Finding the romantic side of Rome

By Katie Parla
October 3, 2012
Katie Parla

It's not hard! Chocolate truffles, a leisurely hilltop stroll, and an intimate meal are key ingredients for Valentine's Day in Rome, the hometown of martyr San Valentino. Couples who work up an appetite browsing museums and archaeological sites—offering 2-for-1 admission on Valentine's—can break for an afternoon treat of fine handmade chocolates.

La Bottega del Cioccolato does a lovely rich and bitter ultra-dark chocolate as well as legendary marrons glacés, chestnuts candied in syrup. The small red shop has glass displays of unwrapped chocolates (dark and milk, only) and glass containers with pieces individually wrapped in colored foil (via Leonina 82).

Said, an 80-year-old chocolatier with a café and restaurant, makes decadent truffles and thick, creamy hot chocolate that you can savor indoors—or take to go (per portare via). Chocolates are sold by weight; expect to pay around €7.50-10 for a box with 8-10 pieces (via Tiburtina 135).

There's no shortage of paths and lookout points for a hand-in-hand stroll.

The Janiculum Hill above Trastevere is home to the Villa Pamphilj, a vast public park dotted with fountains, botanical gardens, and 17th-century pavilions. After wandering the grounds, leave through the Porta San Pancrazio exit, and make for the vantage points dotted along the winding Via Garibaldi and leafy Passegiatata del Gianicolo.

The Capitoline Hill is a more central option. Climb the hill from the via dei Fori Imperiali, following the snaky path up to the viewing deck for sweeping views over the Forum. Pause in Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, with three elegant 16th-century buildings, and then follow the path to the left of the Palazzo dei Conservatori and climb the stairs to the Café Capitolino, the Capitoline Museum café with a terrace overlooking the domes, towers, and rooftops of the city. It's a perfect spot to steal a kiss or to linger over an aperitivo before dinner.

Make a restaurant reservation as soon as possible if you'll be in Rome for Valentine's Day. Hedonists should consider Cantina Lucifero, an intimate family-run wine bar and restaurant specializing in luscious, melt-in-your-mouth steak tartare and in fondue. Bubbling cauldrons of cheese are served tableside with cubes of bread and iron skewers. Polish off a meal with chocolate fondue with fresh fruit (via del Pellegrino 53; about €20 per person, plus wine).

La Campana sticks to seasonal Roman fare, such as tender roasted meats, tagliolini with anchovies and pecorino, and pasta with artichokes (vicolo della Campana, 18; about €30 per person, plus wine). For something lighter, find a cozy table in the wood-paneled wine bar Giulio Passami L'Olio, where you can share cured meats and cheeses over a bottle of wine (via di Montegiordano 28; about €15, plus wine).

And if you feel it just isn't Valentine's without a bouquet, swing by the flower vendors at Campo de' Fiori or Piazza Madonna dei Monti. Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday, Rome's traditional day of rest, so do your shopping early to avoid coming up empty handed!

Read more recommendations—and ask trip-planning questions—on our Rome city page.

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Rome: 5 best February values

Join the Carnival celebrations Rome is embracing its carnevale traditions for the first time in centuries. The events lineup, spanning February 6 to 16, includes costume parties, musical performances, butteri (equestrian shows by Tuscan cowboys), and a parade in Piazza Venezia on February 14. Fireworks will cascade over the Pincio Hill, near the Piazza del Popolo, on Carnival, February 16. Free. Dance and photography take center stage There's always something noteworthy happening at the Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium Parco della Musica. It just launched Equilibrio, a month-long contemporary dance festival, while February 18 to 21 brings an exhibition with photos, food, and films related to Gran Sasso National Park. If you're looking for something to do this weekend, Sunday, February 7, is the last chance to skate at the Auditorium's outdoor rink. viale Pietro de Coubertin 30, 011-39/06-8024-1281. Equilibrio tickets from €2, exhibition free, skating rentals €8. 2-for-1 admission on Valentine's Day Rome's National Museums (Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, the Baths of Diocletian, Crypta Balbi) and several archaeological sites, including the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Villa dei Quintili, are treating couples to 2-for-1 admission on February 14. Museums open 9am-7:45pm (last entrance one hour before closing. Archeological sites open 9am-4:30pm (last entrance one hour before closing). Museum admission €7; admission for archaeological sites, €6 to 12. Spend a Sunday at Caffarella Park Less than two miles from the Colosseum and Circus Maximus, the vast Caffarella is home to grazing sheep, Roman ruins, and bike paths. Each Sunday in February, park authorities are organizing games, walks through the park, and bike rides geared to local children. It's a unique way for travelers to mingle with local families, and the idyllic setting is a welcome change of pace from the traffic of the city. Events are free, bike rentals €3 per hour. Organized visits begin at 10am on Sundays, but the park is open from 8am until one hour before sunset daily. Michelangelo's monumental vision The Capitoline Museums' annex plays host to an exhibit on the architecture of Michelangelo through February 21. It counts more than 100 drawings, prints, letters, and models related to St Peter's Basilica, Palazzo Farnese, and Piazza del Campidoglio, designed during the artist's nearly forty years in Rome. Keep an eye out for signed drawings and two portraits of Michelangelo. Piazza del Campidoglio, open Tues-Sun 9 a.m.-8 p.m., admission €6. PLUS Going to Rome soon? Ask Katie a question on our Rome city page!


London: 5 best February values

London's quiet in February. So it's a good time to see things which get busy the rest of the year. There are some new openings, too. Havana Rakatan - Cuban Dance on Valentine's night With most event on or around Valentine's night costing upwards of $80, this Cuban street ballet and live music spectacular from Havana choreographer Nilda Guerra and son band Turquino offers great value at around $25 for a ticket for front-and-center seats. On selected nights, the price includes a free post-show dance class. At the Peacock Theater, Sadler's Wells. The Changing of the Guard Every morning at 10:28 a.m. (9:28 on a Sunday), mounted ceremonial guardsmen leave Hyde Park Barracks for the Queen's residence at Buckingham Palace where they change sentry posts in one of London's most famous daily displays of pomp and pageantry. The soldiers take 40 minutes to perform the changing of the guard ceremony, marching up and down in their scarlet coats with sparkling buttons and their towering furry hats, accompanied by a booming military band. Most months of the year the rails around the palace are choc-a-bloc with flashing tourist cameras. But it's almost tourist-free in February and its free. Be at Buckingha.m. Palace (subway- Green Park) at 11:30 to see the show and at Hyde Park Barracks at 10:20 to follow the soldiers to the palace. The Real Van Gogh The first major Van Gogh exhibition in London for over 40 years is on at the Royal Academy of Arts in the city center until April. The exhibition marries painting and drawing (with over a hundred of Vah Gogh's art works) with 35 of the Van Gogh's letters, rarely exhibited to the public due to their fragility, and offering a unique insight into the artist's tortured psychology. Tickets are $12.50 with a student card and the price includes a $4 exhibition guidebook. Oh You Pretty Things! Fashion Photography for free This free Central London exhibition showcases the work of five from a new generation of exciting British fashion photographers who include Alice Hawkins who has shot some of the most iconic images of recent years for i-D magazine, and snapper of the moment, Josh Olins, who shot the recent 'Seven Wonders of Fashion' series for British Vogue. Emily Prince and India at the Saatchi Gallery London's foremost contemporary art collector and champion of the YBAs, or Young British Artists (who include Damien Hirst), opened the city's most prestigious private contemporary art gallery in late 2008. It's housed in a surprisingly understated neo-classical edifice whose capacious and minimalist interior shows some of the city's most experimental and challenging exhibitions. There are two free exciting exhibitions on display this month, both of which have garnered favourable reviews: Emily Prince: American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans) 2004 to Present and The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today. MORE Ask Alex a question about planning a trip to London on our London city page What's Better than Buckingham Palace?


Have a happier vacation

Even storm clouds and crying babies can't dim the glow of a getaway if you follow sometimes-counterintuitive strategies—all part of the growing field of positive psychology. Gretchen Rubin has attempted to put into practice the insights of positive psychology, and she recounts the story in her new book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. We spoke with her recently to find out a few things she's learned from traveling with her husband and two young daughters. Trip Rx: Pack almonds or another healthy snack. For example, Rubin was recently away with her family and in-laws on an annual vacation. Despite the fact that this place is lovely, she ended up feeling a bit crabby. It wasn't the company that got her down. It was because her vacation schedule had thrown off her diet, and the change in her blood sugar levels affected her mood. Says Rubin: "Being on this vacation means I'm often starving before we eat. I can't eat as often as I would like. The food is richer than the food I usually eat, but somehow it doesn't seem as filling." So now Rubin brings a couple of packages of almonds, and other snacks, to help even out her diet—and moods. Pack early. "I make the odious task easier by starting a week in advance (my husband packs at 10 p.m. the night before we leave). I bring the big suitcase into my bedroom, and whenever I think of something (sunscreen, passports, adapter) I put it in." Trip Rx: "Your PDA is a great tool but a poor master," says Rubin. Use it for what it does best: Make reservations, check the weather forecast, get directions. Then power it down, and focus on savoring your surroundings. Or just on chilling out. Return a day early. "It's no fun to go away for a relaxing week, but then find yourself stressed out again a few hours after you're back at home. Give yourself a day to sleep late, do errands, catch up on mail and email, re-stock the fridge, etc. The re-entry day makes the trip shorter, but it makes the overall vacation experience more enjoyable." Unpack right away. "My husband is adamant about this. The last thing I feel like doing when we arrive home from a week away is to tackle the unpacking, but he's right, we both feel much better when we've put that task behind us. It makes it a lot easier to unwind and enjoy being home." MORE TIPS! Writer Robert Firpo-Cappiello interviewed a dozen scientists and researchers to find out other tips on how to have a happier vacation. Check out his article: Get Psyched. The Happiness Project blog has more details on Rubin's fascinating experiment and her easy-to-read, inspiring book. Feel free to chime in with your own tips!


San Francisco: Night at the museum

We're seeing a trend of nighttime museum parties here in San Francisco—think of them more as chic cocktail parties than those Ben Stiller mega-movies. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the SF MOMA are famous for occasional opening-night parties, which draw a who's-who crowd of local artists, musicians, and philanthropists (with its 75th Anniversary, the SF MOMA's parties are getting particularly scene-y). But other museums are jumping on the after-hours bandwagon, hoping to attract new visitors with cash bars, dance floors, club music, live performances, and special exhibits. Every Thursday night, the California Academy of Sciences rolls out internationally renowned DJs like Jeff Stallings, plus appetizers, a cash bar, and a dance floor, creating a party zone in the academy's four-story rainforest, hands-on insect lab, and aquarium (reader dcaliendo recommends it as a must-see anytime). This month's eclectic mix of events include a pre-party for music festival NoisePop (Feb. 18), featuring live performances by local experimental groups the Frail and Brookhaven. 21 and over. 6-10 p.m. $12. 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, 415/ 379-8000. Kids get to stay up late too during Friday Nights at the de Young. Music, poetry, films, dancing, interactive art projects, cocktails (for adults only, of course) and a special dinner are all on the docket. This month's calendar features a Mission-style Carnivale party with projected images of murals and street art, headdress-making, and Latin music. Feb. 5, 5-8:45 p.m., $10 adults, $6 youth and students, free for children under 13. Dinner and drinks not included. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, 415/ 750-3600. The "After Dark" parties at the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum located next to the Palace of Fine Arts on the Presidio, happen the first Thursday of every month. Each event explores a different theme through film screenings, exhibits, performances, and talks. Appropriately, this month's theme is sex. The wild night will feature bull testicle dissections (you'll definitely want a cocktail before that), a Condom Couture Fashion Show, and take-apart sex toys. March's "Distortion" night will have visual music and psychedelic animation. February 4, 6–10 p.m. $15. 3601 Lyon Street, 415/ 561-0360.