Rome in summer

Once upon a time Rome used to be a city to avoid like the plague in August. In fact it was considered dangerously unhealthy by travellers and Romans alike until only about a decade ago. Then the city administration decided both to encourage tourists and to provide better services for residents, more and more of whom are choosing to go away for shorter periods or at other times of the year. Museums which were once closed in August are now open nearly all the time (see Museums page 16) and there are plenty of festivals to suit all tastes (see Whats On pages 12-15). The only really dead-time is the Ferragosto holiday, 15 August, the Roman Catholic feast of the Assumption, which falls on a Sunday this year.

Many of those who stay feel quite possessive about their city and resentful when the crowds start to return at the beginning of September.

So what should you look out for if you are here in August?

Getting around

Compared with the rest of the year getting around the city is almost a pleasure in August. The buses, which run their regular summer timetables except for the Ferragosto holiday, are less crowded and many of them now have air conditioning. It is worth looking into the BIRG (biglietto integrale regionale giornaliero) which covers local regions around Rome. It is a ticket that combines use of the bus and metro and lasts until midnight on the day of validation. It can be bought at most tobacconists, and prices vary between e4 and e7 according to distance of travel.

For car owners, August is the best time of year for finding parking spaces in the city, even within the historic centre.

But if you are using aeroplanes or trains, go earlier than usual because the waiting time at check-in desks or ticket counters is much longer than at other times of the year.

Shopping

Small food shops close for a two-week period in August, but they have to stagger their holidays so that there is at least one grocers shop open in your neighbourhood and one place to buy milk, usually a bar. An open pharmacy should also be within easy reach.

The arrival of supermarkets all over the historic centre has made shopping very much easier in recent years, as almost all of them remain open, even if their shelves are not always well-stocked.

For clothes shoppers there are the summer sales, which continue until 21 August.

Eating out

Those who want to eat out may well be disappointed. The good and inexpensive restaurants are likely to be closed, as family owners are as fond as anyone of their two weeks by the sea or in the mountains. Those that stay open usually have higher prices than usual.

Beach excursions

Getting to the beach is very cheap if you go to Ostia. An express bus runs 07.00-20.00 every day from the Fermi metro station in EUR. It goes every ten minutes at peak hours, between 09.00-11.00 on the outward journey to Ostia, and between 16.00-18.00 on the return journey. The rest of the day it goes every 30 minutes.

Alternatively, a train goes from the Piramide-Porta S. Paolo station. From the end of the line you can pick up one of two buses, the Mare 1 bus number 07 which goes to the large, free, city-owned beach at Castelfusano, which the Romans call Cancelli, or the Mare 2, bus number 062 which goes in the opposite direction along the seafront towards the Ostia marina. The whole trip (one way) can be done with one ATAC bus ticket costing e1. Note that Ostia is not just the beach the new marina (porto turistico) and archaeological remains (Ostia Antica, the Isola Sacra and the ancient port) are also worth a visit.

S. Marinella is also only an hour away, with direct trains leaving from Roma Termini every half hour.

Fregene is another option. Trains leave twice an hour from Roma Termini for Maccarese and take half an hour. From there take a bus to Fregene. However, trains do not run late into the evening, even though this is a popular night-time spot with discos on the beach.

Fiumicino has more to boast than Romes principal airport. The port and harbour are worth visiting for the good food alone. A regular train service leaves for Fiumicino village from Roma Termini. Be careful not to get on the train going to the airport by mistake.

Anzio is a charming seaside town an hours train ride south of Rome. From the train station it is a short walk to the centre of town and to the beaches. Apart from excellent seafood lunches, prepared from the catches that fishermen sell right at the port, the town also offers archaeological remains to explore, and a museum dedicated to the landings of the allies here in world war two.

Lake excursions

Lago di Bracciano is to the north of Rome and offers sailing and windsurfing. Direct trains leave for Bracciano from Roma S. Pietro every half hour and take just under an hour. There is a bus from the station to the lake, which is about 1.5 kms away. The other lake villages, Trevignano and Anguillara, are also worth visiting although they are more difficult to reach. For tourist information tel. 0699806018.

Lago di Vico is much smaller and quieter, and is a favourite with locals. There are a few good lakeside restaurants, some sailing and a bit of culture at nearby Caprarola, but you will need a car.

In the south, Lake Albano, located in the crater of an extinct volcano like all the lakes mentioned here, is easy to get to by public transport, with frequent trains from Termini. The Castel Gandolfo stop is halfway between the lakeshore and the charming town perched on the lip of the volcano, and it is the best place to get off for access to the lakes black sand beaches. The town is the popes summer residence; the price for pope-spotting and seeing the picturesque Swiss guards is crowds of day-tripping pilgrims. The towns around the lake are famous for their roast suckling pig (porchetta).

If you dont want to move...

City parks which look dry and deserted during the day come into their own during the summer nights, with outdoor cinema screenings, jazz, theatre, classical concerts and opera. (See Whats On pages 12-15).

Also, the citys rose garden (roseto) will be open this year until 8 August (08.00-18.30). At 19.00 the gardens reopen with a bar, restaurant and various other activities. At 21.15 the gardens are illuminated and there is live music until 01.00. Admission to the rose garden is free during the day and in the evening costs e5. Mon evenings closed. For information tel. 0668193272.

Ice cream

As summer temperatures soar, one of the best ways to cool down is a visit to a gelateria. From deliciously flavoursome crushed iced (granita) to infinite numbers of creamy combinations, here are a few of the best places:

Bar Duse, Via Duse 1/e (Parioli), tel. 068079300. Sun closed.

Pellacchia, Via Cola di Rienzo 103 (Prati), tel. 063210807. Mon closed.

Il Gelato di San Crispino, Via della Panetteria 42 (Trevi Fountain), tel. 066793924 and Via Acaia 56 (San Giovanni), tel. 0670450412. Tues closed.

Giolitti, Via Uffici del Vicario 40 (Pantheon), tel. 066991243.

Pet swapping

A new initiative has been set up by the city to help reduce the number of pets abandoned by their owners during the summer. Those who cannot take their pets on holiday, who dont trust kennels or who cannot afford luxurious pet homes, should contact the schemes call centre. It will try to pair your animal with another pet and its owner for the holiday duration. You will then be asked to return the favour. Call centre, tel.0632650570-063217951.