With my new book, With Love From Rome, I’m hoping to spread a little sunshine in these cold months with a taste of the gorgeous heat and atmosphere that is uniquely the eternal city.
It’s one of my favourite cities and has always held a fascination since my first visit when I was only twelve. Sadly my first memory of the city was rather macabre, a body lying beside the road, draped in a tartan blanket and one sad, solitary, ugly black shoe in the middle of the road. My more recent visit was much more inspiring.
There are so many sights to see in Rome, it’s hard to know where to start, but on this trip I was lucky enough to see a rather unique part of the city.
This trip came about when a friend was posted to Rome. For obvious reasons when he invited us to come and stay, my husband and I jumped at the chance, despite his warning that the accommodation was basic and would be on a government compound. To be honest, how bad could that be, with all the city of Rome offered, we only needed a bed for the night.
So duly forewarned, we battled the hell that is Ryanair, our feet perched on top of piles of other people’s ‘hand luggage’, (the size of which would house my entire shoe collection, which is not inextensive) and emerged from the airport blinking into brilliant sunshine to be greeted by our lovely host.
Even driving into Rome, you immediately get a flavour of the uniqueness of this amazing city, where the ancient brushes shoulders with the modern in happy juxtaposition with busy roads intersected by aqueducts that are thousands of years old.
And yes, stereotypically, the traffic is bonkers, as you can see from the state of some of the cars and the haphazard parking on tiny narrow streets.
We pulled up outside the ‘government compound’ with its very ornate gate, to the right of which a discreet brass plaque which said British Embassy.
Government compound my backside! Yes, here it is:
The gates opened and we passed through security, rolling up along a drive through beautifully landscaped gardens.
Our host casually pointed to the rather splendid palace to our right, the British Ambassador’s official residence, the Villa Wolkonsky.
We continued before pulling up outside a smaller, more modest residence but no less interesting because it’s built into the arch of an aqueduct built in the 1st Century AD by Emperor Claudius which cuts through the centre of the grounds (aka Government Compound!).
It’s rather like a hermit crab that’s taken up residence in another shell.
Our room, complete with balcony overlooked the fabulous Villa.
And here is the Villa Wolkonsky and I have to credit fellow author Clare Harvey who very kindly let me use her shot of the villa. In one of those amazing six degrees of separation, Clare and I share a mutual friend, our host at the compound, and she too stayed in this wonderful place and had much greater foresight than I in getting a decent picture of the Villa.
The Villa was originally owned by a Russian princess in the 1830’s who rather fittingly entertained numerous writers and artists there including Sir Walter Scott, Stendhal and Nikolai Gogol, who wrote much of his work, Dead Souls while staying here. In 1920 the Villa was bought by the German government and became the German embassy. According to my host, the gorgeous outdoor swimming pool, had to be deepened in readiness for a visit by Hitler. I was rather looking forward to saying I’d swum in the same pool as Hitler, unfortunately despite a visit to the Villa, he didn’t make use of the pool. Saying I’ve swum in the same pool as David Miliband, who holidayed here with his family in 2009, doesn’t quite have the same ring about it.
The British government temporarily took up residence in 1946 when the embassy at Porta Pia was blown up by terrorists and the government subsequently purchased it in 1951.
So, how could I resist – I had to use this unique and rather romantic setting in From Rome With Love. The house we stayed in became the apartment in which Lisa stays and there are a couple of scenes where she contemplates the gorgeous palazzo across the way from her balcony. It was rather lovely to revisit the house and the wonderful memories of the sights and sounds of Rome, when I wrote this book and I hope that readers will be able to feel a touch of sunshine between the pages.
Thanks for sharing this gorgeous insight into Rome, Jules! From Rome With Love is out now, pick up your copy here today.