Wanda Ventling on a Roman Holiday

After visiting Spain, Morocco and Portugal, the final days of our two-week holiday vacation were spent in the heart of Rome. Though the days were few, the memories linger and make thoughts of returning a pleasant pastime.

When in Rome

Stay We had only two nights in Rome, so we decided to splurge on a luxury hotel. Because we were traveling in January, after the holidays, prices were discounted from the peak season. We chose the Westin Excelsior (Via Vittorio Veneto, 125, Rome, 00187 Italy) and it did not disappoint anyone in our group. It’s no surprise that the hotel made the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List 2013. It is in a prime location in the popular Via Veneto district, with the Spanish Steps and Borghese Gardens and Gallery nearby. The hotel’s lovely rooms are decorated in Imperial style, with period furniture, velvet draperies and ornate chandeliers. Upon our arrival, we ate lunch in the club room, which was casual with white draped tables. The food—delicious and memorable—was served buffet-style.

Walk This area of Rome has narrow streets with names such as Via Condotti, Via Frattina and Via Borgognona. Each is lined with tiny, sophisticated boutiques offering everything imaginable. You’ll see storefront windows where world-famous fashion designers showcase their latest next to charming candy shops, bakeries, quaint sidewalk cafes and leather shops. If you see a men’s tie shop, you can count on seeing silk ties in every stripe, pattern and color you could possibly want.

We didn’t spend much money in the shops but the experience was fun, especially in the evening when the holiday lights came on and vendors offered freshly roasted chestnuts. This area also features historical sites such as the Trinità dei Monti Church and the Trevi Fountain, an astonishing Baroque design. If you’re visiting in winter, wear layered clothing. Wear comfortable shoes and plan to walk. When you need some relief, catch a local bus or taxi.

Eat All visitors here want to find the little place that serves fabulous Italian food. Our concierge suggested we try a place just a few blocks away, the Ristorante Girarrosto Toscano. This basement-level restaurant proved warm and inviting, and the seating area was cozy due to a low ceiling. We joined the locals for an enchanting evening and 0ur waiter, Fabrizzio!, made us feel like family. We had delicious antipasto, pasta and dessert with wine pairings.

Visit Don’t miss the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica. The museum complex, started in 1506, houses ancient, Renaissance and modern art. The Sistine Chapel has Michelangelo’s famous painted ceiling. The panels capture stories from the Book of Genesis with The Creation of Adam as the hallmark image. Michelangelo’s painting, The Last Judgment, lines the wall behind the chapel altar.

We hired an archeologist to guide us through the museums and chapel, avoiding long lines. His insights and knowledge helped us better understand what we saw.

Next door to the museums is the famous St. Peter’s Basilica, architecturally unequaled in the world. This church, consecrated in 1626, features Michelangelo’s jaw-dropping church dome and my favorite, his incredibly beautiful Pietà.

Top picks:

• The Colosseum is located next to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ruins. Combine a visit to these areas to appreciate ancient Rome, born over 2,700 years ago.

• The Pantheon, dating to 126 A.D., is one of the best-preserved ancient buildings. Originally constructed on the edge of the city, it is now in the heart of Rome.

• The Spanish Steps is the widest staircase in Europe. It ascends from the Piazza di Spagna upward to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti.

• Trevi Fountain, a large Baroque fountain depicting Neptune’s chariot led by tritons and sea horses. It is located in Rome’s famous Trevi district. The fountain is stunning at night and has been featured in multiple films. Visitors throw 3,000 euros into the fountain each day, which are used for the poor.

• Campo dè Fiori piazza hosts a colorful market during the day. The square is lined with restaurants with outside seating. The spot is great for people watching. Later in the evening, the square is popular with youth.

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