“Our Italians” is a series of interviews conducted with local food artisans, experts and producers in some major Italian cities, but also those who practice their craft in smaller, rural, less visited parts of Italy. These passionate individuals are committed to sharing the best in Italian food, wine and traditional products, through family-owned businesses and small scale enterprises, and we’re here to introduce them to you.
Welcome back to the “Our Italians” series of interviews. Today we make the acquainatnce of David Colin of Spanish Steps Apartment.
David Colin is an American who has lived in Rome since the day he was born and grew up in the city that he calls home. After a brief sejour in the U.S. he returned with his wife Laura to open an exclusive spot near the Spanish steps that offers only one apartment as a home-away-from-home experience in the center of Rome. As hosts, David and Laura lend guests advice about where to eat and what to see in the neighborhood as well as practical information, for example how to move around the city. It’s a great way to have an authentic stay and to understand Rome as the Romans do. Here we offer a bit of background on David and his Spanish Steps Apartment.
Casa Mia: What is your background and how long have you been in Rome?
David Colin: I was born in Rome to American parents. My father had come to Rome shortly before WWII broke out. He was a photojournalist, but also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (known as the OSS), a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He eventually was captured by the Nazis in North Africa and was held in a POW camp for the rest of the war in Europe. After the war he came back to Rome, the city he had fallen in love with. I came along years later, when he was 60! I spent my childhood in Rome, moved to the US when my parents divorced, and then spent more time in Italy during college. I have a master’s in economics, and now I work for IBM in the Washington, DC area. I try to come to Rome several times each year. Looking forward to retiring someday so I can spend all my winters there – I love Rome in winter!
CM: The Spanish Steps, or Piazza di Spagna, historically have been a magnet for expatriate Americans and Brits. Henry James and Edith Wharton stayed in the neighborhood as did Romantic poetics Keats and Shelley. Did this influence your decision to locate there?
DC: Actually, it was my father who purchased the apartment in the late 1960’s. I am sure that the historical significance of the Spanish Steps area, and its attraction for British and American artists and writers, played a role in that decision. Indeed, the reason my father purchased the apartment was for it to be the original administrative office and sometime classroom for the American University of Rome (AUR), of which my father was a founder. So, the idea of having the offices of AUR near the Spanish Steps, with all its literary and artistic history, would have been very appealing.
One of the things I like about the apartment is the view out the dining room window. The palazzo across the street was once owned by, and the sometime studio of, the great artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It was sold at one point to a Venetian corporation, so there is a very cool relief sculpture of the lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice. And, there’s a memorial to the Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, Walter Scott, who once lived there, right across from my dining room!
CM: Why do you think an apartment is more attractive to visitors than a hotel?
DC: I think people who stay in vacation apartments are looking for space, privacy, and comfort. We frequently host couples with one or two children, who want two bedrooms but don’t like the idea of their children staying in a separate hotel room. We also often host two couples who want the privacy of two bedrooms but also want to enjoy the space and amenities of an apartment. An apartment is also an economical option since you have a kitchen, so you can have some meals and snacks at home. And, it’s a chance to live like a Roman, at least for a little while.
My wife Laura and I remodeled and decorated the apartment with a lot of love, and attention to detail. We want people to enjoy their “home in Rome” while enjoying all the comforts and conveniences of their own home. We have a washer/dryer so people can pack a bit lighter, fluffy bathrobes, hair dryer, laptop computer, iPad mini loaded with Rome-themed apps, a TV with numerous English-language channels, and a DVD player with lots of Rome-themed DVDs… and books, lots of books! I think we have just about every guidebook on Rome, and books about Italian art and history.
CM: Does the neighborhood where you’re located have interesting food and wine destinations?
DC: For wine, we enjoy Enoteca Achilli al Parlamento (they also have terrific little finger foods to go with it), and Enoteca Regionale Palatium. Both places also are good for dinner.
We have a hearty, classic little place near us, Trattoria Dal Cavalier Gino, and a slightly more upscale but equally timeless restaurant, Da Nino (my wife swears by their Vignarola). Our local pizza place is just down the street, Pizza Ciro. On the beautiful Via Margutta, we like Babette. But, there are plenty of nice places in the area for lunch or dinner. We even have several Michelin-star restaurants, such as Imago and Giuda ballerino, within easy walking distance!
But the area boasts more than wine, pasta, and fine dining. For times we want cocktails, we’ll go to the Gin Corner or Club Derrière. And when we want sushi, we’ll head down the street to Hamasei, or to the newly-opened Zuma.
CM: What type of client is looking for a Spanish Steps Apartment experience?
DC: Our guests are looking for a central and convenient location, within walking distance of many of Rome’s sights, and with easy access to taxi stands, metro, and bus routes. And, they are looking for some of the amenities of a boutique hotel but with the space and privacy of an apartment. They want safety and comfort – good air conditioning, good beds (and a tall person is happy to find a king-size bed!), a great place to relax a bit in the evenings while resting their tired feet, maybe watching Roman Holiday with a glass of wine …
CM: Besides the great museums and monuments nearby, are there spots to experience Roman night life?
DC: Just a few minutes away from us is Gregory’s Jazz Club, a great place for live music. There’s a lively bar scene at Club Derrière until the wee hours. This area is very safe, we’ve been known to have a roving aperitivo, dinner, gelato, and a late drink, strolling until early morning. And take it from me – having the Spanish Steps or the Trevi Fountain almost all to yourself at 2 a.m. is pretty spectacular!
Elizabeth Janus is a passionate traveller, and makes it a point to peruse the farmer’s markets in every place she visits to get an immediate pulse of the city. For the last decade, she has been guiding discerning clients on food adventures at farmer’s markets, speciality shops and into her home for unique Italian meals to experience Italy as an Italian..