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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sally Phillips: 'There's one thing British men can learn from the Italians'

Why Rome?

I lived alongside Rome’s Via Appia Antica, the old Appian Way, for three years in my teens when my dad worked for British Airways, then returned to the city while studying for my Italian degree. I love how its history has been built into the old city walls, so you might find bits of ancient Rome in somebody’s house. One favourite place is the Monti area between the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (0039 06 698 86800; and the Roman Forum ( It used to be a red-light district but now it’s the hippest neighbourhood, full of gourmet street food and alfresco café culture.

Anything special I should pack? 

The streets are cobbled, so it’s not a place for Jimmy Choo heels. You’ll need to wear something to cover your shoulders and knees to visit the Vatican or any churches.

What do you miss most when you’re away?

Men greeting you with the words: “Beautiful blonde angel, where have you been all my life?” When I lived there, I constantly complained about this in true feminist fashion. But when I returned to Britain, where the best you’d get is “Cheer up love, it might never happen”, I began to see the positive side of being endlessly complimented. 

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive? 

I head for a bar frequented by the locals, order an espresso with tons of sugar, and soak in the Italian conversation and absorb the feeling of living in Rome.

Where’s the best place to stay? 

Through Airbnb you can rent a reasonably-priced rooftop apartment in Trastevere, with its cobbled alleyways. I’d also recommend Hotel Villa Mangili (0039 06 321 14191;, an elegant neoclassical hotel near the Villa Borghese. It’s nicely decorated, the service is friendly and it has a good breakfast buffet. 

Where would you meet for a drink?

Rive Gauche in San Lorenzo (0039 051 267 600;, where I worked as a student. It attracts artists, philosophers and punk rockers. If you speak Italian and fancy a bit of discorsivo (debate), it’s the place to go. If you buy a drink, you can enjoy a free aperitif buffet until 9pm. 

Where is the best place for lunch?

If you’re a cat lover and fancy something a little quirky, try the Romeow Cat Bistro (0039 06 5728 9203; Visitors dine in the company of six cats who wander freely on site. They also serve artisan beers and organic wines. The interior is clean, bright and sleek.

And for dinner?

L’Asino d’Oro in Monti (0039 06 4891 3832;  is an excellent Umbrian restaurant run by the renowned chef Lucio Sforza. It’s unfussy yet innovative, with dishes featuring lots of flavourful contrasts. Save room for the amazing desserts. 

Where would you take a first-time visitor?

The Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Vatican City are undoubtedly worth seeing. If you like kitsch, the Vatican City has everything from glow-in-the-dark Nativity sets to playing cards featuring all your favourite popes. 

What should I avoid?

The Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR) district. I find it a bit boring, and too clean and ordered for my tastes. I prefer the chaos of the Quartiere Coppedè, Rome’s answer to the Gaudí structures of Barcelona, on the Piazza Mincio. A highlight is the Casina delle Civette (  with its unique stained-glass windows and stylised owl decorations.

Rome attractions: eight of the city's best lesser-known sights

Rome's best secret attractions

What should I bring home?

You’ll find artwork in Rome that you won’t find anywhere else.

Public transport or taxi?

Public transport is reliable, but taking a taxi is an event. 

Handbag or moneybelt?

Moneybelt. There are pickpockets on trains and tourist hotspots. 

Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?

Generally, I’m completely thrilled to be out of the UK. I try to find the best in every place I visit. 

Interview by Angela Wintle

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