REVIEW: Article

Key to Rome: Don’t Leave Home Without It!

Key to Rome is without question the most beautiful, imaginative and instructive guidebook I have ever seen. It rekindles one’s passion for this great city and makes one want to hop on the next plane to Rome, but this time led by these two exciting companions—former Ambassador Frederick Vreeland and his wife, Vanessa, a well-known British artist who works in glass and mosaics.

The Vreelands have lived in Rome for many years and in this unique guide, they combine sophistication and wit with brilliant, artistic layouts and graphics.  Indeed, there are some 500 color and 75 black and white illustrations, printed on sturdy, shiny paper, and yet this book is just the right size and weight to carry around as one tours the magic city.

And what a wealth of information the Vreelands provide!  As they write in their introduction, “The key to enjoying Rome is seeing it through the four layers of cultural history, which remain vivid even today.”  So they begin by walking the visitor through Ancient Rome, starting with the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon and many more wonders.  There follows a section on Christian Rome, beginning at St. Peter’s, then a section on the Renaissance and Baroque—the piazzas and fountains, the palaces and much more.

It would be a joy to do all this with book in hand, rather than being followed by tiresome guides droning along with the patter they inflict on tourists on a daily basis. Instead, the Vreelands give you all the information needed, covering the Eternal City’s 2,800-year history, in an easily readable, organized way, as well as conversational tidbits written with humor and style.

Finally, after one has savored this cornucopia of history and visual beauty, the Vreelands provide a chapter on “Shopping and the Grand Tour.” And under the title of essentials, they list all the museums, their holdings and their days and hours of operation as well as how to get there.  Hotels and restaurants are helpfully grouped by location and tariff.  The authors also cover “Rome for Children,” “Rome by Night” and even include some language hints as well as how to reach certain emergency services.

One marvels at the amount of work that has gone into this book and the extra-ordinary tools they give the reader, such as color coding the chapters so you can quickly turn to the section you want and the use of little key icons to indicate special favorites or little known delights. The inside flaps of both front and back give fold out maps of the city, which not only are excellent, but save the visitor having to carry and keep track of separate maps.

A book reviewer should be able to find something to criticize in any book.  Truthfully, I cannot.  And to sum up my impressions of Key to Rome, I can only say if you are planning a trip to Rome, “Don’t leave home without it.”

Issue Date


United States Chief of Protocol, 1982-1989