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The Ultimate Obsessive Foodie's Guide to the Caribbean

By Nicholas DeRenzo
November 11, 2015
morning in aruba
Courtesy Dreamstime
The amazingly varied (and amazingly delicious) cuisine of the Caribbean is, both literally and figuratively, a “melting pot” of cultural influences, blending African, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and indigenous Taíno ingredients and methods for centuries. Here, an island-by-island guide to the delicacies that have our mouths watering this cruise season.

While dishes like conch fritters and coconut shrimp have come to represent the region on the world stage, these old stand-bys barely scratch the surface of the unique (and underrated) eats available here. In fact, there are nearly as many hyperlocal takes on Caribbean cooking as there are islands—and delicious fish—in the sea. Here, an island-by-island guide to the delicacies that have our mouths watering this cruise season.

Dominican Republic

Don’t expect light beach fare from this tropical destination. The Dominican take on Creole cooking, with influences from as far and wide as Africa, Spain, and the Middle East, is a remarkably hearty affair. For proof, look no further than the typical breakfast los tres golpes (or “the three strikes”), which includes fried cheese, fried salami, and fried eggs, plus a heaping scoop of mangú (mashed, boiled green plantains). And if you somehow have room for lunch, the iconic la bandera (“the flag”) is comprised of stewed meats, red beans, white rice, and fried green plantains. Just try going back to work without taking a nap first.

BE SURE TO ORDER: Sancocho de siete carnes, a stick-to-your-ribs stew of seven meats, including sausage, chicken, beef, pork, and goat, plus an assortment of vegetables, such as corn on the cob, green plantains, yam, pumpkin, taro, and cassava. The finished product, which is thought to be an excellent hangover cure, is served with white rice and sliced avocados.

WHERE TO TRY IT: Travesías, housed in a quaint baby-blue cottage with a sprawling bright-white porch (Avenida Abraham Lincoln 617, sancocho artesanal siete carnes $9).

The Bahamas

The Bahamas is comprised of more than 700 islands and coral reef cays, so it’s only natural that the cuisine here would have a particularly strong link to the sea. Most staple dishes offer well-spiced but simple preparations of locally caught seafood like grouper, conch, and spiny lobster. And at just 50 miles from the coast of Florida, the country also shares a culinary heritage with the American South. Take, for example, the popular johnnycake, an all-purpose bread that calls to mind the cornbread you’ll find beside most soul food meals.

BE SURE TO ORDER: Cracked conch (pronounced “konk,” if you please) with peas ‘n’ rice. The mild white flesh of the iconic sea snail is pounded and then deep-fried into a cutlet and served with an extremely popular side dish of white rice cooked with pigeon peas, salt pork, thyme, and tomato paste. It’s just one of the many ways you’ll find conch on menus, including in chowders, fritters, simply grilled, or cured in a ceviche-like salad.

WHERE TO TRY IT: Goldie’s Conch House, which has been an area institution for more than 25 years (Arawak Cay, cracked conch with rice $15).

Aruba

Dutch culture looms large in the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which together with St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius, comprise the Kingdom of the Netherlands. You’ll see this link in the colorful gabled roofs in Oranjestad, Aruba, and Willemstad, Curaçao, and the annual celebration of Queen’s Day (expect lots of orange to celebrate the House of Orange-Nassau). But the Dutch connection is perhaps strongest on the islands’ menus, where you’ll find snacks like bitterballen (fried meaty croquettes) and frikandel (deep-fried sausage)—plus more exotic dishes from former Dutch colonies, such as Indonesian fried rice, or nasi goreng.

BE SURE TO ORDER: Keshi yena, which is made by stuffing leftover gouda or edam rinds with meat (chicken, beef, shrimp, or fish), flavored with raisins, grated cheese, olives, and capers. The dish dates back to the Dutch colonial era, when slaves would gather scraps—such as the seemingly unusable cheese rinds—and come up with clever ways to prepare them as a means of survival.

WHERE TO TRY IT: The Old Cunucu House, which occupies a traditional farmhouse that dates back more than 150 years (Palm Beach 150, keshi yena $11).

Turks and Caicos

Unlike lush, verdant neighbors like Jamaica and Cuba, the Turks and Caicos is made up of 40 islands and cays that are arid, sandy, and tiny—perfect for a beach getaway, sure, but not ideal for agriculture. Aside from a few exceptions, such as drought-resistant corn, sea grapes, tamarind, and sugar apples, the cuisine in these parts skews heavily toward the spoils of the surrounding seas, with menus featuring wahoo, grouper, snapper, tuna, and dolphin (the fish, not the mammal!). And it’s no coincidence that the flag of the Turks and Caicos prominently features both a conch and a spiny lobster: They’re two of the island’s tastiest and most prized delicacies (and exports).

BE SURE TO ORDER: Spiny lobster, a clawless tropical variety that’s called crawfish by locals. Only legally available in-season from August through March, the prized crustacean is best served simply grilled.

WHERE TO TRY IT: Coyaba Restaurant, where lobster is featured in a number of haute creations, like a bisque with sherry and aged rum and lobster thermidor in a dijon-sherry cream sauce (Caribbean Paradise Inn, Grace Bay, Providenciales).

Jamaica

It’s telling that two of the most popular flavorings in Jamaica are Scotch bonnet peppers and allspice: The cheerful-looking chiles can be almost 150 times hotter than jalapeños, while allspice (the dried berries of the pimento tree) is so aromatic that many home cooks assume that it’s actually a blend of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a word, Jamaican cooking is bold, with iconic dishes borrowed from its many immigrant groups: from Spanish Jews, vinegary escovitched fish; from Indians, curried goat; from the British, Cornish pasty–inspired patties; and from West Africans, the lychee-like fruit ackee, which is cooked alongside saltfish to make the island’s most iconic breakfast.

BE SURE TO ORDER: Jerk chicken, which gets its fiery and complex flavors from fresh ginger, thyme, scallions, Scotch bonnet peppers, and allspice. In the authentic Jamaican version, the chicken is cooked over the aromatic smoke of burning pimento wood—a practice that dates back to the native Taínos. The jerk style was born when escaped slaves, or Maroons, retreated into the forest and taught the indigenous tribes their method of smoking meat over pits dug into the earth.

WHERE TO TRY IT: The Boston Jerk Center in Boston Bay, widely considered the capital and birthplace of jerk (Boston Bay, Portland Parish).

Barbados

Perhaps the only cultural icon from Barbados more famous than Rihanna is the flying fish—a remarkable species that uses its wing-like fins to propel through the air at distances up to a whopping 1,300 feet. In fact, the island often gets called the Land of the Flying Fish. But it’s not the only species hauled in from the warm waters surrounding the island, which are teeming with game fish, such as marlin, tuna, shark, and mahi-mahi. While much of Bajan cuisine is influenced by rich Indian and African flavors, perhaps the best way to appreciate the sea’s bounty is also the simplest: The cutter is a humble sandwich of deep-fried fish on crusty Bajan salt bread, topped with lettuce, tomato, and pepper sauce.

BE SURE TO ORDER: Flying fish and cou cou (made with cornmeal and okra), the national dish—which, not coincidentally, was once namechecked in a Rihanna song. Now often served with a tomato-based creole sauce, the cou cou was once a staple food for African slaves and is still a popular dish throughout the Caribbean.

WHERE TO TRY IT: Brown Sugar, a restaurant set in an old home, filled with lush ferns and colorful murals (Aquatic Gap, St. Michaels, flying fish and cou cou $11.50).

Trinidad and Tobago

The culinary melting pot in this two-island nation skews decidedly East Indian, a holdover of the indentured Indian servants who streamed into the British Imperial colonies starting in the 1840s to provide plantation owners cheap labor in the post-abolition era. These days, more than 35 percent of the population can trace their roots to the Subcontinent—greater than any other ethnicity—which accounts for the intensely aromatic flavors found in dishes like curried goat and roti (flatbread-wrapped sandwiches).

BE SURE TO ORDER: Doubles, an inexpensive street food made by filling light, chewy bara (fried flatbread, tinged yellow with turmeric) with channa (curried chickpeas), topped with cucumbers, pepper sauce, mango chutney, and tangy tamarind. Often eaten for breakfast and sold from humble carts, the local spin on the Punjabi chole bhature got its descriptive name when customers in the 1930s demanded that the sandwich’s creator double up on the deliciously crisp bara.

WHERE TO TRY IT: Any of the unassuming food carts in the southern Trinidad town of Debe, which many consider to be the capital of doubles.

Puerto Rico

Perhaps no food better represents Puerto Rico than sofrito, a paste made by frying onions, garlic, green peppers, sweet ají dulce chiles, cilantro, and a local herb called culantro or recao in olive oil or lard. Much like this flavor-packed ingredient, which forms the backbone of many of the island’s most famous dishes, local cocina criolla (Creole cooking) was born by slowly melding together centuries of disparate culinary influences, including West African, Spanish, American, and indigenous Taíno. You can thank this last group for lechón asado (the island’s famed slow-roasted pork), not to mention the term “barbe-cue,” based on their word barabicu, or “sacred fire pit.”

BE SURE TO ORDER: Mofongo, made by mashing green plantains with garlic and chicharrones (deep-fried pork rinds). Thought to be a Caribbean update on the doughy African staple fufu, the dish is traditionally prepared with a wooden mortar and pestle, or pilón, which traces its roots to the Taínos. The starchy base can then be eaten as a side or stuffed with a protein to become mofongo relleno, at which point it is often doused in a tomato-based salsa criolla.

WHERE TO TRY IT: Café Puerto Rico, where the mofongo relleno can be ordered with a range of different bases (yuca or green or sweet plantains) and fillings, including crab, salt cod, grouper, or shrimp (208 Calle O’Donnell, mofongo relleno from $10).

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Three-Day Weekend: Nassau & Paradise Island

My hands are shaking and my knees are weak; I'm not in love, I'm climbing the steps of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort's Mayan Temple, ever so slowly approaching the entrance to Leap of Faith, the largest, steepest water slide I've ever been on. Not only that, this seven-story slide will take me through the Mayan Temple Shark Lagoon—a large aquarium full of Caribbean reef sharks. Gulp. I've spent most of the morning chatting with people who have just been on the impressive-looking slide, trying really hard to talk myself into it. By the afternoon, I've rationalized everything—the drop, the angle, the speed—and am finally ready to take the plunge. And then I find out there's another, easier way to see the sharks up close: another Mayan Temple attraction called the Serpent Slide that doesn't involve a terrifying drop down a 60-foot tall almost-vertical body slide, but rather a fun ride on an inner tube that ends in a large, clear tunnel, slowly taking you through the shark-filled aquarium. So, yes, I may have totally chickened out on the big slide, but at least this way I was able to glide past the giant sharks, and believe me, that was terrifying enough! Don't have enough time to visit all 700+ islands of the Bahamas? Start with New Providence Island, home to Nassau, Paradise Island, and enough beaches and Bahamian culture to satisfy every foodie and history buff in your arsenal. Plus, the U.S. Dollar is on par with the Bahamian Dollar, so you don't have to worry about the exchange rate, and the locals are super-friendly. What's not to love? Experience all the perks of the Atlantis Resort—for less! We've all seen photos of the iconic pink towers of the Atlantis Resort's Royal Towers, but did you know there's a way to experience all the perks of the resort without actually ponying up the big bucks to stay there? The secret: stay next door at Comfort Suites Paradise Island (from $130 in early December). Not only will your nightly rate give you complimentary Wi-Fi and daily breakfast, it also includes day passes to Atlantis, which normally run $150 per person, for free. Spend the day taking on the water slides in more than 20 swimming areas and 11 themed pools, lounging on white-sand beaches, or feasting at the one of the resort's fine dining restaurants, then unwind by the pool and bar at Comfort Suites Paradise Island if you need a break from all the excitement. Don't miss the Lazy River Rapids (which feel like they're part lazy river, part wave pool!) and of course, the legendary water slides of the Mayan Temple that let you float or slide through an aquarium tank full of Caribbean reef sharks! Note: It's also worth checking for flash sales on the Atlantis Resort website for extra savings if you really want to stay on the property; rates at the resort's Coral Towers start at $170 per night in early December. Enjoy tasty Bahamian fare—conch fritters, anyone? Don't miss the Bites of Nassau Food Tour a three-hour food tasting and cultural walking tour through the colorful streets of Downtown Nassau, with stops at six local restaurants and specialty shops—like an artisanal chocolate tasting at the Graycliff Beer Garden & Chocolatier or a lesson in local Bahamian herbs and spices that will change the way you look at medicine the next time you have a cold (curry spices are used in cooking to treat inflammation and coughs, who knew?). You'll also stop at Van Breugel's Bistro & Bar for Caribbean fusion dishes; Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant & Bar, where the locals go for traditional eats; Athena's Cafe, the island's oldest Greek restaurant; and the Tortuga Rum Cake Company to taste flavored rum cakes that are baked daily with five-year aged rum (from $69 per adult, $49 for children ages 12 and under, children under 3 are free). For a fun, super-authentic dining experience, check out the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, a collection of small, local restaurants just outside Downtown Nassau where you can sample Bahamian favorites like cracked conch (pronounced "conk" by the way) and Sky Juice, a milky-white concoction made with gin, coconut water, sweet milk, cinnamon, sugar, and fresh nutmeg. A number of locals I spoke to recommended Oh Andros as their favorite spot for food in Arawak Cay and Twin Brothers for the best daiquiri cocktails. I concur. Visit Fort Charlotte, The Queen's Staircase, and a Pirate Museum! History buffs will love exploring Nassau's old forts, originally built to protect the island from invaders, but luckily, none has ever had to be used in battle. Fort Charlotte is about a five-minute walk from Downtown Nassau and features displays of how the complex was built and what it was like to be stationed there in the 17th century (spoiler alert: it wasn't easy!) Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children ages 6-12, ages five and under get in free. Closer to Downtown, Fort Fincastle sits at the top of Bennet's Hill overlooking the city. To reach it, climb the Queen's Staircase, a 102-foot tall staircase built by slaves in the late-1700s and later named in honor of Queen Victoria, who is credited with abolishing slavery in 1837—or do what I did and take a taxi to Fort Fincastle and make your way down the Queen's Staircase instead (admission is free for both sites). Pirate lovers will want to visit the Pirates of Nassau Museum, home to an interactive pirate attraction that feels like you've become part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride—keep an eye out for the pirate ship Revenge and get your close up of Blackbeard himself ($13 for adults, $6.50 for children ages 4-17). See the Straw Markets Brush up on your negotiating skills and pick up some locally-made handicrafts from the Straw Market on Bay Street in Downtown Nassau, a great place to find hand-woven straw bags, hats, and other Bahamian crafts and souvenirs for your friends back home. Smaller straw markets are also located on Paradise Island and in the Cable Beach resort area about a 20-minute drive from Nassau. Go beyond Downtown Nassau If you plan on renting a car to discover the rest of New Providence Island, keep in mind that everyone drives on the left in the Bahamas, so proceed with caution, especially if you're not used to it. I opted for taxis, a great option if you're traveling with a group, or an easy 10-minute water taxi ride to get between Paradise Island and Downtown Nassau ($4 one way, $8 round-trip, every half hour). Another option, especially if you're staying along Cable Beach or areas west, is to hop a ride on the jitneys into and out of Downtown Nassau, a great way to chat with locals who are doing the same thing (each ride is about $1.50). For a nice, quiet stay in Paradise Island, head east and try the Best Western Plus Bay View Suites for a relaxing romantic getaway. It's a five-minute walk to the nearest beach, and also a great option for large or multi-generational families traveling together who might need more space (from $160 per night). Explore the hidden gems of Paradise Island Tucked away on the eastern end of Paradise Island about a 15-minute walk from the Atlantis Resort area, you'll find Versailles Gardens, a lovely, terraced, European-style garden modeled after its namesake in France. The Versailles Gardens are located on part of the One & Only Ocean Club's property along Paradise Island Drive, but are free and open to the public 24/7, and as you can imagine, a popular spot for photos and weddings. You'll also find the remains of an original 14th-century French Cloister across the street that's part of the complex, purchased by William Randolph Hearst and later by Huntington Hartford, who brought it with him to the Bahamas. The best part: it's closer than you think I was surprised how fast the flight was from JFK, a mere 2.5 hours! Catch a nonstop flight on JetBlue from JFK, Boston, Orlando, Washington National, or Fort Lauderdale; fly on United for nonstop flights from Chicago, Houston, and Newark; SouthWest Airlines for nonstop flights from Baltimore; American Airlines for nonstop flights from Miami, Philadelphia, and Charlotte; Delta for nonstop flights from JFK and Atlanta; or Bahamasair for nonstop flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Keep an eye out for flash sales by following your favorite airline on social media or signing up for their email newsletters so the deals come straight to your inbox.

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Happy 50th Birthday, St. Louis Arch! Admission Is $1 Today

Fair warning: I'm from Missouri, so pardon me if I wax poetic about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. The curvy stainless-steel landmark turns 50 years old today, on the anniversary of "the moment when builders set in place the landmark’s crucial keystone." That's the uppermost part of the Arch, the impossibly thin tip-top of the structure—a lookout point that affords incredible views, up to a 30-mile radius, paying special attention to the west (the Arch is an homage to Westward Expansion) and to the Mississippi River in the east. When you visit St. Louis, swallow your claustrophobia and go all the way to that 63-story-tall keystone via the Journey to the Top tram ride. Today, admission is $1, the original price when tickets were first sold in 1967, and the arch will be lit in gold-tone floodlights. Otherwise, tickets are $10, which is a steal for what you get. I'm from Southwest Missouri, a good three and a half hours by car to St. Louis, and I went twice, 20 years apart: Once in 1992, as a child, when my parents brought me, and once in 2012, long after I moved out east as an adult, because I wanted to go back. Couldn't get it out of my head. Here are five reasons you should go: 1. You've GOT to experience the crazy tram ride to the top. When I describe what it feels like to go to the top of the Arch, I end up saying something like this: "You stand in line on stairs, and when it's your turn, you step into what looks like a giant human-sized cylindrical clothes dryer. You sit inside on a bench with a few other people, and as you go skyward, the whole thing tilts...then clicks. Then tilts...and clicks. And suddenly you're at the top, standing on a thin strip of carpet, peering out at two different states with only a handful of other people." There are more technical terms for this experience ("enclosed tram," "the viewing area can hold up to 160 people," etc.—the National Park Service's website is an excellent resource for specifics), but going to the top of the Arch feels more personal than that, and that's a good thing in an age of selfie sticks and swarming crowds. 2. Midcentury-modern legend Eero Saarinen designed it. If you've ever watched Mad Men and admired Roger Sterling's office—the marble-topped "tulip"-shaped table and matching stools in particular—you'll be pleasantly surprised to note that the same guy who designed those designed the St. Louis Arch. Rust issues aside (hard to notice unless you're looking for them), the beauty of the design holds up. Seeing it silver and soaring from the ground up is one of my favorite recent travel memories. 3. You can walk from the Arch to get fried ravioli. (Enough said.) The Arch area is eminently walkable, a pleasant Midwestern surprise. Take a stroll along the well-kept grounds to the nearby downtown, and sit at an old-school restaurant like Caleco's, for St. Louis specialty fried ravioli dipped in marinara sauce (just trust me on this one) and a menu of seemingly unlimited incarnations of Budweiser. Or, head to the South Broadway location of St. Louis chain Imo's Pizza. Locals love it. Fervently. 4. The movies alone—even if you don't go to the top—are worth the trip. The filmstrip shown while you're waiting in line to hop the cylindrical tram to the top has the retro charm of a grade-school film strip—heavy on Mark Twain references (this is Missouri, after all) and scratchy execution—but, again, that's not a bad thing. If you decide not to go up to the top, the documentary film Monument to the Dream (included with admission to the top of the Arch and to the grounds) captures the construction of the Arch and Eero Saarinen in all his glory. 5. If you want Americana, this is it. I adore Paris (obviously). I live in New York City and love it accordingly. But big-city hooplah can get overwhelming when you're trying to have an authentic travel moment, and there's a quaintness to the Arch that feels like discovery. I'm biased, of course. I'm now a city girl through and through, but in 2012, after I went to the top for the second time, 20 years after my first visit, I couldn't resist buying an official Gateway Arch photograph, with the Missouri capitol building and the Arch digitally superimposed over my and my now-husband's beaming faces. The photo company throws in a few smaller copies too. Today I cut one out for my husband to put in his wallet. Here's how happy I was right before I boarded the tram (the woman to the left was excited too, I promise): A post shared by Neil Alumkal (@neeeil) on Jun 2, 2012 at 10:40am PDT

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Secret Hotels of Rome (From $75!)

CASA DI SANTA FRANCESCA ROMANA Enjoy an elegant stay on the cobblestoned Roman street of your dreams. If you prefer lodgings with a little history, this fine hotel is named for the saint credited with performing miracles here in the 15th century. A decidedly modern miracle is that this place, situated in the charming Trastevere district near upscale shops, dining, and the legendary Porta Portese Flea Market, comes without sticker shock. Enjoy your complimentary breakfast amid the orange trees of the interior courtyard and pay a visit to the beautiful little chapel. When you’re ready to explore the neighborhood and beyond, ask the friendly staff for their tips (Via dei Vascellari 61, from about $122 per night). MUST-SEE: Movie buffs will get a kick out of the Bocca della Verità, featured in Roman Holiday, a short walk from the hotel. Then take off across the Tiber to Palatine Hill (the Park Avenue of ancient Rome), where you can explore the ruins of a stadium and imperial palace and take the panorama of the Eternal City, including the Forum and Colosseum. For discounts and shorter lines at museums and archaeological attractions, invest in a Roma Pass (from about $31). MANGIA: Da Lucia offers a reliable menu of pastas and meat dishes, but its antipasti, like cheese and honey or anchovies with lemon juice, are the real stars (Vicolo del Mattonato 2B, 011-39/06-580-3601). SEVEN KINGS RELAIS Revel in midcentury-modern style at a great price just steps from the “Steps.” While some people come to Italy to revel in the ancient, the proprietors of Seven Kings Relais are more interested in the recent past. The hotel wears its fashion sense proudly, with 1960s details like floral wallpaper, a baroque-style sofa done up in pink, and a contemporary espresso bar right in the lobby. They’re also more than happy to dispense tips on navigating the local Metro stops and bus routes, the 15-minute walk to the Spanish Steps, and where to indulge your shopping urges (Via XX Settembre 58A, from about $75 per night). MUST-SEE: The Piazza di Spagna, named for the nearby Spanish Embassy, is the base of the gorgeous 1725 staircase affectionately known as the Spanish Steps. Once you get over the “pinch me” moment of seeing the steps for real, check out the fountain said to be designed by Bernini’s dad. MANGIA: The Spanish Steps area is super-popular, and it’s a relief to know that Pizzeria Leoncino is not only nearby but is also, unlike many Rome pizzerias, open for lunch. Elizabeth Minchilli, author of Eating Rome and the app Eat Italy, recommends Leoncino’s pizza with onion, beans, and sausage (Via del Leonci- no 28, 011-39/06-686-7757). RELAIS PALAZZO TAVERNA Betcha never thought a converted stable could look this beautiful. The 10-room Relais Palazzo Taverna used to be stables dating back to the 15th century. Their conversion into a hotel is the loving work of a family of art lovers that includes a Venetian art expert from Christie’s. When you’re not exploring nearby Piazza Navona and other Roman delights, savor the dramatic black-and-white damask wallpaper from England and the Japanese printed paper, not to mention the massive 500-year-old beams original to the stables. You’ll be just off a street lined with antiques stores that leads straight to the piazza... if you can drag yourself away from the pastries and cappuccino delivered right to your door each morning (Via dei Gabrielli 92, from about $105 per night). MUST-SEE: Ogle Bernini’s stunning Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in nearby Piazza Navona, where a few cheeky tourists famously attempted some late-night bathing this past summer. MANGIA: Fill up on hearty servings of pasta tossed with eggplant, tomato, and garlic at Da Tonino al Governo Vecchio (Via del Governo Vecchio 18–19, 011-39/333-587-0779). SUITE ORIANI Psst! Want to sleep in a villa in one of Rome’s poshest quarters? Yes, the streets are lined with embassies and mansions, but inside the 1929 Art Nouveau villa at No. 92 Via Barnaba Oriani, you’ll find five rooms filled with antiques like Tiffany-style glass lamps and ornate chairs that can be all yours for a song. Oh, and how about your own balcony overlooking private gardens and a towering cedar of Lebanon tree? (That’s in the Orchidea Room.) In warm weather, a generous breakfast spread of meats and cheeses, homemade jams, yogurt, and fresh fruit is served in the garden’s umbrella-shaded outdoor living room (Via Barnaba Oriani 92, from about $129 per night). MUST-SEE: Before you take off to drink in the old city, you’ve got to go for a hand-in-hand stroll through jaw-dropping Villa Borghese, Rome’s most famous park, and check out the nearby Accademia di Santa Cecilia, housed in Renzo Piano’s ultra-modern Parco Della Musica. MANGIA: La Pariolina offers an array of fritti and pizzas heartily recommended by Oriani’s proprietors (Viale dei Parioli 93). MECENATE ROOMS Live like a local in your own chic apartment. Sure, you may be one of the 30 million travelers who descend upon Rome each year, but that doesn’t mean you have to live like a tourist. Your lodgings are an apartment (No. 79) in a quiet part of town that’s just a five-minute walk to the Colosseum. Once inside the circa-1900 building’s luxurious wood-and-brass doors, you’ll be warmly welcomed to views of the iconic arena, coupons for breakfast at local cafés, and one of four surprisingly spacious rooms (Via Mecenate 79, from about $75 per night). MUST-SEE: Many visitors find the Colosseum to be the most exciting attraction in Rome. Even if you find the arena’s dark past a bit of a buzzkill, it’s an undeniably impressive sight. It once held 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators and was, of course, the place where Roman gladiators fought wild animals and one another. MANGIA: Taverna Romana, in the Monti district near the Colosseum, will have a line. You’ll have to wait about 20 minutes to get a table. A heaping bowl of rigatoni with melted pecorino makes it totally worth it (Via della Madonna dei Monti 79, 011-39/06-474-5325). LE STANZE DI ORAZIO Fine art is on view inside the hotel and just down the street. Just 10 blocks from the Vatican, this five-room hotel was launched in 2011 by a proprietor with a passion for art history. Good taste is on display everywhere you look, from the Philippe Starck lamps to the lovely striped fabrics for the curtains to the original floor tiles. Ask for personalized itineraries and hand-drawn maps, and be prepared to be treated like family—in a good way (Via Orazio 3, from about $85 per night). MUST-SEE: Walk to the Vatican Museums and get lost for hours, or days, in their immense art collections. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid long lines, and remember that the museums are closed most Sundays but offer free admission on the last Sunday of each month from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MANGIA: Pizzarium, near the Vatican, may be the most famous pizzeria in Italy, and Minchilli recommends it (Via della Meloria 43 [near Vatican, metro Cipro], 011-39/06-397-45416). TORRETTA DE’ MASSIMI Your country estate is waiting in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of the city. Arriving here might make you think you’re dreaming. The 12th-century tower—which has been transformed into a suite of rooms spread over four floors, with a kitchen and a living room at the bottom and two bedrooms at the top—looks too much like a fable to be true. The fact that a prince, and a very charming one at that, hands over the keys adds to the surreal feel. But the place does exist, hidden within 350 acres of park-like greenery in the humble La Pisana neighborhood of Rome’s southwestern fringes (Via della Pisana 600, from about $210 per night for a two-bed- room suite). MUST-SEE: Spend time wandering the amazing grounds themselves, or take the 881 bus from the property to Rome’s historic center, near Campo de’ Fiori and the Vatican. MANGIA: You can use the property’s kitchen to cook for yourself (grocery stores are a short walk away), ask the staff to prepare your meals, or, our favorite option, book on-site cooking classes. For a night out, nearby eatery Schiavi d’Abruzzo will pick you up and return you to the property after filling your plate with unforgettable pasta dishes and pizza (Via Di Bravetta 370).

Inspiration

Hop on This Amtrak Flash Sale Now!

My favorite way to explore the Northeast (where I live and work) is by train. For my money, there’s a convenience, comfort, and, yeah, even romance to riding the rails. Some of the most delightful East Coast adventures I’ve had started out by boarding an Amtrak train in New York City’s Pennsylvania Station (which everbody here calls “Penn”) and riding down to Baltimore to visit my cousins, explore the Inner Harbor, the aquarium, and discover one of the tastiest Little Italy neighborhoods I’ve ever eaten in. (And, in case your wondering, my cousins frequently ride up to NYC for holiday window-shopping, skating in Bryant Park, and the other myriad possibilities my native city offers visitors.) Of course, I have to admit those memorable Baltimore trips may have been topped by my excursions down to Washington, D.C., a few hours’ down the coast from my home and a world apart in history, art, science, and food. (Budget Travelers already know how much I love D.C. for the wide array of free activities, including all the major museums, memorials, and historical sites.) So, I was pretty psyched to learn about Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 3-Day Sale. I can get from Midtown Manhattan to downtown Baltimore or D.C. for rates so low I had to do a double-take. The sale is on now through Thursday (October 29), and is valid for travel December 1 through 18, 2015. How low are we talking here? NYC to Baltimore from $39. NYC to D.C. from $43. These are rare deals and worth jumping on for a fall getaway that doesn’t involve traffic on I-95! Whether you share my love of train travel or just want to nab the most convenient and affordable way to get from “downtown to downtown,” as Amtrak puts it, I suggest you check out this sale before time runs out.

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