Home from home in Rome

A Generic Photo of Ponte Sant Angelo and Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome, Italy. See PA Feature TRAVEL Rome. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Rome.

A Generic Photo of Ponte Sant Angelo and Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome, Italy. See PA Feature TRAVEL Rome. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Rome.

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The Trevi Fountain may have been deserted when Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck filmed their iconic scenes in Roman Holiday, but today, the cosy square where the Baroque masterpiece resides is awash with tourists.

I gently squeeze my way through the crowd to reach the fountain wall and toss a coin backwards over my shoulder into the water, wishing - as custom requires - that one day I’ll return to the Eternal City.

Who knows whether the legend’s true, and the coin-fling will guarantee another visit, but thousands give it a go every day - and it’s certainly worth a shot.

When 1953’s Roman Holiday was released, Peck was already a Hollywood big-shot, but it was the then relatively unknown Audrey Hepburn’s performance as the frustrated and spirited Princes Ann which stole the show.

The striking 24-year-old picked up her first major award the following year, a Best Actress Oscar in 1954, and she remains one of the most iconic names in silver screen history.

But Hepburn wasn’t the only beauty in the picture that movie-goers fell in love with.

Rome itself, the Italian capital where the film was shot, was just as much a star. Its ancient monuments and lively streets provide a captivating backdrop as Ann and Joe Bradley (Peck) fall in love over the course of their 24-hour adventure.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, in a nutshell, Ann’s on an official visit but, tired of her royal duties, escapes from her window one day to experience Rome as a ‘normal’ person. Joe, a journalist, cottons on to her plan and offers to show her around, secretly hoping to bag the scoop of the decade in the process - until romance blossoms, of course.

Thankfully, being a commoner, there’s no need for me to clamber out of windows or don a disguise for my mini Roman holiday.

Six decades have passed since director William Wyler captured his leading lady as she tucked into gelato on the Spanish Steps, indulged in a spot of sightseeing at the Colosseum and danced on a river boat alongside Castel Sant’Angelo.

But, time has been kind to Rome; like Hepburn herself (who died in 1993, aged 63) the years have only added to her charms and, bar a few exceptions, nothing seems to have changed much.

Like Princess Ann, I’m eager for an authentic experience, so staying in a real Italian home, rather than a hotel, is ideal.

There are lots of websites where owners can list their property for holiday rentals. HouseTrip is one of the largest, with houses, villas and apartments across the globe, catering for a range of group sizes and budgets. The site’s simple to use and bookings are secure, as your money’s held by the website until you’ve had your holiday.

Joe Bradley’s apartment may have been pokey, but who can forget that gorgeous balcony? My apartment also has a large roof terrace, the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of vino.

With no hotel schedule to worry about, dinner and breakfast are on my terms, and ‘relaxed’ is the order of the day.

Princess Ann proved that you can pack a lot of adventure into a short stay; mine begins with a vintage Vespa tour (from 160 euros per person, www.neronetoursitaly.com).

It’s a great way to get a feel for the city, and zipping around on the back of the shiny scooter with a loopy grin plastered to my face, I really am living by the old adage, ‘When in Rome...’

One of Ann’s wishes was to lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Visitors are spoilt for choice, if you fancy a side of people-watching with your meal. I treat myself to some A-list-standard seafood at Ristorante Pierluigi (www.pierluigi.it), where lucky diners really do get the star treatment (and you may even spot celebs).

Italians certainly know their food, so leave any carb concerns at home. Luckily - especially if you’re the sort that likes to ‘earn’ your lunch - Rome is a brilliant city to explore on foot.

On day one, I book a walking tour with Context Travel ( www.contexttravel.com/city/rome) who offer tailored private group tours. For mine, Nina, who also works as a very glamorous and bubbly archaeologist when not guiding, shows me where to find the best vintage shops (Via del Boschetto) and most delicious chocolates (La Bottega del Cioccolato).

Afterwards, it’s a gentle stroll towards the Vatican City to take in St. Peter’s Basilica, before heading home along the river via Castel Sant’Angelo. There’s a monument or important building at every turn.

On day two, with hours ahead, I’m free to amble dreamily, stopping to soak up the atmosphere as I pass through Piazza del Popolo, a short stroll from my apartment, and fit in little detours whenever I spot an interesting street.

From here, walking to the Colosseum on the other side of the city - taking in hotspots like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Victor Emmanuel monument and the Imperial Forum - takes just a couple of hours.

That leaves plenty of time to play spot-the-designer label in the famous shopping district, Via dei Condotti, and, of course, refuel for the walk back with another scoop of gelato.

And, might I add, I did it all by myself with a street map... I think I deserve an Oscar!