South of Corso Vittorio you'll find Rome's most picturesque produce market, a whole street of cut-price fashion stores, and a scattering of quirky design and homeware emporiums
South of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the market piazza of Campo de’ Fiori is the social hub of an area of narrow cobbled lanes where traditional craft workshops sit alongside trendy bars and shops selling ethnic homeware. If it’s cut-price fashion you’re after, the best way into the area is along Piazza Cairoli and its continuation Via dei Giubbonari, the winding road that connects the Campo with Via Arenula.
Lined with shoe shops and clothes emporia, this is the budget and mid-range cousin to swanky Via Condotti. But don’t dismiss it as Synthetic Alley: there are some worthwhile one-offs sprinkled here and there between the Italian high-street franchises. Like Momento (Piazza Cairoli 9, 00186 Roma; +39 06 6880 8157), which does colourful, boho women’s fashion and accessories at the smarter end of shabby chic, in styles that cross age barriers. There are plenty of other good value shop-ops here, for both men and women. And if you need a shot of caffeine or a sugar boost, stop off at tiny café Bernasconi (Piazza Cairoli 16, 00186 Roma; +39 06 6880 6264) where the cakes and breakfast cornetti (sweet croissants) are all homemade – and delicious.
Hang a left into Via Arco di Monte. On the corner where this becomes Via Pettinari is one of Rome’s best-value women’s shoe shops: Borini (Via dei Pettinari 86, 00186 Roma; +39 06 687 5670). It doesn’t look like much on the outside – or the inside, for that matter – but this family-run business offers quality own-brand leather shoes in all the latest styles at less than half of what you would pay in the big-name boutiques. It’s all very spartan, with the décor consisting mostly of piles of shoeboxes – but it’s the product that counts here.
From here you can duck down the utterly Roman lane of Via delle Grotte into Campo de’ Fiori itself. This large open space was once used for burning heretics. A statue of one of the most famous – 16th-century visionary Giordano Bruno – stands sternly on a pedestal in the middle of the square, surveying from beneath his hood both the bustling produce market that sets up here every morning from Monday to Saturday, and the piazza’s increasingly lively nightlife scene. If you’re staying in an apartment in the centre, the open-air mercato is a good place to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat – though it’s not the cheapest of Rome’s produce markets, and these days seems to exist mostly to provide colourful photo opportunities.
South and west of here is an area of small crafts shops in Medieval lanes – like Via dei Cappellari, which is colonised by furniture restorers and antique shops. In a parallel street, Hollywood (Via del Monserrato 107, 00186 Roma; +39 06 686 9197; www.hollywood-video.it), is not, as the name might suggest, a commercial video rental shop but a long-standing point of reference for Rome’s many serious cineastes: though there’s hardly enough room in here to swing a steadycam, the selection of vintage Italian film posters and stills, and hard-to-find arthouse DVDs (including some subtitled Italian classics like La Dolce Vita) is second to none.
A little further up on the other side, Ilaria Miani is something of an Italian Tricia Guild: a furniture, fabric and homeware designer with a very recognisable, very alluring approach – a sort of contemporary Tuscan country style. Her main outlet (Via Monserrato 35, 00186 Roma; +39 06 683 3160; www.ilariamiani.it) offers an elegant taster of her range of ready-mades, which include boxy cast-iron tables; folding wooden chairs and tables that resemble updated Victorian camp furniture, as used on military campaigns; and stylish sunloungers in eye-popping colours.
Retrace your steps back through the Campo, down Via dei Giubbonari and across the tram artery of Via Arenula, and you will find yourself in the Jewish Ghetto: an area of Rome that goes back as far as the city itself, as witnessed by the bits of Roman temple that were reused here over the ages in the district’s house facades. Right opposite a still-standing chunk of imperial Rome – the first-century-AD Portico d’Ottavia – an unassuming door leads down into the cave of wonders that is Leone Limentani (via Portico d’Ottavia 47, 00186 Roma; +39 06 6880 6686; www.limentani.com). Like most Roman residents, I pop in here whenever a teapot lid gets broken or I realise it’s time to change that dinner service that doesn’t quite match anymore – as this underground ceramic, glass and tableware store stocks just about any kitchen or dining room embellishment that you could possibly desire. The selection ranges from bon-ton flowery soup tureens to cutting-edge design items – including those iconic Alessi coffeemakers and lemon squeezers.
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