For centuries Rome was Europe's most populous city, the first to reach a million inhabitants. Today its 2.8 million population is dwarfed by London's 8.7 million but it remains Europe's most photographed city, loaded with classical gorgeousness — monumental fountains and statues between parks and pine trees.
The Eternal City, teeming with tourists snapping selfies, with a chaotic public transport system and plagued by banal graffiti, is not always easy for residents, yet it wins visitors over every time. The chance to start the day in the Villa Borghese park, then stroll past the Pantheon to lunch in the Campo de'Fiori remains universally enticing.
"Design is centred in Milan but true Italian power is all in Rome," says Danilo Orlando, boss of BeLiving International Properties, Savills' Roman associates. "Rome is an open-air museum but the government, big business and real money are also here."
Property prices are about half of those in London and remain 35 per cent below pre-2007 levels. There are dramatic value differences between areas: average prices in Prati near the Vatican, for example, are nearly half of those directly across the Tiber in the historic centre. Flats priced £620,000-£1 million are most in demand and there are few new developments because as soon as construction starts, more ruins are often uncovered, delaying the build.
A 700sq ft first-floor flat steps from Campo de'Fiori is £534,000. It's a good example of beautiful renovation, carefully mixing classical wooden ceilings and terracotta floors with contemporary glass sliding doors that mask ample storage. Air conditioning and the central yet surprisingly quiet location help the one-bedroom home achieve £1,785 a month net rental.
Also with Savills, a 2,185sq ft flat 20 minutes' walk north in Via del Babuino is a tempting renovation project at £1.7 million. Covering the whole second floor of an historic building, there's potential to create a three-bedroom home near the art galleries and antique shops of Via Margutta, minutes from both Villa Borghese park and the designer shops of Via del Corso.
Estate agent Casa Travella has a two-bedroom flat with garage on the less central western bank of the Tiber for £665,000 and a one-bedroom flat with high ceilings facing two main roads to the north of the city for £710,000.
Savills' Danilo Orlando says: "I like Testaccio by the Tiber which has great local restaurants and bars and is popular with younger people. Also elegant San Saba in the south which has good views over the Roman Forum."
In a quiet, cobbled lane in San Saba, close to the Colosseum, Orlando is selling a four-bedroom home with smart interiors. It was once owned by fashion designer Valentino, but it's the setting that is truly extraordinary.
The immaculate, level 14-acre gardens include a large section of the 3rd century Aurelian Walls, lit at night to provide a unique and private view of Rome's history. So what's the cost of this priceless view in central Rome, far away from all those camera-clicking tourists? A cool £5.5 million.
- Savills: (020 7016 3740)
- Casa Travella: (01322 660 988)
WHERE TO STAY
Grande Dame of Roman hotels the Rome Cavalieri, a magnificent palazzo with a stunning private art collection, is 10 minutes from the Vatican at the city's highest point. It opened in 1963 and boasts an impressive roll call of royalty and celebrities. Leonardo DiCaprio stayed for six months while filming Gangs of New York.
With amazing city views from its 15-acre landscaped gardens, the hotel, part of the Waldorf Astoria group, is a peaceful retreat with outstanding facilities including a huge spa and fitness centre, tennis courts, a jogging path through the pines, Rome's largest outdoor pool — one of three — and the city's only three-star Michelin restaurant.
Rome Cavalieri has 370 generous-size rooms and suites with opulent, classical décor, while staff are attentive and enthusiastic.
The art collection includes pieces by 17th- and 18th-century artists, contemporary work by Andy Warhol, Napoleonic clocks, marble statues and bejewelled ballet costumes of Rudolf Nureyev.
Visit(+39 06 35091) Rooms start from £258 a night.
WHERE TO EAT
The Italian capital is best out of season when tourist numbers dip. Favourite Roman eateries include:
Sora Lella: this trattoria has been serving food since 1940 from its romantic home on Isola Tiberina, a small island in the middle of the Tiber river (trattoriasoralella.com).
Osteria da Fortunata: fresh pasta and true Roman atmosphere on the Campo de'Fiori in the Historic Centre (+39 06 6066 7391).
Pianostrada: a warmly received new addition to Rome's dining scene, with pitch-perfect pasta and an experimental vibe. In Via delle Zoccolette, the slightly workaday exterior opens into a cosy restaurant with a plant-filled conservatory (+39 06 8957 2296).
Caffè Greco: poets Shelley and Byron were regulars at this "antico" café near the Spanish Steps in Via Condotti. It offers welcome respite from the high-end shops, including Cartier, Prada and Max Mara, that share the street (+39 06 679 1700).
Rosati: take time over a cappuccino at Rosati, a café and restaurant in Piazza del Popolo that's a long-standing favourite with celebrities and film stars (barrosati.com).