I have to tell you about Caffè Greco (aka Antico Caffè Greco), Via Condotti, 86 Rome. Via Condotti is one of the fashionable shopping streets in Rome, if not THE most fashionable. And this of course means it’s expensive. But as far as I’m concerned, you must stop off at Caffè Greco, even if it’s just for a very pricey cuppa.

It’s one of the oldest cafes in the world, established in 1760. Poets Keats and Shelley were regular patrons of this cafe, as was Casanova, Shelley, Goethe, d’Annunzio and Dickens. Keats, the great English romantic poet, died in Rome in 1821 at the tender age of 25 years. He was suffering from consumption (tuberculosis) and was shipped off to Rome – I guess to benefit from a warmer climate. But seems he fell into the hands of crazy doctors who used leeches to bleed him (standard medical procedure back in those days). One physician only allowed him to eat one pathetic anchovy on a piece of bread per day because the quack thought he was mentally exhausted and the source of the exhaustion was situated in his stomach. Hence, starving poor Keats would lead to less blood flow into the stomach. Instead, it obviously hastened his departure from this world and into the next. It’s amazing to think I was in the same cafe that Keats walked and sat in. Honestly, I couldn’t get my head around this. But I doubt many of the tourists there that day were reflecting on the famous ghosts of past times.

Back to Caffè Greco. The interior is full of Napoleonic-design marble top tables; antique mirrors; red and gold damask; and lots of romantic paintings. It’s also stuffed full of tourists, which makes it a less pleasant experience.

My great mate and I consider ourselves to be experts on cannolis, which are delectable Italian pastries of Sicilian origin. Cannolis are deep-fried pastry tubes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese. When I was in Oz and staying at my mate’s place, we’d often pop into Pasticceria Papa in Haberfield, Sydney. Believe me, this place is crammed with mouth-watering Italian cakes and pastries, including large cannolis. Not unusual for us to scoff two each. I haven’t tasted better until that is I tasted the cannoli I had at Caffè Greco.

You can get two types of cannolis at Caffè Greco. One is the ricotta filling with chocolate and the other is the one I had – ricotta filling with bits of orange peel. I scoffed this with a very cold iced coffee and just revelled in the thought of sitting in the space that Keats and Shelley once sat in and talked. In a way, the tourist hordes kind of spoil the whole experience. I imagine in Keats’ day, the cafe was a quiet place to sit and chat. Now, being located on the shopping strip that is Via Condotti places it smack bang in the middle of the Louis Vuitton-carrying hordes. In fact, I’ve never seen so many Louis Vuitton handbags lugged around by women as I have on Via Condotti.

My sister-in-law had a cake I had my eye on. Can’t remember the name but it’s all cream and marshmallows, with berries inside. And the mother-in-law had a fruit cake type thing. They’ve just joined me in Rome, along with my step-son. No doubt, I’ll be going back to Caffè Greco for more cannolis – this is one pastry I can’t resist.

If you’re thinking of going, just remember to take wads of cash with you. For three iced coffees and the three cakes, the bill was 61 Euro (around NZ$107.00). Quelle horreur!

Interior of Caffè Greco - it has that old world charm to it.

Wonderful romantic paintings.

My cannoli (front) - so worthy of a photo!

The three cakes.

Just a few of the many cakes on display.

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