72 hours in Rome: here's how to spend three days in Italy's historical capital city
You might consider a wellness break to be a week spent beachside in Asia or the Maldives, but there’s plenty of ways to get in some much-needed restoration time without hopping on a long-haul flight. As one of the world’s most beautiful, historic cities, a trip to Rome was top of my agenda for a quick spot of R&R with a big dose of culture thrown in – all without suffering the jet lag associated with heading off somewhere far flung.
Good food, gorgeous surroundings, plus a massage and a workout or two? Yes please. Here’s our ultimate three-day wellness guide to Rome.
Where to stay: Hotel De La Ville
At the top of the Spanish steps you’ll find the Hotel De La Ville. Packed with charm without being ostentatious, its perfectly-positioned location meant we got in some cardio before even reaching our (charming) room. Punchily-coloured, vibrantly patterned interiors evoke proper Mediterranean charm, and we awoke to the sound of birdsong, opening our curtains to views over the courtyard; all terracotta brickwork, window shutters and orange trees swaying in the breeze.
We were assured by the range of healthy options at its Mosaico restaurant – although I did treat myself to one of the freshly-baked cakes. If you really want to feel smug, try the Italian lentil soup for dinner. Utterly rich and indulgent, I was in genuine disbelief when the waiter assured me it contained no cream, making it both a not-so-guilty pleasure and your daily fibre quotient in one.
The hotel delivers on the wellness front too. Visit in summer and you can take a morning yoga class on the terrace, overlooking the city in all its finery, or book in a PT session at the fully-equipped gym.
But if you’d rather swap the weights room for the sauna, you’re really in luck. The star of the show is undoubtedly the cavernous Irene Forte Spa. Its treatment menu pays homage to Italy’s rich heritage, featuring facials, scrubs and massages using traditional Sicilian oils, dreamy mineral-rich muds and salt scrubs from the Mediterranean Trapani sea.
I had an outrageously relaxing Sicilian Aroma Relax Massage on a heated bed, during which I felt the knots in my back melt away, ready for three days of hitting the pavements. Refreshed, we worked our way through the dimly-lit cocoon-like space in the thermal area, hopping from sauna to steam room to the ice bath, foot soak and jacuzzi, before making a herbal tea and reclining on a lounger in the relaxation room as softly soothing music played. It was utter bliss and a highlight of the holiday – all without leaving the hotel.
Where to stay: Anantara Palazzo Naiadi
For the last night, we made a move. Two quick stops on the metro and you’ll reach the Anantara Palazzo Naiadi. In contrast to the Hotel De La Ville’s refined interiors, this place is a masterclass in grandeur. The lobby is an Instagram influencer’s dream, with towering floral displays, triple-height ceilings punctuated with show-stopping chandeliers and a healthily-stocked bar (try the cocktails for a strong sugar hit). Our room was equally impressive, with a spiral staircase snaking its way up to a platform bed, from which we surveyed our environs majestically.
This palatial 19th Century hotel is built over the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian, and its this heritage that strongly influences its impressively-curated wellness offerings at the huge new spa. As well as a tailored menu of multi–day wellness programs (one for banishing jet lag-related ills, two Ayervic options and one following a course of massages, steams and scrubs), there’s your typical treatment menu and even a selection of ancient healing therapies.
Try a Chi Nei Tsang abdominal massage to relieve tension in your core and release emotional trauma, or book in for a Pranic therapy session; a clever, completely hands-free treatment designed to realign and rebalance your energy. You may know it as Reiki.
I took one for the team as one of its first ever clients and tried the signature Diocletian Ritual. This two-hour treatment begins with a salt and laurel scrub to slough off dead skin, before a detoxifying mud wrap is applied for a half-hour in the steam room, and concluding with a truly relaxing hour-long St John’s wort oil massage. Frankly, I didn’t want it to end – and my skin definitely appreciated the potent steam/mud combo.
For those who prefer the healing power of movement, there’s an expansive fully-equipped gym. But really, we’d recommend booking with the in-house professional runner, who’ll take you on a guided jog past the noteworthy sites like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Palazzo Venezia and Villa Borghese, so you can tick off your sightseeing and cardio at the same time.
And on that note…
What to do
Rome is full of gorgeous parks and canals that make prime morning run locations before you crack on with your day. Really, this city is as walkable as it is beautiful, making it easy to rack up your step count without donning your trainers at all – or you can hire a bike from one of the many points throughout the centre. Join the runners below the Ponte Sant'Angelo bridge and you’ll be in a perfect spot to head over to Vatican City post jog. The stunning Villa Borghese park is another must-visit for a leisurely stroll and yet more photo opportunities.
We whizzed through some of the ancient sites – the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Sistine Chapel, Roman Forum and the Colosseum – hopping from each on foot over the course of the three days, interspersed with stopping in at a few of the city's 400 churches to marvel at the friezes. Let us tell you: there's nothing like gazing upon such majestic architecture, paintings and marble statues to inspire you to go and create something. If the massage therapy doesn't reinvigorate you, seeing what it's possible for humans to achieve with their own bare hands just might.
One tip? Book a skip-the-line pass beforehand. Many sites were sold out on the day and, even if they’re not, queues can be long for the ticketless.
No trip to Rome is complete without browsing the Campo de' Fiori market; the city’s oldest and most famous, where you can pick up some olive oil or pasta to take home. The Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at Palazzo della Cancelleria makes an extra shot of culture, as well as a lot of fun – here you can get your hands on 65 working models of his inventions while learning more about his incredibly storied career (there is nothing the guy can’t do).
What to eat
We don’t need to tell you that Italy is known for pizza, pasta and gelato; dishes not typically regarded as the healthiest choices. But honestly? You’re on holiday. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to some of the best pasta you’ll have, and especially if you’ve hit the pool in the morning and racked up 20,000 steps on your Fitbit.
We tucked into a beautiful cacio e pepe at Taverna del Seminario, with its sunshine yellow walls and pretty chequered tablecloths. The pleasingly-priced Origano delivered on some ultra-thin crispy pizza, and there were a good number of vegan options, to the delight of my plant-based friend. A hefty portion of mushroom risotto in the city’s Jazz Cafe ticked off the pizza/pasta/risotto trifecta nicely.
But for days you don’t want to load up on carbs, there are plenty of options. Baja, a trendy floating restaurant on a barge on the Tiber, had a beautiful seafood menu, making for a lighter alternative to your average carbonara (along with some of the crispest, juiciest white wine we enjoyed all week).
We also switched one gelato stop for a sorbet. Head to Otaleg, in Trastevere, for the best we found. This little joint serves up an ever-changing menu of seasonal homemade flavours that are all-natural, additive-free and light on additional sugars (yes, even in its standard ice-creams). They even do savoury options!
Rome for a wellness break? The verdict
It’s official. You don’t need to hop on a plane to a far-flung beachside to enjoy a restoration-focused holiday. A couple of massages, some good food, and a few days soaking up some history was more than enough to leave us feeling renewed and refreshed. Until next time, Rome!
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