TRAVEL: High culture and soaring temperatures in Italy

The Altare della Patria

The Altare della Patria

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Rome, a city steeped in art, history and culture has been attracting visitors from all over the world for centuries.

However, if you’re planning a summer holiday to this gorgeous tourist destination, it’s best to try June or July.

Lawrence at The Colosseum

Lawrence at The Colosseum

My travelling companions and I went in August, which is notorious for the intense heat, and this year the temperature reached a scorching 38°C almost every day – hot even by Italian standards.

We arrived at Hotel Principessa Isabella in Via Sardegna at 4pm on Monday and went out to get our bearings. After walking along picturesque streets to the Spanish steps (famously used in the film Roman Holiday), we headed towards The Altare della Patria, a breath-taking white marble monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel.

While facing this incredible structure we got our first glimpse of the iconic Colosseum down Via dei Fori Imperiali with The Roman Forum on the right, filled with the remains of an ancient world. As darkness closed in we could see dozens of tiny bats flitting about, clearly at home among the immense stone archways.

By this time we had worked up quite an appetite and there were plenty of restaurants to choose from with delicious food at reasonable prices. We found that the cost of a margherita pizza was a good indicator – if it was €8 then the meal was a good deal.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

It’s hard to imagine going to Rome without visiting The Vatican, so we got that under our belts on Tuesday. The taxi from the hotel took us right up to St Peter’s Square for roughly €10. Guided tour companies offer visitors the chance to “skip the line” but we felt the prices were too high and found that the line was fast-moving anyway.

First up was St Peter’s Basilica, a glorious example of Renaissance architecture filled with imposing but elegant statues (including The Pietà by Michelangelo), elaborate paintings, sturdy columns and cleverly interacting shapes and patterns. The awesome interior stuns the imagination, yet the muted greys, blues, reds and yellows create a comforting environment.

After the magnificence of the Basilica, the Sistine Chapel seemed rather subtle. It’s a beautiful room, though, with every inch of the interior lovingly painted with scenes from The Bible, including The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.

After The Vatican, I was left to wander the city on my own, taking in the grandeur of sights such as The Trevi Fountain and The Pantheon. Rome is surprisingly small with plenty of landmarks, which made finding my way around astonishingly easy. There are statues everywhere and I couldn’t turn a corner without seeing something beautiful, whether it was art in Piazza Navona or simply one of many picturesque buildings.

On Wednesday, we explored the Villa Borghese gardens, which is home to the Galleria Borghese. Bookings must be made in advance by phone or online but the park itself has many treasures, including pretty fountains and a spectacular view of the city.

More sight-seeing followed for the next two days thanks to a hop-on tour bus service.

There are several tour bus companies operating throughout the city. We went with Ciao Roma, which lets people get on and off at any of their stops over 24 or 48 hours. We purchased a 48-hour ticket, which was certainly the easiest way to travel to the major landmarks for the remainder of our trip, including the Colosseum.

The Colosseum, an immense structure of rock and concrete, offered a thought-provoking experience. As the sun continued to beat down on us it was a stark reminder of the brutal foundations of Western civilisation in the centre of one of the world’s most attractive cities.

Overall, our journey to Rome was exciting, enlightening and hugely enjoyable. It’s a must for history enthusiasts, art aficionados and lovers of good food and drink.

Just remember to pack your sun cream.

By Lawrence Smith

Our trip to Rome

Dates: Monday, August 5, to Friday, August 9

Flights: Easyjet, £240.52 each from Gatwick.

Where we stayed: Clarion Collection Hotel Principessa Isabella, Via Sardegna (four-star).

Hotel prices: Single room – £79.24 per night (including breakfast).

Room for two – £46.75 per person per night (£93.50 altogether, including breakfast).