After our Puglia/Civita trip this summer, we made a one-night stop in Rome before boarding the plane at Fiumicino. We snagged a last-minute booking at Arco dei Tolomei in the Trastevere neighborhood–the laid-back, old Jewish quarter–and what luck! I’m pretty sure we’ll never stay anywhere else in Rome. The owner-innkeeper Marco and his wife Gianna are the most hospitable and lovely hosts. And dapper. Marco is a true Italian gentleman, who wears button-down shirts under sweaters and looks absolutely dashing at all times. After insisting on walking to our car to help with bags, Marco shows us to our rooms–two super charming, floral bedrooms at the top of the stairs–and gives us a detailed rundown of the neighborhood (where to eat with kids, what to avoid), highlighting the route on our map with a ballpoint pen and offering historical tidbits along the way. Like the history of sampietrini (the smooth black cobblestones invented by Pope Sixtus V in the 16th century), or how water from an ancient aquaduct still serves the neighborhood–and it’s the best water around! Marco is very proud of this fact, which I verified often during our August stay. We followed local custom and filled our bottles from a stone fountain nearby.
Up until about ten years ago, Marco and his wife and daughter lived a few blocks away, but as the area grew more popular, it became too noisy. So they decided to rehab Marco’s longstanding family home, which has been in his family for more than 200 years, last serving as a college for graphic design. He insists the space was a disaster, but with every parquet floorboard, dark wooden beam, and wallpapered nook and cranny carefully restored, it’s hard to imagine anything less than its current pristine condition. There are six bedrooms in the place, some with terraces that overlook a patchwork of terracotta rooftop tiles, leafy patios and narrow, winding cobblestone streets. There’s a sitting room, decorated with comfy velvet chairs, paintings and books stacked on every available surface, but the airy, sky blue dining room, where breakfast is served every morning, is the star. It’s where Marco holds court, entertaining everyone with stories about the old neighborhood (he’s lived here all his life), politics, culture and art. As guests drifted in periodically, we sat around the long, oval dining room table, blown away by the gorgeous spread of breads, jam, pastries, meats, cheese and yogurt. They brought my little ones chocolate milk–hoorah!–and we felt more like special guests at someone’s home than travelers at a b&b.