The Enduring Pleasures of Rome

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No matter how many times I return to Rome, I am always amazed by the prominence of the ancient past in daily life. On my first evening back in town, it has become my habit to head to Sora Lella, a family-owned trattoria on Tiber Island, which is deservedly renowned for its robust Roman cuisine. After dinner, I stroll back to my hotel by way of the Ponte Fabricio, a bridge that was built by Lucius Fabricius in 62 B.C. and has been in constant use ever since. Of course, the world has numerous cities of great antiquity, but few give the traveler quite the same dizzying feeling of time travel. Many have been bombed or bulldozed or partially submerged beneath concrete. But Rome is a glorious exception, and despite all the invasions and upheavals, as well as the ruthless repurposing of the classical past — most of its churches were constructed with marble taken from the Colosseum — 3,000 years of the city’s history are still plainly visible.

The view from <em>La Terrazza</em>, one of three restaurants at Hotel Eden
The view from La Terrazza, one of three restaurants at Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Probably the two best panoramic views of Rome are those from the rooftop restaurants of Hotel Eden and Hassler Roma. Both hotels are located on the steep hillside that rises from the Piazza di Spagna to Via Veneto, flanked by the gardens of Villa Medici. Being situated at the top of the Spanish Steps, the outlook from the Hassler’s sixth-floor Michelin-starred Imàgo is unimpeded. The Eden is higher up, so the view is slightly more extensive, even though part of the foreground is taken up by the twin towers of the church of Trinità dei Monti and the back of the Hassler. The Eden’s great advantage over its rival is its outdoor terrace, where you can sit gazing in rapture at the splendor spread out below.

Hotel Eden

I stayed at Hotel Eden on my very first visit to Rome, some 35 years ago. The property was then run by two brothers, Giuseppe and Gianfrancesco Ciaceri, grandsons of the hotel’s 19th-century founder, Francesco Niestelweck. After a chance conversation in the lobby, I found myself invited to lunch on the roof. From there, Giuseppe delighted in pointing out the city’s principal landmarks — the Pantheon, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the dome of St. Peter’s — before adding his own personal fragment of history to the scene. He had been sitting in exactly the same spot, he said, on June 5, 1944, and had seen the first American tanks rumble into the city across the Piazza Venezia.

Ever since that inaugural visit, I have had a soft spot for the Eden, though over recent years the hotel declined, becoming more an object of nostalgia than admiration. But its history was so storied and its location so perfect, it seemed only a matter of time before it would be restored to its former preeminence as one of the great hotels of the world. I was therefore delighted to learn, in 2013, that it had been acquired by the Dorchester Collection, a distinguished group that includes Le Meurice in Paris and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, as well as its eponymous London flagship. In April, after a 17-month hiatus, the Eden duly reopened following a complete refurbishment.

The exterior of Hotel Eden
The exterior of Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

The Eden’s first heyday began immediately after it opened in 1889, when its location relatively close to Rome’s new Termini train station gave it a significant advantage over its competitors. Munich-born hotelier Niestelweck, who already managed the Hotel de Russie — today a consistent favorite of Harper members — had realized before anyone else that the era of the horse-drawn carriage was over. The new hotel’s bedrooms were designed by his wife, Berta Hassler, the daughter of the owner of the Hassler hotel.

The Eden is situated on Via Ludovisi, which runs into Via Vittorio Veneto. In the 1960s, Via Veneto — as it is popularly known — became Rome’s most fashionable street and the haunt of an international cast of stars. (Today it remains the site of the American Embassy, housed within the Palazzo Margherita.) It was a period immortalized by the film director Federico Fellini in his movie “La Dolce Vita.” Once again, the Eden found itself close to the city’s center of gravity. Apparently the hotel terrace was Fellini’s favorite place to give interviews, though he probably didn’t know that it had originally been added, in 1902, as a place from which to hang out the hotel’s sheets to dry.

The view from our suite at Hotel Eden
The view from our suite at Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Today the Eden’s location is ideal because it is removed from the tourist hordes who plague both the Spanish Steps in front of the Hassler and the Piazza del Popolo next to the Hotel de Russie, but it is still a short walk from Via Condotti, if you want to go shopping, or the Villa Borghese gardens, if you want to stroll in the shade.

I arrived at the Eden after an overnight flight from New York and was immediately overwhelmed by the warmth of the greeting from both the reception and concierge staff. After the cold and gray of the East Coast, I felt embraced by the human equivalent of Italian spring sunshine. True, the hotel had only been open for two or three weeks and a degree of exuberance was understandable, but I suspect that the esprit de corps was also due to the fact that all the hotel’s employees had been kept on during the lengthy refurbishment and that they now found themselves back at work in dramatically enhanced surroundings.

The reception desk itself was a magnificent slab of white marble, deeply carved with a floral motif, which might well have served as a sarcophagus for a Roman emperor. The lobby was opulent, with sienna-colored marble columns topped by Ionic capitals, gold sconces, a gold coffered ceiling and a black-and-white marble floor. However, the overall effect was not oppressive, as the furniture was simple, elegant and contemporary. And the space itself was not overpowering; the Eden was originally built as a private house, albeit a very large one, and its public areas are relatively human in scale.

Indeed, it was never a big hotel, and during the renovation, the number of its rooms was reduced from 121 to 98. As a result, there are now more suites, and the standard Classic Rooms are larger (325 to 410 square feet). This being a historical structure, some of the accommodations still lack windows. I recommend opting for a Prestige Room With View (430 to 515 square feet) or a Junior Suite With View (645 square feet).

The Twin Deluxe Room at Hotel Eden
The Twin Deluxe Room at Hotel Eden - Niall Clutton

The new public areas and bedrooms are the work of French interior and furniture designer Bruno Moinard, whose recent work has included boutiques for Cartier and Hermès, as well as projects at London’s The Dorchester and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. The décor of our suite was distinguished by its refined simplicity, with art deco-inspired furniture and a serene palette of gold and pale gray. High ceilings enhanced the feeling of space, while tall windows provided a harmonious and timeless view of cypress trees and ocher-colored buildings. Mirrored doors concealed two closets, where prosaic details like the laundry bags and shoe-cleaning equipment were presented in elegant leather trays. And on a small table next to the armchair, I found a chocolate cake, strawberries and a bowl of white roses and gardenias. It took me only seconds to conclude that this was a room in which I would be extremely happy to spend an extended period of time. My pleasure was only enhanced by a glimpse of the superbly appointed white-marble bath, which came with a separate room for both a rainfall shower and a huge soaking tub. A vase of calla lilies and a generous supply of Bottega Veneta bath products provided additional grace notes.

The bath of the Prestige Room at Hotel Eden
The bath of the Prestige Room at Hotel Eden - Niall Clutton

Eager to renew my acquaintance with the rooftop terrace, I headed there for lunch. The Eden’s upper floor is now divided into La Terrazza, under the direction of young chef Fabio Ciervo — another holdover from the pre-Dorchester days — and Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar, a more casual dining room, with a dozen or so tables outside. Having found a spot in the sunshine, I ordered a glass of Prosecco from an exceptionally gracious waiter attired in an immaculate cream jacket, agreed to his suggestion of assorted cicchetti (Venetian tapas) and settled back to gaze across to Michelangelo’s masterwork, the dome of St. Peter’s. Truly, if there is a more beautiful and inspiring place in which to enjoy a light lunch on a benign spring day, I am unaware of it.

<em>Il Giardino</em> restaurant of Hotel Eden
Il Giardino restaurant of Hotel Eden - Niall Clutton

The principal addition to the Eden is a new spa, which offers two treatment rooms and a couple’s suite. With an austerely elegant and contemporary décor, expanses of wood paneling and a soothing cream-and-green color scheme, the atmosphere struck me immediately as authentically calm and therapeutic. The treatments are by a skin care specialist called Sonya Dakar, whose salon in Beverly Hills has been catering to Hollywood’s finest for the past 30 years. Products also come from Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the famous 600-year-old pharmacy in Florence. Additional amenities include a nail suite, a blow-dry bar and a small fitness center. Easily the most remarkable thing about the spa, however, was the manner of the receptionist, who was not merely friendly and helpful but ebullient, almost euphoric, at finding herself with such obviously desirable employment. She wore an expression of slightly dazed disbelief. It was one that I saw again and again on the faces of staff members throughout the hotel during our memorable stay. Clearly, they were people who were struggling to believe their extreme good fortune.

Our suite at Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The tub in our suite at Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The bath of our suite at Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
An amenity kit found in our suite at Hotel Eden - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The Eden Spa reception area at Hotel Eden - Niall Clutton
The Eden Spa Double Suite at Hotel Eden - Niall Clutton
- Hotel at a Glance -

Hotel Eden 96Andrew Harper Bird

Like

Two excellent restaurants; glorious rooftop terrace; exceptionally elegant and well-appointed accommodations; superlative staff.

Dislike

The fitness room is rather small — and that’s about it.

Good to Know

The upper lobby has a “hidden” bar, concealed behind bookshelves during the day, which makes a delightful spot for an evening cocktail.


Rates: Prestige Room View, $1,080; Junior Suite View, $1,630
Address: Via Ludovisi 49
Telephone: (39) 06-478-121


View Hotel Eden Listing

J.K. Place Roma

Rome has a surprising number of distinguished boutique hotels, and I already recommend four of them: the Residenza Napoleone III (two sumptuous suites within the 16th-century Palazzo Ruspoli), The Inn at the Roman Forum (a 12-room hideaway located a short walk from the Colosseum), Portrait Roma (a 14-suite townhouse hotel, just off Via Condotti, owned by the Ferragamo fashion family) and Villa Spalletti Trivelli (12 rooms and suites within a century-old stone mansion surrounded by gardens). Given this abundance and variety, it might seem superfluous to go in search of another property similar in scale. However, both J.K. Place Firenze and J.K. Place Capri have proved extremely popular with Hideaway Report readers, so when J.K. Place Roma opened in the summer of 2013, it seemed inevitable that I should pay the new 30-room hotel a visit.

My initial impression was not entirely favorable, as the property is situated on a cobbled street so narrow that you are obliged to leap from your taxi to avoid a cacophony of horns from indignant drivers backed up behind. On the other hand, the location is close to Via Condotti and adjacent to the astounding Ara Pacis, the richly carved and ornamented “Altar of Peace” commissioned in 13 B.C. to honor Emperor Augustus and now protected by a striking glass-and-steel pavilion designed by American architect Richard Meier.

The cobbled street leading to the entrance of J.K. Place Roma
The cobbled street leading to the entrance of J.K. Place Roma - J.K. Roma

The 19th-century building that now houses J.K. Place was originally the architecture school of the University of Rome. The exterior is unremarkable and the front entrance extremely discreet, but once inside you find yourself surrounded by supremely stylish public areas created by the brilliant Florentine designer Michele Bönan. The main salon, drenched in light from a glass ceiling, has clean modernist lines, contemporary furniture and dramatic modern paintings, but it is humanized by neoclassical sculptures and piles of art books, as well as an array of leading international newspapers and magazines. To one side is a library with dark wood shelves, a black wooden floor, brightly colored rugs, cream armchairs and directional lighting. And beyond, J.K. Cafe has dramatic turquoise walls, deep green-and-sapphire velvet banquettes and rust-red leather chairs. The overall effect is so unusual, imaginative and harmonious, I had to suppress an urge to applaud.

The café is a delightful place for a meal at any hour of the day, but I particularly enjoyed the ambiance at lunchtime. As Rome is blessed with numerous fine restaurants, the menu sensibly offers a selection of delicious comfort food, with appetizers such as burrata with tuna roe, and octopus and potato salad with rocket, followed by mains that include the JKBurger (a brioche bun with Fassone beef from Piedmont and Tuscan bacon), pasta carbonara with local pecorino cheese, and scialatielli (a type of thick and short fettuccine) with seafood and zucchini blossoms. The wood-paneled bar at the end of the dining room provides an extremely congenial place for a pre- or post-dinner drink — maybe the house cocktail, the JKSour (Disaronno, passion fruit and lemon juice), or a flute of Spumante — while either perched on a bar stool or relaxing at a brass-rimmed table in a contiguous lounge decorated with dramatic black-and-white photographs.

<em>J.K. Cafe</em>, the restaurant at J.K. Place Roma
J.K. Cafe, the restaurant at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Bönan’s remarkable talent is also clearly evident in the hotel’s guest rooms. Our 475-square-foot Junior Suite came with dove-gray walls, large gilt-edged mirrors, black lacquer furniture, mirrored closet doors and a king-size bed backed by a padded headboard covered with handmade cream fabric. The spectacular bath was clad in gray-and-white-striped marble and was equipped with heavy chrome fixtures, twin vanities set in a white-marble surround and a sizable walk-in shower with a monsoon showerhead. Overall, the room was stylish, quiet and supremely comfortable; its only drawback was that it lacked an exterior view (which on a future occasion I would specifically request).

During our stay, all the staff members — especially those at reception and in the bar — were uniformly charming, with relaxed and gracious good manners. Despite the sophistication of its contemporary design, J.K. Place Roma never lapses into trendiness or pretension. It is a civilized private enclave of great distinction. The only things that it conspicuously lacks are facilities such as a spa or a fitness center.

The bar at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
A common area at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
A common area at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Our Junior Suite at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The bath of our Junior Suite at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
A bar in our Junior Suite at J.K. Place Roma - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
- Hotel at a Glance -

J.K. Place Roma 94Andrew Harper Bird

Like

Inspired contemporary design; congenial café; comfortable accommodations; delightful staff.

Dislike

Lack of a fitness center and spa.

Good to Know

Despite its sequestered location, the hotel is only a seven-minute walk from the Spanish Steps.


Rates: Deluxe Room, $820; Junior Suite, $1,270
Address: Via di Monte d’Oro 30
Telephone: (39) 06-982-634


View J.K. Place Roma Listing

Palazzo Manfredi

It would be hard to think of a more complete contrast to the sequestered location of J.K. Place than that of Palazzo Manfredi. Located on the busy Via Labicana, the latter occupies a 17th-century villa overlooking the ruins of the Ludus Magnus, the training academy for gladiators. From rooms on the western side of the hotel, and from its rooftop restaurant, there is an uninterrupted view of the Colosseum, to which the academy was once linked by a tunnel. I’ve struggled to think of a hotel with a more dramatic view but have failed.

The small lobby and adjacent lounge are attractively furnished in a traditional style. Bookshelves, wooden floors with area rugs, glass display cabinets and a large brown leather sofa all help to generate the atmosphere of a private house. Filling out the required paperwork, I found the check-in desk rather cramped, but the extreme friendliness of the reception staff more than compensated for this slight inconvenience. As our room was not quite ready, we were ushered up to the rooftop bistro, which overlooks the leafy Colle Oppio park, home to the ruins of Trajan’s baths and the Golden House of Nero, and presented with generous flutes of Prosecco. On the way, I had peeked into the adjacent Aroma restaurant, which has a sensational Colosseum view.

The bed in our Master Room at Palazzo Manfredi - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The view from our Master Room at Palazzo Manfredi - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Palazzo Manfredi comprises just 14 rooms. (Prestige and Executive rooms overlook an inner courtyard and should be avoided.) On being shown to our Master Room, the hotel’s first drawback became apparent. Despite its rather grand-sounding name, the room turned out to be a mere 270 square feet, diminutive proportions for which the Colosseum panorama from both the bedroom and bath windows was insufficient compensation. (Although another window overlooked Via Labicana, the soundproofing was adequate.) Unlike in the ground-floor public areas, the décor here was modern, with mostly neutral shades and white furniture. The bath provided a single sink and a walk-in shower and could contain only one person at a time. Junior Suites here are 375 square feet; the only accommodations with more-generous proportions are three suites, ranging from 540 to 645 square feet.

Our Master Room bath at Palazzo Manfredi - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The view from our Master Room bath at Palazzo Manfredi - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

The principal amenity at Palazzo Manfredi — there is no spa or gym — is its 40-seat Michelin-starred restaurant, Aroma, helmed by young Roman chef Giuseppe Di Iorio. As you might expect, one side of the space is almost entirely glass, with the floodlit Colosseum providing a backdrop of scarcely believable grandeur. (Even if the food were less good, it would be worth having dinner here for the view alone.) Di Iorio’s cooking stays close to Italian tradition, though he enjoys using more-uncommon meats, rabbit for example, and is a stickler for serving only sustainable fish, so tuna is outlawed. I enjoyed my ceviche of fragolino (a Mediterranean red sea bream), risotto of porcini mushrooms and thyme, and crispy leg of pork with apricot compote and fennel potatoes. Throughout, the service was cordial and attentive. Alas, when I returned to the dining room for breakfast the following morning, I was disappointed to find a thoroughly mediocre buffet.

Palazzo Manfredi is certainly not without merits, but the small size of the accommodations and the hotel’s situation on a main road both preclude a recommendation. Also, proximity to the Colosseum (and the inevitable tourist hordes) means that its location is relatively inconvenient, with the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona and the Piazza del Popolo, as well as the primary shopping districts, all being a taxi ride away. So I suggest that you go for dinner but opt to stay elsewhere.

- Hotel at a Glance -

Palazzo Manfredi 89

Like

Sensational Colosseum view; excellent restaurant; friendly and professional staff.

Dislike

Small rooms and junior suites; mediocre breakfast buffet; lack of a fitness center or spa.

Good to Know

To visit the Colosseum, either book tickets online or have the concierge arrange them; don’t even think of joining the queue.


Rates: Master, $750; Junior Suite, $1,140
Address: Via Labicana 125
Telephone: (39) 06-7759-1380
Palazzo Manfredi



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By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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