Roman roads: a 3h-cycling tour through Rome’s artisan past and present

3-hour bicycle tour of Rome with Hotel Indigo Rome - St George - Photo by Alexei Lin on Unsplash

They say that all roads lead to Rome. The proverb remains in use, not only in English but also in most European languages, a tribute to Rome’s cultural clout and engineering prowess.

If the roads were originally meant for the Emperor’s armies, they were soon used by wise philosophers and skilled craftsmen travelling from Madrid to Jerusalem and the Hadrian’s Wall to Cairo. In these days, all roads truly led to Italy’s capital.

To pay homage to this heritage, our local guides at Hotel Indigo Rome – St George crafted a 3-hour bicycle tour of the capital’s hidden away treasures, from the best chocolate makers to the new vintage haunts.

1. Rione Monti’s mercato and cafè cafè

Start your cycling tour of Rome in Rione Monti, next to the river Tiber. Today, it is one of the most central and vibrant districts in Rome, but it used to be known as a Suburra, a low-class slum. Generations of artisans, carpenters, courtesans and shopkeepers have tenaciously succeeded to keep this area alive through the struggles of humble beginnings.

It is now the heart of Italy’s best chocolate and some of Rome’s best coffee shops.

Let’s begin with a classic example of the neighbourhood’s spirit, at Mercato Monti. This trendy vintage market started as an over-stock discounter, before becoming of the hippest hang-outs for fashion-conscious Romans. Rare finds and unique looks are the norm here, and the owner, Ornella Cicchetti, proudly hand-picks “Made in Italy” brands and designers.

Next stop in our Roman road discovery tour is, of course, coffee. You can trust Italians to lead the way when it comes to what espressi truly taste like. Cafè Cafè is a hidden gem that gets crowded with locals in the mornings, for their traditional cappuccino. Remember: Italians only drink cappuccino for breakfast, asking for one in the afternoon is anathema.

The Sunday brunch is simple but hearty, and the welcome traditionally down-to-business.

The interior of Cafè Cafè coffee shop in Rome's Rione Monti

Cafè Cafè coffee shop in Rome’s Rione Monti, for delicious cappuccino – and Sunday brunch

Take your time to discover a few more Rione Monti’s hidden gems, or hop back on your bike direction Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, our next stop.

2. Rome’s Jewish Ghetto: keeping Imperial skills & traditions alive

David Limentani in his Rome shop, surrounded by porcelain

David Limentani in his shop in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, surrounded by porcelain works

Well-known for its wide variety of workshops throughout the ages, Rome’s Jewish Ghetto (Il Ghetto Ebraico) remains one of the prime areas for makers in the city. The best place to start is the workshop of the “Pope’s cocciaro”, David Limentani, a Jewish shopkeeper who famously brokered an unprecedented visit of Pope John Paul II to the nearby synagogue.

His shop is full of great pottery and porcelain works, and has been crafting presents and wedding gifts for clients for the Roman Upper-Middle Class.

Soak in a little history in Kiryat Sefer (‘The City of Books’), a little bookshop that specialises in the Ghetto’s planning circa 1850.

Weaving and winding through the alleys, you will cross the Tiber and enter another area of Roman history – Trastevere.

3. Trastevere: proper ice cream and old-school pharmacology

There, you will find an authentic, artisan bakery belonging to the renowned, award-winning Gambero Rosso. Treat yourself with one of their famous cookies and ice creams.

Nothing is more Italian than watching the busy streets full of Saturday shoppers while enjoying a great gelato.

Before leaving the right bank of the Tiber, take some time to appreciate Santa Maria della Scala, an 18th century pharmacy full of remedies and traditional medication. The display include a jar of the powerful ‘Doctor of Nerone’ – a concoction of 80 exotic ingredients which both an incredible antidote for poison and was also considered to be very useful for erotic pursuits.

Remedies and concoctions in Rome's Santa Maria della Scala pharmacy

Remedies and concoctions in Rome’s Santa Maria della Scala pharmacy

4. Regola and Borgo: antique libraries and Roman mosaics

Continuing your journey through the narrow streets on the other side of the river, you will arrive in the Regola District. This Rione is one of the capital’s oldest, and the streets plan has not changed much since the Antiquity.

Bookworms rejoice, our first stop is at the beautiful Nuccio’s Antique Library, where old tomes and ancient maps compete. If you would rather have a look at the city’s oldest public library, head nearby to the stunning Biblioteca Angelica for their 200,000-strong collection of Italian books.

The reading room of Rome's Biblioteca Angelica - Photo:

The reading room of Rome’s Biblioteca Angelica – Photo:

A micro-mosaic of Rome's Pantheon from the School of Mosaics

A micro-mosaic of Rome’s Pantheon from the School of Roman Mosaic

No cycling tour through Rome would be complete without a visit to the Vatican. But not the classic sights of St Peter’s Basilica or the Musei Vaticani. Instead, pick one of the site’s lesser known sides and spend some time in the incredible School of Roman Mosaic.

Famous for their micro-mosaic – delicate and refined works of art embedded in jewellery pieces – depicting the Colosseum, St Peter’s and other iconic symbols of Rome, the school has maintained one of the oldest crafts in the city.

Rome’s artisan past and present await your curiosity. To make the most out of your tour, feel free to contact our local experts at Hotel Indigo Rome – St George to get your very own guide and direct contact with the artisans listed here.

Read more on what to do in Rome, from Romans’ street food favourites to independent boutique shopping hot spots.

Feature photo:
Alexey Lin

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