Ciao ragazzi! I’m just back home after a week of vacationing in Italy, and in time-honoured fashion I’ll be brightening your dull lives with my fascinating holiday tales.
First up: my run in Rome.
This was my first time in Rome, and I really liked it. Compared to the grand formal sweep of Paris, where I lived for 8 years, or the cosmopolitan buzz of London, Rome feels a little provincial but more charming and relaxed, once you’re away from tourist hotspots like the Vatican and the Trevi fountain.
That said, visiting the Sistine Chapel was an unexpected highlight for a heathen like me. And the Colisseum is impressive.
Any marathon runner will already be predisposed to consuming vast amounts of pasta, but the food in Rome is fantastic. Trastavere may be the go-to area for eating out, but we took a food tour of Testaccio, a less touristy area with excellent restaurants, gelato shops, delicatessens and markets. (For literature fans like me, the tour also visited the tombs of Keats and Shelley in the non-Catholic graveyard nearby. And for football fans like me, we also passed by the site of the original AS Roma ground, now lying in waste.)
For my Sunday morning run in the Italian capital I kept clear of the city centre and tourist haunts. Other runners seemed happy to weave through the crowds of tourists; the previous day I saw one runner pick a painstaking path through the tour groups outside the Colosseum. This didn’t appeal to me.
Aside from slow-moving tourist crowds, the streets of Rome feature fast-moving drivers. Strolling around the city centre the previous day, I saw how haphazard the road-crossing culture is in Rome – pedestrians just step out onto a crossing and have faith that the car speeding towards you will stop in time.
We were staying just off the Piazza del Popolo, the Roman equivalent of Place de la Concorde in Paris in that it has an ancient Egyptian obelisk plonked incongruously in its centre and was formerly home to public executions. Off the Piazza del Popolo is a porto, or entrance, to the Villa Borghese, one of the largest parks in Rome – and that’s where I went for my run, to avoid the crowds and the traffic.
The Porto del Popolo is the most westerly entrance to the Villa Borghese. Tour coaches were parked along the left of the road, the fantastically-named Viale Giorgio Washington, so I kept right and followed a trail that led up the hill towards the small Piazza Bucarest, which led onto a square ornamental park with gravel paths and a view over the centre of Rome.
However, the view wasn’t great because the buildings nearest me were tall, and I found myself sinking into the soft gravel underfoot. I headed over towards the Galoppatoio, an area for equestrian sports in the southern corner of the park. But again the running wasn’t great here, and I didn’t see any other runners around.
So, I headed back to the road, crossed the Viale del Muro Torto and went due east. And this was where I hit the jackpot – the north and east of the Villa Borghese feature tarmac roads on rolling hills, shaded by tall trees, some closed to traffic and with few tourists on a Sunday morning. Seeing other runners here, I knew I had found the local running haunt.
I ran up towards the Museo Borghese, where tourists were hanging around waiting for a Brancusi exhibition to open. Behind the museum I followed the north wall towards the zoo, wherein I heard some exotic birds calling. After the zoo I turned into the centre of the park by taking the Viale di Valle Giulia, a good hard climb of around half a kilometre.
By now it was time to wrap up my run. Taking the Viale Pietro Canonica down the centre of the park, tourists were starting to trickle in more steadily. Swinging right to head back along old Giorgio Washington Avenue to the exit, two Japanese tourists asked me in English for directions to the Museo Borghese. With local status thus conferred on me to distinguish me from the tourists, I shuffled out the Porta del Popolo and finished a great Roman run.
So, that’s my tourist recommendation – an early morning run in the north and east of the Villa Borghese as part of your Roman holiday.