Right to Rome: why spring is the best time to visit the Italian capital


Forget Paris in spring: Rome is both warmer and cooler in the first few months of the year. The locals are in their winter black rollneck jumpers, accessorised with equally noir-ish sunglasses. With an average of 17C by March, it’s warm enough to sit outside cafés and bars, but not hot enough to fall foul of the “no shorts” rule enforced in Rome’s oldest churches.

Inside Villa Farnesina (€12; villafarnesina.it), there is just a handful of people admiring the murals by Raphael, while outside a grove of citrus trees is groaning with fruit. The Caffè Settimiano on nearby Via Garibaldi – where I stop off for my first Aperol spritz of the year – is full of mismatched vintage furniture, attracting equal numbers of Romans and blissed-out American students beginning a semester abroad.

Dining out on the Via del Portico d’Ottavia. Photograph: Guido Cozzi/Getty Images

Like other European cities, Rome now has a selection of hotels which aim to offer maximum experience at lower costs. At the newly opened CitizenM Rome Isola Tiberina, there’s no room service, nor are there minibars in the rooms. Instead, CitizenM has a pullout refrigerator drawer and will point you towards the nearest supermarket (there are drinks and food to buy in the lobby). In other ways, serious money has been spent to ensure staying here feels like a treat rather than a trade down. The hotel group likes designer furniture (the real stuff supplied by Vitra, rather than cheaper copies). It’s in a central part of the city, rather than the suburbs. Crucially, the beds are big and the bedding has experientially high-thread counts.

At these new style hotels, prices rise and fall with demand. The industry term is “dynamic” – you’ll get the best rates in low season or by booking far ahead, or when they’ve recently opened. CitizenM started in the Netherlands and there’s a tangible egalitarian Dutch ethos at play at breakfast: we’re encouraged to pick up our coffees from the counter and take our trays to a trolley in the corner after we’ve finished which fits with the “leave as you found it” feel of the place.

Raphael murals in the Villa Farnesina. Photograph: Adam Eastland/Alamy

My first stop is near the hotel, Pasticceria Boccione on Piazza Costaguti, which is the oldest Jewish bakery in Rome, founded in 1815. There may not be a sign outside, but there’s always a queue for its pizza ebraica, a charred-looking, phenomenally delicious pastry, with candied fruits, almonds and raisins held together with dough. Afterwards, I wander, nip into churches, window shop for cassocks and vestments (Rome has many shops selling religious clothing) and stop off at Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi, a cheesemonger that also serves natural wine, on Via di Santa Maria del Pianto.

Visiting before the crowds in summer means that the queues for the Parthenon are short but, in fact, most of Rome’s joys – churches apart – aren’t behind walls. The city is studded with ancient remains, lovely in the late afternoon sun, but even more beautiful at twilight, when there are few tourists around. A five-minute walk away from the hotel, I come across the Portico d’Ottavia, built by Emperor Augustus circa 20BC, now with walkways where you can just wander between columns and ancient arches, while surrounded by houses and apartments.

A room at the CitizenM hotel

The CitizenM also has a roof terrace on the fifth floor, with stylish lounge chairs but no restaurant – instead it’s for guests to use as they want to. I buy pizza from the very excellent Florida (€3 a slice) on Via Florida and take it to the roof terrace. Yes, as night falls, there’s a bit of a nip in the air, but with the hum of city noise, there’s also the warm knowledge that Rome feels like the ultimate sweet spot for a spring city break.

Room-only doubles from £122 (citizenm.com)

Make the most of your euro

Three other good-value hotel chains in European cities

Photograph: Francis Amiand

Mama Shelter Founded by the family who helped create Club Med, Mama Shelters are convivial places with vintage table football and computer arcade games. Like CitizenM, the first Mama Shelter opened in 2008 and there are now 17 of them, all with restaurants that go big on communal tables and heaped portions of comfort food. The London Mama, in Shoreditch, has an east London-appropriate karaoke machine, too. Next up is Nice, opening in June. Room-only doubles at Mama Shelter Lisbon from £99 (mamashelter.com)

Photograph: Edmund Dabney

Locke This British company is very good at hiring young designers at the start of their careers and giving them creative freedom. Starting in 2016, Locke Kingsland in east London has a microbrewery, others have full restaurants or bar snacks, but Locke’s very useful USP is that every room, however small, has a kitchenette with dishwasher and oven. This year will see new Lockes in Lisbon, Paris and Copenhagen. Room-only doubles at Locke Berlin from £104 (lockeliving.com)

Photograph: Steve Herud

25hours The 25hours group loves converting historic buildings, including an old postal building in Munich and a 1960s Brutalist office block in Cologne. A certain theatricality is integral to the experience of staying here, including a hammock-filled lounge in Berlin, while guests in the Florence hotel get to choose between Heaven and Hell-themed rooms. Not exactly budget, but still good value. Room-only doubles at 25hours Firenze from £161 (25hours-hotels.com)


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