There are many ways to see a city when we travel. Some of us take guided tours by bus, some set off on our own by public transit, and some of us just walk aimlessly, discovering new things. No matter which way we go, we risk looking like that currently out of fashion word, a “tourist.” (Travel magazines these days seem to prefer “traveler” or “voyager” or “wanderer” from what I’ve seen.)
But here’s an idea: When in Rome, see the city as the Romans do — on a Vespa.
I stayed not long ago at Rome’s newly renovated Le Meridien Visonti Palace Hotel (rates from 200 euros per night), where the concierge handed me a brochure for a company called My Vespa (myvespatours.com). In addition to renting Vespas they offer several tours, with clients scooted around Rome with an experienced driver.
Of course, I could have just walked a few blocks from my hotel and seen a lot, too. The Meridien lies a short distance from Vatican City, the Villa Borghese, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Trevi Fountain, among other wonders. It’s probably the best-situated luxury hotel in Rome if you like to walk.
But, I did some research online before booking and a 90 percent “excellent” rating on TripAdvisor sold me on My Vespa.
I took the “Panoramic Rome by Vespa” tour with a driver (145 euros, and one of eight tours offered) although it’s also possible to drive oneself for less. Because you’re on a Vespa, Rome’s challenging traffic (what city isn’t challenging these days?) is more navigable, so in a half-day you see all the major sites plus a lot of little-visited ones that even some Romans might not know about. And because you’re on a Vespa, you can snap photos at will, like a paparazzi, weaving in and out of traffic like a local.
The drivers love what they do and have a wealth of knowledge. They’re also very patient whenever you’d like to stop and snap a picture or ask a question and they all speak impeccable English if that’s your language preference.
Back at the Meridien, the concierge asked how I liked the adventure. By the smile on my face he could tell that the answer would be “molto bene!” The best part? I felt like I had seen Rome not as a tourist but as a local, driven around by a friend and not a tour guide, and I found myself thinking that all cities should offer this experience, although what is more synonymous with Rome than a Vespa?