La dolce vita is still alive and kicking in Rome - especially if you know the right people. I went in search of upmarket shopping, spas, stars and the best haircut in town
I’m no history buff, but when you see the balcony that Mussolini gave his famous speeches from, the place where Julius Caesar stood, the Colosseum and the Vatican, you can’t help but get goose bumps. Yet Rome has done the impossible and preserved its heritage while keeping pace with modern appetites for all things trendy: a truly eternal city.
As Leonardo DiCaprio checked out, I checked into the Rome Cavalieri
, the first Waldorf Astoria Collection hotel in Europe, perched high over the city in the sought-after residential area of Monte Mario. According to confidential sources, Leo was ensconced in the Planetarium Suite on the eighth floor. Its larger than life, vaudeville-style velvet sofa once belonged to designer Karl Lagerfeld in his Paris home, and the bedroom has fibre optics over the vast bed. Best of all is the roof terrace – suitably vast with obligatory hot tub, loungers and jaw dropping view – fit for any Hollywood prince. Tom Hanks is also a fan.
Frankly, if my deluxe room had been a shoebox with a sleeping bag it wouldn’t have mattered, as the view is incredible. I feel like I own Rome. I wake up after a night cosseted in who knows what thread count and there’s a shaft of biblical-looking sunlight beaming through the clouds just to the left of the Vatican.
If you love art, the hotel is home to a prestigious collection. Guests nonchalantly wander past masterpieces by Giovanni Paolo Panini and, most esteemed of all, a cycle of three paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo.
The Cavalieri Grand Spa Club has a Romanesque Turkish bath, but once you get to the treatment rooms, the 21st century has very much arrived. Instead of a fish tank, there’s a flat screen TV showing a coral reef. The La Prairie facial was one and a half hours of intensive work and my skin definitely looked brighter afterwards.
The hotel is also home to the three-Michelin-starred La Pergola restaurant – totally a must, with its outrageously fine and intricate menu by Heinz Beck – think poached egg on amaranth grain and white truffle from Alba! You can buy Heinz’s book too if the mood takes you.
If you want a sexy and less expensive dinner, head to the west bank of the Tiber to the medieval and very arty district of Trastevere, where you'll find a newish restaurant called Hostaria Glass in one of those tiny cobbled squares called ‘vicolos’. With a bit of Banksy-eque graffiti, this old Roman building has been funked up with glass panels and minimalist interior. Cuisine, by a Canadian chef, was great, especially the monkfish. A late-night visit to the Trevi Fountain afterwards is romance personified, but don’t expect to be the only ones there!
During the day, take a tour of Palazzo Colonna. Italy has no royal family, but this is one of the oldest families in the city of Rome who crucially have had a Pope in their ranks. This mini palace is incredible.
If you’re after retail therapy, hire personal shopper
Barbara Lessona, via the Cavalieri
concierge. An hour costs €80, plus a driver for three hours will set you back €170. She’ll give you an insider’s tour of the fab Fendi Store where you’ll feel like Mrs Beckham trying on gold tipped furs and hanging the latest baguette bag off your arm. If you have a baby, make sure you buy the white mink stroller. Possibly the most impractical item I’ve ever seen. Head for lunch at Ristorante Pierluigi
in Piazza Ricci – a wonderfully old-school Italian fish restaurant - or Nino
, a cosy Tuscan restaurant close to the Spanish Steps and stuffed with local families and the occasional fashionista.
If you fancy a makeover
, the Cavalieri
can arrange a hair appointment with Sergio Valente (€250-500), who has worked with everyone from Carla Bruni to Claudia Schiffer, and make up by similarly connected Francesco Pinna (€150). I defy you not to gasp at the before and after effects. Don’t miss the newly revamped Gucci store
, a maximalist temple to decadence in dazzling gold, and Elio Ferraro
, the king of Italian luxury vintage. His shop on Via Margutta sells covetable pieces by Chanel, YSL et al.
The hotel can also arrange an exclusive tour of the Vatican Gardens, usually off limits for foreign tourists. Superb guides like Benedetto Rossi can show you the holyport (heliport) and the tranquil spot where John Paul II came to contemplate after the attempt on his life. You also get to enter the Sistine Chapel by a back door, bypassing the crowds. It is an utterly jaw-droppingly divine place and is perhaps the beating heart of this incredible, eternal city.
Other great hotels
• Villa Laetitia
is owned by Anna Fendi, of the Italian fashion dynasty and is an elegant 1930s-style boutique hotel. An oasis of calm just outside the city centre. From £140 per night.
• The InterContinental de la Ville is set right at the top of the Spanish Steps. Old fashioned luxury in a 16th-century palazzo. From £196 per night.
Recommended tour operator
(0871 664 0253) offers three nights at the Rome Cavalieri
from £535 per person including flights.