In our travel seriesLocals Only, we ask cool humans around the world to give us an insider’s guide to their city. Next up is Zoe Shapiro, founder and CEO of Stellavision, a boutique travel company that caters to solo women travelers.
When Zoe Shapiro moved to Rome from Toronto, she thought she’d be there for six months tops. The marketing consultant had decided to make the most of freelance life by traveling around Italy and working remotely. “After being more of a tourist throughout the country, in Rome, I really immersed myself in the neighborhood,” she says. She’d go on walks every morning, returning home with treasure in tow: hand-made pasta, fresh bread, a bouquet of flowers…
It’s been more than two years and not much has changed, only she’s now memorized her way around the city and gotten her books and records shipped over. She has no plans of leaving anytime soon. “I feel more aware and appreciative of my surroundings, not just because they’re new or foreign compared to my previous life, but because the simple pleasures in Italy are everything,” she says. “You begin to take notice of everyday beauty in a way that’s changed my whole outlook.”
Shapiro was so taken with the Italian way of life, she felt inspired to share it with others, launching Stellavision, an all-inclusive travel company for solo women travelers like herself. Her first trip, “Secret Southern Italy,” sold out and proved a huge success. She’s now got one called “Palazzos and Pilates” (How cute is that?) slated for January 2022 as well as another edition of “Secret Southern Italy” happening next summer.
Here, she shares her local’s guide to her adoptive city, including tons of off-the-beaten-path gems and one-of-a-kind experiences. You’re definitely going to want to bookmark this page for the next time you find yourself in Rome.
The perfect Saturday in Rome?
“I love the ritual of getting a morning cornetto e caffe in one of the many cafés in my neighborhood. My dog usually gets hand-fed treats by any number of locals while I wait for my coffee. Then we go to one of two nearby parks: Villa Pamphilj or Villa Sciarra. I’d probably meet friends for a late lunch somewhere in town and my impulse lately is to order the carbonara, which Romans often eat as part of weekend family meals. A lazy afternoon browsing or wandering or looking at art in a gallery would probably culminate in an aperitivo: Campari spritz most of the year, though in the winter, I’d switch back to my pre-Roman G&T. And if there’s a party, concert or opening to follow, that’s my ideal!”
Favorite things to do in the city?
“Going for gelato is an all-season pastime but a cornerstone of Italian summer. It’s totally acceptable to indulge on the regular at La Romana, Fata Morgana or the spot hidden in the neighborhood: La Gourmandise.”
Most scenic stroll?
“Water is everything in Rome. I have this route that follows the fountains from my neighborhood toward. il centro. First up would be Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on the Gianicolense Hill. We always bring our Stellavision travelers here—it offers unparalleled views over the city when you turn away from the fountain. Then I’d walk down through the neighborhood of Trastevere.
If I’m craving something to eat, the best supply (a snack resembling arancini) in town can be found at Supplì on San Francesco a Ripa. The cacao e pepe e limone is a small but decadent treat. You would then cross the Tiber but could also take a lap around the island Tiberina before strolling into Piazza Farnese and around the twin fountains there, supposedly bathtubs relocated from the ancient Caracalla Baths complex.
You’d wind through town toward Piazza della Rotonda and have a sit (or a gelato or aperitivo) by the obelisk fountain and gaze at the Pantheon. Look out for the sharp-toothed swans and dolphins. Then a stroll through my favorite piazza–Piazza di Pietra—will take you toward the most famous fountain—in town and maybe the world—the Trevi.”
The classic tourist attraction that never gets old?
“The Romans know a thing or two about forced perspective and the most surprising and goosebump-y is a secret in plain sight: The most famous keyhole in Rome. At Piazza dei Cavalieri, you’ll find Santa Maria del Priorato, a church owned by the ancient religious military order the Knights of Malta. When you take your turn to look through the keyhole, you’ll discover a perfectly-framed perspective of St. Peter’s dome. I take every visitor to Rome and their wonder never fails. I always take a turn too—it’s hard to tire of that kind of old-world magic.”
Favorite places to eat?
“Rome is not a brunch town; coffee and pastry is a quick and everyday breakfast affair. But there’s a spot that fuses Italian flavors with international brunch dishes and has become a home base to many transplants like me: Marigold. The brainchild of a couple, Domenico (Sicilian) and Sophie (Danish), the micro bakery features Scandinavian treats and a delicious brunch offering. Also, the hospitality is unparalleled. During the height of the scariest, first lockdown, the restaurant reinvented itself as a takeout service and Sophie slipped some flowers into my delivery order—a kindness and moment of connection I’ll never forget.”
“My most frequented spot in town is Roscioli, a salumeria with a huge menu that spotlights the ingredients on offer in the glass counter. You could eat there weekly without repeating dishes for a year, I’m sure. It was my dream to find a spot in Rome and become a ‘local’ there, and when I called to make my first reservation after the pandemic closures, Maria Elena recognized my voice and welcomed me back. Things like that have made Rome feel like home to me. I also love Osteria Degli Amici, in Ostiense, a place that fuses the feel of an international bistro with Italian dishes. It’s just a comfy, delicious, local spot.”
“I love seeing a young, powerful woman chef running things and at Santo Palato, Sarah Cicolini is updating Rome’s classic. cucina povera (poor cooking). The out-of-the-centre spot means you’re eating with the locals. The frittata with chicken liver and polpette with pajata is genuine head-to-toe eating that is in keeping with millennium-old traditions.
Speaking of women-owned businesses, the secret garden of Pianostrada is where we host our Stellavision dinner party on some of our itineraries. The tasting menu is full of chic versions of classic Italian ingredients and flavors and the atmosphere is both relaxed and celebratory. Their focaccia with prosciutto and figs is worth the flight alone.”
Favorite place to have a drink?
“It was a pinnacle moment to have the Stella cocktail, named after our company Stellavision, featured on the bar menu of the amazing boutique hotel, Chapter Roma. Their lobby bar is full of incredible art and their rooftop is one of the most surprising in Rome, a town that doesn’t boast many rooftop bars open to the public!
Salotto 42 is in my aforementioned favorite piazza: di Pietra. All the classic pours are accounted for, as are some flair options from the talented bartenders. The decor inside is beautiful, but you really want a spot outdoors, gazing up at Hadrian’s Temple.”
Best area for shopping?
“Via di Monserrato is a stunning passageway that has become a mecca for artistic and thoughtfully curated boutiques. Look out for Maison Halaby’s bespoke bags and art exhibition, and jewellery, perfumes and other delights at Chez Dédé. All the stores are full of individualism and personality dictated by their owners. And if you’re very lucky, Gilbert at Maison Halaby may offer you tea and dessert.”
“In the basement of Soledad Twombly’s L’Archivio di Monserrato are a few of her father-in-law’s (the famous artist Cy Twombly) paintings and upstairs is a gorgeous selection of prints and ceramic finds. The recently renovated Bottega Veneta flagship is a museum of minimalism, except in the VIP change room (ask to see/use it), where space age furniture meets historic frescoes. And nothing beats perusing the food and wine product at Roscioli’s Salumeria. I never knew I could feel so much for acciughe (anchovy) branding.”
“Acquamadre is a spa and hammam in the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood of Rome, a serene space right in the center of the bustling city. Roman baths were the social center of civilization. This spot takes the tradition even further, incorporating some exceptionally relaxing and restorative treatments.
Most relaxing thing to do in the city?
“Sit under the pines in Villa Doria Pamphilj. You’ll pass stunning fountains and crumbling ruins on the way to the fields of trees. The grass is thick underneath, the trees seem impossibly tall and sway in the breeze. A piece of countryside in the city.”