Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 4229: Owner, Rome is Home
1bed/1bath apartment near Campo dei Fiori, Rome
July 8-19, 2009, 11 nights
Massimo and Biancamaria's (M&B) rental is a one-bedroom apartment a few streets away from the Campo de' Fiori and Piazza Navona in Rome, on the Via dei Chiavari, which is small and (as Roman streets go) quiet. I had lived in this neighborhood fifteen years earlier as a graduate student -- right above the Campo, in fact. To live in the vicinity again was a real treat. Truth be told, I was glad that this time around I was living off the Campo, which has become even less residential, more commercial, and far more noisy at night, with many bars and night clubs that cater to the young. All of that said, it's a great neighborhood, right in the heart of the historic center.
The Campo de' Fiori is home to one of the best open-air markets in the city; though a little smaller than it was 15 years ago, the market offers fresh fruits and vegetables every day but Sunday, as well as dried pastas, fruits, spices, nuts (not to mention a few other stalls offering bottles, kitchen wares, purses, and the obligatory cheap t-shirts). In sum, the market is perfect for those who like to cook with fresh ingredients and make friends with local vendors.
The shops of the Campo are also terrific: these include the Forno Campo de' Fiori on one corner (whose pizza bianca is superb), the alimentari Ruggeri on the other (meats, cheeses, decent wines), on the other, and many butchers all around. I also recommend, just down the street from the Forno, on the Vicolo del Gallo, the Latteria Consalvi (dairy shop) that sells milk, cheeses, and a little fresh pasta (Americans, get your butter elsewhere!).
The Campo is also home to the recently-reopened Cinema Farnese. My family and I took a break from tourism and say Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince here (in English). The owner was a little bemused when we showed up early to claim our seats -- and he was right: plenty of room in the house. What's the difference between an Italian cinema and an American one? The American has a snack bar, the Italian has a bookstore.
On the Via dei Chiavari itself is another fine bakery, Forno Roscioli, whose pizza bianca we thought equal, if not better, to that of the Forno Campo de' Fiori. Just outside the apartment, on the corner of the Via dei Chiavari and the Via di Sant'Anna is the Bar Rossana, named for its hectic owner, which makes excellent coffees. I think Rossana knew I preferred a morning cappuccino before I did. Wish I had bought the t-shirt. One street away, on the Via del Monte della Farina, is the small supermarket Punto, where you'll find other basic kitchen and household needs, including detergents, paper towels, and (Americans take note) salted butter; of course you can also buy food and beverages here, too. I should add that our apartment was well-stocked with the basics, so we had no need to buy them (not always the case in a rental).
M&B's apartment is one of several in the building, one of those historical old palazzi for which Rome is famous -- not old by Roman standards, perhaps, but ancient by American standards. When you enter the building and find yourself in a cool marble foyer with a grand staircase, you have the choice of walking up 70+ stairs, or you can take the small elevator -- a nice amenity. We saw a few of the building's residents from time to time, but sometimes it felt like we were the only tenants.
Digression: It seems to me that, at least in the Campo/Navona area, that much industry is devoted to renting apartments to tourists, much more than I had expected. If everyone is renting their flats out, where the hell do they live? Has Rome become a city of stranieri?
Anyway, the building is quiet, which means that the apartment is quiet, too. The apartment itself is oblong: the kitchen opens onto a dining area that merges into a sitting area. The bedroom and bathroom, which are attached, are accessed by doors just off the sitting area. It's a cozy place, but not cramped, and windows throughout (not to mention the white walls) make it bright and cheery. The flat was perfect for the three of us (my wife and I and our teenage daughter), and would probably do well for four.
No outside sitting area, though the windows in the sitting area and the bedroom open directly onto the Via dei Chiavari and the Largo del Pallaro, so we never felt claustrophobic.
The apartment was clean and in very good shape. Being in what I assume to be regular use, it shows normal signs of wear and tear, which is actually very comforting: this is not one of those immaculate rentals where one is never at ease and is always afraid of breaking something. It felt to us like a home. The sitting area has a couch for two or three, an armchair, and a wicker chair, all comfortable. The dining room table can expand to accommodate six diners (though there were only five chairs in the apartment, including the desk chair from the bedroom).
The apartment is not air-conditioned. Although I detest air-conditioning as a rule, given that our visit lasted into mid-July, I was a little concerned about getting overheated. I needn't have worried: the flat has excellent natural air flow, and even on the hottest afternoons there were plenty of breezes to cool us off. Because the apartment faces due west, the sitting area and the bedroom get full afternoon sun. The solution is simply to close the shutters: the air still gets in. There's also a fan in the bedroom, which is helpful.
The apartment also features a television with a decent selection of Italian channels (though we never used it) and wireless Internet, which was a godsend (see below).
The bed is very large, and although firm, comfortable; plenty of pillows and extra blankets (if needed). Each side of the bed has its own table with a lamp, and there's a desk with chair at the foot of the bed. Our daughter slept well on the sofa in the sitting area -- or, rather, on the large bed that folds out of it. The walls are very thick, and when the bedroom door is closed, very little noise from the other side gets through.
The bathroom is typically European: small but efficient. The shower cubicle is compact, but the water flow robust. We enjoyed the sink, with its generous counter space (enough room for all our toiletries). A toilet and bidet stand at the other end of the room. Towels and linens were provided. There was never a danger of running out of hot water, because the apartment is equipped with an on-demand boiler, which serves the bathroom and the kitchen (and its appliances).
The kitchen of the rental apartment is usually the most random room in the house: you never know what you're going to find there. It's true that Rome has many good restaurants, and it's also true that Romans themselves eat out a lot, and I think that this custom is often expected of tenants. And the expectation is probably just: I can't tell you how many rental reviews I've read stating something like: "The kitchen was well-stocked, but we never used it." My gut response -- "Why are you renting an apartment, then?" -- is followed by "So do you really know whether the kitchen was well-stocked?" My family and I love to cook, so a working kitchen is essential for us.
I'm happy to report, then, that M&B's kitchen met our needs. There's plenty of plates and flatware, and a decent amount of bowls, cups, and glasses (though perhaps more wine glasses would be nice, if one has guests, which we did). The utensils and pots and pans are also plentiful and of decent quality, though (as is typical) lids are in scarce supply. The gas stove top has four burners of various sizes, and I used at least three of them simultaneously at some point. There is no oven, alas, but we knew that going in. There's sufficient counter space in the kitchen itself, but we also used the dining-room table for some of the prep work. The room has a relaxed vibe, and we enjoyed preparing nice, relaxed meals: it was easy to make a few courses and main dishes with some sides. There's a nice window by the stove top, and chatter from the other apartments floats in on the breeze. The seasoned cook will find it easy to improvise.
The kitchen also features a large refrigerator with freezer and a microwave oven, which was useful for reheating leftovers. There's a large dishwasher, which worked well, and coffee-makers of various kinds including an American one, about which Massimo seems very enthusiastic. Unfortunately, since I'm the only coffee-drinker in the family, I was content with the Bar Rossana in the mornings. Finally, the kitchen also features the washing machine, right under the stove top. It, too, functions well, and we used it often. I couldn't tell whether it could dry as well as wash, but we were content with the drying rack and the iron.
Problems or Bonuses
No bad surprises, only good:
Agency and Representatives (and price)
In all aspects of the booking I dealt directly with Massimo via email, whose English is very good and who tolerated my incipient Italian. (One day, Massimo, you and I will speak in your language -- but not yet!) Massimo was up front about all of the procedures and costs, and his web site is also presents an accurate picture of the flat. There were no surprises, and no questions that couldn't or wouldn't be answered promptly. The price was, for everything we got and considering the location, fair.
What I really like about Massimo is that he is genuinely interested in people. He asked about our plans, gave us recommendations, made sure we were comfortable -- all of the things the best of landlords would do. Yet I think of Massimo as more than a landlord: he's a friend, who trusted me and my family with his apartment. My only regret is that Massimo and Biancamaria were unavailable to meet us in person. We were initially crushed to hear this news, but Massimo called me when we got to the apartment, after we were shown in by his caretaker, Ronnie, and we had a good and congenial conversation. We would have had a few more, I'm sure, but being unwise to the ways of the cell phone we missed a few of his calls.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
My family and I would absolutely stay here again, hands down. And we hope to (and to meet Massimo and his family in person). I would definitely recommend this rental to my friends who understand the Slow Travel philosophy; those who don't, I wouldn't want them living in what we consider now our home-away-from-home.
Things to do in this area
As noted above, this apartment is in the heart of the historic center, so there's no shortage of things to do or to see. In addition to the shops I mentioned above, I'll also mention one restaurant: Grappolo d'Oro Zampano on the Piazza Della Cancelleria, which gave me the best meal I had in Rome. In fact, I'm wishing I was dining there right now.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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