When in Rome, don't miss out on cultural Trastevere across the Tiber river, writes Kate Ford.

Rome's Trastevere area is no secret and yet it remains reasonably crowd-free, compared to the other tourist hot-spots in Italy's capital.

This makes sense. It's quite the walk to get to Trastevere from the Colosseum or the Trevi Fountain so when you're spending a day roaming Rome, you're likely to stick to central bits.

Trastevere is worth the journey.

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Located across the Tiber river, the nobbly, narrow streets retain original character.
Trastevere has a largely immigrant history. During the Roman Republic around 509 BC, many Jews and Syrians called this area home. Leading in to the Imperial Age, important figures, including Julius Caesar, discovered the appeal of this isolated patch and moved in. These days the area still has a mix of culture, with artists flocking here along with foreign expats, as there are a few American university campuses based here.

Head to Trastevere for wine bars, trattorias, small local boutiques and ancient attractions and for some respite from the heaving crowds that cluster on the other side of the river.

What to do:

Wandering around Trastevere is a delight in itself, with the mustard walls of the old buildings offset by regular bursts of lush green foliage. The Porta Portese is an enormous flea market that takes place every Sunday. If you rummage for long enough you can reportedly find fashion gems such as 1960s Fendi and Gucci items. Along with luxury pre-loved clothing there is everything from vintage watches and furniture to books, vinyl and movie memorabilia.

The Basilica of Santa Maria. Photo / Getty Images
The Basilica of Santa Maria. Photo / Getty Images

Santa Maria Basilica makes for a lovely visit, even if you think you're all churched out. On the inside it's a mosaic powerhouse, with depictions of the Virgin Mary, Bethlehem and Moses among the iconography. The most famous mosaic tells the story of the font of oil that flowed on the day Christ was born which, according to myth, occurred on the very site where the church was founded.

Another legendary spot is the church of Santa Cecilia, which was built upon the saint's house in the year 230. As the story goes, Roman martyr Saint Cecilia survived decapitation for three days before she was laid to rest, and later, in 1599 when her tomb was opened during church renovations, her body was found to be in a surprisingly good state of preservation.

For a really good look at this ancient city that is wildly rich in history, walk up Gianicolo Hill, described as the eighth hill of Rome. You may not want to do this activity in the blistering heat of a Roman summer but it's worth the climb for the incredible panorama that greets you at the top.

Plus, it's a great excuse to balance the major food groups you consume while in the city.

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Where to eat:

When in Rome it is perfectly acceptable to eat pizza and gelato daily. It's almost a crime not to. Around nearly any cobbled corner you will see a tiny gelataria peeking out at you. Scents of dough and tomato paste will waft down the street and you can follow your nose to a pizza cabinet with gluteney goodies.

My favourite foodie spot in Trastevere is Dar Poeta. There are two of these pizza palaces and I prefer the smaller, takeaway spot. It is also conveniently across the street from our Airbnb so we barely need to stretch our legs to get there. Our reward is a display of a dozen pizzas, all baked in rectangular blocks. Mozzarella, mushrooms, margherita; the selection is mighty. We choose our flavour and the pizzaioli cut us our desired amount with scissors. You pay by the weight.

There are only a few seats at this Dar Poeta but if you can't wait to snaffle the slice up, you can enjoy it in front of the photo wall, where hundreds of happy previous diners stare out at you with the satisfied, greasy grins that only pizza can bring.

Barely a meatball's throw from the pizzeria is Dar Poeta's bigger version that offers many tables and an extended menu, including pasta dishes.

Also dangerously close to our accommodation is Gelateria Alla Scala. The scoops are irresistible and glisten out at us every time we walk past. Most gelaterias seem to have similar flavours but what makes one place stand out from another is the cone quality. Alla Scala has crispy waffle cones and they always taste fresh. We do a lot of research to test this, comparing gelato around the city and visiting Alla Scala numerous times just to be sure it isn't a one off. Every time it holds up. Black cherry, cheesecake, Nutella, Oreo . . . the flavours delicious and the cones spectacular.

FACT BOX
GETTING THERE
Emirates flies from Auckland to Rome, via Dubai, with return Economy Class fares from $1879.