Rome Shopping – Where to Shop and What to Buy:
We’re on the train from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport, or Fiumicino as it used to be called, to Roma Termini (Rome’s Central Station). The middle-aged lady sitting facing us looked very elegant. The suitcase next to her seat confirms that she’s just been off a flight, like the rest of us. Yet, she was a picture of composure, her coiffured hair was not sucked flat by the pressure in the plane and her face showed no strain of hours in uncomfortable airline seats. She had gold jewelry around her neck and wrist and matching earrings and her sun-glasses were the latest in fashion accessory. She was one stylish middle-aged lady and this is when you know that you’ve arrived in Italy!
The Italian Sense of Style
Italians of course have a great sense of style and it doesn’t just stop at high fashion. Think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati and even home appliances such as those by Alessi. Italy is one of the leading centres of alta moda or high-class fashion with eminent names like Valentino, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and Versace, to name a few, consistently dominating the international fashion stakes. Designer wear from the likes of Valentino, Prada or Armani come with a high price tag, made much higher by the strength of the Euro. The only time I dare venture into these exclusive boutiques is when I see SALDI or SCONTI on the shop window. During the sale season prices are slashed by half, but even then they are still rather pricey, so I have to hang out for further discounts to occur. With a 50% discount, VAT refund and good exchange rate, it’s possible to come away with a reasonable buy.
Where to shop and what to buy in Rome?
Although many of the prestigious designers are based in Milan, Rome is still a pretty attractive and thriving centre for shopping. Summer sale time (SALDI) generally starts from mid-July and ends around mid-September whereas the winter sale starts just before Christmas and stretches to early March. Via Condotti is where all the big names of Italian fashion are located and it’s good to start from here to see what the high end of town has to offer. Then stroll up and down the streets that run down from the Spanish Steps and you’ll find heaps of shops selling shoes, bags and other leather goods, jewelry shops, fashion accessories, etc. Around the back streets you may find interesting light fixtures, handicraft and gift shops.
Leather goods are a good buy in Italy and the workmanship is very good. Even if you’re not looking to buy anything in particular, it’s nice to stroll around the streets near the Spanish Steps to see what the latest styles are. The locals enjoy window-shopping as well. Whether shopping or window-shopping, it’s handy to learn a few Italian words as the prices are often quoted in Italian. For instance you may see an outfit on display in the window and the tag tells you the price of the camicia or pantaloni and what colors are available. If the budget does not allow you near designer fashion wear, then try the grandi magazzini like La Rinascente, or chain stores like Upim and Oviesse.
There are a couple of outlet stores in the centro historico but it’s a case of potluck in these places. One serious outlet place is Castel Romano, managed by the McArthurGlen group. This place is a little out of town and there’s no easy public transport there although the town council have been threatening to put in place transport for years. Things have improved a little and it’s good that the Macarthur Glen people have made arrangements with cab companies for a fixed price fare that takes you to the railway station. Alternatively, you could join a tour that takes you to the place and back but the problem with this option is that they usually only allow you three hours of shopping, making it a little expensive.
**September 2009 update: Castel Romano now have their own shuttle bus service to the outlet, leaving from outside of Rome Termini Station. Read our “Getting to Castel Romano Update” for further details.**
More about Outlet Shopping next.