Shopping in Rome: around Campo de' Fiori

by Lee.Marshall

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.

More expert advice on Rome

For more shopping advice, read my Shopping in Rome page.

For suggestions on where to stay in Rome, see my Rome Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Rome page.

Lee.Marshall

I've lived in Rome since 1984. For the last fifteen years, I've made a living as a travel writer specialising in Italy (I'm a contributing editor for Condé Nast Traveller UK and the US travel and lifestyle magazine Departures). But that's really just an extension of the way I live in places and the way I travel: I've never been the kind of person who always goes on holiday to the same place, or who settles on one favourite trattoria and never eats anywhere else. So if I have any authority as a Rome expert, I suppose it's because - in addition to my passion for my adopted hometown – I'm just plain curious.

I arrived in Rome with my partner in September 1984, fresh out of university in England and with no clear idea about how long the stay might last (was it a holiday or a serious move? Neither of us were sure). It was touch and go at first, and fate took a hand in our decision to stay: on the day the money ran out, we both found jobs teaching English. Then came the sheer effort of finding somewhere to live, assembling all those bits of paper that Italian officialdom is so fond of, getting to grips with a new culture, a new language, a new job. All of this gave me an unusually intense and untouristy introduction to Roman life.

I’m ashamed to say that it was four years before I got around to looking inside the Colosseum – by this time I was an honorary Roman, and so I had the same slight resistance that a New Yorker might have to visiting the Statue of Liberty. But it was probably also something to do with the obviousness of the attraction – by this time my wife and I (we got married in the Rome registry office on the Campidoglio in 1988) had visited most of the city’s Medieval churches, toured the lesser Etruscan sites of Lazio, been to Ostia Antica (easily my favourite Ancient Roman site in Italy) three or four times. It’s the richness of Rome that I’ve always loved: ten different visitors could spend ten days in the city and not overlap once.

Not long after the birth of our daughter Clara in 1990, I gave up English teaching and became a freelance writer, soon specialising in two of my great passions – film and travel. In between the major film festivals, my wife and I worked on updates of the Time Out Rome guide and I wrote article after article on Italy for Condé Nast Traveller and other publications.

But it has always been a special treat to be able to write about Rome – I think I put more or myself into these pieces, because I'm working out on paper how it was that I came to think of this city as home. It’s difficult to analyse one’s love for a place. There’s the food, and the wine, and the weather, and the sheer beauty of the city – all those things are important. But the draw for me has a lot to do with Rome’s air of theatricality – all those Baroque stage sets that just happen to be piazzas and churches; and all those locals who walk and talk and gesture with the innate confidence of people who are always on camera. After more than a quarter of a century and plenty of run-ins with reality, I have never quite got over the feeling that my life in Rome is one long film (shot, or course, in golden evening light).

These days I divide my time between an apartment in the Testaccio district of the city and a house in the Umbrian countryside, but for all the charms of la campagna umbra it’s still Rome that really stirs my soul. I hope I’ve been able to communicate something of this passion in my Rome Expert guides and blog for Simonseeks. Personally I don’t think anyone can ever claim to be a real Rome Expert: there’s just too much to see, do, eat, study and drink. But I’ve built up a decent Rome radar in the last couple of decades – and I’m going to give it my best shot.

My Rome

Where I always grab a coffee
My local is a buzzy place called Linari (Via Zabaglia 9) in the down-to-earth Testaccio district. They know just how I like my cappuccino (in a small glass, with less milk than usual), and their cornetti (breakfast pastries) are some of the best in Rome.

My favourite stroll
Rome backstreets in general. I love working out routes across the city that take me down Medieval lanes and across Renaissance piazzas, avoiding the traffic. It makes you realise that there’s a secret city out there that those in cars never see.

Fiction for inspiration

The great Rome epic novel has yet to be written – but I enjoyed When We Were Romans, written by my friend Matthew Kneale, which gives a very evocative and dramatic child’s-eye-view of the Eternal City.

Where to be seen this summer
The hot ticket will be Zaha Hadid’s new MAXXI contemporary art and architecture museum (www.maxxi.beniculturali.it), due to be inaugurated towards the end of May. It should breathe new life into the rather sleepy Flaminio quartiere north of Piazza del Popolo, where cool bar/restaurant chalet Tree Bar (Via Flaminia 226) currently gives a taste of how the area might evolve.

The most breathtaking view
Rome spread out like a 3-D diorama from the main terrace of the Gianicolo hill above Trastevere.

The best spot for some peace and quiet
Rome’s Orto Botanico, or Botanical Garden, is perhaps not the world’s best kept, but it is a lovely green oasis on the edge of Trastevere (Largo Cristina di Svezia 24, tel +39 06 4991 7108, entrance €4, closed Sun).

Shopaholics beware!
I love the quirky mix of shops in the lanes that lie just one or two blocks north of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Artists’ supply shops, designer chocolate, creative jewellery and accessory boutiques, vintage clothes stores, shops selling modernist antiques, my favourite no-brand jeans brand, SBU (Via San Pantaleo 68-69, tel +39 06 6880 2547) – this is a great area for alternative shopping.

City soundtrack
Load Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on your MP3 player, and use it as your background music. It’s pure Baroque drama – just like Rome itself.

Don’t leave without... looking through the keyhole of the gate into the garden of the Knights of Malta HQ on the Aventine hill (Piazza Cavalieri di Malta). The cupola of Saint Peter’s is framed at the end of the rose walk, with the rooftops of Rome on either side. Where else in the world can you see three sovereign states through one keyhole?