Just north of Vatican City lies a wonderland of a somewhat secret society – the neighborhood of Prati (PRAA-TEE) is set aside from the main bustle of Rome’s visitor filled history center. Known officially as Rione dei Prati, the neighborhood, or so I’m told over and over again by its natives, has been a strictly bourgeois area throughout its history with wide avenues (yes, they exist in Italy!) cleaner streets and large, regal stone buildings mostly filled with corporate offices and white-collar residences. Sounds sterile? It’s anything but.
Today while riding the 492 bus into Piazza Cavour, suddenly and prompted by nothing in particular, the feeling of home rested firmly upon my mind. To me it is a somewhat foreign feeling but when it happens, I take note and appreciate it immensely. I only became truly acquainted with the rione last spring when I moved into a garden flat along Viale Vaticano. I made a conscious effort to chose a neighborhood I had never before lived. Prati has provided a vast difference between my former flats in Campo di Fiori, Trastevere and San Giovanni and I hope to articulate why here.
As I wandered about today with a list of new places to walk by, patron or peek into, I decided it was time to share my mental list of favorites.
- Via Cola di Rienzo This strada (street) is every shoppers dream – stretching from Piazza del Risorgimento which is located along the walk from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Vatican Museum entrance down to the banks of the Tiber at Ponte Regina Margherita (yes, that Queen from whom we get the name of everyone’s favorite pizza). While not as lux as the designer street of Via del Corso, one can find anything they want within an hour or two of strolling. Including a few of the places listed below.
- Castroni I spend a lot of time in this historical “drugstore”. With its flagship store located on Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198 Castroni is in actuality a world market filled to the brim with some of the best grocery products from across the globe. At every turn a shopper can indulge in coffees, candies, teas, cookies, pastas, liquors, and sauces from countries such as Italy, the US, Germany, Iran, Japan, Thailand, Ethiopia and India (to name a few). I stop by Castroni at least once a week to take a coffee (their coffee bar is truly a local experience as tourists seem be memorized by the products) and to purchase hummus from Israel, tea from England, pasta and sundried tomatoes from Italy, and ironically, hot sauce from the States. This store and the twelve others speckled across Rome are a must see, must experience spot in Italy.
- Piazza Cavour, what’s my life for? once sang a great, great man. Although Piazza Cavour is not conventually a favorite of everyone, I appreciate this massive piazza for what it is – a central hub of activity for Prati. Cluttered with bus stops, cinemas, cafes, restaurants and the central statue of Camillo Benso, the Count of Cavour overseeing the controlled chaos. During the day, the facade is littered with lawyers in their streamlined suits while at night the nearby wine bars and restaurants glow with warm invitations.
- Pizzarium I know, you have probably read a list or two, maybe even seen a TV show or five about this pizza a taglio (pizza by the slice) joint created by famed Roman, Gabriele Bonci. Even though I frequent this place at least once a week, I have only recently become acknowledged as a local by the young, sweet and downright classically beautiful staff at Pizzarium. Although it is obviously swarming with in-the-know, willing to travel outside the center tourists, it’s the one place you will never care you’re an outsider. From my personal favorite carcofi e patate (artichoke and potato) pizza to what I hear is delectably unforgettable – every other concoction including purple cauliflower and sausage or radish and gorgonzola. It’s so good that I feel ashamed for saying the artichoke is my favorite – the pizza rossa (red sauce only) is also my favorite. My advice is to not get overwhelmed by what lies before you nor the ticketed numbers or crowd. Take your time, order what you want and even if you feel like you missed something, you’ll be ecstatically surprised by every bite.
- Coin Excelsior I am an avid fan of fancy things. While I don’t tend to be a shopper by nature nor find pleasure in wasting valuable income on designer threads, I do appreciate looking, smelling and handling pretty things with the occasional purchase. Coin Excelsior (in lieu of just Coin, a less high-end version of the store), located on Via Cola di Rienzo, came into my life when I first moved to Rome – in dire pursuit of finding a simple pillow the first time I lived in the city. This store, with its gold rimmed doors and instantaneous scent of perfumed luxury upon entering is worth a look around. Each floor features home goods, beauty and accessories and designer clothes.
- Cacio e Pepe Recently a nice Sicilian boy surprised me with a table at this long-standing Roman establishment on Via Giuseppe Avezzana. As the night passed, the wine craft drew emptier and I became acutely aware I was the only native English speaker surrounded by the company of strictly well-dressed, suit-clad Romans (this is, in fact, the bourgeois court district). If you don’t mind struggling at the lack of menu or staff’s inability to speak English, you still will be handsomely rewarded. And of course, it is best to settle on at least one plate of the traditional Roman pasta, cacio e pepe as it is the namesake of this establishment.
- Duecentrogradi literally meaning two-hundred degrees (the temperature the sandwich bread is baked at) was not a favorite of mine the first time I went. For some reason, I didn’t even eat. I wandered inside from the chaos of Piazza del Risorgimento and its Vatican crowds, looked at the menu and walked out believing there was something better on the horizon. To this day, I don’t know why I would have thought that – I now have to stop myself from going everyday! Duecentrogradi features a good 30-40 various panini with creative yet delicious combinations. Its small modern location is a bit cramped for sitting and eating but my best advice is to order “portare via” to-go and lounge around the neighborhoods benches and square. Excellent location after a Vatican visit.
I will draw this list to a close at seven but I already have 8-98 listed in my head. Until then.