Rome — The Villa Borghese

If you're staying on Via Veneto, this walk begins at your front door. Start if you want with a cappuccino in one of this famous street's famous cafés. The southern end of Via Veneto snakes upward from Piazza Barberini to the Porta Pinciana through the Ludovisi neighborhood, known for palatial hotels and stately residences that transformed patrician estates into commercial real estate in the 1880s. In the upper reaches of Via Veneto, near the flower vendors and big newsstands at the corner of Via Ludovisi, is the Café de Paris, erstwhile hub of la dolce vita. Past the big cafés, Via Veneto continues in a succession of more newsstands, boutiques, expensive shops, and a snack bar or two, and then debouches into the Villa Borghese park, the official start of our walk. If you intend to picnic under the ilex trees, this is your chance to pick up some supplies, whether ready-to-go from the snack bars or do-it-yourself from the alimentari (grocery stores) on the side streets. (There are some expensive mobile snack carts in the park and a café in the Galleria Borghese.)

Porta Pinciana is one of the historic city gates in the Aurelian walls, built by Emperor Aurelianus late in the 3rd century AD to protect Rome. Take care crossing the thoroughfares on either side of the gate: the traffic here comes hurtling in from all directions. Now that you're inside the Villa Borghese park, first look to the left, across the Galoppatoio (riding ring). The handsome 16th-century palace that you can see across the lawns is Villa Medici, since 1804 the seat of the French Academy, where many great French artists -- from Ingres and David to Balthus -- found inspiration; it has gardens famous for their Roman style. Head north on Viale del Museo Borghese to reach the Casino Borghese, which houses the magnificent Museo e Galleria Borghese. Here, the palace is as stupendous -- wait until you see the frescoed ceilings -- as the Berninis and Titians on view. Once you've viewed Cardinal Scipione's collections, take time to enjoy the vast park. On the right, as you leave the casino, you can continue along Viale dell'Uccelliera to Rome's once-forlorn zoo, which has been transformed into a "biopark." Alternatively, turn left (south) onto Viale dei Pupazzi and head toward Piazza dei Cavalli Marini, with its sea-horse fountain. Continue straight ahead on Viale dei Pupazzi or turn right: either way you'll come upon the Piazza di Siena, a grassy hippodrome shaded by tall pines. At the northwest end of Piazza di Siena, turn left onto Viale Canonica and you'll come to the entrance of the delightful Giardino del Lago (Lake Garden).

If you want to take in one or both of the other museums on this walk, head northwest from the Giardino del Lago to Piazzale Paolina Borghese, at the head of a broad, monumental staircase that descends to Viale della Belle Arti and the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art). About ¼ km (1/8 mi) northwest on Viale delle Belle Arti is the Museo Etrusco di Villa Giulia (Etruscan Museum). The entrance is at the far end of the building, on Piazza di Villa Giulia. Returning to the staircase, climb it to enter Villa Borghese again. Follow Via Bernadotte to Piazza del Fiocco and turn left onto Viale La Guardia, named for the celebrated New York mayor.

At circular Piazza delle Canestre head west on Viale delle Magnolie. A bridge over heavily trafficked Viale del Muro Torto leads to the Pincio gardens. After admiring its layout from the Pincio terrace, which offers one of Rome's finest panoramas, descend the ramps and stairs to the famous Piazza del Popolo and Porta del Popolo. Stop in at the church of Santa Maria del Popolo to see the art treasures inside, including two paintings by Caravaggio. The paired churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli were part of a grand project initiated in the 1500s under several popes who urbanized this triangular area, previously sparsely inhabited. Take Via di Ripetta, the most westerly of the three streets fanning out from Piazza del Popolo. On the left you pass the San Giacomo Hospital, and on the right is the horseshoe-shape, Neoclassical building of the Academy of Fine Arts, usually covered with not-so-fine student graffiti. Famed for its moving sculpted reliefs, the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) -- the most distinctive monument created to honor Emperor Augustus -- and the Mausoleo di Augusto are on huge Piazza Augusto Imperatore, newly renovated and redesigned by American architect Richard Meier.