‘We made it out of Italy just in time to avoid quarantine – but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat’

Mary Williamson
·5-min read
Rome
Rome

Ah! Buongiorno! Benvenuti a Roma! The warmest of welcomes enveloped us as we arrived in Rome. In the current climate it was the nearest we could get to a hug. Despite the damning effect of the pandemic on Italian tourism, we were greeted wherever we went with complete joy. We felt humbled and extremely privileged to be in Rome at such a time. Few will have enjoyed the Eternal City as it is right now.

It has been a long cherished dream to visit Rome. However the virus crisis caused the postponement of our original May arrangements. September should surely be safe, we thought, but as the time drew near, anxiety began to creep in as we heard of air bridges to other destinations collapsing. Would Italy be next? Could we cope if we had to isolate on our return for 14 days? Airlines were cancelling flights as passenger numbers dwindled. Our own flights had to be rescheduled. Was this the sign of worse to come? But finally with departure imminent and the air bridge still intact, we decided to go ahead. It was one the best decisions we ever made.

Yes, I still think that having returned just before Italy went onto the ‘red list’ on October 18.

In the capable hands of our tour operator, we swept confidently and safely through Gatwick airport - an experience that felt reassuringly normal despite face masks and lack of fellow passengers. We were pleasantly surprised to find that despite at least one claustrophobic amongst us, wearing a mask for several hours during the flight caused a minimum of discomfort. 

With fewer flights arriving, transition through arrivals was brisk and few passengers meant that social distancing was easy and temperature checks were operated at all security control points.

Hotel de la Ville Rome
Hotel de la Ville Rome

And so a dream began with a transfer into the very heart of the city and our home for the next three days – the magnificent Hotel de la Ville. Just a few paces from the top of the Spanish Steps this superb hotel is a stunning 18th-century palazzo. Glamorous rooms are set around an elegant courtyard and apricot walls glow in the Italian sun. It was so tempting to linger for hours in the hotel itself but thanks to our early start we had time to wander and Rome was waiting for us.

And wander we did! We strolled down the enchanting Spanish Steps (whoever thought to see them practically deserted), and along the boutique-lined Via Condotti. Time to pause in the Piazza Populi watching Romans of all ages whizzing by – mostly on electric scooters. A gentle saunter back up the Spanish steps and along to the gardens of the Villa Borghese, with just a smattering of locals.

Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps

To ensure our return we knew we must throw a coin into the astonishingly beautiful Trevi fountain - cue another gentle stroll on the second morning. Through the streets we became part of a gathering group of mainly Italian tourists all there with the same purpose. It was here that we appreciated the vigilance of the police guards, who moved quietly amongst the crowd ensuring social distancing and face masks. 

We acted on the advice of the wonderful concierge team at the hotel and booked our first evening meal where 'we would see how the Romans enjoy Saturday evening' - a short journey by taxi to Clothilde in the Piazza Cardelli where we spent a warm evening surrounded by laughter and music and enjoying superb food. The pasta with heritage tomato sauce was sublime especially when enjoyed as 'the chef respectfully requests' without cheese. How right the chef was!

The following day we were completely entertained and awed by our guide Carlotta, who charmed us with the depth of her knowledge. She whisked us back literally through the centuries as we walked from the Forum and along to the magnificent Colosseum. Every step, every turn and every stone sparked a story, anecdote or joke. In fact, most often a joke. Sad to say however, that, despite her determined efforts, we left unable to successfully roll our Rs. 'Roma' 'Non non!' 'Rrrrroma like Carrrrlotta' Oh dear. Never mind. Maybe when we return! 

Colosseum
Colosseum

Our evening meal on the Cielo Terrace at the Hotel de la Ville gave us time to absorb what we’d seen, eating wonderful food whilst drinking in the staggering vista across the terracotta rooftops of this fabulous city. Heaven indeed. Next morning, it was just as beautiful for breakfast in the early morning sunshine as it was in the twinkling lights of a Roman night.

Our morning greeting: 'Rain is forecast. Please take this umbrella' is a small example of the care lavished on us by the hotel’s reception team. And it did indeed rain, briefly but torrentially as we walked through St Peter's Square. What a privilege it was to be in the deserted square, to witness alone the Changing of the Vatican Guard and to enter the Basilica, dwarfed by its vastness. Our lovely guide was moved to tears by her first sight of the Basilica for seven months and to see it practically empty. We simply marvelled and thrilled at the sheer beauty around us and emotions ran high as we stood before the complete perfection of Michelangelo's 'Pieta'. Could there be more?

A short walk around the immense wall of the Vatican City and into the Vatican Museum indicated that yes, there could. Treasure after treasure until we stood at last in the stupendous Sistine Chapel. No video or picture truly prepares the eye for the feast that is Michelangelo's masterpiece. The only possible response is to stand in rapt silence – as we all did.

All too soon it was time for one more trip up and down The Stairway To Heaven, and our last dinner in Rome, at the traditional Ristorante Tullio where we enjoyed plates of delicately cured and spiced meats, luscious tomato sauces, aubergine and artichoke, served – as everywhere – with the greatest good humour.

And then it was 'Arrivederci' to Rome. Or really, ‘A presto’. See you soon. Based on what I’d seen, I’d go back in a heartbeat, quarantine or not.

Stay four nights in a Premium Room at Hotel de la Ville, A Rocco Forte Hotel in Rome from £1095 per person on a b&b basis with Elegant Resorts. The price also includes flights, private transfers and UK lounge access. elegantresorts.co.uk