Monti, a tiny quartiere tucked away beside the Colosseum, might be small in size, but it has a lot packed in between its walls. Its history is varied and colourful; hardly surprising for the area which grew up alongside the Roman Forum, the political heart of the Roman empire. The original red-light district, in Roman times you’d visit Monti only for its vices. Later, during the middle ages, the quarter was abandoned as the old aqueducts failed. However, Mussolini’s era and creation of the Via dei Fori Imperiali saw Monti injected with new life, and gentrification soon made it a haven for artisans and creative types.
Now, it is very much hipster meets history: the location of Rome’s best vintage shops, most picturesque streets, and plenty of foreign cuisine. And unlike Trastevere, it’s yet to be taken over by tourists.
So if you only have one day to explore, here’s what we recommend.
Mercato Monti, a gathering of local artists and designers, is held nearly every Saturday and Sunday in a small warehouse next to Metro Cavour. Here you can find anything from vintage sunglasses and handmade jewellery, to art prints and bespoke clothing. Kingsize Vintage, on the other hand, is a cave of retro clothing, bags, sunglasses, and shoes, which recently moved to bigger premises on Via Leonina to accommodate demand. Pifebo Vintage, located just a few minutes’ walk away on Via dei Serpenti, specialises in 1970s gear, with particularly good menswear. They also have a smaller store a few doors down, where you can buy by the kilo. Monti is also home to Rome’s only American Apparel branch; that this too-cool-for-school brand have shunned mainstream Via del Corso to set up shop in this indie quarter speaks volumes.
Mercato Monti, Via Leonia 46, tel. +39 338 195 2379, www.mercatomonti.com
Kingsize Vintage, Via Leonina, 78/79, www.facebook.com/kingsize.vintage
Piefbo, Via dei Serpenti 136 & 141, www.pifebo.com
American Apparel, Via dei Serpenti 155, tel. +39 06 4896 6737, http://store.americanapparel.net
After a morning of shopping, lunch is in order. The best place for it is overlooking the fountain in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. This is Monti’s only real piazza and there are a number of cafes and restaurants here that have taken advantage of their excellent location. A personal favourite is Civico 4, a wine-bar, restaurant, and pasticcerria all in one. This small, corner cafe looks out onto Via degli Zingari on one side and the piazza on the other, making it perfect for people-watching. Visitors can eat their fill of lasagne, salad, or lighter bites, and there’s a magnificent array of sweet treats to tempt you afterwards. Or head to La Bottega del Cioccolato for dessert, where you’ll find exquisite handmade chocolates in a rustic setting.
Civico 4, via degli Zingari 4, tel. +39 06 4891 3460, www.civico4.it/BigPage.aspx
La Bottega de Cioccolato, Via Leonina, 82, tel. +39 06 482 1473, www.labottegadelcioccolato.it
Monti, as mentioned, is small. Yet it’s still lovely to walk through the cobbled streets, admiring the terracotta and honey-hued buildings. Things to look out for include three Indian restaurants and new Japanese/Brazilian fusion restaurant Temakinho on Via dei Serpenti, the lonely drinking-water fountain hidden at the top of stone steps en route to Piazza della Madonna, and the cascade of green ivy hanging over via Panisperna. You may even spot some lovelorn graffiti on your travels, which adolescent Italians are in the habit of scrawling on their neighbourhood walls. The forum and mighty colosseum are a stone’s throw away for some grander views. Or for something less intimidating, there’s the Chiesa Santa Maria ai Monti at the main piazza.
Temakinho, Via dei Serpenti, 16, tel. 39 06 4201 6656, http://www.temakinho.com
Santa Maria ai Monti, Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
Later, of course, there’s aperitivo to be had and wine to be drunk. The circular steps around the fountain at Piazza della Madonna come alive as the sun goes down. Here, impeccably dressed Romans gather to sip aperol spritz or a bicchiere di vino. La Bottega del Caffe, with its front terrace spilling out onto the piazza, has taken advantage of its prime location to open up a small bar next door, specifically to serve those whiling away the evening by the fountain.
If you still have energy to burn, head over to Black Market. This underground bar offers something different every night of the week and live music is their forte. Hosting a mixture of blues, jazz, and indie artists, they’re famous for their ‘Monti Unplugged’ sessions, and their Sunday buffet and live music. Or have a drink at the Fiddler’s Elbow, a traditional Irish pub who put on a cracking open mic night every Thursday.
La Bottega del Caffe, Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, 5, tel. +39 06 474 1578
The Fiddler’s Elbow, Via dell’Olmata, 43, tel. +39 06 487 2110, http://www.thefiddlerselbow.com