There doesn't need to be a reason for Catriona Rowntree to pack her bags and head to Italy, particularly if there is the promise of a visit to Rome.
This time she was following the pages of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling book, Eat Pray Love. The educated and ambitious American woman had it all, but felt she had nothing. At 30 she entered an early mid-life crisis and was consumed with panic, grief, depression and ended up divorced.
To climb out of the hole she felt she was in, Elizabeth undertook a year-long journey, all alone, visiting three places where she would experience totally different cultures. That journey took her to Bali, India and Rome where she put on the happiest 10kg in weight!
Eat Pray Love chronicles that journey and it has been made into a film starring Julia Roberts in the lead role.
The story of one woman's search, travels from one beautiful meal to the next in a culture where beauty and pleasure are revered. And you wouldn't need to read the book or see the film to know that Rome is the perfect location.
Catriona joined an Intrepid Urban Adventure 'Roman Dolce Vita' tour of Rome with guide Mauro Scarparti. The three-hour tours focus on culinary delights as much as it does the city's thousands of years of history and superb buildings.
Many people agree with Elizabeth Gilbert that Italian is the most seductively beautiful language in the world. When you are surrounded by the language, be it in one of the elegant streets of boutiques or food markets, there's just something about the expressive and animated conversations.
Starting off with a stand-up coffee at Caffe Sant'Eustachio, one of Rome's most celebrated coffee bars, Catriona enjoyed a cappuccino. It's not the done thing to drink cappuccino after lunch. In some establishments, waiters just refuse to serve them. Coffee and wine drinking etiquette is a serious matter in Italy, and education begins at around 10 years of age.
With the caffeine doing its job it was time to start walking.
The Pantheon, a 2000-year-old Roman temple, offers an unparalleled experience. Its only source of light is a hole in the centre of its dome. Its marble floor is the original Roman design and around the walls are shrines to Raphael and Italian kings. An old proverb says that anyone who goes to Rome without seeing the Pantheon goes and comes back an ass.
One of the most famous and quite possibly the most beautiful of Rome's many squares, the large and lively Piazza Navona is a significant example of baroque Roman architecture and art. It has three magnificent fountains. The largest, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, has four figures representing the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio della Plata rivers. It was created in 1651. The piazza was the city's main market for almost 300 years.
Campo dei Fiori
The rectangular piazza's name means "field of flowers", and it dates back to the Middle Ages when it was actually a meadow. These days it's where locals shop for flowers, fruit and vegetables so is wonderfully colourful and noisy. Strolling around the campo makes it totally clear as to why Italian food is just so delicious.
After looking at the tempting array of food in the market, everyone was hungry and Trattoria Maccheroni is one of Mauro's top picks. A stone's throw from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, it has basic wooden décor, lots of wine bottles, an open kitchen and blocky wooden tables covered with butcher's white paper.
Possibly to prevent regular diners from rioting, Maccheroni's menu doesn't change. They stick to Roman basics bruschetta, simple pasta, fresh tomatoes and basil, cheese and pepper, rigatoni with bacon and sheep's milk cheese and short pasta twists with black truffle sauce. It's the kind of place where you want to lick your plate clean. It's a place where you want to linger over your pasta, enjoy a chianti or two and people-watch.
It all began in 1890 when Guiseppe and Bernadina Giolitti started a creamery. Little could they have known the business would have still been operating by their great-grandchildren all these years on and that they arguably create the best gelato in all of Italy. No mean feat! They have more than 70 flavours and recipes are jealously guarded.
This is a favourite place of those in-the-know. Across Rome's oldest bridge, Ponte Fabricio, it's a beautiful quite place, long associated with healing. The boat-shaped island in the southern bend of the Tiber River was the site of a temple of Aesculapius, the god of healing, which was built after a plague in 291 BC.
In the Middle Ages a group of monks constructed a hospital there and it remains there to this day. Between June and September it is the location for a popular film festival.
Related videos: Eat Pray Love: on location in Italy, India and Bali with Julia Roberts
Walking around Rome.
Intrepid's Urban Adventures include three-hour Roman Dolce Vita walking tours of Rome for $41 per person. They start at the Spanish Steps every day and have an English-speaking guide who knows where to stop for the best gelato and espresso in Rome! Intrepid has tours in more than 100 cities around the world.
Emirates has early-bird fares to 25 European destinations including Rome, London, Paris, Venice, Nice, Manchester and Athens. They have some exciting new destinations, including Prague, Amsterdam and Madrid.
Fares are priced from:
- Perth $1720
- Brisbane $1744
- Melbourne and Adelaide $1752
- Sydney $1722
On sale until November 30, 2010 and valid for travel between February 1 and October 31, 2011.
Prices correct at October 7, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Intrepid's Urban Adventures
Ph: 1300 364 512
Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe
Piazza di Sant'Eustachio, 82
Ph: +39 066 8802048
Piazza della Rotonda, 12
Ph: +39 06 2412352
Piazza delle Coppelle, 44
Ph: +39 066 8307895
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
Ph: +39 066 991243
Eat Pray Love will be released across Australia on October 7, 2010.
Visas: Australians don't need a visa to enter Italy for stays of up to 90 days.
Electricity: 220V. Plugs are the European standard, with two or three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: +39.