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Anita Hughes' Rome: What to see and where to eat

photography courtesy Hassler Roma, Glass Hostaria

Author Anita Hughes loves to spin tales set in beautiful places. That’s why Orange County was featured in her debut novel, “Monarch Beach.” “San Francisco, Laguna Beach, Lake Como,” she says, ticking off locales; “I set my novels in these gorgeous locations because I feel like I’m there while I’m writing about them.” Hughes, an Australia native who now amakes her home in Dana Point, writes romantic tales about strong women. Perfect reading for a sunny day on the beach. Her latest, “Rome in Love,” will hit the shelves in August. [St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015]. She spoke with Rosemary McClure.

Everyone should visit Rome; it’s one of the most interesting cities in the world. Rome has everything – historic monuments, elegant hotels, fantastic shops with exciting fashions, gourmet cuisine and the Vatican – a whole city within a city full of its own wonders.  Rome is a favorite because I love the history and art. I also love hearing people speak Italian; it’s such a romantic language. I love the outdoor markets and the fact that people can sit in a cafe all day long and not feel guilty. I love the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps – you see, I can’t name just one thing. I love everything about Rome.

I still remember my first trip to Rome. I was 10 and my mother bought me a sparkly top from a store on the Via Condotti, which is still one the most fashionable streets in the world, full of the best designers’ shops. It also has gorgeous cafes, including the 18th-century Caffe Greco, where Keats and Shelley used to drink coffee, and offers some of the best people-watching in Rome.

There is no wrong time to visit Rome, but I think the best time is spring.  Rome gets very humid in the summer, and with the huge number of tourists that visit then, it can be overwhelming. Spring is gorgeous: The trees and flowers are in bloom, the fresh produce and fruits at the market are delicious, and the lines to see Michelangelo’s “Pieta” are shorter.  

Trying to name the top sight in Rome is like trying to name your favorite ice cream flavor. There are many wonderful sights: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican. One of my favorites is Hadrian’s Villa, about 40 minutes from Rome. It’s a beautiful place to sit on the grassy field surrounded by ruins and make daisy chains.

In researching my new novel, “Rome in Love,” I spent a lot of time watching the movie “Roman Holiday.” I loved all the locations in the film, and recently I discovered there is a “Roman Holiday” tour of Rome that takes you to all the famous spots in the movie – including the Mouth of Truth – which is my favorite scene. I won’t spoil it; you have to watch it. I highly recommend this tour, so you can imagine yourself as Audrey Hepburn, traipsing around Rome with Gregory Peck.

Alfredo’s still serves the best fettuccini alfredo in Rome. For wonderful espresso and pastries, try Canova in the Piazza del Popolo.  For fine dining, nothing beats La Pergola. The views of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum are magnificent, as is the five-star cuisine. The Imago restaurant in the Hassler hotel (one of my favorite hotels), above, also has a heart-stopping view and mouthwatering menu.

The hotels, such as the St. Regis, the Hassler and the Meridien, offer great restaurants, and there are a lot of chic wine bars around the Piazza Navona, such as the Cul de Sac. If you want to try something a little different, visit Trastevere. It is quite bohemian in feel and full of restaurants that have live music. One of my favorites is Glass Hosteria, above, the restaurant is made of glass and quite different from the typical Roman trattoria.

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