Mr Smith and I have rather large shoes to fill. We’re in the artists’ quarter of Rome, crunching up the gravel of Margutta 54’s driveway, trying to look as conspicuously like Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn as possible. (Joe Bradley’s apartment in Roman Holiday was at 51, and we’re at 54.)
Channelling Anya (minus the Louis Vuitton luggage) with a man at least 45 per cent as handsome as Joe by my side, we are shown up to our spacious courtyard suite. It’s vast, and we’re already feeling spoilt. Surely an antique palazzo should not have these dimensions. It packs in a kitchenette (discreetly disguised as a table top), a dining table, a Juliet balcony, a lounge with leather armchairs and sofa, an enormous bed and bedroom, and an even bigger walk-in (well, foot-in) wardrobe and a marble bath.
Cleverly placed sliding doors split up the suite – close off the kitchen and lounge completely, say, or have it open-plan and airy. Wedged between the slidey doors is a whopper of a flatscreen TV that turns 360? so you can watch from almost every angle. And true to its artists’ residence roots, elegant eye candy adorns every wall.
As much as these surroundings entice us to stay in and pretend this regal pad is our own Roman pied à terre, we have a city that wasn’t built in a day to explore, and can’t be seen in one, either. After swapping stilettos for cobble-friendly Converse, we head out as the sun is setting. My favourite time of day, especially here in the Italian capital, the dusty heat is easing up and the tops of those beautiful buildings are peach-tinged. It’s magical. It emphasises how ancient the pavements you’re pounding are, and the scale of the history that surrounds you.
Via Margutta is just down the road from the Piazza di Spagna, Rome’s temple to tourists and toy sellers. Despite the bustle of horse-drawn carriages, chestnut roasters and resolute rose-pushers, it’s one of the city’s most romantic spots. Mr Smith and I climb up the steps to the Trinità dei Monti and look out to the sea of glorious terracotta beneath. We descend, dodging clinging couples as we go, to parade enviously down Via Condotti, a street lined with enough big-buck boutiques to bankrupt an oligarch.
With Dior off the menu, it’s time for something to drink at least. Lucky for us, we’ve passed Fendi and are fortunately close to Ad Hoc on Via di Ripetta, a wine shop with enough tables to make it a restaurant as well. We settle into the cosy candlelight and drown our joys with helpfully picked Italian wines, polished off with some ice-cool limoncello. As Mr Smith lugs me home to our courtyard palace, we’re both grateful we won’t be facing a night Hepburn style on a park bench. A particularly insistent rose seller has his way en route and we slip into our suite, me with a flower in my teeth, Mr Smith with €5 less in his pocket.
Artists clearly don’t like daylight or at least they want to be able to shut it out when they want; not a drop of sun sneaks its way in through the shutters of this studio. Lie-ins are a dangerous game for city sightseers who like to produce militant itineraries for their minibreaks, but the sergeant is appeased slightly with the delivery of breakfast – even if it is the most expensive croissant I’ve ever tasted. Fully roused by the rainhead in the wet room, it’s time to tackle the tourist tick list: Vatican, check; Colosseum, check; Villa Borghese, check. Gelateria, triple check…
It’s with a three-scoop serving of the best ice-cream you can eat (a pistachio, chocolate and stracciatella combo is my recommendation) that we’re allowed a respite from Mr Smith’s gruelling schedule. I’m approached by some youths who claim to work for Maxim and asked if I want to partake in a photoshoot in the park behind us. You’re never far from an amorous Italian around here. Luckily my Gregory Peck is there to politely shoo them away.
We’re disappointingly Vespa-less, so can’t whizz around on two wheels like our Hollywood counterparts, so we jump in taxis to cross the river to Trastevere, the cool local-beloved part of town. We’ve been tipped off about a trad restaurant called Sabatini, and decide this is the best place to play out our glamorous film fantasies. Opposite the gilded mosaic murals of the Santa Maria church, it’s a neighbourhood favourite where Mr Smith can also act up his sommelier status. After browsing the hefty wine list (slash directory), he selects a blow-out Brunello.
Surrounded by salt-baked seabass, we opt instead for sizzling cuts from the grill – huge hunks of steak and lamb, mounds of fries and artichokes cooked in two styles (Jewish in a light batter, and Roman in garlic). It’s all delicious, and service from a charming team mostly made up of seasoned Italian gents is wonderful. Venturing home to our artists’ sanctuary for our last night, I may not be Audrey Hepburn, nor Mr Smith her intrepid hack, but we’ve enjoyed being hero and heroine in our own remake of a classic.