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Beyond the Tiber: Trastevere tour


The Trastevere district, once Rome’s poorer cousin, has evolved into a captivating neighbourhood full of enchanting streets, verdant parks and vibrant boutiques and restaurants. Stephen Doig explores

Stephen Doig
Stephen Doig,

The cobbled streets of Rome are well known to the culturally informed traveller; from the Via dei Condotti to the winding Via Veneto and the Via degli Annibaldi, which runs alongside the ancient Forum and takes one to the Colosseum, the city’s thoroughfares can feel like familiar old friends. These are the streets immortalised in literature and films from Cleopatra to Roman Holiday, with every nook and cranny instantly recognisable. But what of the Rome less travelled?

A short walk from Vatican City, by the banks of the fast-flowing Tiber river, Trastevere is a hidden jewel in Rome’s considerable crown, a warren of narrow, cobbled streets lined with sepia, periwinkle and saffron-hued villas and palazzos. It’s here that a cool cultural scene has evolved in this most historical of cities.

The very name of the area, Trastevere, points to the fact that it lies outside the regular reaches of the Roman traveller – it translates into English as ‘beyond the Tiber’. Historically, this was Rome’s poor cousin; an area that, due to its close proximity to the river, became a haven for sailors and immigrants – it was so far off the beaten track that in the medieval period, the only way to access it from central Rome was via a small wooden bridge.

The Great Beauty
The area’s cultural legacy is fascinating; not for Trastevere the august honours of hosting the city’s first sons, film directors Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti. Instead, in the 1960s and 1970s it became a haven for cutting-edge musicians and its winding streets, hung with ivy, were the birthplace of an experimental electronica movement in music.

An audience that appreciates film might, however, be familiar with one particularly captivating area of Trastevere: Gianicolo hill. It’s here that a central part of Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty, released in 2013, was filmed; the movie captured the charm of the eternal city for a new era and is renowned for making the city its biggest and most sumptuously shot character.

Just a stone’s throw from Gianicolo hill, a series of green spaces point to Trastevere’s status as something of a garden in this built-up, frenetic city. The area is home to several sprawling parks, including the elegant Villa Sciarra, full of fountains and statues, the fascinating Orto Botanico and the extensive Villa Doria Pamphilj, the largest green space in the city, covering an impressive 445 acres. But it’s the piazza at Basilica di Santa Maria that is the heart of the neighbourhood; the church here is said to be founded on the spot where a font of oil miraculously spouted when Christ was born.

Gourmet delights
The area’s also a haven for food enthusiasts, thanks to the hip bars and restaurants that heavily populate the area, from the vibrant Campo dei Fiori market to the quaint Da Lucia trattoria. The winding, romantic streets, dotted with fairy lights and with buildings draped in ivy, provide the perfect backdrop to an al fresco evening with a glass of Italian wine. Trastevere’s crowning culinary jewel, Glass, is also a key destination; it’s Michelin-starred and boasts the world-renowned Cristina Bowerman as its head chef.

The neighbourhood has also evolved as something of a style centre in recent years too, with niche boutique Annie and the elegant Capito Primo atelier sitting alongside stores that boast global names – a short walk across the Tiber, the tiny Boccanera store offers the finest in Italian footwear from Prada to Gucci. Artisanal Italian craft is also on fine form at Joseph Debach, renowned for handmade shoes, the perfect companions for a few hours wandering this enchanting district, a Roman hidden gem.

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