As an Erasmus student in Rome in 2003, I'd fallen in love with the romance of this beautiful, ancient capital.
Years later, I was back in the Eternal City to see if a dating app could bring it alive for me again. TourBar is a travel dating app designed to "increase the chances of meeting a new partner while travelling alone". Launched in 2014, the app is endorsed by Jo Barnett, a dating coach who has appeared on My Channel's Love Talk.
"For those planning to travel alone, the travel dating app TourBar is excellent as it allows members to find others who share similar interests and are also planning to visit the same destination as you," Barnett said.
There is also the option to register as a guide to show solo travellers around your city. Creating a profile is easy and, after adding a few upcoming trips and registering as a guide in London and Rome, I settled down to survey the offerings. Some 35 per cent of users were female meaning the majority were male, so the odds were in my favour.
However, I was disappointed by the prospective suitors on TourBar, especially when setting the filter to Rome. Ploughing boldly on, fuelled by a couple of glasses of chianti, I received a message from Lorenzo. On first impressions, he sounded promising: an attractive Italian single father in his mid-40s, with his own business. The director of a start-up, he travelled often to London, with his next visit a few days away. We arranged to meet for lunch.
Dressed in dark blue trousers and a smart duffel coat, Lorenzo was everything I'd imagined and we passed an enjoyable couple of hours getting to know each other. I mentioned that I might soon be travelling to Italy, and over the next fortnight we swapped regular messages while I arranged my trip.
With flights and hotel booked, we would meet again in Rome in a few weeks' time.
Now, with the chatter of Italian around me and the winter sun gleaming through the train window, my pre-date nerves settled and I wondered why I'd been worried. Like many Mediterranean cities, the outskirts of Rome are dominated by low-level warehouses, sprawling outlets, scrubby grassland and restaurants that look vaguely run down. But my excitement increased as I got my first view of the city.
As I emerged from the gloom of the metro into Piazza di Spagna, I was engulfed by the fairy-lit splendour of Rome in full swing.
Thronging with tourists, the recently cleaned marble of the Spanish Steps gleamed white in the late afternoon light. Olive-green garlands framed the doorways of the designer shops lining the square and twinkling strands of white and yellow lights lit the way along Via dei Condotti, Via del Babuino and Via Margutta.
Checking into my hotel, I set about getting ready for the evening's adventures. Lorenzo wasn't from Rome, so I was to be the guide for our second date. Greeting each other in Piazza del Popolo, we were enveloped by the cheerful bustle of a Friday evening and chatted easily as we wandered along Via del Babuino. Stopping at Caffè Canova, a quirky restaurant housed in the 19th-century workshop of sculptor Antonio Canova, we squeezed past the life-size equestrian sculpture guarding the entranceway and settled at a table.
Flanked by several imposing busts, and with just a few fellow diners around us, the atmosphere was austere yet pleasant, and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for showing Lorenzo something that, although slightly kitsch, was a memorable place for a quick drink and a crostini or two.
One glass of wine turned to two, aperitivo turned to dinner, and I learnt more about Lorenzo's job, family and ambitions. Entertaining though it was, by the time we walked back towards the now quiet Piazza di Spagna, I suspected that our attraction was more amici than amore, so I was surprised when Lorenzo asked me for coffee again the following day.
That afternoon we joined the buzzing throng of Italians enjoying an afternoon stroll - a ritual known as la passeggiata. A chance to see and be seen, well-dressed couples and families filled the streets, adding to the festive atmosphere. In the twilight, we followed the steady stream of people up Via del Corso to Palazzo Chigi, seat of the Italian government.
Street lamps glowed warmly against fading terracotta, the chatter of shoppers spilling from shop doorways as we made our way past the Pantheon towards Piazza Navona. One of Rome's most recognisable squares, the gaudy lights and music of a festive carousel did nothing to dampen its beauty.
Stopping at Bar del Fico, a pretty café situated a stone's throw from the piazza, I asked Lorenzo what he thought of TourBar. He confided that he had chatted with a few women, but almost all were in locations that he was unlikely to visit anytime soon.
In some ways, my own experience was similar. Despite swapping messages with a few men from Europe, the vast majority of users who contacted me were from India, Egypt, Turkey or the UAE, locations I had no plans to visit in the near future.
The forward tone of some of the messages I received did little to convince me otherwise.
Take Umit for example, a business man 12 years my senior. Bypassing the traditional forms of first contact such as "hello" and "how are you?", he left me in no doubt as to his intentions with this delightful opening gambit: "I want to invite you to Munich. If you accept, I can organise everything from plane tickets to five-star hotels. You ask for what and I can tell you for joy and passion. I know my age but please [know] that only a mature man can give you that queen feeling."
At the end of our date, Lorenzo leaned in for a kiss... on the cheek. Although our meet-ups had been enlightening, I couldn't help but feel that discussing the app so openly had killed any romantic potential there may have been. The feeling, it seemed, was mutual.
That evening I met with Luigi, an old friend from Rome, and our talk drifted to relationships. When I suggested he try a dating app he stared at me. "Why would I do that?"
"Erm..." I replied, slightly befuddled, "so you can go on dates and meet someone new."
"Sarah, I'm Italian. If I want a girlfriend, I'll just go out and find one." When it comes to romance, it seems Rome is doing just fine on its own.