For those who’ve travelled around Italy as long as have I — since the 1960s — the improvement in Italian museums is a wonderfully pleasing development. Seeing art in great design space (such as at one favorite, Rome’s Palazzo Massimo, where these 1st-3rd century AD portraits are displayed) — makes us long for the next visit.
Not only are more museums — both national and private — open for longer periods (typically 9 AM – 7 PM), but collections have profited from enlightened ideas about overall museum design, illumination, display cases and documentation. Museum bookstores — which until a decade ago barely existed at all — are now interesting places with artwork reproductions, gifts items and books. We do much of our Christmas shopping in Italian museum bookstores, finding Fabriano desk items, children’s books (like the wonderful Usborne series on ancient Rome), calendars, notebooks, diaries and other unusual Italy themed presents.
Another development we welcome is the presence of cafes’ and restaurants in many museums. An invigorating cappuccino, for example, is exactly what we crave halfway through any of the excellent ongoing shows at Rome’s Scuderie, as well as a slice of their cafe’s excellent Capri chocolate cake. Later this month we will be trying Rome’s Open Colonna, Palazzo delle Esposizioni’s new museum restaurant, and winner of a Michelin star and various other awards, including from Gambero Rosso. The dining room is sited in a light-filled, wonderfully open space. We will investigate the light-lunch menu (15 Euro) and weekend brunch menu (28 Euro). In the evenings this happening-place is an intriguing meeting point for an aperitivo (superb wine list) and dinner.
Another excellent museum café, under patronized and an Insider’s favorite, is on the Grand Canal at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi. While considering the Italian Modern Art on display, consider too the menu of Venetian Irina Freguia, with interesting, right-size samples of local and Italian delicacies – plus an appealing afternoon tea selection (with Cafe Illy for coffee faithfuls.)
The Travel Plans we write for you detail all of our museum favorites, including many lesser-sung, lesser-visted ones too. And we will always highlight our recommended museum bookstores and special restaurants/cafes.