I love Rome in winter. The winter sky is impossibly blue, and brilliant sunsets and sunrises are common. The weather in December and January has been in the 50s during the day and in the 30s at night. Only a handful of nights have had temperatures below freezing, and except for November and December, we haven’t seen much rain. It’s chilly, but unless the sun is hiding behind a cloud, it’s tolerable. If the sun is out, it can feel almost warm. The receptionist at my hair salon told me that this was an especially cold winter, but that seems impossible to believe.
Kate McKenna took a photo of the sycamores along the Tevere (Tiber) on November 24, and they still sported their yellow fall finery. A couple of weeks later as the temperatures fell, the trees began raining leaves and by the middle of December, most of the leaves were off the trees and Rome began to look and feel wintery—as wintery as it can look and feel. Two camellia bushes—one pink and one red—began blooming in our garden in December and are still going strong. Our basil bit the dust, but our rosemary is robust and tasty and our sage is working hard to stay alive.
Restaurants began offering special dishes with rare white truffles from Italy’s Piedmonte region in October. In Rome, dishes with white truffles sport surcharges of five to ten euro, a far cry from a small portion of white truffle risotto that cost $200 (!) at Per Se in New York City. I shouldn’t confess this, but I prefer black truffles (I’m such a heathen), and they’re available year-round. I always thought pigs were used to hunt truffles, but we learned from one of our favorite waiters in Rome that dogs are used to hunt truffles because pigs like to eat truffles and dogs don’t!
In mid-October the wintery aroma of roasted chestnuts began filling the air in Centro Storico. Vendors sell cones of roasted chestnuts for a few euro. When we were in Farfa in the Casperia area with our daughter Kate in November, Michael bought roasted chestnuts that came with a double cone—one for the chestnuts and one for the shells. Such a sensible idea!
The market at Campo de’ Fiori looks different and much greener in winter, when the stalls offer every kind of lettuce that you can imagine, including two of my favorites—radicchio and arugula. Vendors also sell delicious artichokes from Sicily and fresh chestnuts.
While the weather was warm and every outdoor dining seat was filled, we often wondered how restaurants coped in the winter, since most have small interior spaces and do most of their business outdoors. I can assure you that winter doesn’t stop people from eating and drinking outside. Restaurants wrap their outdoor space in heavy transparent plastic, which keeps the heat in and the rain out, and set up portable heaters. One restaurant, Obikà Mozzarella Bar, also throws heavy black blankets over the backs of the chairs so cold customers can wrap themselves up to keep warm.
Best of all, other than a few weeks around Christmas, Rome hosts a lot fewer tourists in winter. If only I could walk! This would be such a perfect time to savor some of the sights that are typically swarming with tourists.
If you don’t mind cool weather and occasional rain, Rome in winter might be one of the best times to visit. Think about it!