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Posts tagged ‘Guide’

Compendium // Porto > The secret side of a garden city

It’s hard not to get comfortable in among the wash of blue and white tiles and the swill of a good sweet port served alongside them, but to rest on ones laurels in Porto is to miss out on one of the city’s best kept secrets: its gardens. Though not obvious from the heart of the Ribeira, even when the city is seen from the rooftops, it’s remarkable how frequently this densely packed city is punctuated by an exquisite green space. And in fact Porto’s gardens not only provide respite from the bustle of the centre: they also provide the perfect viewing platform from which to admire the city… in utmost tranquility.

The first garden on my list is the Jardim da Cordoaria. Nestled in between some of Porto’s principle sights – the blue tiled Igreja das Carmelitas and the tall, narrow Torre dos Clérigos, the Cordoaria gardens provide an oasis of calm in the city centre. There, an avenue of what look like birch trees but which seem to grow out of huge almost deformed trunks sets the scene for a garden which is dappled with filtered sunlight and which benefits from a very tranquil pond surrounded by perfectly placed benches. The park is not only peppered with pretty pink flowers and curving meandering paths: it is also a veritable outdoor art galley, filled with amusing sculptures depicting groups of men in conversation or at play. They make a perfect little selfie spot… for those so inclined.

Jardim da Cordoaria

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Next up in the garden which satisfies every element of the kind of magical secret garden you long to find in childhood dreams: the Jardim das Virtudes. Literally lining the sloping sides of a masterfully terraced valley, blink and you will miss the discrete entrance to this garden which only starts to come into view when you enter the verdant valley. Once down there, what opens up is a place of spiritual magnitude, with seemingly deserted moss-covered fountains managing only the most meagre trickle into green ponds, while all around, stone walls, topiary and wild flowers give the garden the impression of carefully constructed desertion. And best of all, look between overhanging boughs and around mighty tree trunks and you will be treated to beautiful views over the Duoro river.

Jardim das Virtudes

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Down the road from the Virtudes gardes is the biggest and perhaps the most impressive garden of them all – the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal. Because here, the visitor with time of their hands (which we sadly lacked) will be treated to not one but a whole handful of differing garden styles and topography, each sharing unbeatable views over Porto’s rooftops and the breathtaking Duoro as it widens on its way down to the sea. In these gardens, asides from a peculiar flying saucer-style construction at its centre, you will see nature at its manicured best, with knot gardens and tropical palms swaying in the breeze, a cafe next to a Monet style waterlily pond and bridge, and roaming free, peacocks and cockerels who defy any form of control on the extravagance of their coats of many colours.

Jardim do Palácio de Cristal

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My final tip would be to leave yourself time to explore these gardens and sink stupendously within their atmosphere of mesmerising stupor. It’s the only way to really experience a garden at its best, leaving thoughts of city life and travel far, far behind.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Port tasting in the Vila Nova de Gaia

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go to Porto without tasting the port. It would be like going to York without a trip to Betty’s, or indeed to Champagne without a glass of the bubbly stuff. So having crossed the Duoro river over the mighty Dom Luís Bridge, you will find yourself ideally located to wet your taste buds with the sweet and delectable nectar which has maybe made Porto the favourite haunt of the Olympian gods. For in the Vila Nova de Gaia, the quaint riverside zone bang opposite Porto’s Ribeira, you will find the air filled with the subtle perfume of oak barrels soaked with wine, as you wander past the headquarters of practically every of the most important Port manufacturers in the world.

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Walking away from the bustling quayside, where boats carrying barrels of port from the vineyards up the Duoro valley can still be seen (probably more for show, but still…), you will find yourself in narrow little streets filled with port showrooms and cellars. Look up, and the large illuminated lettering of each port house exhibits the most famous names in port: Graham’s, Ramos Pinto, Fonseca, Porto Cruz… they’re all there for the tasting. But being mildly patriotic, we decided to head to one of the most famous British-founded brands, and one which today still wears the seal of approval of the British royals: Taylor’s.

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Walking into Taylor’s was bit like visiting a colonial embassy. It felt very British, very sophisticated, but with all the hallmarks of a much hotter climate: plush gardens, a vine dappled courtyard with a tricking fountain, all traversed by peacocks walking haughtily around their dominion. Inside we were given a very handy self-toured audio guide which led us through a vast vault filled on all sides with barrel upon barrel of the famous fortified wine, and the heady scent of fermenting grapes. Past the barrels, a state of the art exhibition taught us more about port than we can ever have wished to know: I can now tell you the difference between a tawny and a late bottled vintage; why tawny’s are honey coloured and standard port red, and the traditions which accompany the human-trod grape harvesting process.

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All more interesting than it sounds, although the real treat came at the tasting, enjoyed in the heavenly surroundings of a perfectly tamed box-hedged garden alive with the scent of roses and accompanied by the solemn call of those same majestic peacocks. Served with chocolate truffles picked to perfectly balance the rich syrupy nectar served to use by a manicured waiter, we could quite easily have closed our eyes and followed those gods back to Olympus. Naturally we could not leave without buying a bottle of our favourite: the 20 year old tawny. And whenever it is opened the heady scent will remind me of that moment in Porto’s winey paradise – a treat not to be missed. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Traversing the Duoro

While it may have to beat off competition from ample bottles of port, a rolling city geography and ceramic tiled houses, the Ponte Dom Luís I, aka the Bridge of Luis I, is the undisputed icon of the city of Porto. Extending across the Duoro river with a mighty 172 metre span and a boasting a double decker construction allowing trains to rumble across the top and cars to take the lower road (pedestrians can enjoy both routes), Porto’s bridge is the ultimate way to cross the river which otherwise splits the city in two.

While many assume that the 1886 iron construction was the work of the legendary Gustave Eiffel, it was in fact the design of one of Eiffel’s chief disciples, Théophile Seyrig, Eiffel’s single-story idea having been previously rejected owing to the rapidly expanding city demographic. At the time, it was the widest bridge ever to have been constructed. Today, it may have lost that epithet, but it remains one of the most recognisable bridges in Europe.

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After exploring the wonderful region of the Ribeira, next on your list should be a visit to the Dom Luis bridge which will not only provide you with some stunning rooftop views of Porto, but also take you across to the Vila Nova de Gaia region of the city, where the all important Port houses are to be found. While pedestrians can choose between the upper or lower decks, the latter being reached pretty easily from the riverbank of the Ribeira, we opted for the somewhat more vertiginous upper deck, this being reached by walking in a straight line from the wonderful tile-covered central train station. I’m not a vertigo sufferer, but I have to admit that from up there, my arms turned a little shaky as I extended my camera over the side of the bridge to capture the beautiful views it affords of the city.

But as these photos will demonstrate, those both enamoured and feared of heights should opt for the Ponte Dom Luís I – ultimate icon of Porto and the undisputed platform from which to see the city. And so long as you head over the bridge from the Ribeira to the Gaia, you can rest assured that a glass of ruby coloured port will be waiting for you on the other side. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > The enchanting Ribeira

As mellow as the perfume of port-filled oak barrels, but as vivacious as the glint and sparkle of that same honeyed wine as it sloshes into an eagerly waiting glass, the Portuguese city of Porto has all of the tempting characteristics of the sweet nectar which put the city on the world’s map. But if Porto was to be described in a palette of colour, its rich amber terracotta tones are to be offset by the bedazzlement of blue and white in its omnipotent ceramic tile-covered buildings, and in the dazzling stretch of the Douro River carving the city in two on its broad sweep down to the Atlantic Ocean.

Porto is a city alive with the spirit of its geography, as though enlivened by Atlantic breezes and nourished by the hilly fertile Duoro valley beyond. Its hilly topography has created a city which is topsy-turvy to say the least. Take a step back and houses appear to balance atop one another as streets zigzag along steep hillsides which rise and fall like ocean waves. It’s a city which defies the typical sense of direction, but which is generous to whomsoever gets lost in its maze of streets. For in Porto there is something enchanting to behold at each narrow corner.

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Our new compendium tour starts where that maze is at its most convoluted: in the knotty twist of streets which work their way over and around the hilly slopes which plunge down dramatically into the Duoro river – the Ribeira. Famed throughout the world and appropriately UNESCO protected, the Ribeira area is undaunted by the tourists naturally attracted to its streets and squares, retaining the authenticity of its carefree locals who can be seen enjoying the views and the sun from their ceramic tiled balconies with as much enthusiasm as the zealous tourist.

It is an area which exhibits numerous personalities. At its apex, the fortress bulk of the grand Sé Cathedral and it’s domineering Episcopal palace soar above the twisting mass of narrow lanes below, offering unbeatable rooftop views and an appreciation for Porto’s undulating geography. Delve into the streets beyond, and an impenetrable shadiness is punctuated by light only near the rooftops. However, soon enough, those darker alleys give way onto the soaring light of the riverbank, which is where the true heart of the Ribeira pulsates to the rhythm of street musicians and crowded restaurants, all benefiting from an unrivaled view of the Ponte de Dom Luis I, iron icon of the city.

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An encounter with the Ribeira marks an ideal introduction to this multifaceted city, suggesting something of the charismatic nuances of Portugal’s second city, as well as the distinct geography which has shaped Porto into a true feast for the eyes at every turn. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > And not forgetting the Pantheon

In this series of Roman compendia, I have done my best to steer the earnest Rome visitor  away from the tourist masses which plague the city, to time their encounter with the city’s icons when most visitors are at slumber, or to go where others know not to tread. But the atmosphere created by tourist hoards is not all bad, just so long as you can bat off the constant salesmen haggle of selfie sticks and water at 3€ a pop.

For instance, you’d be hard pushed to see the Trevi Fountain without a permanent ring of coin-throwing visitors, but then that is part of its charm. And if you’re thinking of having the Colosseum to yourself, forget it. But there is one square which will inevitably be busy whenever you go, but is worth the trip at whatever time you wish, just because it is so characteristically Roman and so utterly exquisite at any time of the day: the Piazza della Rotonda.

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I have long held a deep fondness for this Piazza, ever since the blissful few weeks when my art history studies took me and many dearest friends to Rome. Every day I would open up the windows of our pensione onto the most spectacular view in all of Rome: to a square bustling with people enjoying the trickle of the baroque fountain, listening to street musicians, and gazing in awestruck wonder at the work of architectural majesty which sits at the very centre of the Piazza: the Pantheon.

Still considered to be a wonder of the ancient world, the Pantheon is pretty much the most intact monument still standing from Ancient Rome. Its condition is remarkable, not least its gravity defying concrete dome, the brilliance of which kept architects and engineers guessing for years. Standing in front of the Pantheon, knowing that you are stood in the very same spot as emperors and citizens of an ancient age, is a frankly remarkable experience. And in no other place do you get that sensation than here, in the Piazza which is as Roman as it gets: atmospheric cafes, baroque splendour, cobbled paving, coloured houses, horses, musicians, locals, tourists, and that all important omnipotence of the ancient which makes Rome the true Eternal City.

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So with this final tip on the Rome bucket list, and with my own recent photos from a morning stroll through the square, I close the current season of my Rome Compendium series – at least for now. Rest assured, the next time I go, I’ll add a whole load of more tips to ensure you’re living La Dolce Vita when you visit Italy’s pre-eminent city. In the meantime keep track of the Norms’ visit to Rome. They ‘ain’t going nowhere!

Arrivederci!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > Lunching in the Trastevere

Up until only a year or so ago, the Trastevere was a region of Rome which somewhat alluded me. Set away from the ancient heart of the city, separated, as the name suggests, across the river from the main city sights, it is easy to forget this bustling little cobbled gem. And yet Trastevere, with its streets still strewn with laundry, unplanned crooked little houses and uneven roads is one of the most characterful areas of Rome, and certainly one which, more than any other, hangs on to its authentic, working class past, despite the very obvious charm it now holds for tourists.

Imbued with the kind of gloriously soft glowing light which summer evenings were made for, the Trastevere makes for the perfect location for an early evening perambulation before dinner. However, the result is often coach loads of tourists pumping themselves across the ancient bridges of the Tiber and filling the dear little narrow streets of the Trastevere to near bursting point. Trying to find a free table in these conditions is not fun, and certainly deprives one of the relaxed, authentic charm of the area.

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In my view, the better alternative is to do the Trastevere at lunchtime, when the narrow streets are filled with the warm glow of a higher midday sun, and some of that sleepiness which characterises the neighbourhood is retained away from the tourist hoards. This is particularly so in the cooler months of the year, when eating al fresco is a real daytime possibility, and the truly uncomfortable heat is yet to hit.

This is exactly what we did one Sunday this January, when the Trastevere seemed to come alive under the midday sun, despite a relatively quiet time of year in the Roman tourist calendar. Even then, the restaurants peppered along cobbled streets and lanes hung with verdant leafy climbing plants were filling fast, and it was almost on the point of giving up and heading pack over the Ponte Sisto that we stumbled upon the restaurant of the same name – the Osteria Pontesisto on the Via di Ponte.

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As though in wait especially for us, we took the last sunny table set outside the restaurant’s burnt orange facade. There, soothed by exquisite rays of winter sunshine, a lunch of freshly chilled chardonnay commenced, and continued with an appetizer of Roman fried artichokes and deliciously fresh wild board sausage. Then came the mains, and with it some of the best pasta I have had the pleasure to enjoy – a taglioni of king prawns and courgette flowers which filled my mouth with sensual delight at every mouthful. The soft but certain bite of the al dente pasta; the sweet succulence of the prawns; the perfumed intensity of the fish stock. Dear god it was good. So much so, I was almost too drunk on deliciousness (and wine) to fully appreciate yet another superb dish which was to follow – a homemade puff pastry millefeuille stuffed with fluffy clouds of cream and drizzled with just melted rich dark chocolate. Just. Too. Good.

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The Trastevere is popular for a reason, and sometimes a bit of patience is required before the perfect table reveals itself. But trust me, if that perfect Trastevere lunch is meant to be, that cute little red and white chequered road-side table will be waiting for you. But to be sure, make a reservation at the Osteria Pontesisto. As my lunch told me, you can’t go wrong with that one.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > Moses, the other great Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s David is one of the most cited, famous and admired sculptures in the history of art. Its image graces tea towels and teapots, erotic aprons and nodding-head dolls. And it’s no wonder. When I revisited the great marble man over Christmas, my emotions raised the nearer I got to the splendid stone musculature. We have been left with few Michelangelo sculptures in a truly finished state. Much of the works of his sculptural oeuvre have only just started emerging from their cacophony of natural stone. But in Rome there is another Michelangelo in the ecstatic state of splendid finesse, which is every bit the equal of David for its brilliance of anatomy, and for the emotions captured in marble. I am not talking of the Vatican’s La Pieta, but Moses, a mere stone’s throw from the Colosseum.

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Without a recommendation, you could easily miss San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains), the church in central Rome where Moses is held (and which also hosts the chains purported to have held said St Peter in captivity). There, in one corner, the sole direction of the tourist gaze will soon demarcate where Michelangelo’s masterpiece is waiting. Had Moses sat within the mammoth marble tomb structure of Pope Julius II for which he was originally intended, there would have been no missing him. Commissioned by the Pope in 1505, the tomb was designed to hold 40 like-sized sculptures and fill a central apse of the new St Peter’s Basilica. As it was, Michelangelo soon became embroiled in the Pope’s other great commission: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and when his tomb was eventually installed at its current location, Moses took centre stage, his being the only one of the major sculptures for the tomb completed.

Perhaps it was a twist of fate which made things that way. For it would be a crying shame indeed if this truly exquisite statue had been lost in a crowd of 39 others, relegated to a tier some 4 metres of the ground in its intended positioning. Today, by contrast, the relative accessibility of San Pietro in Vincoli means you can get to almost touching distance of the great man, and the effect is ravishing.

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How can I describe an encounter with Moses? Emotional for sure, awestruck most certainly. The way in which Michelangelo so adeptly sculpts the flowing beard of Moses, twisted around his fingers in what appears to be both a moment of contemplation and rage at the idolatry of the Israelites who he finds to be worshiping a golden cow upon his descent from Mount Sinai. There is a beautiful, throbbing intensity about his musculature and his domineering presence. This Moses is both godlike to behold, and intimidating to witness.

Above all things he is a true icon of art history, and what is Michelangelo’s perhaps more overlooked masterpiece, available for all to see (for free) in the very centre of Rome.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > Lateran, the Alternative Vatican

When many people think of Rome, it’s not the Colosseum they have in mind, but the soaring dome of St Peter’s Basilica at the very Catholic heart of the Vatican City. It is somewhat ironic then that the Vatican, while sitting bang centre in Rome, is not part of the Italian capital at all, but an entirely separate extraterritorial land belonging to the Holy See. Whatever the political geography, the Vatican is a must-see location for any visitor to Rome, but because of that, it’s too often heaving. Without an advanced ticket, you’ll spend far longer in a queue than you ever will inside of St Peter’s or its adjacent museum. Even with a reservation, the queues and security checks try the patience of the most earnest visitor.

Enter the Lateran Basilica, or to give it its full name, the Cathedral of the Most Holy Saviour and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in Lateran (also known as the Papal Archbasilica of St John in Lateran, and many other similar variations on the theme). Located on a diagonal 4km axis cutting through ancient Rome from the heart of the Vatican City, the Lateran Basilica is the alternative St Peter’s. Almost as big, just as spectacular, the Basilica is the ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome and such an equally important a player in Papal History that its story goes hand in hand with that of the Vatican across the river.

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As the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, the Lateran is unique in having the title of “archbasilica” and was, for hundreds of years prior to the dominance of St Peter’s, the home of countless generations of Popes. As the scale of Rome shrank and declined in the early second millennium AD, the area around the Lateran was reduced to a form of bucolic wasteland. Exposed and rundown, the Lateran Basilica and its neighbouring palace became disconnected from the beating heart of Rome, and during the Avignon years of the Papacy, the Lateran deteriorated and eventually suffered substantial fire damage. Thankfully, even from their new lavish seat of St Peter’s, the popes of baroque Rome recognised the importance of the Lateran, and in the 17th century, Pope Innocent X commissioned Francesco Borromini to rebuild the Lateran in the splendid image we see today.

History done, now for the visuals. As the photos show, a visit to the Lateran Basilica is the equal of the glorious Vatican. Flooded with light, the classical baroque facade gives way to an imperial loggia boasting the magnitude and proportions of an Ancient Roman temple, while inside, light floods through windows and bounces off golden mosaics, richly frescoed walls, and luxuriously marble-clad pillars. Most impressive of all things is the spectacular array of sculpted apostles created by the very best rococo sculptors and installed at the beginning of the 18th century. So lifelike, and yet so vast in scale, you feel shrunken into submission before heavenly giants, as though in a nursery rhyme immersed within the branches of Jack’s beanstalk.

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I didn’t enjoy my trip to the Vatican museum, being shunted along through bottlenecks crammed to almost scarily unsafe levels with a continuous tidal wave of coach parties. By contrast, the Lateran Basilica, with its lofty grand spaces and comparative tranquility is by far the better alternative, and every bit the equal to its younger cousin over the river.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > The Perfect Navona Morning

Compendium // a collection of concise but detailed information about a particular subject, especially in a book or other publication. The word says it all, and as The Daily Norm enters a new millennia of posts and travel shares, I have decided to collect thoughts and tips from my own travels in a series of Compendia. Starting in Rome.

Rome is not just a city. It is an experience ripe like an overflowing cornucopia of delicious fruit, waiting to be savoured across a broad spectrum enveloped in richly historical heritage, diva attitude and unabashed street-by-street beauty all bathed in the most glorious terracotta light. But its global reach today is as mighty as its ancient Empire two millennia ago, not so much for its political prowess but for its tourist pull. So to do Rome well, you need to avoid the pitfalls, the dodgy restaurants, and wherever possible the flag-led, headphone-donned, selfie-stick sustained coach parties. Eugh.

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Today’s tip for doing Rome well is to get up early, and savour the delights which come of having this stunning city all to yourself. Even in January, when last I went, the sweet seduction of Rome’s ever present sun invited an early rise and made venturing into the still quiet-streets an easy exercise. Hotel location is always important, especially on a short weekender, and my locality, mere steps from the Piazza Navona, meant that I could enjoy this most spectacular of Roman Piazzas as the first rays of Winter sunshine hit the sculptural masterpieces which have made the Square such an icon of Baroque Rome.

Baroque is certainly the word. For this oblong square, which lends its shape to the Stadium of Domition on whose foundations it has been built, is more of an artfest than it is a mere city space. For it was here that, at the height of Baroque splendour and Papal theatricals, Pope Innocent X commissioned Bernini to create the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) as part of his grand plan to put Rome firmly back on the artistic and power-map of Europe. It is, by far, one of the most spectacular fountains you are ever likely to see, and enjoyed first thing in the morning, before those damned selfie-sticks start sneaking their way into every one of your photos, it makes for the perfect commencement to your Roman day.

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Turn away from Bernini’s masterpiece, and two other fountain wonders by Giacomo della Porta depicting a Moor wrestling with a Dolphin, and a statute of water-God Neptune respectively can be enjoyed, as can the oval encirclement of the kind of russet, terracotta, pink and butterscotch buildings which make Rome such a year-round place of warmth and splendour. Then, once you’ve soaked in this highlight of Rome, sneak in another anti-crowd coup, and head to my favourite cafe in all of Rome: Caffe Tazza d’Oro on the Piazza della Rotunda, where a simple pastry and a coffee taken standing up at the bar, Italian style, takes on new Roman authenticity, especially with the immaculate ancient Pantheon stands just outside the door.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.