How often do you come home feeling like you need a vacation after your vacation? It’s usually when you’ve gone some place far away and are trying to pack in so many activities, excursions and cities because you want that long trip worth the miles traveled.

I recently discovered that sometimes having less of an agenda makes for a more authentic experience. My husband and I decided the best Christmas gift to each other would be time together, away from schedules, deadlines and cellphones.

We threw a dart at the map and thought “when in Rome…” you can eat, drink, and let time stand still for a week.

Other than asking a few friends for some must-experience recommendations, we figured if we picked a great place to stay, they’d help us figure out the rest. The moment we drove onto the cobblestone street and saw the doorway of our hotel, I knew this trip would be special.

The Portrait Roma, located in a quaint neighborhood near the famed Spanish Steps, set the stage for our entire getaway. Prior to checking in, the staff sent us a questionnaire asking what we liked, from pillows to music, even our water preference.

Everyone knew our name, and we were treated less like guests and more like well-loved family members. The resort even has a lifestyle team who really took the time to get to know us so they could carve out a unique tailored experience for our first time in Rome. We wanted a little culture, history, great food and downtime to savor each moment. 

Our first day, we just strolled and wandered the streets to see what we would discover. We climbed the Spanish Steps, made our way to the Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous fountains in the world and then, just by happenstance, we literally bumped right into the Pantheon.

This extraordinary building is actually an exquisite temple built as a place for everyone to worship. A very modern concept, given it was originally built between 25-27 B.C.

On other days, we toured the Coliseum, the underground and the Roman Forum. The workmanship of this ancient wonder is impressive and mind-boggling, but what I found most fascinating was the history lesson about the workers, gladiators, kings and gods that were once a part of this life.

We also went to Vatican City, where we sat breathless looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the brilliance of Michelangelo. We also went to the Galleria Borghese to admire the Bernini sculptures.

We did a lot in just five days, but we also had plenty of leisure time to just walk around, stop for an Americano at the oldest coffee house in Rome, indulge in Roman specialties like Carciofi alla Giudia and Bucatini all’ Amatriciana and just get lost in this ancient, romantic city where all you have to do is be present to soak up its timeless, eternal past.

— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award winning Arizona Highways Television.