gelato, and great metro access. However, I could not find a forno (next time, I'll look harder) and there weren't enough churches close by the apartment I rented from Dolce Roma to allow me to hear as many church bells as I'd like.
Being in a new (to me) neighbourhood meant interesting sights to discover. I spent more time around the church San Pietro in Vincoli, which was right outside my door; and was surprised to find the Quirinale so close. And so interesting, particularly the Scuderie del Quirinale, which hosts major art exhibitions. Another spot I had visited once before but never got around to revisiting.
I discovered that the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was only a five-minute walk away. (All uphill, of course. Both ways.) I also discovered my new favourite church, Santa Prassade. A true gem chock-a-block with beautiful mosaics.
Much to my surprise, the UPIM department store across from SM Maggiore was really interesting (and even stocked Hello Kitty pantyliners. I have now seen everything.)