This article is part of a guide to Rome from FT Globetrotter
Rome, like Paris or New York, is a hotel town, with more than 700 hotels in the centro storico — a broad mix of the grand and the intimate, old and new school, splurgy and good value, and a host of places with character, patina and something exceptional about each. So rather than an endless list of the best hotels, I like to invert the question: what’s the best hotel for a certain type of traveller? Below are six that have continued to stand out years after their doors opened.
For two decades a — if not the — Roman nexus for that stratum of travellers who all seem to somehow know each other, whether they hail from Santa Monica, São Paulo or South Kensington. Its Stravinskij Bar spills out into a ravishingly pretty garden; on any given night, there are Olympic levels of air-kissing and table-hopping playing out here. Rooms and suites boast bold texture and colour hits against neutral backdrops, all by in-house design director (and sister of Sir Rocco) Olga Polizzi. Service has never been anything less than exemplary: in 2010, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, effectively shutting down much of the world’s airspace, I witnessed the staff assist (and placate) hordes of stranded, panicking guests with unfailing courtesy and competence for hours.
Set on a two-block-long side street between the Piazza del Popolo and the Tiber, this Roman classic — opened in 1925 and filling two adjacent palazzi with a lovely shaded courtyard in between — is as much about the people as the address or amenities. Owner Caterina Valente is often to be found communing with local and international friends — artists, film-makers, entertainers, creatives — in the gem of an Art Deco bar, or on the roof terrace, with its 200-degree views of the city’s rooftops. Filigree-iron elevators ascend to rooms clad in flocked wallpaper, original herringbone floors and scads of passementerie; the tiled bathrooms are full of natural light. Rooms are spacious by local standards, some with high ceilings and tall French windows (angle for one in the older, 1905 palazzo); a handful have small balconies. Valente’s soft-power Romanism also accounts in part for the micro-neighbourhood that has sprung up here: small, independent Roman shops and makers, from perfumers Eau d’Italie to jeweller Lucia Odescalchi, have migrated to this street in part because of what she’s created at the hotel.
Disclaimer: don’t book here for impeccable service (when I stayed a couple of years ago, it was woefully inept, if mostly sweet). That said, this former convent, designed by Borromini in the 17th century for the wife of a Farnese prince (and now run by VOI Hotels, an Italian collection), has atmosphere in spades. Set about halfway up the Janiculum, with Trastevere at its feet and the Villa Aurelia perched on the slope behind it, it is a genuine oasis — walled, serene, with beautifully planted courtyards, long tiled loggias and sigh-worthy views from roof terraces and upper-floor rooms and suites. Many have original beams and coffered ceilings, and richly waxed cotto tile flooring. Bathrooms can be Lilliputian; in-room amenities are basic; breakfast will not wow you. But there is bygone-era charm everywhere. Fellows and patrons of the American Academy — which sits a few hundred metres up the Via Garibaldi, on Via Angelo Masina — like to stay here, conferring a bit of extra culture to the evening cocktail hour.
Technically, it’s a Dimora d’Epoca — a historic residence in a lovely 19th-century mansion on the Quirinale, in the same noble Roman family since it was built (the current generation continues to manage it). There are lovely ground-floor public spaces — two huge sitting rooms, a cosy den with a fireplace, and a sun-saturated breakfast room. Decor is classic but impeccably executed, with wall tapestries, Persian rugs and gallery-quality antiques; there’s not an andiron out of place. Given it was originally a house, the rooms and suites are capacious; several function as flats, with two bedrooms and small but sumptuous kitchens. Those on the first floor have beautiful tall French doors; the garden suites, in an adjacent building connected to the villa by a wide patio, have terraces laden with climbing vines and potted lemon trees. You’re not quite in the centro storico, but it’s only about a 10-minute stroll down to the Trevi Fountain.
Gabriele Salini has a magic touch when it comes to the design-vibe-gastronomy alchemy of good hotel-dom (he recently elevated Puglia’s Palazzo Daniele from a private villa to a destination address). This gem close to Piazza Navona is his masterclass, a five-storey palazzina with a tiny, glowing, supercool bar on its ground floor, and just a handful of suites upstairs. Mid-century Italian decor prevails; the aficionado will spot the likes of Gio Ponti, Ico Parisi and Venice’s illustrious Seguso glassmaking family. Walls have been richly patinated with unfinished stucco (the “rough” in G-Rough), but some of the ornately painted ceilings, tiles, cornices and floors date back as far as the building’s 17th-century inception. The Penthouse Suite, with its sleeping mezzanine and skylights, looks on to the tiny Piazza Pasquino; there are two 95 sq m two-bedroom apartment suites on the top floor as well. The ground-floor Sito lounge is private for guests, with an open kitchen.
Anna Fendi Venturini’s patrician guesthouse, in a stile Liberty mansion in leafy Prati, has a following of fashion movers and shakers for good reason: it packs superlative style into a very good-value experience. The rooms are awash in original art and furnishings — collection sketches by Karl Lagerfeld grace the walls of one, vintage Thonet chairs adorn another, a framed foulard signed by Picasso is showcased in a third (with a gorgeous wrought-iron spiral stair leading to a sleep loft). Ornate handmade tiles and precious antiques abound. Rooms are divided roughly between the main house and a garden adjacency; each is unique. The tiny, ornate bar is ideal for morning calls or meetings over coffee.
Which hotel in Rome is your favourite? Tell us in the comments
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