Just last week, I was a guest at the marvelous Sofitel Villa Borghese, a true gem of Italy’s Accor portfolio. Besides a stellar service, one thing that sets it apart from thousands of other upscale hotels is the fact that it has partnered with some of the city’s best independent guides to offer guests more personalized, unique experiences – including this unconventional tour of Rome that is slowly becoming one of the top things tourists can do in the city.
You will probably frown upon it at first, because yes, it is somewhat atypical, and possibly not the best pick if you’re not a morning person, but trust me, this is the secret to seeing a more authentic facet of Rome tourists fail to realize it’s even there.
Have you ever considered, perhaps, going on a jogging tour of Hidden Rome?
Rome Like You’ve Never Seen Before
Even if you’ve never been before, you’re probably familiarized with Rome’s top landmarks and some of the reasons why it’s one of Europe’s most visited capitals. Of course, the Colosseum is an impressive monument, and yes, the Vatican is absolutely a must, but what if I told you there are other deeper layers of Rome hiding just beneath the surface that are just as fascinating – if not more?
As soon as I heard of Archeorunning, a tour provider strongly recommended by the team at Sofitel, and one that’s been getting rave reviews on Google, I knew I had found just what I’d been looking for as an alternative travel enthusiast. As the name suggests, the company organizes thematic running (or walking) tours of Rome, such as ‘Roman Bridges’, Villa Borghese garden jogs, ‘Rome highlights’ and many more.
The list is really quite extensive, and picking one can be surprisingly hard.
Having explored Rome on my own before, and looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city’s busy districts, I instinctively decided on Archeorunning’s ‘Hidden Rome’ offer. After ticking off all of the main attractions on my list, I was looking forward to getting acquainted with Rome as the locals know and experience it.
Luckily, my guide was well aware of my expectations and understood the assignment perfectly.
What Makes Archeorunning So Unique?
Archeorunning is run – no pun intended – by Isabella (shortened Isa), a native Italian from Calabria, a region in the South of Italy, though she’s been living in the capital for nearly a decade. Isa’s move to Rome was not incidental: ever since she first visited as a child, she’d been completely enamored with this colossal open-air museum.
Her enthusiasm for Rome, and History on an extent, led her to attain a Cultural Heritage Conservation degree, and later an Art History post-graduate degree from the prestigious University of Sienna. However, unlike a majority of her college peers, who pursued careers in the Academy, Isa had other passions she simply couldn’t repress.
Besides teaching History, my tour guide for the day is very much into exercising. In fact, she is a qualified personal trainer for the Italian National Olympic Committee, a clear expression of her keenness to keep moving and inspire people to follow suit.
Needless to say, Archeorunning is the amalgamation of both of her areas of expertise – Academia and Sports – that are indeed worlds apart, but somehow complement each other. In a manner of speaking, this is Isa’s way of introducing the actual, non-touristy Rome, the place representing a turning point in her life, to regular visitors – like me.
What You Can Expect From The Tour
I haven’t jogged, or even walked long distances, in well over a year, so I was slightly concerned I wouldn’t be physically prepared for a running tour. Fortunately, as I would learn later, Archeorunning is accessible to all, regardless of age, previous training or limitations. Customers dictate the pace, and whether walking or running suits them best.
I was picked up from the hotel at 7 am sharp, which may not sound that appealing to vacationers, but as Isa justifies, it’s a time when the streets are totally empty, resulting in an ‘amazing atmosphere’ that only lasts a couple of hours. Immediately after stepping out into the Via Vittorio Veneto, I understood exactly what she meant:
There were barely any tourists out, and the Rome I’d known so far, overcrowded and at times overwhelming, seemed like a distant thought.
As my hotel was located in the very center of Rome, I reached the first stop on this tour in a matter of minutes. It then dawned on me you don’t need to go far out in the suburbs to see the ‘Hidden Rome’ Archeorunning promotes: it’s lurking around every corner you turn, not only in the unfrequented alleyways, but also some of the city’s busiest spots.
A prime example of that is Piazza Navona. It is surrounded on all sides by the classic ochre-colored Italian buildings and alfresco restaurants, while at its core sits the Baroque masterpiece that is the Fountain of Neptune. Arguably, one of Rome’s prettiest, and most emblematic settings. It didn’t always look like this, though.
Thanks to Isa, my attention was diverted to a backstreet just off Piazza Navona most tourists seemed to ignore. It was here I discovered Rome’s extensively photographed piazza was actually built on top of an Ancient Roman stadium. Yes, an actual stadium.
Here, the remains of the sfendona, or curved part of the monument, are still visible to those passing by. Interestingly, some of the buildings in Piazza Navona have been erected from its rubble, and even the layout of the present-day square is equal to that of the stadium itself. All in all, indelible marks of an ancient heritage that refuses to be simply wiped out.
Rome Loves To Reinvent Itself
Like Isa puts it, Rome is a ‘recyclable’ city: it is surely not the same as it was 2,000 years ago, but instead of obliterating its past and taking a wrecking ball to History, it re-purposes itself. Stadiums turn into piazzas, Roman cults into Catholic churches, amphitheaters (like the Colosseum) into a fortified castle, and the list goes on.
For the next hour or so, as we ventured further into the winding streets of the rione Ponte, Rome’s Old Town district, Isa candidly shared some more of the capital’s best kept secrets. One of them, the Tower of the Monkey, is a medieval free-standing tower that, over centuries, was slowly incorporated into neighboring buildings.
Clearly distinctive from the modern architecture it is flanked by, the tower owes its name to a peculiar event that has entered Roman folklore. If you’d like to know how a desperate father managed to save his newborn child from being dropped to their death, after the family’s pet monkey snatched them from the cradle, and proceeded to climb to the tower’s top while holding the baby with one arm, I highly suggest you read this.
Other stops included an ancient aqueduct, now effectively serving as the foundation of a residential complex, medieval piazzetas that Hollywood is yet to get its claws on, and Roman temples that unfathomably do not get the same praise as their illustrious siblings, the Pantheon or Temple of Saturn, even though they’re just as magnificent.
Besides, Isa is a rather chatty, cheerful guide, and the walk, albeit History-packed, feels more like a light, fun exchange – much more fun than one of those overly commercial group tours sold on Get Your Guide that feel more like a tedious fifth grade field trip.
To draw a comparison, it’s like going for your morning jog – or walking, in my case – while listening to your favorite Fun Facts podcast, except you get to interact with the podcaster. It doesn’t get any cooler than that, and I can see now how Archeorunning is on track to become a must-do in a city that’s a cultural attraction in its own right.
Some Of My Hidden Rome Highlights
- The tour lasts roughly 1h45, just the right amount of time needed for a cultural immersion before focus is lost
- Starting early, it allows customers to witness the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and numerous other famous sights without a swarm of people standing in the way
- There are plenty of photo stops
- Restaurant tips and other must-dos while in Rome
- It can either follow a predetermined itinerary, like the Hidden Rome Tour, or be completely customized
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Rome On Your Next Eurotrip
This city is called ‘Eternal’ for a reason. It has prospered as the beating heart of the most powerful empire in History, paved the way for the birth of a ‘Western civilization’ as we know it, survived centuries upon centuries of invasions and sacking, and eventually evolved into Europe’s number one center for culture and the arts.
Yes, it can be a tad chaotic at times, what with the high tourism figures, and it surely lacks the quietness, and idyllic nature of other smaller Italian towns, but it is simply the quintessential introduction to the country, and somewhere millions of tourists keep gravitating towards for a reason.
As much as I love going off path – hello, Tirana – the Eternal City is an old classic where there is never a shortage of things to do, no matter how many rocks you turn. Deliberately tweaking a famous quote by Samuel Johnson, when a man is tired of Rome, he is tired of life. Originally he meant London, though the same applies here.
Book your tour with Rome’s first certified running tour here.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com