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Eternal masterpiece of Italy

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Rome is a masterpiece packed with wonders, and however long you have there it will not be enough. This is just one rich-list of ways to spend a few days in the eternal city, from viewing exquisite paintings to tasting the perfectly-frothed cappuccino.

Taste La Dolce Vita

Before you go, catch the DVDs of Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, to capture the unchanging essence of the city, even down to the ear-shattering Vespas
(engines exposed for maximum decibel scatter) and straggles of visiting nuns heading for St Peter’s. The Talented Mr Ripley is an optional extra for the scenes on the Spanish Steps. And dip into Robert Graves''s I Claudius to help you comprehend the crazy ancient Romans. Then, for a spine-tingling personal connection with
Rome, walk through the Forum at 8 am, well before the crowds.

Hothead genius of art

I decided to trail the hotheaded genius Caravaggio.
His powerful religious paintings, featuring lowlife models
startlingly lit against dark shadow, were the movie posters of the
1600s. My choice is the Conversion of St Paul, with the apostle flat on his
back, arms outstretched, in Santa Maria del Popolo. The excellent Purple Guide (£14.99) lists 22 of his works in 11
galleries and churches. Take the go-anywhere public transport ticket -
£3 a day, or £11 for a week, www.atac.roma.it

Glories of Rome

When in Rome you must see St Peters and the Sistine Chapel (Vatican
Museums, £5), and tour the Colosseum (£5, www.tickitaly.com). Out of so many other attractions, I would also choose, purely at random , the wonderful muddle in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj (£5). My pick of the
coffee shops in the heart of Rome is Tazza d''Oro (next to the astonishing Pantheon,
with the 24 ft hole in the roof).

Column cats

Go off-guidebook and take in some cat-watching around Trajan''s Column. The feline population you see prancing in the fenced-off excavations are pampered
by a doting army of elegant ladies, and protected by law, an inscrutable
link with the city’s past.
Kittens frolic on the toes of colossal statues. Streetwise toms head off
to sift through choice left-overs outside three star restaurants, and
fat tabbies loll like disdainful empresses on the bonnets of Maseratis up quiet side roads.

Football fantasy

If you make just one trip out of town, go to the Villa Adriana at Tivoli
(50 minutes by bus) the largest villa in the Roman Empire. The gardens are huge: you need a day.
And to experience Italy''s unique passion for sport and fashion try a football
game at the Olympic Stadium, home to Roma and Lazio - there are often
spare tickets. Dress your best to parade with the smartly coutured
throng up the ceremonial Olympic Approach. The ardent fans, the
tifosi, won''t bother you. They have their own area, like the chorus in
grand opera. Tickets - www.listicket.it
or www.ticketone.it.

Favourite restaurants

Three personal favourite restaurants from a cast of hundreds in this city
includes Montecarlo’s, down Vicolo Savelli just off Piazza Navona.
Flat-out waiters jink between tight- packed tables serving perfectly
simple pizza and pasta, while Carlo, in his trademark blue shirt,
presides over his perfect little empire at a high desk. He wrote our
bill neatly out, like a schoolboy’s sum, on the paper tablecloth. (£35 for two)

First time we looked, down a deserted Via Santa Maria dei Calderari, Al
Pompiere looked permanently shut, with no external hint they ever sold
food there. Checking again the next night, we found a fairytale reawakening,
all blazing lights and smiling waiters. Trademark dishes include stewed
oxtail with celery and tomato. And, from the ancient Roman gourmet
Apicius''s recipe book - beef and citron stew. (0039 06 6868377.)

In Hotel de Russie, start in Stravinsky Bar’s with a 007 Martini Vesper,
the drink James Bond created in Casino Royale. Le Jardin du Russie’s
three course menu includes spinach, bacon and mushroom salad with
raspberry sauce and cheese ravioli with cream of pumpkin and thyme,
followed by pears drenched in red wine with cinnamon ice cream - 00 39 06 32 88 88 70,www.hotelderussie.it

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