ON A RECENT TRIP TO ROME—my first—I stayed at the Hassler Roma, a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps. The digs were fabulous and the neighbourhood swank, but I found myself wandering further every day, chasing a less formal scene.
The options were plentiful. Rome’s reputation for ancients—the Pantheon, the Colosseum, dapper seniors smoking unfiltered cigarettes—belies its amazingly young vibe. And while Milan has long been Italy’s fashion capital, there are several buzzy Roman ’hoods: the vine-covered buildings of Monti, the fountain-filled Trastevere and the narrow cobblestone alleys surrounding Piazza Navona. If you know where to turn, you can trade tourists for chic locals.
Near Piazza Navona, the twisting alleys are lined with fashion-forward boutiques: Yuko & Biba (Piazza della Chiesa Nuova, 15)—“concept bags” designed by a former fashion editor; c.u.c.i.n.a.—high-design housewares; and, on the other side of the Pantheon, Degli Effetti, which stocks Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons. Hungry? Slurp up carbonara among gorgeous Romans at nearby Maccheroni.
One local I met explained the difference between Piazza Navona and Monti thusly: the first is “chic hip” and the second “bohemian hip.” I was eager to explore this distinction, but first I needed to eat (again). I headed to Da Robertino, in rapidly gentrifying Monti, for greens turned indulgent by aged balsamic and top-shelf olive oil, and then to nearby Ciuri Ciuri for tart lemon gelato and cannoli. (Rome is a two-dessert town.) Monti’s ubiquitous vintage shops kiss hipster-dom without being obnoxious. Blue Goose (Via del Boschetto, 4) has Versace and a selection of baubles; on weekends, Mercato Monti sells vintage goods (kimonos, antique cameras) and edgy pieces by emerging Roman designers such as CinziaRossi.
Trastevere is more “scruffy hip,” but its used bookstores and artisanal craft shops are transformed at dusk, as metal shutters give way to lantern-lit restaurants. University students hang out by the fountain in Piazza Trilussa, an area dense with watering holes. I followed a few down the Via del Politeama to find a bar with no name, and perched on the edge of a crumbling wall as I drank an Aperol spritz. Checco er Carettiere is the place for a big meal around here (spaghetti with clams + osso bucco + eggnog cake = food coma), but there’s also Dar Poeta for pizza and Italian craft brews. Later, dodging the rain, I ducked into Friends Art Café (Piazza Trilussa, 34) and watched flirtations unfold around me. Then it was time to cab back to the hotel and start packing. My favourite souvenir? A pink flared dress from cult label Aspesi.