On my recent visit to Rome, in addition to researching hotels, I decided to spend a week in an apartment, experiencing life as a Roman citizen. In search of authenticity, and in order to escape the tourist throngs, I chose to stay in the residential neighborhood of Prati. The name means “meadows,” and 150 years ago, Prati was a flat, marshy area, bounded by the Tiber to the east and the Vatican to the west. Today it is a grid of tree-lined streets with grand, mostly 19th-century buildings. The area is popular with lawyers, politicians and affluent professionals of all stripes. Because Prati is relatively new, by Roman standards, it has no monuments or churches of significance. However, it is home to many of the city’s best food and wine stores, as well as a number of notable restaurants and trattorias. Whether or not you actually stay there, it is certainly an area worthy of exploration.
My chosen apartment was on the second floor of an imposing, classically proportioned building at the eastern end of Via dei Gracchi. The chief virtue of its location was that despite being on a quiet residential street, it was only a 10-minute stroll to the Piazza del Popolo, across the Ponte Cavour.
Prati’s principal thoroughfare is Via Cola di Rienzo, a wide, straight and impressive boulevard that is generally considered to be one of Rome’s foremost shopping streets. It soon became my habit to go for breakfast at one of the local food stores. Castroni, at No. 196, opened in 1932 and is still a superb family-owned emporium. Aside from a cornucopia of culinary delights, there is a café, much frequented by locals, with delicious pastries and arabica coffee. Four doors away, Franchi serves delicious prepared foods — there are tables, so you can eat here — as well as a superlative selection of cheese, salumi, speck and porchetta. After breakfast, on my way home, I would pass through the Mercato Rionale di Prati, a covered market with kaleidoscopic displays of produce, as well as the finest-quality meat, prosciutto, cheese and pasta.