Italy’s sprawling, awe-inspiring capital isn’t the first destination to spring to mind when thinking of options for a sustainable city break. However, take a closer look and you’ll find plenty of eco-friendly spots tucked away down the side streets of this vast, bustling metropolis. In the latest of our With Love From series, Liz Wootton shares her guide to staying sustainable in The Eternal City.
I’m not denying that the city of Rome has a long way to go in its sustainability journey. For starters, the inferior public transport throughout the city has forced its inhabitants to rely on driving as their primary method of transport. A fact which obviously contributes negatively to global warming, as well the city’s terrible air pollution – which is so bad that in 2016 the city had to spend €6.5 million cleaning the smog off the outside of the Colosseum.
Another issue in Rome is that the more sustainable options, such as organic food, come with a hefty price tag. This has meant that living sustainably here has become an economic rather than moral choice, limiting the options of those who cannot afford the added costs. Furthermore, as with many popular destinations, over-tourism in Rome is definitely a problem. The constant flow of visitors places pressure on the city’s resources, infrastructure, ancient sites and waste management systems, to name just a few concerns of over-tourism.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The city of Rome is tackling some of these problems in creative and innovative ways – e.g. using street art to combat the city’s air pollution or encouraging citizens to recycle plastic bottles in exchange for Metro tickets. And there’s also plenty of actions the sustainably-minded traveller can take to make their trip a little less damaging. So, if you really can’t face missing out on the wonders of the Eternal City, try to travel mindfully and research the ways in which you can offset the environmental toll of your trip. If all roads truly lead to Rome, then it’s our responsibility to choose the greenest route there.
THINGS TO DO
Explore the sites
Don your comfiest shoes and prepare to spend a day on your feet. The main historical sites are generally within walking distance from one another, meaning you can forgo public transport and taxis and get a bit of exercise instead. Spend your day marvelling at the incredible structure of the Pantheon, gazing up at Michael Angelo’s exquisite ceiling in the Sistene Chapel, wandering the ancient ruins of the Colosseum and Palantine Hill, and soaking up the beautiful works of art in the Galleria Borghese. We’d recommend planning your day as a walking route, stopping off at the main attractions as you go – or else, look into booking an ‘eco-tour’ with a conscientious tour company such as Eden Walks. While seeing the main sites is a must, try to do it as early in the morning as possible to miss the crowds and heat. Furthermore, researching and visiting alternative spots is another great way to combat overcrowding. Step away from the main tourist thoroughfare and you’ll find that streets full of hidden churches, quiet museums and secret crypts, perfect if you want to enjoy the rich history of the place without being packed in like a sardine. The Crypta Balbi is one such spot, as is the Centrale Montemartini – an old electricity plant which is enjoying a second life as a museum for ancient Greek and Roman sculptures.
Avoid bottled water
Remember to bring your own water bottle while you’re out and about instead of buying it bottled. There are so many beautiful fountains (or nasoni) across the city of Rome, pumping out pure and delicious-tasting water, which remains cool and fresh even in the sticky heat of summer. If you’re going in without a bottle, then make sure your mouth doesn’t touch the spout of the fountain or (due to a new set of ‘Tourist Rules’) you could face a fine from the local authorities.
FOOD & DRINK
Food is definitely one of Italy’s main attractions (as well as the balmy weather, rich history, beautiful scenery and friendly locals) and Rome is no exception to this. Although restaurants in busy tourist traps tend to be crowded, expensive and poor quality, if you venture off-the-beaten track then you can be sure to bag yourself a tasty supper.
The key principles of eating sustainably when visiting another country rarely vary that much: always try to find local, independent businesses; choose eateries which serve locally-grown, natural and seasonal food; avoid purchasing overly-packaged and processed food; support any social corporations you can and, if possible, try to go plant-based as much as possible.
Although going completely plant-based in Italy can be a little difficult (unless you’re in a vegan restaurant, then there seems to be cheese in just about everything), the other principles are quite easy to follow. Italians are incredibly passionate about their cuisine and the delicious, fresh produce and artisanal products for which the country is famous.
If you’re looking for a tasty and healthy lunch, then 100% Bio is a fantastic option. Boasting a buffet of freshly-made, vegan and completely organic dishes, you’re charged depending on the weight of your plate. All the wines and drinks on their menu are organic too – great for the planet and great for you! Based near the Villa Borghese, Ops is another restaurant which offers an extensive vegan buffet. The food here is fantastic and it is also part of the Positive Planet initiative which aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Cat lovers should make a beeline for Romeow Cat Bistrot, where they can enjoy coffee with delicious plant-based cakes whilst making friends with the cafe’s kitties. The resident felines come from a local non-profit animal protection organisation, so not only will you have a lovely afternoon but you’ll also be helping to keep Rome’s cats clean and safe.
Local and seasonal produce
A unique fusion of traditional and modern elements, Giulietta Vino e Cucina is the ideal spot for anyone looking for a delicious and sustainably-minded supper. Set down a pretty street, just off the river Tiber, the setting here is cosy, quirky and original. Comfy velvet armchairs are set around rustic wooden tables, with a variety of art and antique curios lining the shelves and walls. Tuck into delicious dishes made with fresh and seasonal produce – the quality of the food and wine here is second to none.
Urbana 47 is another top option for a sustainable dinner in Rome. Sip on a chilled glass of wine while watching the chefs work their magic in the open kitchen. The focus here is on using fresh, seasonal and local produce, direct from the farmers or artisans. This is farm-to-table philosophy at its finest, and the natural, vibrant flavours of the dishes really testify to the quality of the ingredients.
Rome is a great city for shopping, with plenty of pretty boutiques selling artisanal products and weekly markets full of local produce.
The artisanal produce in Rome is often made using centuries-old methods and the shops have been owned and run by the same family for years. The products sold by such shops are naturally made in a more sustainable manner: i.e. using less intensive methods, producing in small batches and using good quality materials to ensure the products last. Furthermore, by supporting small, local businesses over high street chains and fast-fashion labels, you’re ensuring that your money goes back into the local economy rather than to the pockets of giant corporations.
Reuse and recycle
Not only is Rome home to a host of independent artisans, but the city also boasts an array of up-and-coming businesses tackling the issue of sustainability in myriad innovative ways. RE(f)USE is one such company – cleverly upcycling waste materials into amazing bags and accessories.
If you’re a fan of the plant-based lifestyle, then you need to pay Eco & Gea a visit. All the products in this wonderful shop have been selected for their ethical, ecological and natural credentials. The shop boasts sustainable clothing, ethical underwear, natural beauty and skin products and vegan shoes.
If bustling flea markets and farm-fresh produce are your thing, then you definitely need to take some time to explore Rome’s vibrant market scene. Head to Mercato Monti(every Saturday and Sunday) for independent brands, vintage clothing and plenty of ‘urban cool’. If you’re looking to get your hands on some second-hand designer swag then Borghetto Flaminio is your spot – you’ll be able to snap up some incredible pre-loved pieces at this funky little flea market. If you’re a big foodie then you’ll love the organic product market which happens every Sunday on the cobblestoned courtyard of the ‘City of the Other Economy’, an organisation which is dedicated to sustainability and putting people and the planet before profit.
For more sustainable travel tips when visiting capital cities, read our With Love From guides for London and New York.
Planning an eco-conscious city break? Check out the most sustainable cities in the world to visit.
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