I first visited Rome when I was 22 and I was immediately and fatally seduced by this city of noise, chaos, energy and spirit. A city of contradictions and yet effortless conciliation, where the ancient and modern bump up against one another, the old and the young get along, the frantic and the indolent coexist. Everyone is always in a hurry except, that is, when they're not.
This enormous open-air museum may no longer be caput mundi (capital of the world), but Rome is an ambitious, heroic, fervent metropolis, simultaneously harbouring and honouring lost realms. Rome was once so brutal and powerful — the exquisite architectural heirlooms we've inherited pay tribute to that fact — but it's now a city full of joy, laughter, rumour and chat. The very air around the ancient fountains and statues seems to carry the whispers of gossipy secrets.
My infatuation with Rome has grown deeper with every espresso I've gulped in the Piazza Navona over the past 20 years. It's a dramatic, theatrical space, home to the works of great Baroque masters: the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone by Borromini and the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini.
I never visit Rome without going to the gleaming, creamy Trevi Fountain; it's tucked away in a tiny piazza, but you can still expect jostling crowds. This rococo extravaganza — rearing sea horses, conch-blowing Tritons and craggy rocks — erupts in front of the Palazzo Poli. It makes no sense on an intellectual level; my response to its beauty is 100 per cent heart. Here, tradition dictates that people throw a coin into the fountain to guarantee a return to Rome. Money well spent I feel, especially as the coins now find their way to the Red Cross.
I used to try to re-create my version of Roman Holiday. I whizzed around like Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, visiting the Mouth of Truth, the Spanish Steps and the Vatican. However, I've learnt that the beauty of Rome is that, despite the chaos and the compelling culture, it's a city that somehow encourages me to take things easy. If I don't feel like going to a museum I don't suffer tourist guilt — the streets are steeped with art and history. Indeed when there's almost too much to do, it becomes a matter of duty to simply stroll the streets or linger longer over lunch and imbue the atmosphere.
I like to watch the girls in high heels and tight belts giggle in gaggles yet manage to attain a level of sophistication normally monopolised by catwalk models. I like to see nuns fluttering by or a priest puffing on a cigar, while the hip scoot and toot from their pastel-coloured Vespas.
I enjoy the passeggiata at 5pm when families dress up to simply walk together; kids chase pigeons, men throw appreciative glances at pretty women, the older Italians wink conspiratorially — they've seen it all before. Even something as simple as an evening stroll is a celebration in Rome.
Shopping in the city offers all manner of excitement; pretty frilly underwear, glittering glassware and jewellery, gorgeous cakes and a rainbow choice of ice-cream flavours. I love it that tent-like frocks for mammas and scanty swimwear for vixens dress the same windows, again demonstrating Rome the paradox.
It's a city that oozes warmth. I feel it in the steaming syrupy black coffee, in the laughter of the gangs of smartly dressed friends and in the ancient stones in every building and cobbled street. The only place that causes me to shiver in Rome is the Colosseum. It's magnificent but, for me, the stories of gory battles fought between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals are too potent. Still, it's the perfect starting point from which to take in the Roman remains of the city: the jaw-dropping Forum, the Domus Aurea and the Pantheon.
I'm always stuck by the light in Rome. It's beautiful no matter what time of year. The pale winter sun valiantly shines offering, if not warmth, then at least a beautiful pink hue. The brilliant summer sun guarantees stunning amber rays that seep throughout the city.
In Rome I feel so interesting, interested, appreciated, appreciative and alive. It seems to me that the Romans know how to squeeze every ounce of juice out of life and after a visit there I always ask myself: perché non? Why not, indeed.
Adele Parks's book About Last Night (£14.99, Headline Review) is out now.
Travelling to Rome? Plan your Perfect Day at facebook.com/britishairways.