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Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Aventine

There are oranges outside my window.

And yellows and golds. And cypresses and date palms.

Even the deepest nine-hour jet lag yields to the tinkling sounds of tiny birds and a shaft of spring sunlight falling across open luggage and scattered clothes.
Waking up after a night's journey halfway around the world can be disorienting. But to open your eyes in a room in the Hotel San Anselmo is to know you're in Rome.

Near the crest of the Aventine Hill, the San Anselmo is set in a peaceful neighborhood of quiet palazzos, elegant apartments and ancient churches. Down the street are parks with sweeping views of the Eternal City's domes, spires and jagged ruins.

The hotel's decor is a playful modern nod to the city's Baroque heritage, with striped canopies over the windows and inlaid marble bathroom floors. A blast from the dual-head shower followed by a warm towel from the heated racks is steadying enough for a trip down to the airy, orchid-filled breakfast room for the buffet of hot and cold items, included in the hotel's rates. The San Anselmo often hosts managers and consultants with business in the international agencies headquartered in Rome. The morning tables are occupied by serious-looking professionals logged in to the hotel's complimentary wi-fi, flicking intently away at smartphone screens.

There is no restaurant, but the barman is always happy to whip up a toasted panino and pour a glass of prosecco for you to enjoy in an overstuffed chair in the lounge. Or if you'd rather sit on the terrace with a cappucino while reading La Repubblica under the grapevines, you have only to ask.

Service at the San Anselmo is flawless. The staff are pleasant and efficient and graciously see to it that guests' needs are met. From a 3:00 AM wake-up to numerous phone calls and considerable time wrangling with an airline when I mistakenly thought I had left a pair of glasses on the plane, nothing was ever a problem.

And who needs a hotel restaurant when you are a few blocks' walk down a curving cobblestoned street from some of Rome's best dining? At the foot of the Aventine Hill, across the jumbled traffic of the Via Marmorata, lies the Testaccio neighborhood. Historically the site of the city's butchers, it's still the place to go to sample Rome's traditional snout-to-tail cuisine.

Testaccio is also home to the famous Volpetti deli, a jewelry shop of the finest delicacies the Italian peninsula can provide, from meats and cheeses to pastas, wines, and a densely sweet, espresso-colored balsamic vinegar the clerks will insist you taste.

Next to the deli is Volpetti Piu, a tavola calda where servers dish up ample helpings of roast chicken, octopus salad, stuffed zuccini blossoms and rice balls for patrons in a plain, fluorescent-lit space. Tourists and Roman families crowd the tables, sipping hearty house wine and discussing the day's events between forkfuls of steaming fresh lasagne and stuffed tomatoes.

The Aventine Hill is only a Metro stop or two from Rome's most iconic tourist sights. But after a day of noise, crowds, fake gladiators outside the Colosseum, spilled gelato and cultural overload, there's no more peaceful place to retire. Climb wearily out of the Piramide metro stop. Walk past the ancient Aurelian Walls and the pyramid-shaped tomb of imperial official Caius Cestus (like you, a tourist, who had his burial place modeled on those of the Pharaohs after a visit to Egypt). Head up the cobbled street, past the giggling schoolchildren and the yellow mimosa branches trailing over the stone walls. Wander on to the crest of the hill, past the discreet polished brass placard marking the Egyptian Embassy to the Holy See. Across the street is a plain wall, with a few tourists standing around, their black-leather-jacket-clad taxi drivers chatting near their idling vehicles waiting a few yards down the street. Approach the ancient door to see what the other visitors are bending down to view. The door, perpetually locked, has a keyhole that perfectly frames a view of Saint Peter's dome hovering serenely over the gardens of the Knights of Malta.

The other tourists get back into their taxis, leaving the neighborhood to silence and the singing birds. But you'll be lucky enough to walk a block back to the San Anselmo.

Hotel San Anselmo
Piazza San Anselmo 2
00153 Rome, Italy

Room with terrace, Hotel San Anselmo.

Bathroom, Hotel San Anselmo

Breakfast Room, Hotel San Anselmo

Outdoor Lounge, Hotel San Anselmo

Park with a View of Rome, Aventine Hill

Volpetti Piu

Keyhole view, Palace of the Knights of Malta, Aventine Hill (Wikipedia, all other photos by author.


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