The Catholic Herald’s Rome correspondent knows the Eternal City inside out. Here he offers tips for pilgrims for whom every penny counts, including specialist religious website with very reasonable rates, deals and information.
Once you've got to Europe, Italy is a natural drawcard. But what about once you’re there? Although living in Rome is expensive, it is possible to make a weekend trip on a shoestring. The key, as always, is knowing where to stay, the best value tickets to buy and the most economical way to travel.
In terms of accommodation, if the traveller is looking to stay in hotels, the best method is to look on the internet and search sites such asKayak.com or Hotels.com. But most of these can be relatively expensive and, if you’re looking for rooms under $40-$50/night, you’re not likely to find them there.
The alternative, especially if you’re a pilgrim, is to visit the website Istituti Religiosi. This is the only website promoting accommodation in religious institutes, shelters, holiday homes, monasteries and convents throughout Italy. The site has 800 facilities on its books, more than 100 of which are in Rome. Many are reasonably priced. Like other travel sites, this one asks visitors to key in their dates and number of guests, and the availability of the cheapest accommodation appears along with photographs.
The company says its inventory of places to stay is 'constantly changing' as new places come online. It says its aim is to provide visitors access to Italy’s vast heritage, 'linked to ancient traditions of hospitality and spirituality that have developed on the great religious itineraries of Christianity.'
It also believes that religious institutes and shelters “contribute to the renewal of religious tourism, arts and culture, thanks to a very high standard of quality and an exceptional quality-to-price ratio”. A last-minute service is also offered and visitors can sign up for a periodic newsletter. A spokesman for Istituti Religiosi told me the rates are very low at the moment, possibly partly because of the recession, but they vary according to the standard of the accommodation.
Aside from religious institutions, the Beehive near Termini Station is regarded as cheap and cheerful accommodation with very good reviews. Prices are $40 a person for dormitory beds. Other hotels near Termini are also on the budget end of the scale, though bear in mind that parts of the area are quite sleazy.
The rental firm Airbnb offers some self-catering apartments, though these can be overpriced compared to those in other European cities. But it also has some reasonably priced bed and breakfast rooms. These can also be found at the Bed and Breakfast Association of Rome, which offers more than 100 bed and breakfasts, and apartments located in the historic centre of Rome, as well as in other areas of the city.
Rome is full of restaurants, nearly all of them good quality, so it’s not difficult to find some good value places. Fodor’s has a selection of some of the cheapest, but there are many others. One tip is to steer clear of the tourist areas – those nearest the Vatican or other major sites. You’ll probably want to skip a drink in the piazza in front of the Pantheon which is notoriously expensive.
For a cheaper option, Rome also has many pizza taglio outlets where you can buy just a slice of pizza and a drink for around $6.50. A few supermarkets have now sprung up in town, especially around the Pantheon. And if you’re really trying to save the pennies and need a drink, Rome has many drinking fountains around town where good quality water is always on tap.