Picnics are as much a part of my culinary travels as restaurants, outdoor markets and cooking lessons from locals. I get to choose my dining location while trying street food and local specialties from artisan shops. Even if you're not a culinary traveler, picnics are great for the budget traveler, families and those couples seeking romance. They are also a way to slow down and relax after a hectic and heavy dose of taking in the sights.
While Rome is known as one of the greatest food cities, it isn't as popular for having ideal picnic spots. Yet, not so hidden among the the great monuments, fountains and churches, are many lush green gardens, parks and hilltops with beautiful views of Rome's rolling landscape. Here are seven of my favorite picnic spots in Rome.
Monte Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill)
Buses: 115, 870 (or walk and have your mom yell at you about the climb)
The original city of Rome sat on seven hills. Janiculum Hill, not one of the original seven, is east of the Tiber river and is a perfect place to look out onto those seven. Gianicolo Park provides lawn and shade along with a glorious view of Rome's hills. Your dining view will be filled with domed churches, ruins, piazzas and grand buildings that jut out from waves of terra cotta tiled rooftops. Be there at dusk when the setting sun casts hues of pink and purple upon the city.
Metro: Spagna or Flaminio Buses: 2, 3, 95, 491
This is a green haven in a city that sometimes feels like its all marble, stone and cars racing at you. It's in the northeast part of Rome next to the Piazza del Popolo. Little ponds and lakes spot the green landscape, making it an ideal setting for a picnic. One of my favorite museums Galleria Borghese, where you can find some of Bernini's most elegant sculptures, is in this park.
Giardino degli Aranci
This garden sits atop the Aventine Hill (one of the 7 hills of Rome) and has arguably the best panoramic view of Rome and the Tiber River as it weaves its way through the city. The name (translated as garden of oranges) is from the orange trees that line the park. Nearby is the Piazza Cavalieri Maltese, where from the keyhole in the Maltese Embassy you can see a framed view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.
Buses 40, 62 or 280 and cross the Bridge of Angels
In this park that surrounds the Castel St. Angelo, you can sit beside the circled walls of the castle and look onto the Tiber and the Bridge of Angels. Summer evenings in the park are festive and filled with food and various other stalls.
Buses 710, 870
The largest public park in Rome includes the villa and manicured gardens that once housed the Pamphili family, and it's popular with Romans on the weekends. Here you can easily forget that you are in one of the biggest and most chaotic cities of the world.
The banks of the Tiber are pretty isolated except when there are festivals along it, but on this island you can look onto the river and both banks of the Tiber while enjoying a meal in the sun.
Gardens around the Catacombs of San Callisto
From Metro San Giovanni, take bus 218
Yes, I am suggesting a picnic in a cemetary, or above one. We arrived at the catacombs during lunchtime (and of course the catacombs close for a short 2-hour lunch break). We followed other Italians to a patch of lawn nearby and watched each group unpack their feasts. Since we had two hours, we bused back, got our own feast, and returned for one of the most peaceful lunches among cypress and palm trees, and well yes, above the tombs.
There is much Roman fare that is perfect for picnics, especially pizza bianca. It's a thinner crispier version of foccacia with a light brushing of olive oil and sprinkling of salt. Porchetta means "little pig," and it's a suckling pig that has been deboned, stuffed with seasoning and herbs, rolled and roasted. Artichokes cooked Roman style (carciofi alla Romana) are steamed and marinated with herbs and olive oil.
Here are some of the best places to pick up picnic-friendly delicacies where you can feast like an emperor even if you're on a pauper's salary:
Volpetti (www.volpetti.com - via Marmorata 47 in Testaccio)
Buses 3, 23, 30, 75, 280, 716
When you enter, your eye is drawn straight to the line of pork legs on the counter positioned for easy slicing of paper thin prosciutto. There’s also pizza bianca, fried goodies, cheese, baked goods. It’s all high quality, and everything you need for a romantic picnic, even the wine, is there. The guys in the shop are exceptionally friendly. If you are so confused by all the scents and sights, one of the employees will direct you to their tavola calda (Volpetti Piu’) around the corner, where you can sit and have a snack or meal, while calming your taste buds before shopping.
Antica Caciara Trasteverina (www.anticacaciar.it - via San Francesco a
Ripa 140A in Trastevere)
Tram 8 or Buses 3, 121, 780
In business since 1900, it feels as ancient as the ruins, but the window filled with bread and baskets of freshly made ricotta cheese beckons you to enter. Huge drum-sized rounds of "vero (real) pecorino romano" cheese are stacked high, and they have burrata (soft cheese even fresher than mozzarella) from Puglia.
Antico Forno Roscioli (www.salumeriaroscioli.com - via dei Chiavari, 34 near Campo de’ Fiori)
Delicacies from this high-end deli include one of the best pizza bianca or rossa (with tomato sauce) in the city, handmade salami, cheese, breads (the olive bread is especially tasty), pastries and any other picnic fare you could want. The adjacent tavola calda serves porchetta sandwiches. They also have a sit-down restaurant around the corner.
Il Forno Campo de’ Fiori (www.fornocampodefiori.com - Campo de’ Fiori 22 north end of the Campo de’ Fiori)
At the north end of the Camp de' Fiori, the "forno" above the doorway is all you have to go by. The long line of Romans and tourists running outside the door is the clue that the food is good. They serve pizza bianca and a wide variety of other focaccia-style pizze. I would usually get a slice of bianca and another of eggplant. Usually one slice would be gone before I made it to my picnic location. They also have a variety of cookies and pastries to add a sweet end to the meal.
Testaccio Covered Market (Piazza di Testaccio - Testaccio)
Buses 3, 23, 30, 75, 280, 716
This working-class food market filled with a variety of food vendors also has one vender that specializes in pork, namely porchetta. It's Dal Norcino and is in the north corner of the market.
These picnic spots and eateries are some of my favorites, but the list is not all inclusive. Where is your favorite picnic spot in Rome and/or picnic fare?