Rome, Italy - In a city that cohabits so casually with its illustrious past, why not stay in a piece of history?
There are few cities where history leaps out at you from every corner as it does in Rome. Chunks of the ancient world adorn walls, and bits of aqueduct sprout like mushrooms between modern apartment blocks. Bulky palazzi still bear the names of the city’s aristocratic families, while churches like San Clemente are historical layer cakes, shading from Baroque to Roman as you descend the stairs.
This historic full immersion need not be confined to sight-seeing. Many of the city’s centro storico hotels, too, allow guests a privileged insight into the city’s past and the characters who peopled it.
At the Hotel Teatro di Pompeo (largo del Pallaro 8, doubles from €180), for example, your breakfast will be served in a cavernous space carved out of Pompey’s theatre, built in 55 BC; the original opus reticulatum brickwork of what was the theatre’s monumental portico is still visible on the walls. Upstairs, the simple bedrooms have more modern comforts, including satellite TV and air-con (though there’s no lift, so be prepared for a climb). But it’s the setting that makes this welcoming little hotel a delight. A stone’s throw from campo de’ Fiori, with its morning produce market which has been a daily feature since 1869, the hotel is located in the warren of narrow lanes which follow the groundplan of the ancient theatre: check out the report on a recent dig there by King’s College London (www.pompey.cch.kcl.ac.uk) for detailed information.
The oldest hotel in Rome? Even better: according to the owners, the Sole al Pantheon Hotel Rome (piazza della Rotonda 63, doubles from €210) is the oldest continuosly operating hotel in the world, with a tradition of hospitality extending back to 1467. Only a handful of the hotel’s rooms actually overlook the Pantheon, but there’s no denying that being confronted by the temple to all the gods every time you walk out the front door truly leaves you feeling that you are steeped in history. Inside, rooms are elegant and unfussy, and the well-equipped bathrooms all have whirlpool baths. The little courtyard where breakfast is served is particularly pretty.
If you prefer the buzz of staying with a Roman family with an illustrious history, the honour doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re prepared to splash out, you’re in for a unique experience. Princess Letizia Ruspoli presides over Residenza Napoleone III (largo Goldoni 56, from €1400 a night), a sumptuous suite of rooms in her family’s massive 16th-century Palazzo Ruspoli, which is handy for the exclusive designer shops of via Condotti. Two splendidly plush reception rooms lead to a bedroom with a fairy-tale bed… except this one comes complete with projector hidden among the ruches so you can watch DVDs while luxuriating in your exquisite linen sheets. If you can’t bear to leave your accommodation for a moment, there’s a kitchenette for preparing your own meals.
The Ruspolis trace their ancestry back to AD800. The Spalletti Trivellis are parvenus in comparison, but their residence hard by the Quirinale presidential palace has been in the family since the late 19th century; the current count, Gian Giacomo, converted the villa into a stately 12-room hotel in 2004. Each room in the Villa Spalletti Trivelli (via Piacenza 4, doubles from €350) has been given its own colour scheme and character, but all have works from the owners’ collection of antique prints hanging on their walls, as well as beautiful Fiandra linen on the beds and magnificent bathrooms. High ceilings and a slight patrician aloofness can give an impression of coolness at first, but a free mini-bar and access to comfortably stately reception rooms – including a magnificent library – downstairs helps dispel this air, as does the charming garden where meals can be served.
The history of Rome’s luxury hotel scene is best sampled at the St Regis Grand Hotel Rome (via VE Orlando 3, doubles from €350), the Eternal City’s very earliest blow-out hostelry when it was opened by Swiss hotel wizard César Ritz in 1894. A $35 million makeover late last century restored the sumptuous ballroom to its original splendour, and polished up the massive chandeliers which illuminate a super-elegant array of regency and empire furnishings. Massive burnished mirrors adorn the walls of the opulent reception room downstairs. Many of the richly-coloured bedrooms and suites are frescoed, and all have lashings of marble in their bathrooms.