If you're tired of raucous Rome but still want to stroll a quiet place bursting with historical interest and great view spots? Our suggestion: try the Aventine Hill, the southernmost of Rome's seven hills with a quiet and elegant residential area at its core. The Aventino is ringed with very important churches, monasteries, and the one thing tourists come to see while missing the rest: the Knights of Malta keyhole in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta.
And if you have to drive in the historic center of Rome, this is a good place to end up. There is parking in many of the hotels.
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But let's start our little tour in the south west corner of the Avelino, in the Piazza of the Knights of Malta (Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta) designed in 1765 by the Italian architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi. It's a rather nice piazza that many taxis and tour vehicles consider a mere parking lot, herding their minions over toward the big green door, some of its paint wore off by tourists pressing against it trying to get the picture you see on the left.
They'll hover over you to tell you that you're seeing across three countries, from the autonomous property of the Knights of Malta (the Gran Priorato di Roma dell'Ordine di Malta) through a patch of Italy and then to the Vatican. You will press your camera against the hole and hope to get a decent picture of the dome of St. Peters through the shrubbery tunnel before the people behind you get antsy and begin to push you out of the way.
You can set up for your picture in advance. You want to set your camera for a moderate telephoto picture, something like a 100-150mm 35 mm equivalent. If you can, set your camera to center both the focal point and the light metering. Then take your place, press that camera firmly to the hole, and take that picture.
While you're in line waiting for your golden photo op, get your bearings. The piazza is rather nice if it's not stuffed with big cars. To the right of you is the Basilica Ss. Santi Bonifacio e Alessio. Behind you and a little to your left is Sant'Anselmo.
The little garden to the left of Sant'Alessio is called the Giardino Storico di Sant'Alessio and offers some nice views up the Tiber towards the center of Rome. There is also a guide to the trees and fountains on a plaque near the entrance.
But this isn't the best view (and the garden is sometimes populated by the homeless and their animals) so don't think you have to stop or you're going to miss something. Keep walking and you'll come upon the Basilica of Santa Sabina, Rome's oldest major basilica. It's simple inside, it reeks of age, and you can make a reservation to visit the crypt. You must step inside though, it's quite different than other more celebrated basilicas. To the right of the entrance door you'll see one of the columns from what is presumed to be a remnant of the Temple of Juno that occupied the site before construction of Santa Sabina. There's also a mosaic tomb in the floor from the 1300s and a carved cyprus door with biblical scenes thought to have dated from the 5th century inside, you can see them in our slide show to the right.
When you come out of the Basilica follow the wall out towards the street, pass the interesting fountain that floods the bathtub, and turn left into the walled orange garden. A walkway will take you to a romantic view platform with views toward the Vatican and the Capitoline hill. Italian youths gather here to smooch around sunset, when the starlings take to the sky by the zillions and all Rome is at your feet. Have fun.
If the geography as I've presented it confuses you, take a look at the map below. You'll find the Circus Maximus just off the hill to the north east side, which separates the Aventine from the Palatine.
At the southeast corner of the Aventino you'll find the Roman gate Porta San Paolo, which forms part of a transportation hub featuring the Roma Porta San Paolo station that takes you to Ostia, the metro line B Piramide stop, and the Rome Ostiense railway station. The Aventino isn't far from the Trestevere railway station, found just across the Tiber.
The Aventino is blessed with some highly-rated places to stay. It's quiet and might be a bit less expensive than other Rome lodging for the same quality. The Hotel Sant'Anselmo sits across from the Basilica of Sant'Anselmo; the facade with the flags is shown to the left. It was converted from a private villa, and the historic plaque out in front reminds us that "surely the most outstanding room is the converted shed of the villa's gardener, whose ceiling is dotted with luminous LEDs, which makes it look like the sky on an unforgettable Roman night on the most romantic hill of them all, l'Aventino."
Our friends have just returned from Rome raving about the hotel Villa San Pio. The hotel was made out of three separate villas and their gardens. There is wired internet and free parking. Yes, our friends drove to this hotel without problems and said it was great if you didn't want to take the train and a taxi. There is a bar that has snacks if you don't want to head down the hill for dinner. And it gets great reviews from other folks who've stayed there.
The Domus Aventina on Via di santa Prisca, 11/B is a recommended hotel adjacent to the Church of Saint Prisca. Rooms peek into the cloister of the church complex.
We like to stay in different apartments in different neighborhoods each time we visit Rome. Here are some Rome apartment ideas for you.
Ok, the Aventine hill is a haven from Roman noise and distractions. It's also quite a haven from ristoranti and osterie. For both, I'd head down the hill to the south to a great area to sample both the "old Rome" and the new nightlife in the form of nightclubs carved out of a Roman Amphora refuse hill: Testaccio.
Here are my recommendations for places to eat:
For an elegant meal and fine wines in an evocative setting, try Checchino dal 1887. On the other hand, for inexpensive but very good Roman thin crust pizza, Pizzeria Da Remo at Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44 is a must (Tel: 06 5746270). For real old-time hominess and friendly waiters, try Bucatino. The pici alla gricia con carciofi is fabulous. Looking for Rome's best Carbonara? Perilli a Testaccio at Marmorata 39 (close to the Aventino) might fit the bill. For reviews, see Testaccio Restaurant Recommendations.
Viator offers several tours that include Aventine Hill because it's a great view point for Rome and a rising star among Rome neighborhoods.
The top thing to do from this area is to visit the Roman site of Ostia Antica from the Roma Porto Paolo Station. From the Porto San Paolo you can take a walking tour down the Via Ostiense (the road to Ostia). Itinerary: Museo della Via Ostiense to the Basilica of St. Paul.
The map of the Aventino marks the photo opportunities with the camera icon. The Knights of Malta keyhole is marked simply "The Hole of Rome" which is, ahem, a bit tasteless but not every mapmaker is a writer. Definitely visit the Guardino degli Aranci, the orange garden as well as the Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino. Note also that on the upper right is the Circus Maximus.