Rediscovering the beauty of the Spanish Steps and falling in love with Babington’s Tea Room
It’s not that I avoid Piazza di Spagna, exactly. I’m as in awe of it as anybody with functioning eyeballs, it’s just that it’s hard to catch it at a moment when it’s not packed to the gills with other humans, usually in a rush and using shopping bags as an alternative form of weaponry. A few years ago, walking home from a club nearby at sunrise, I walked into the piazza when it was deserted and enveloped in early-morning mist, and it was so breathtaking that I knew I’d ruined it for myself for the future. Piazza di Spagna embodies Rome in that it’s one of those places that catches you unawares with its haunting, lonely beauty, when you’re running down the scalini trying not to trip over tourists and you happen to glance up at Bernini’s Barcaccia glittering in the setting sun, and all of a sudden your heart is in your throat.
Yesterday evening, while heading over to Babington’s for a cupcake-and-cookie decorating extravaganza, I decided to take a stroll down Via del Babuino to take a look at the shops. We’ve been reveling in the ottobrate romane lately – a term which translates into Roman Octobers and is used to describe the lingeringly warm, balmy weather that tends to describe late fall in this city – and I wanted to spend as much time as possible enjoying it. As the narrow, scenic Babuino gave way to the wider piazza, I realized what a mistake it’s been to skirt this area just because it gets crowded.
A little shopping aside here: This area is notoriously expensive, with Via del Babuino and Via Condotti dotted (or stormed) with high-end boutiques and the definition of Big Name Shopping (Valentino, Dior, anyone?), and even less-luxurious chains that can be found anywhere (like Benetton) will sell their merchandise at a higher price point in these areas, so if you’re on a budget, expand your search range – but do linger, especially around Christmas time when these streets are dressed to the nines, because it’s a decadent, glittering experience, and the entire area around Piazza di Spagna is a treasure trove of hidden side streets and little boutiques. Around the holidays try to go at odd times, if you can, such as early morning, because otherwise it will also help you redefine your definition of what a packed street is. If you’re looking for a good pair of shoes, try Nero Giardini or Geox on Via Frattina, one of the side streets on the left side of the piazza – they’re high-quality and will run you from about 150 to 250 euro a pair, which isn’t exactly cheap but also isn’t the 1,000-2,000 euro price tag typical around here. For those in search of books in English, try Anglo American Book Co. on Via della Vite. Okay, shopping aside complete!
I won’t go into the details of the exquisite position Babington’s Tea Room holds in the hearts of those who know Piazza di Spagna well, since Lauren wrote a great piece a few months ago on their beautiful summer setup and described their history, but I will say that if you’re strolling by the piazza, Babington’s is a must. Yes, it’s famous, but it is so for very good reason – and it is very well-loved. It’s one of those places that’s been a gem for so long that it spans generations – when I told my grandmother that I was going, she said “oh lovely, I went on a date there once, I think it was the early 30s”. They only use the very best ingredients, the service is excellent, and its little marble tables and gleaming surfaces filled with all sorts of prestigious teas and treats will leave you feeling as though you’re in a grown-up version of playing tea party – and even if you didn’t play tea party when you were little (really? You didn’t?), the feeling that Babington’s imparts is that of a little slice of a more elegant period of time, providing welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the piazza outside.
They held a fantastic event yesterday, with the incredibly talented baker Francesca, who patiently and cheerfully demonstrated her decorating techniques for the Halloween cookies and cupcakes that Babington’s is offering in this period – then we all got to have a go, and I once again proved to myself (and everybody else) that the world did not miss out when I decided that I would not become a baker. But that’s okay, because when I want delicious tea served on wooden trays on marble tabletops, surrounded by cookies and cakes and all sorts of things that smell – and taste – scandalously good, I can pop over to Babington’s. Hypothetically, after I do a little shopping. Hypothetically.
Photos courtesy of Babington’s Tea Room