This Is the Best Neighborhood in Rome to Get Lost
A tour guide mentioned the neighborhood in passing, as a place where young people hang out. The hotel concierge at the Hassler, near the Spanish Steps, had mentioned it, too, when rattling off a long list his recommended restaurants. Trastevere. They said the same thing: Visitors to Rome should make a point to visit the west bank of the Tiber to walk along its narrow cobblestone streets and sit down for a meal in one of its relaxed trattorias.
By my second full day in Rome (on my first trip to the city), I had heard the name of the neighborhood enough that it became lodged in my head. "Trastevere"—a lyrical, hypnotic word, that, the more I heard it repeated, became like an incantation promising an adventure. The previous evening, I had stayed up late in my hotel room at the Hassler and tried to plan my day—first stop, the Vatican, then pizza for lunch, and finally, I would walk 15 minutes to Trastevere, where I would indulge in my first taste of real Italian gelato and, of course, pasta for dinner.
I crossed the Tiber to get there, my eyes glued to Google Maps so that I could find my first stop, a gelato shop in the neighborhood known for its eccentric flavors called Fatamorgana, a reputation that it lived up to on my visit. The menu listed a black cherries and beer flavor, as well as avocado lime and white wine, but I decided to play it safe with ricotta citrus and milk cream, two relatively tame flavors. The gelato was the perfect consistency—light and creamy, not too heavy. I took my cup of gelato out of the shop, shut off Google Maps, and began to wander.
Trastevere is made up of a series of winding, labyrinthine narrow cobblestone streets, lined on each side with peach, rosy pink and terracotta buildings. I visited on a grey Sunday—the promise of rain followed my self-lead walking tour—so the neighborhood felt quiet and abandoned at first, but on instinct, I took a left turn down a backstreet that emptied out into one of the city’s signature piazzas, and the crowds appeared—laughing groups of friends looking for a restaurant and parents chasing after wayward children.
Groups of lush green plants in their rusty red pots frame the doorway of each trattoria, the cobblestones were slick from recent rainfall and the orange and beige buildings rising up on every side of the square—which obscure any view of the rest of the city, thereby preventing you from orienting yourself—make Trastevere a bubble word, a tiny, hidden city within Rome, that you enter, as though by magic, once you cross the river. I made random turns down random streets, relinquishing control of my direction to my feet, which pulled me to the left or right based only on instinct. I didn’t read street names, only catching a glimpse of a way out to the main street once. I felt like Jennifer Connelly, trying to recover my baby brother from the goblin king.
When I got hungry, I headed to a restaurant I had come across online the day before called Ditta Trinchetti, which previous diners had praised for the quality of its pasta. I ordered simple fettuccine in meat sauce and a glass of prosecco (easily done in English, by the way), and ate the simple, satisfying—I would even venture to say heavenly—meal in peace. I could not hear the sound of a car or a siren or a honking horn. It was probably the best meal I had in Rome—although to be fair, I was only there for three quick days.
Trastevere lived up to its legendary status. It might be due in part—and I know this will sound strange— to the vines. They drape and wind over the walls, the roofs, and into the streets, in ropes of deep, glossy green, bursting out cracks in the walls, and hanging from the windows. If someone asked me before I went to Rome, what I think the city looks like, I would have described something like Trastevere. The slippery streets, the buildings—which all look slightly worn, paint chipping and fading, in need of new roofing, or otherwise abused by time—in the palette of a summer sunset, and most of all, that intrusive, yet elegant vegetation. It feels like an outsider’s fantasy of Rome realized—exactly what I needed the city be at that moment: a comforting, quiet place, where it is possible to find, if just for the time it takes to eat a plate of pasta, contentment.
As I was finishing my meal, I noticed the people walking by outside pop open their umbrellas. It had begun to rain. I paid, and walked outside, taking cover under a low hanging bunch of vines. I stood there for a moment, fat drops of rain sliding down my neck. And then I began to walk.