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Living La Dolce Vita: a guide to the Via Veneto in Rome

Immortalised on film in 1960 by Fellini, Via Veneto remains one of Rome’s most charming streets. With high-end boutiques, unique historical architecture and stylish restaurants and bars, this charming boulevard offers visitors a taste of ‘the sweet life’

Hannah Lewis / © Katie Wilson-Ells
Hannah Lewis,

A cinematic masterpiece
Widely acclaimed as a cinematic masterpiece, Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita follows writer Marcello Rubini, played by Marcello Mastroianni, as he journeys through the upper echelons of Roman society. A tabloid journalist, Rubini glides between the most glamorous locations in the city, meeting everyone from wealthy heiresses to famous actresses to the intellectuals of the day. As he traverses ‘la dolce vita’ (‘the sweet life’), Rubini searches for love and happiness, struggling to reconcile his desire for a meaningful emotional life with his love of the decadence and materiality of the life he sees around him.

Critically acclaimed, La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, as well as an Oscar for best costume design that same year, and is now acknowledged as a classic. Its continued success has immortalised the glamour and excess of 1950s Rome, captured with such skill by Fellini, Mastroianni et al. And, while the film flits between locations in the city and visits iconic landmarks including Saint Peter’s basilica and the Trevi Fountain, one street takes a starring role: Via Veneto.

Celebrity haunt
Via Vittorio Veneto, known colloquially as Via Veneto, was originally built in the 1880s real-estate boom that followed the incorporation of Rome into the kingdom of Italy. By the 1950s the street, under its current name, had become a haven for the well-heeled in Rome. Its alluring bars and restaurants attracted Hollywood stars as well as the wealthy elite from Italy and beyond; it was a favourite haunt of famous names including Audrey Hepburn, Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams and Coco Chanel. After a day’s filming at the Cinecittà Studios, stars would let their hair down in the glamorous venues along the boulevard.

Though these heady days are now in the past, Via Veneto remains one of Rome’s most famous streets. Its sense of luxury now tinged with a charming nostalgia, the street is an enticing destination for visitors to Rome.

Cocktails and cappuccinos
While the Café de Paris, one of La Dolce Vita’s most memorable locations, has closed its doors, those who want their own taste of the sweet life should pay a visit to Harry’s Bar. While offering everything anyone could want from a modern cocktail bar, the venue, opulently decorated in leather, polished wood, marble and gold leaf, still presents a slice of 1960s Roman high life. It’s no surprise that the elite still come to Harry’s Bar when visiting Rome – from today’s Hollywood stars to international politicians and dignitaries. Harry’s Bar is known for its cocktails, visitors to the bar can enjoy live piano music each night.

When it comes to fine dining, the Doney restaurant is another elite haunt. Executive chef James Foglieni is known for his superb Mediterranean cuisine, which he presents using only the best local and seasonal ingredients. The menu is creative but distinctly Italian in flavour – think beef tartare with smoked aubergine caviar and black truffle. Or try Café Doney, housed in the same beautiful building, and known both for its relaxed light dishes in the day and for its perfectly mixed cocktails in the evening. In the warmer months, the terrace tables prove perfect for people-watching.

Fashionable finds
La Dolce Vita is famous for its fashion, so be sure to visit Via Veneto’s luxurious fashion boutiques. At Versace, Donatella Versace’s high-octane glamour is the 2017 answer to Fellini’s vision, bringing extravagant Italian luxury bang up to date. Luisa Spagnoli takes a more classical, though no less covetable, approach to glamour. For spring/summer, look out for beautiful nautically inspired pieces that recall the glamour of the 1950s and 1960s – perfect for creating your own sweet life. At Casuccio e Scalera, discover some of the finest traditionally made footwear in Italy, from classic styles to very modern models.

A taste of history
Via Veneto is at the heart of Rome, and to explore its length is to experience not just the excitement of modern culture but also the pull of the old. Starting at Piazza Barberini, stop to admire the Fontana del Tritone, as well as the smaller but no less beautiful Fontana delle Api, then weave your way along Via Veneto, taking in the beautiful late 19th-century architecture as you go. The ornamental crypt under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini provides a unique detour for those interested in the baroque style.

The other end of Via Veneto reaches Porta Pinciana, an ancient gate to Rome that still stands today. This is an unmissable sight, but beyond it is one even more so: the Villa Borghese gardens. These 17th-century gardens are some of the most beautiful in the world. Standing here it’s easy to imagine why Fellini saw Rome as the place to experience la dolce vita.  



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