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When In Rome

Although the ancient city of Rome has some access challenges, there's plenty of reasons to put it on your Europe itinerary.

The Eternal City is one of the most-visited destinations in Europe. On a short stay, we found that although the ancient city has some access challenges, there’s plenty of reasons to put Rome on your Italian itinerary.

A stay for good

Whether we travel locally or overseas, it’s always a good feeling knowing that our travel dollars are assisting a worthy cause. That’s why we chose to stay at Albergo Etico Rome, a not-for-profit hotel primarily staffed by people living with disabilities.

The former convent has been transformed into a hotel that offers modern accommodation, including spacious accessible rooms that are well equipped for guests with a mobility restriction.

Two staff members wearing orange vests and lanyards, standing next to a sign at Albergo Etico Rome
Albergo Etico Rome is staffed by people with disabilities starting their hospitality careers.

The rooms have space on either side of the bed for transferring, lowered amenities (including a pull-down railing in the wardrobe and lowered safe). Wooden floors provide a surface that makes wheeling easy. The stylish bathrooms have step-free shower entry, a shower seat, grab rails throughout, and a lowered hand-held shower.

Lift access is provided from the street level to reception and rooms. Access at the Albergo Etico’s restaurant is easy, too.

Albergo Etico is located not far from the Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese, the perfect base for exploring some of Rome’s major attractions.

Find out more about Albergo Etico in Rome on their website.

Colossal access gains

Cobblestones can certainly prove a challenge to wheelchair users visiting Rome, but you don’t need to fight like a gladiator for access to the Colosseum.

Construction might have been completed in the year 80 AD, but since then, accessibility has been recognised as an important addition to this ancient monument. Ramps, lifts, and accessible bathroom facilities ensure that wheelchair users are able to tour Rome’s most famous landmark.

You can visit the Colosseum under your own steam, and it’s a budget-friendly option (general admission tickets are free for visitors with a disability and one companion). That said, a guided tour will bring the past to life with vivid storytelling and a splash of history, so swing it if you can.

A view of the Colosseum from the ground at night, with the archways illuminated and people walking around outside
The ancient Colosseum has been upgraded to ensure access for all in the 21st century.

The Vatican Museum is home to one of the world’s greatest art collections. Allow time to wander the expansive galleries and to admire the art and architecture. Most visitors only have a matter of hours, but it would be easy to spend a full day. Access is good throughout, but booking an accessible guide will help you in navigating the step-free route.

The Sistine Chapel also offers a barrier-free route, different from that offered to the general public.

If you are in Rome on a Wednesday and would like to see the Pope and attend the papal general audience in Vatican City’s St Peter’s Square, book your tickets (free) ahead of time. Wheelchair users are seated close to the Pope’s platform. At the conclusion of the general audience, invited guests and those with disabilities have the opportunity to meet him.

If you enjoy your visit to Rome and hope to come back another time, don’t miss visiting the Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you’ll be guaranteed a return visit. That’s something I’ve found to be true!

People - including a woman in a wheelchair, accompanied by a man standing behind her - moving along marble floors away from the camera looking at the art in the Vatican museum
Allow as much time as you can to take in all the art and architecture at the Vatican Museum.

Knead a new skill?

There’s nowhere better to learn to make pasta than Italy, home of the traditional dish. Chef Vincenzo from PummoRe restaurant had us kneading and rolling pasta dough like experts.

On arrival, we enjoyed a glass of wine and homemade chips while we waited for the class to begin. That was the first lesson I took from the class: the best pasta is made when the chef can relax with a wine before starting.

After our aperitif, it was time to apron up and mix our egg and flour, preparing the dough that would eventually transform into silky lengths of fettucine. Vincenzo kept us entertained with insights into the differences in pasta making traditions between Northern Italy and Southern Italy. Apparently, in the south, pasta is traditionally made with flour and water, rather than the egg and flour we were using.

A woman wearing an apron holding up some fresh fettucine and smiling
A lifetime of delicious pasta meals is a wonderful souvenir of your time in Rome.

We were so confident in the skills we learned at our pasta-making class in Rome that we bought a pasta maker on our return home. The hour-long class fitted nicely into our busy sightseeing itinerary, and provided us with a delicious pasta meal at its conclusion – as well as a new skill that evokes wonderful travel memories.

Lift access is available at the PummoRe restaurant, and you can book your class direct through insideat.eu

Day tripping made easy

If moving hotels every few nights doesn’t appeal to you, don’t worry: the Italian rail system is so good, it may be more convenient to use Rome as a base, and take day trips to nearby cities. Florence and Pisa are both within easy reach.

Italia Rail offers a range of services for people with disabilities, including Sala Blu. Travellers with reduced mobility (including temporary injury, pregnant women, and elderly travellers), blind or visually-impaired travellers, d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing travellers, travellers with an intellectual disability, and wheelchair users can all make use of the services of Sala Blu. The services include information, use of wheelchairs, assistance navigating the station, lifts to get on and off trains, and more.

Platform lifts assist in transferring wheelchair users to accessible rail carriages. On board, there is space for travellers to remain in their wheelchairs. Large unisex accessible bathrooms are also located in the accessible rail carriages.

Rail travel is not only an efficient way to get out of Rome for a day trip; it’s also a remarkably enjoyable way to see some of the countryside while making your way to your destination. Buon viaggio!

An Italia Rail train at a station, with people on the platform
Italia Rail makes day-tripping from Rome a breeze with access accommodations.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.

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