The most famous vacation ever taken through Rome never happened.
To be sure, there were people walking through its fabled streets, bathing in its history lionized since it carved out the peak of Western civilization. But, those people were actors, performing in front of cameras.
William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, staring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, depicts a spirit of the Eternal City that has captured the public imagination for centuries, a city teeming with all you could ask from a vacation destination — warm weather, culinary excellence, endless art and history, and blanketing sense of romance. It’s remained a tourism staple to this day.
And yet, for those that helped create and sustain the Roman capitol, or at least those lucky enough to be recognized for it, “vacation” was as it is today very much in the eye of the beholder. Even Rome wasn’t warm or Edenesque enough for Romans. So, they fled south for their winter holiday to what travel-journalist David Roberts calls “the most amazing, and at the same time, the most mysterious, of all Mediterranean shores.”
“Two thousand years ago, to purge the winter chill in their bones, pleasure-loving Romans fled the capital 150 miles to the north every April (the month of my visit) and headed for the Bay of Naples on Italy’s west coast, to laze about as I was doing among the pines and palms. In doing so, they literally invented the idea of the holiday trip. Their peregrinatio — the term translates as “a journey abroad” — was devoted to sybaritic pursuits: Noblemen soaked in the baths of Baiae, cruised the countryside in litters borne by slaves, dallied with their kept women and fed the pet fish they had fussily adorned with jewels.” — David Roberts
The connection between Rome and the Amalfi coast established by the republic’s snowbirds immortalized the two idyllic sides of modern vacation: The ancient, monument- and ruin-ridden streets of Rome and surrounding principalities, where everything from the buildings to the food to the people to the religious artefacts are bathed in shades of gold, and the enclaves of the Amalfi Coast dotted along the cliffs between the green of Monti Lattari and the blue of the Mediterranean Sea, where bright colors shout from the rooftops and beaches of Medieval cities as Italian as anything to be found on the peninsula.