We are often asked what our favorite destinations for the best cooking vacations are, and as I explained in our recent video (see below!), that is a hard question to answer. But in an effort to inspire you, we are going to feature some of our personal favorites. For me, there is only one place to start: Rome!
I have always been of the opinion that whatever part of Italy you first really experience – like live in, not just visit – will always be your favorite. For me, this was Rome. I discovered it for the first time when I was a university student doing a year-long study abroad program at the Università di Roma, and I just kept going back. That was some 30 years ago – holy cow! – and it’s still my favorite.
Rome has everything to offer. I think it has more historical sites and world-class art than any other place I’ve visited, and you can visit them all on our Rome culinary tours. There is the whole list of Ancient Roman sites, to start with. From the Palatine Hill, where Rome was founded, to the ancient fora, to the Pantheon, and the mammoth Colosseum, of course, but also beyond. The city seems almost littered with ancient ruins, many of them unmarked and simply a part of the everyday life of the city, something you pass by as part of your day to day life. This was the case for me as well when I lived in Rome, except for the Colosseum. I used to have to change busses right in front of it to get to work. Each time I stood there waiting for my second bus I would just marvel at the sight of it. The way it looked in the evening, as the sun was setting – it never became quotidian in any way.
The same can be said of the churches. Of course there are the famous, incomparable ones like Saint Peter’s, as well as Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Paolo Fuori le Mura. But there are so many others, many of them off the beaten track. And many of them offer their own glorious prizes: a Caravaggio painting, a Michelangelo statue, the tomb of a saint, an underground Mithraic temple, a serene cloister, twelfth-century frescoes. These are the places you have to seek out to find their treasures, and the journey is always worth it.
And of course, let’s not forget the museums. You could probably spend a week in the Vatican Museums and still want to go back for more. Travelers have been complaining in recent years that the Vatican Museums have gotten so crowded it’s hard to see the art. If there is one thing that the recent travel bans and quarantines have given the city it is that it has dispelled those crowds. I itch to get to Rome right now, to be able to see the Sistine Chapel in the company of only a few other people.
But Rome has many other museums too: those featuring its ancient roots, such as the National Etruscan Museum, the Capitoline Museum, the Palazzo Massimo and, one of my favorites, the Palazzo Altemps. Not to mention the Galleria Borghese, which features amazing Baroque masterpieces; the exquisite Galleria Doria Pamphilj; and the lesser known Galleria d’Arte Moderna.
Rome is more than just churches, museums, and monuments, as amazing as those are to see. It is a fun place, vibrant, friendly, urban, unapologetically Italian. It is a city of neighborhoods to explore, of parks to hang out in, piazzas to explore, and of course of regional gastronomy to discover! Roman cuisine is full of fabulous pastas (the most famous probably being carbonara), but it also has amazing meat dishes featuring offal as well as things like veal saltimbocca, porchetta, and osso buco. One of my favorite things to do is visit the local markets (which you can do with our chefs during our cooking classes in Rome). A snack made with a “rosetta” roll and fresh sheep’s-milk ricotta, with perhaps just a sprinkle of salt, instantly takes me back to my days living in Rome, and they are things you simply cannot replicate and cannot get anywhere else.
Rome is called the Eternal City, and for me, it’s because it’s always, eternally Rome. There is something about it that just doesn’t change. After my kids were born there were several years during which I didn’t travel internationally. When I finally got back to Italy and Italian friend in Florence warned me that Rome had changed, it was not what I remembered it as being. Later in that trip, during the taxi ride from Roma Termini train station to our hotel, I actually teared up because it seemed exactly the same. I commented to that effect to our taxi driver and he laughed. “Ma Roma non cambia mai! Purtroppo!” (“Rome never changes! Unfortunately!”).
In short: if you’ve never been, you really need to go.
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By Peg Kern
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