5 unique things to do in Rome

On every trip I take I try to balance the typical touristy activities with more off the beaten path experiences. I like to see the things that make a place a destination, but I personally find that doesn’t provide the most memorable experiences. I like talking to the locals to find out where to eat, shops to visit, and their favorite places to go.

I have been to Rome several times and have seen all the big sites, but I keep going back because I keep discovering more things that I love about the city. It is big, loud and delicious, but has hidden pockets of beauty. For me, it is like getting to know a person. You see all the superficial stuff first, but then you start to share experiences with a place. It eventually becomes a friend that you enjoy seeing over and over again.

5 unique things to do in Rome:

  1. Park of the Aqueducts

It took us a while to find The Park of the Aqueducts located along the Appian Way. You basically get on the metro and ride it out to the last stop and keep walking through a suburban neighborhood. We did eventually find it and spent a relaxing, quiet afternoon admiring the 2,000 year old handiwork away from Rome’s crowds. You can spend a whole day walking the park. There are also several neighborhood cafeterias where you can grab a few to-go items and have a picnic in the park. If you need a break this is a fascinating place to go.

aqueduct

The Park of the Aqueducts

2. Testaccio neighborhood

We stumbled upon Testaccio on a food tour and loved the non-touristy vibe of the neighborhood. It is business as usual here with locals chatting in the square, grabbing a coffee, or picking up groceries. There isn’t a major site to see here so it isn’t crowded. Testaccio slaughterhouse used to pay its workers in fifth quarters so this is the neighborhood to go to for tripe  if that is your thing. If not, they have a wonderful market and low key restaurants serving up delicious, straight forward food. It is a place that I will visit again and again.

Market

Vendor at the Testaccio market

3. Testaccio Slaughterhouse

Also in the Testaccio neighborhood is the old slaughterhouse that now houses the MACRO al Mattatoio, a branch of Rome’s contemporary art gallery. Testaccio used to be the slaughterhouse district all the way up to 1975.  It is a unique space that still has the original animal pens and meat hooks hanging from the track. The art exhibits complement the space and is a unique place to visit.

slaughterhouse

Testaccio slaughterhouse

4. Baths of Caracalla

What do you see when you don’t want to see the Roman forum again? The Baths of Caracalla were Rome’s second largest public baths built in the 3rd century. It is estimated that 21 million bricks were used in the construction of the baths. Several large pieces of mosaic work along with entire tiled floors have been preserved at the site.  The vast complex of ruins are surrounded by a large green space. There were few people there when we visited and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Personally, I found this to be one of the best ancient exhibits in Rome. I can only imagine how impressive the baths were in the third century!

Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

5. Pyramid of Cestius

The Pyramid of Cestius is so completely out of place in Rome which is why it is an interesting visit. Located next to the Protestant  cemetery, it is a funeral monument  to Caius Cestius, a wealthy Roman magistrate. Egyptian architectural style was fashionable after Rome conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. While it wasn’t the only pyramid built in Rome (there was one near the Vatican at one time), it is the only one to survive. After visiting the pyramid, walk through the gardens of the Prostestant cemetery and visit the graves of Keats and Shelley. If you get a nice day, the soft light reflecting off the marble of the tombstones is very beautiful.

Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

cemetery

Protestant Cemetery

 

What are your favorite, unique places in Rome?

Off the Beaten Path: Perissos Vineyard and Winery

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to get out of town. It was hot, downtown was swarming with people for the Austin Food and Wine Festival, and we were fed up with chores and renovation projects. Taking a drive out to the Hill Country for wine tasting was the perfect escape!

I did a little research and stumbled upon a boutique winery just outside of Burnet, TX. I didn’t want to go to the more popular wineries in Fredericksburg, or Driftwood. I wanted to get off the beaten path and find the cute, charming wineries. You know, the kind where the owners are talking to visitors and various animals are running around the property; the kind of place you want to stay all day because it feels like home.

Perissos Vineyard and Winery

Perissos Winery

Perissos is a ancient Greek word from the Bible meaning “exceeding abundantly, beyond what is expected, imagined, or hoped for”. I think that is a fitting name for this lush, healthy estate. With plenty of seating inside and outside, this is a great off the beaten path option for those that want something a little different!

The main building houses a beautiful tasting room, barrel storage, and wine making facilities. The large stone structure was built by the owner, Seth Martin, a former custom home builder and self taught wine maker. We were able to chat with him for a few minutes as he was taking a break from the day’s work. He was super friendly and told us about the crop he just harvested, difficulty of the previous years water shortages, and life as a wine maker and farmer. It was obvious he loved making wine and had such a passion for it. He wanted visitors to explore and spend time on the estate. Everyone working there made us feel at home; even the farm dogs and chickens wandering through the picnic tables and tasting room!Perissos Estate

Now, I have to admit, I don’t normally drink Texas wine unless I’m out wine tasting. Most of the flavor profiles just don’t do it for me. I like big, bold, and serious. Texas wine is more light and playful. However, I did find the 2012 Petite Sirah and 2012 Roussanne to be absolutely fantastic. The Petite Sirah is 100% estate grown while the Roussanne is sourced from Bingham and Oswald Family Vineyards in Meadow, Texas. The two wines couldn’t be more different, but I thought the fruit and minerality of the Roussane and the structure of the Petite Sirah were fascinating. I ended up with a bottle of the Sirah to take home. Now all I need to do is figure out what to make with it. Any suggestions?

Wine

 

 

 

Off the Beaten Path: ciboVino

ciboVino Winnsboro, TXWhile on my East Texas road trip a few weeks ago, I decided to take my Grandpa out for an “Off the Beaten Path” date. I love talking to him and hearing stories of his adventures. (Listen up-your grandparents are fascinating people. So, if they are still around—talk to them! My Grandpa traveled all over the world, helped build a hospital in Saudi Arabia in the 70’s, and did the carpentry in most of the buildings in downtown San Francisco. How cool is that?)

I am, by far, the most adventurous person in my family which is why my Grandpa and I get along so well. When I found a write up in Southern Living magazine on a restaurant in Winnsboro, TX, I knew he would be up for it.

ciboVino is a family-run, Italian restaurant located on the downtown square in Winnsboro, TX. Blink and you may miss it!  However, I was strongly advised by ciboVino’s website to call ahead and make a reservation. I was a bit amused by this, but I was sure glad of it after we arrived. The place was completely packed within half an hour!

Once seated, our well spoken, young buck of a waiter (the owner’s son, Brennan) told us all about the specials for the evening. They were featuring a bone-in veal chop with red potatoes and broccollini that my Grandpa could not resist. However, because I am obsessed with pizza, I went with my stand by: margherita pizza with sausage. If you make a decent pie, I’m willing to go back.

I have to say we were not disappointed.  The veal was perfectly cooked and very tender. The homemade pizza was thin, bubbled, and crunchy around the edges just the way I like it. Not the absolute best pizza I have had (that’s only in Italy!), but a solid choice in the area.ciboVino pizza

I was disappointed they did not offer a wine list, but they may not have the clientele to make it worthwhile. We were offered complimentary red or white wine, but the quality was not the best. However, ciboVino does allow guests to bring their own beverages and that seems to be the best option.

The owners, Rick and Sharon, have taken great care to incorporate the entire family into the business. It was great to see the family taking care of an obviously well-loved restaurant. My Grandpa is already talking about our next visit!

I get so caught up in what the city can offer that I forget there are many great places in small towns like Winnsboro. When you step off the beaten path you never know what you may find!

For more information on Winnsboro, TX check out the recent article in Texas Highways!

Off the Beaten Path: Los Pinos Ranch Winery

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Over the weekend I traveled to North East TX (Piney Woods for the Texas folk) to visit my family. I usually spend most of the weekend on the road traveling between towns to see everyone, but last weekend I found the time to visit a local winery in Pittsburg, TX, called Los Pinos Ranch.

I enjoyed a lovely butter lettuce salad with apples and goat cheese and tried the Vermentino, Viognier, and the Super Texican. Los Pinos does produce wine from its own vineyard, but also produces wine from grapes planted on three vineyards in West Texas.  They divide their wine into two categories: Sweet and Dry. I thought that was odd, but a lot of people I know like one or the other.

I have to say that I did not care for the Viognier at all. There was too much fruit on the nose for me and I found the smell overwhelming. However, I did like the Vermentino and thought it was a softer, more enjoyable wine to sip. The best of the three was the 2011 Super Texican. The Super Texican is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Cabernet. I only had a tasting, but that will be the wine I order on my next trip!

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Los Pinos offers other small plates and wood fired pizza in the rustic, Tuscan inspired dining room.  Live jazz is also a staple on Friday and Saturday nights. Unfortunately, I had to miss the live music.

Because I visited the winery in the winter it was too cold to sit outside. East TX tends to be a lot cooler than Austin! It was unfortunate as the outside seating area is very nice. I can imagine the spring and summer will be gorgeous when all the greenery fills in around the estate.Retouch 3

I am glad I had the time to stop by Los Pinos Ranch Winery. Los Pinos is relaxing, quiet, and definitely off the beaten path (two miles down a black-topped country road).  In an area saturated with fast food and chain restaurants, it was nice to have a “real food” and wine option. Cheers to finding a new East TX destination!

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Off the Beaten Path Series

Off the beaten path

Off the beaten path

What is Off the Beaten Path? I am starting a new series of posts about places I find in Austin or on my travels that are less known.  I am on the lookout for food, drinks, shops, gardens, farms, road side lemonade stands, etc. that may not be on the radar.  Let’s give the little guys some love too! More Off the Beaten Path in upcoming posts.