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Rome: Everything you need to know to plan the perfect end-of-year break

By Ruth Wright

Unlike many European countries, Italy has not brought in a December lockdown or substantially tightened restrictions.

Restaurants and hotels are open, at least to vaccinated visitors, and there is a real festive atmosphere, especially in the big cities like Rome.

When planning a trip to Rome - the Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Trevi Fountain will be on everyone’s to-do list. But, as a British expat living in Italy, I’m here to give you some insider tips and local gems to make your trip a little more special.

So read on for everything you need to know about visiting Italy right now, and the insider’s guide to an iconic hotel with the best brunch in the city.

Italy’s travel restrictions

  • Fully-vaccinated arrivals need to show a negative COVID test taken 24 hours before departure (for antigen tests) or 48 hours before departure (for PCR tests)
  • On top of the pre-departure test, unvaccinated arrivals must quarantine for five days on arrival, and then test for release.
  • Arrivals from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini are banned, due to the new COVID variant omicron.

The Italian government has a really helpful online questionnaire which tells you about the requirements based on your specific situation.

Full details, including where to go for more information, on Italy’s travel restrictions are available here.

Italy’s COVID-19 restrictions

The good news is there aren’t any curfews or forms to fill in once you’re in Italy.

This is a big step on from the end of 2020 when socialising and travelling around Italy were mostly banned.

Rocco Forte Hotels
View from Hotel De RussieRocco Forte Hotels

Keys, wallet, green pass

To access pretty much everywhere in Italy, you need to show a ‘green pass.’ This is essentially proof of vaccination, with certificates issued abroad generally being accepted.

Proof of recovery from COVID is also accepted in some places, such as hotels and public transport. But the unvaccinated are facing more restrictions daily. More on this below.

You can apply to have your own vaccination certificate converted into a green pass- officially known as an EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC).

But this can only be done once you’re in Italy and can be difficult to do without Italian. So for short trips, we recommend simply carrying the proof of vaccination that you use in your own country.

Not all masks are created equal

Masks are mandatory in shops, restaurants, public transport and all other indoor public places. They are also required in ‘crowded’ outdoor public places, such as markets and main shopping streets.

Whether somewhere counts as crowded is open to interpretation, of course. But with fines of €400-1,000 routinely being handed out it’s best to be on the safe side and if in doubt, wear a mask.

As for type of mask, local authorities can require surgical grade masks, though not all do. So, again, err on the side of caution and wear a FFP2 or surgical-grade mask.

No green pass, no entry

Unvaccinated people are banned from a lot of places in Italy, including eating indoors at restaurants and entering theatres, cinemas and sporting events.

Where to stay in Rome at Christmas

When a hotel is named among the world’s best, many travellers write it off as out of their budget. Hotel de Russie has been given that honour but, thanks to an offer they have on at the moment, there’s no need to consider it out of reach.

Once called ‘paradise on Earth’ by French poet Jean Cocteau, the 5* Hotel de Russie revolves around a stunning courtyard and garden. Most of the rooms look down on this central area, helping you to feel enveloped in a luxurious and lush world.

The Stravinskij bar, in the courtyard, is a favourite ‘aperitvo’ (pre-dinner drink) spot for well-heeled locals. I recommend joining them, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.

Hotel de Russie is a two-minute walk from Via del Corso, the city’s main shopping street. There are also lots of pharmacies on this street so it‘s ideal for pre-flight tests.

Hotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels
The Christmas decorations in the hotel were designed by Giorgio Armani.Hotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels

You can soak up Italian style without even leaving Hotel de Russie thanks to their Christmas decorations, done by none other than Giorgio Armani.

Hotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels
LobbyHotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels

The hotel has seen some other decor changes recently. There are seven new Garden Suites, decked out with plush furniture, luxurious fabrics and marble-lined bathtubs. If you’re not lucky enough to be staying in a suite, you can enjoy the redesign in the lobby.

It is intended to have the feel of a ‘refined Roman living room’ and hopes to give guests a warm welcome with its lush tones.

One new feature that was surely inspired by the new work-from-anywhere culture is the wooden meeting cube. It is intended as a private space for video calls thanks to its webcam, wireless charging and, of course, a ‘sanitisation system that guarantees maximum safety.’

Hotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels
Nijinsky suiteHotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels

If you’re sold, Hotel de Russie’s ‘**In Love with Rome**’ package is ideal. It includes:

  • Welcome Italian aperitivo
  • A complimentary breakfast each morning
  • Complimentary upgrade (subject to availability)
  • 10% off the best available rate
  • Two tickets to a museum: MAXXI Museum, Musei Capitolini or La Galleria Nazionale

Price starts at €574 for a minimum 2-night stay. The package is available to book until the end of April 2022.

Getty Images
Panettone has become the typical Italian Christmas dessert.Getty Images

The foods you can’t miss in Rome

Food is one of the main reasons most travellers come to Italy- and one of the main reasons I moved here. Since becoming a local I’ve learnt that for Italians, time spent eating with family and friends is a sacred way to connect and, at this time of year, celebrate.

It’s rare to see a Roman who’s not carrying a panettone at this time of year. The famous sweet bread shaped like a dome comes in beautiful, elaborate boxes. Panettone, and its close cousin pandoro, originate in Milan but they’re given as Christmas gifts all over Italy. They’re sold in lots of different types of shops all over Rome so it won’t be difficult to find one.

Cakes, biscuits and croissants are staples of the Italian diet. They’re often eaten for breakfast, alongside a coffee, but are available all day. ‘Pasticceria’ (pastry shops) are on every street corner, but Roscioli is one of the most famous. Roscioli actually comprises a cafe, delicatessen and restaurant all in the neighbourhood between the Pantheon and the river Tiber which snakes through the city.

Tortellini (stuffed pasta) and abbacchio (roasted lamb) will be on many tables around Rome at Christmas. Ask for either of them in local restaurants (often called ‘trattoria’) and the chef should be happy to oblige. For tortellini, family-run Dal Bolognese is famous for their version. Booking is recommended, especially at the weekends, and it’s closed on Mondays.

The one Italian tradition you can’t miss

Nativity scenes or ‘presepi’ are everywhere in Italy at this time of year, and they’re more creative than ever. Naples’ most famous scene features popstars, footballers and politicians. While some, like the one in Matera in southern Italy, are ‘presepi viventi’ meaning real people play the characters in the nativity. Yes, really.

You’re likely to stumble across ‘presepi’ while exploring Rome, especially in churches. But if in doubt, ask at your accommodation for some nearby recommendations.

If you want to tick off 100 nativity scenes in one, head to the Vatican for the 100 Presepi exhibition. It’s open every day from 10am-8pm and runs until 9th January.

The Vatican’s own nativity scene is worth a look while you’re there. In keeping with the times, it includes a QR code for a video about the Christmas story. There’s even a WIFI hotspot so you don’t have to use up your data.

Hotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels
Jardin de RussieHotel De Russie / Rocco Forte Hotels

Where to book for a special Christmas or New Year’s meal

Many restaurants will be open throughout the holiday as many Romans like to go out rather than eating at home.

If you want a tried-and-tested option in beautiful surroundings with great service, you can’t go wrong with Hotel de Russie’s special meals:

Christmas Eve dinner (€95/person, drinks are extra)

Christmas Day lunch (€110/person, €60 for children under 12, drinks are extra)

Boxing Day brunch (€95/person, €50 for children under 12, drinks are extra)

New Year’s Eve gala dinner with live music (€420/person, drinks are extra)

New Year’s Eve gourmet tasting and DJ set (€220/person, drinks are extra)

New Year’s Day brunch (€110/person, €60 for children under 12, drinks are extra)

Epiphany brunch on 6th Jan (€85/person, €45 for children under 12, drinks are extra)

For more information or to book, call +39 06 32 88 88 70 or email fb.derussie@roccofortehotels.com

 Please mention Euronews Travel when you book.