The Brancatelli File



February 4, 1999 -- Romans have an eternal obsession: traffic. As locals gleefully and mischievously tell any visiting business traveler, Rome has the world's worst traffic, so leave the driving to us.

But, lately, even the Romans are annoyed. An endless round of civic renovation and restoration, all of it aimed at sprucing up Rome for the Jubilee Year of 2000, has rerouted familiar traffic patterns and choked access to virtually all main streets.

"It's bloody awful, even by Rome standards," complains Richard Allison, a British expat whose daily commute has doubled since the renovation campaign has begun. "Roads are closed without warning and they remain closed for weeks and months. You can't get anywhere at any time."

While Roman traffic has gone from the sublimely ridiculous to the indescribably horrific, the city's hoteliers have their own concerns: the space crunch.

Finding affordably priced business lodgings in Rome is a sometimes thing and a spate of new rooms might not cover the expected influx of pilgrims who'll converge on the city in answer to the Vatican's call for a Jubilee Year in 2000. A year-long religious theme event, the Jubilee is expected to draw literally hundreds of thousands of visitors. Rome's room rates, already scandalously high, will undoubtedly skyrocket in 2000.

But what happens next is anyone's guess, suggests Gaetano Torino, the dapper and charming general manager of the De La Ville Inter-Continental. "I worry about 2001," he says. "I think in Rome there will be 12,000 new beds for Jubilee, but who's going to fill those beds afterwards? We managed very good occupancy and very profitable rates in Rome for the last few years. I don't think that's going to last after the Jubilee."

In other words, look for a long-overdue Roman rate break the year after next. But don't rent a car or expect fun drives around town. Some things never change in the Eternal City.

Leonardo DaVinci Airport looks and works better after a wide range of improvements, all of them aimed at handling next year's tidal wave of tourists. But the road network is still a day-to-day hassle. …The fastest way into town is via the Leonardo Express train, which offers frequent, nonstop service to Termini, Rome's central station. The bad news? The station itself is choked with passengers and hobbled by renovation work.

Roman cabdrivers are a generally surly bunch and their disposition hasn't been improved by the traffic tie-ups. Instead, try Eurolimousine, a top-notch black-car service. The drivers all speak flawless English, their cars are new Mercedes and they can give you terrific guided tours if you've got some free time. Book Eurolimousine before you travel and engage them for your trips to and from the airport as well as around town. … Rome is one of the great cities of the world to walk, but it's winding, quirky streets are infuriating if you're rushing to an appointment. Carry a good map and don't be embarrassed to use it. Even Romans carry maps.

Rome's stratospheric room rates would be much easier to swallow if Rome had a few truly great hotels. In fact, the city has many contenders, but few true champions. ... The Hassler, for example, has a to-die-for location (at the top of the Spanish Steps) and a glittering reputation, but I've always found it overrated and overpriced. ... You'll do better at the Hotel De La Ville Inter-Continental. It's located next door and it's half the price. … The Grand is well, grand, and much better than The Excelsior. Both are lavish CIGA hotels that are now marketed under the Luxury Collection brand. … A few steps off the Via Veneto and backed up against the Borghese Gardens is the Hotel Sofitel Roma, a great bargain when you can snare a room at one of Sofitel's seasonal-sale rates. … The Hotel Santa Chiara, tucked right behind the Pantheon, is simple, efficient and room rates are often below $200 a night.

You will eat gloriously anywhere in Rome if you observe one rule: Don't eat anywhere with a menu turistico (tourist menu) in the window. … A trattoria is more casual and much less expensive than a ristorante and the food is usually just as tasty. Always make a reservation at a ristorante. … La Rosetta is a warm and attractive dining room that has emerged as the city's most reliable fish restaurant. Ristorante San Gallo is much smaller and less well-known, but it offers lovely dishes that change frequently. … Ristorante Myosotis is fun, inexpensive and packed every night because it offers delicious pastas, great main courses and loving family service.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.