Avoid the crowds and visit Rome as it has never been so empty

I LOVE hot weather.

While Britain baked in 33C heat four weeks ago and ­people moaned they couldn’t sleep, I was delighted.

Then my weather app told me rain was forecast.

Fuming, an idea formed.

Which is how, at 11pm on a Wednesday in mid-August, I ended up booking a last-minute easyJet flight from Gatwick to Rome, leaving at 9.05am the next day and heading back late on the Sunday night.

Return flights were £200 — not the cheapest but I made the right choice.

Rome was a sweltering 39C . . .  too hot? Nah!

And, despite Italy being the epicentre of coronavirus earlier this year, it’s now safe to travel there and, crucially, you don’t have to quarantine on your return.

Gatwick was empty.

Never before have I swanned through security with such ease — and nabbed a row of seats on the plane.

I was sprawled out and asleep before the pilot finished announcing “seatbelts off”.

You can get a taxi to central Rome from the airport for around €50 (£44) but it’s just €14 to buy a train ticket to Termini station though you will have to wear a mask and have your temperature checked pre-boarding.

From Termini, I took a 25-minute walk to my Airbnb in the Monti region, although the city’s Metro system is simple to navigate (tickets cost €1.40 for one journey with options to buy 24, 48 and 72-hour tickets).

My one-bedroom apartment with complimentary Prosecco was amazing — light, bright, with chic, modern furnishings and fantastically clean

Normally off-peak it would cost £120 a night. This was peak season and I got it for £45 a night.

And best of all?

It was just THREE minutes from the Colosseum.

I could look out of my window and see one of the New Wonders of the World . . .  for less than I’d spend on a dress.

It’s a shocking indication of how hard Italy’s tourism industry must have been hit that it was so cheap.

I’ve been to Rome a number of times and always enjoyed it.

This time it was quieter than ever and while crowds gathered at the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps (which you can visit for free) there was always space at restaurants.

And there was no queue at all to enter St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (also free).

Rome’s brilliance lies in its history.

You cross the road and, wham!, there are ruins dating from 600AD.

I spent hours wandering around the city taking in Trajan’s Market (which is normally ticketed but was free), Via dei Fori Imperiali — a road that takes in ruins either side — and Villa Borghese gardens.

But there is so much more to see: the Roman Pantheon with soaring brick dome.

Also quiet and easy to explore were the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.

A highlight was the supremely weird Capuchin Crypt (€8.50), a shrine containing the bodies of 3,500 monks. Spookily macabre.

The attached museum contains a Caravaggio painting, proving in Rome you are never far from great art.

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so do spend a lot of time eating pizza and drinking espresso.

I had gorgeous ice cream at the Gelateria da Costanza and a fantastic bruschetta at the lively LGBTQ bar Come Out Rome, metres from the Colosseum.

Friends were surprised when I messaged them to say I was in Italy, fearful because it had suffered so badly earlier in the year.

But my advice would be to go now.

Because never again will you get to visit so many places so easily, get such good deals, jump the queues at Gatwick, avoid the crowds at Vatican City and bag a place to stay in such a fab location.

It’s fair to say I loved my Roman Holiday — now I’m dreaming of my next Italian adventure . . . 

GO: Rome

GETTING THERE: Easyjet has flights from Gatwick to Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport.

Flights normally take around two hours and 35 minutes.

Prices this October from £24.99 one way. See easyjet.com.

STAYING THERE: The Colosseum’s Park Airbnb has nights in November from £53. See bit.ly/3jEI9f9

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