Dennis Callan has been leading tours to Italy for the past 25 years and has written a new ebook about walking tours in Rome, including 36 HD videos along with extensive text, many maps and hundreds of photos packed into 600 electronic pages. “Rome is one of the world's best city to discover on foot,” says Dennis, “but as always, you need to know where to go to get the most out of your visit.”
This is the first time that
dozens of short movies have been included in a travel book, bringing
the sights to life as if you are actually walking through the city. See
a multimedia preview of the book at
The first chapter can be downloaded as a free sample from
Rome on Foot is also available without video on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
One of the best early morning walking tours in Rome is a visit to the main outdoor veggie market: Campo dei Fiori is teeming with friendly people, tasty fruits, vibrant colors, animated conversations, varieties of vegetables, sweet smells, energetic vendors, local shoppers, and atmosphere galore.
This setting is perfect, surrounded by very old buildings with cobbled pedestrian lanes leading off in all directions into a great neighborhood. This friendly and lively piazza is one of the major focal points of the city, just three blocks south of Piazza Navona and an easy walk if your hotel is in the historic center. If you’re staying further away, take a taxi.
Arriving any time in the morning is good, but earlier is better. Campo dei Fiori makes a great early start for your day because it is the only main attraction opening by 6am and it is simply a wonderful morning scene. This magical Campo has multiple personalities, changing character throughout the day: Rome’s main veggie market in the morning, a ring of busy restaurants at lunch, peaceful in the afternoon, and a party scene at night.
Campo dei Fiori’s produce stands are very popular with the nearby residents and chefs seeking fresh items on their daily shopping rounds. This is a perfect place to spot the locals and strike up a conversation if you wish.
Most of the people are quite friendly and speak some English but what you hear most is the beautiful sound of Italian when vendors shout out their offerings. Too often we neglect to listen while traveling: a pity, because sound is the fourth dimension and often produces a symphony of delights such as here at the market.
Nearly all the vendors have worked here for years and know each other like family, making for a cooperative, communal attitude. Ladies traditionally do most of the trimming to get the produce ready for display, so watching their deft moves might give you a few ideas for speeding up your own food-prep techniques.
You are probably not going to be cooking, but this is a good spot to pick up some refreshments (fruits, olives) drink some more coffee, take a lot of pictures and just soak in the atmosphere.
The fruits are ready-to-eat and can be washed in the convenient drinking fountains at either end of the campo. You will even find a few clothing stalls and souvenirs scattered among the local wares, including some tourist t-shirts, but the choices are limited.
One favorite stand specializes in dried herbs for pasta sauce and special green olives that are unique to Rome – these are fresh olives just lightly brined and with a clean and refreshing taste, like no other olive you have eaten.
The clever merchant will offer some free samples to get you interested, if you ask, so be sure to have a taste. You can buy a few small bags of these green olives and keep them a few days for tasty snacks down the road.
The dry herbs for pasta sauce will pack nicely in your suitcase, staying fresh for many weeks, and make good gifts for friends. When you get home, make some authentic Italian spaghetti sauce to remind you of your visit to this lively square.
A special item that comes into season during the fall, usually October and September, is the truffle, the wonderful truffle of Italy. It’s quite expensive, perhaps $200 for a little piece, but more affordable as an ingredient of your meal in a good restaurant.
The classic presentation is served freshly sliced onto a simple pasta dish with a plain oil or butter sauce, which allows the pungent, earthy truffle aroma to explode in your mouth. The finest truffles are the white variety from Piedmont, tastier than the more famous black French version.
Porcini mushroom is another specialty at the market, one of Italy’s unique wild foods offered primarily in the fall. These big fungi don’t travel well, so you generally don’t find them served fresh outside Italy.
Most good restaurants in Rome will offer them in season, and the procini mushroom is absolutely worth tasting, either as an ingredient in the pasta sauce or as a dish unto itself grilled to firm perfection. They have become so famous that some have been marginally cultivated in other parts of the world, and dried packets are widely available – but dried is nothing like the real thing.
In olden days this peaceful piazza was sometimes used as a field of execution as witnessed by one monument to the gruesome past: The bronze statue high on a pedestal in the middle is the hooded, brooding Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake on this very spot for heresy in 1600. He agreed with Galileo in his great dispute with the Church that the Earth was not the center of the universe.
Bruno’s thoughts went beyond Galileo -- he speculated that not only is Earth a small object in a very large universe, but that there might also be other universes, something modern astronomers are considering today.
The morning market is what makes the campo unique, so if you are an early bird trying to squeeze the max out of your Rome hours or someone waking up early from jet lag at the start of a trip, do consider coming here first thing in the morning, even as early as 6:00am when the vendors are just starting to set up their stands.
In this pre-dawn bonus hour you will see all manner of oddball, wheeled devices being pushed, pedaled and driven into the still-dark piazza as merchants bring stands from their overnight storage in nearby warehouses. Crates of produce stacked high are delivered by tiny three-wheel trucks (more like overgrown mopeds).
Umbrellas are raised, peaches arranged, white-smocked fish-vendors march in, conversations ring loud in the air with the fountains burbling and the antique lamp posts still shining in the dark blue, pre-dawn sky above. It is quite a free show.
Another bonus for the early-riser is coffee! There are several cafes within a block of the Campo dei Fiori that are open by 6am and pumping out that dark fuel and cornets – the typical Roman pastry to get you going.
It is likely your hotel doesn’t serve breakfast until seven, typical of most of the hotels in the city, so if you’re looking for some place that’s got interesting activities going on, with coffee service, come on over. It’s fun to just hang out and watch everybody getting set up for their morning’s work. By seven o’clock the vendors are fully open for business and the second act of this street theater has begun.
Of course if you’d rather sleep in, arriving any time in the morning is fine, for you can see the wonderful sights going full-tilt until noon: dozens of stands loaded with fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, salads, fish, flowers (Campo dei Fiori translates as “field of flowers”) and a newsstand.
The little piazza is a great place for taking colorful pictures of bright red, yellow, purple, pink and green fruits ‘n veggies, as well as candid people photos of the workers and shoppers, most of whom are so busy they won’t notice you pointing your camera at them. (Photo tip: it’s usually better to include a person somewhere in your shot, even if in the background.)
Don’t come too late because by mid-day most food stands have shut down -- the merchants have packed up their goods and pushed them back into the nearby warehouses for overnight storage. The center is clear, ready for the next act.
Around noon it transforms into a popular luncheon piazza, encircled by a dozen outdoor restaurants which are fascinating to observe, and tasty, if rather touristic: fine for simple pizza, salad, pasta or drinks, and ideal for its people-watching atmosphere from an al fresco table.
Hungry for excellent food? The adjacent lanes are sprinkled with better choices, such as Ditirambo, Costanza and Teatro di Pompeo.
Later in the afternoon, things get quiet in the Campo as it settles into the typical local rhythm of siesta, but then action picks up again before twilight as the city comes back to life.
Of course in our suggested walking tour in Rome, you are just visiting in the morning and then moving on with the rest of the itinerary, but try and find time to come back here on your own later, even at night as we suggest in our fourth walking tour in Rome.
Campo dei Fiori becomes a lively party scene in the evening when wine
and beer flows like water and hundreds of people gather at the tables
and stand in the plaza, chattering and laughing.
For a selection of the best tours of Rome click here.
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