Rome is a glorious mess. Its patched and tangled urban fabric reflects its millennia of history: A 16th-century palace caps the 2,000-year-old Theatre of Marcellus, and the nearby church of San Nicola in Carcere incorporates columns from the Temple of Janus. Even modern apartment buildings occasionally have chunks of ancient masonry protruding from them. Rome may have been a capital of the classical era, but it is hardly a classical city. After being sacked and rebuilt and reconfigured numerous times, untidy Rome is a place for romantics. I find it irresistible.
I was inspired to return to the city by the recent opening of several new hideaways. A highlight of the Grand Tour for centuries, Rome has no shortage of larger luxury hotels, including the Hotel de Russie, the Hotel Eden and the Hassler Roma. But on this visit, I tried out four new boutique properties that had opened since my previous visit two years ago, as well as a new grand hotel that has been earning extravagant plaudits in the travel press. I also took time to check up on a longtime recommendation about which we’d received a number of complaints.
The most dazzling of the new hideaways proved to be the 18-room Hotel Vilòn, which opened last year on a quiet street between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Navona. In fact, the one-way Via dell’Arancio was narrow enough to be blocked by a garbage truck, preventing my taxi from reaching the hotel entrance, so I rolled our bags the short distance to the discreet door, where a bellman immediately relieved me of the luggage.
Hotel Vilòn occupies a 16th-century mansion, a former annex to the neighboring Palazzo Borghese. Its transformation into a hotel has introduced a glamorous, almost decadent, décor. The public spaces now feel sumptuous but comfortable, inviting relaxation. Beyond the entry hall was a plush bar-lounge; both areas had an art deco décor softened by bright paintings and fresh flower arrangements. Guests can sit at the black and brass bar, along a turquoise banquette or at one of several love seats. I enjoyed a Negroni that had been aged for two weeks in a decanter, accompanied by tapas.
An archway divides the bar from the jewel box of a restaurant, Adelaide. This is named after a Borghese princess who donated the building to nuns in 1841 so that they could found a school for poor girls. With walls of black and hunter green and a handful of candlelit tables, this is an ideal place for a romantic dinner. I relished a plate of linguine in a rich sea urchin sauce atop a rectangle of red sea bream carpaccio. For my main course, I took our server’s recommendation and tried the flavorful hay-smoked Marcigliana lamb with chicory.
We breakfasted in the small and leafy courtyard adjacent to the dining room, shaded by umbrellas. I managed to avoid the tempting baked goods on the beautifully presented buffet, opting instead for made-to-order scrambled eggs with zucchini. Service at breakfast, as at dinner and in the bar, was unfailingly friendly and efficient.
Our Charming Deluxe room came with a bath that was almost as large as the bedroom. A striking expanse of black, white and chrome, it was equipped with well-lit vanities, a spacious walk-in shower and a round hot tub with ample room for two. This faced a tall window with sheer drapes, allowing natural light to flood the space. (Only one Charming Deluxe room has a bath like this; the other accommodations in the category face the private gardens of the Palazzo Borghese; our room had an unremarkable street view.) The high-ceilinged bedroom itself had an entry hall decorated with original 1930s fashion design sketches, a décor of aqua and white, and a deliciously comfortable bed topped by a pristine duvet.
The Hotel Vilòn’s closest competitor, both stylistically and geographically, is the 30-room J.K. Place Roma, located right around the corner. The choice between them is mostly a matter of taste. J.K. Place has a more restrained modern décor, whereas Hotel Vilòn feels more opulent. I would happily return to either.
The art deco décor; the attentive service; the glamorous bar; the fine in-house restaurant; our room’s extravagant bath; the Dead Sea salt-infused toiletries; the small but attractive courtyard.
Our room’s lack of a view.
The rate includes complimentary minibar snacks and beverages; the bar and restaurant warrant a visit whether you’re staying here or not.
Those who prefer simpler contemporary décor should consider Margutta 19, a stylish 16-suite hotel on one of my favorite streets in Rome. Leafy Via Margutta has an enticing selection of antiques shops and art galleries, but in spite of its location between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo, it is quiet and little trafficked. (Margutta 19’s entrance was quite a contrast to that of the Hotel de Russie, a short walk away, where crowds waited for one celebrity or another to emerge.)
Check-in at Margutta 19 is at 2 p.m., and our attractive Deluxe Suite was ready when we arrived. A vivacious woman led us up to our accommodations, where a bottle of complimentary Franciacorta was chilling in an ice bucket. Fortunately, it stood on the large writing desk and not on the unstable coffee table, which had a damaged base. In the living room, framed blown-up details of a Raphael portrait decorated the wall above a beige sofa, enlivened with silvery accent pillows. A divider of brass panels separated it from the bedroom. The “luxury” linens atop the bed didn’t feel as though they had a very high thread count, but I had no complaints about the spacious and well-designed travertine bath, which had a freestanding oval tub, dual vanities and a separate shower stall. Our windows opened onto Via Margutta, but a better view is of the steep gardens behind the hotel.
The gardens abut Margutta 19’s other main amenity, its restaurant, which recently changed its name from Assaggia to Emme. It was delightful to breakfast there at one of the tables at the base of the garden, but at dinner, Emme was disorganized. We received a Negroni we didn’t order, and later, a tiramisu arrived seconds after we had started looking at the dessert menu. Both items would appear on our check. The food we did order failed to dazzle. My vermicelli with Parma ham, fig and thyme tasted chiefly of salt. I mentioned this to the waiter when he asked if I’d enjoyed it. “No, figs are sweet,” he corrected me. My mistake! I decided it would be pointless to complain about the fishy-tasting yellowtail fillet with baby fennel. At the end of our meal, the waiter returned. “Would you like a caffè, an espresso? An espresso is a kind of strong, small Italian coffee,” he explained helpfully.
Fortunately, numerous excellent restaurants are within walking distance of Margutta 19, and aside from the comedy of errors that was dinner, I enjoyed our stay. Travelers who prefer a clean-lined contemporary décor will like this small hotel, tucked onto one of Rome’s most charming streets.
The location on the delightful Via Margutta; the simple but stylish contemporary décor; the friendly staff; our suite’s spacious bath; the steep garden at the back; the helpful booklet of the owner’s recommendations about Rome.
The comically disorganized and incompetent service in the restaurant, and its mediocre food.
Request a suite with a garden view; Margutta 19’s nearby sister hotel Babuino 181 has a rooftop bar with a terrace; the hotel’s Margutta Courtyard Studios, located down the street, are less expensive than similarly sized suites in the main building.
The eight-room Hotel De’ Ricci has a different but equally agreeable location, hidden on a short side street off Via Giulia, not far from the Campo de’ Fiori. The staff here deserve special commendation. Everyone seemed to know our names almost immediately, and each time we passed by the front desk, we received an affable greeting. As soon as we arrived, I knew we were in good hands. During check-in, we relaxed on a sofa in the lobby-lounge with espressos and little pastries from a nearby cart, though had we wished, we could have also sipped flutes of Franciacorta or Champagne.
The gracious general manager, Flavio Scannavino, also serves as head sommelier at this wine-themed hotel, the cellar of which contains bottles from some of the most famous names in Italy and France, including multiple vintages of Masseto, Gaja, Sassicaia, Château Mouton Rothschild and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. He leads private tastings in a clubby lounge, separated from the kitchen and bar by air-lock-like doors. A Coravin wine-preservation opener allows him to arrange tastings of trophy wines such as those above, but Scannavino is also knowledgeable about excellent lesser-known local wines (ask to try his favorite Lazio Sémillon or Cesanese). The private tastings aren’t inexpensive, but the experience is fascinating and, for the wine lover, well worth the price.
We had booked a Suite, which proved to be an open-plan junior suite-like space. I enjoyed its warm décor with midcentury-modern accents. Oversize wine labels decorated the walls, as did sepia-toned murals of tropical oases. The minibar contained complimentary soft drinks as well as a selection of high-quality wines ranging in price from $60 to $275 per bottle. And as at Margutta 19, there was a cell phone by the side of the bed that could be used to make free international calls, text the front desk or navigate the city.
Alas, the room also had some drawbacks, including a bed too firm for my taste and a compact black-tile bath almost entirely open to the suite. The one sink had little counter space, part of which was occupied by a bolted-down makeup mirror, too low to use comfortably. The glass door of the walk-in shower behind the vanity was also plainly visible from the room (there was no tub). One evening, the staff neglected to do turndown service. Overall, I enjoyed the Hotel De’ Ricci, and I grew very fond of the staff. But the property is best suited to younger guests with a strong interest in wine.
The warm and good-humored staff; the enviable wine cellar that allows for memorable private tastings; the fashionable midcentury-inspired décor; the location on a quiet side street near numerous excellent restaurants; the lavish continental breakfast spread.
Our bath had little counter space and was open to the rest of the room; the missed turndown service our first night; the overly firm bed.
From 6 to 9 p.m., the Charade Bar has a happy hour with aperitifs and complimentary snacks.
Considering that it was considerably more expensive, our next hotel inspired high expectations. The 30-room Singer Palace, opened in 2018, is housed in the former Italian headquarters of the Singer sewing machine company. For much of the day, taxis are unable to reach the front door, because motorbikes parked on either side of the street leave too narrow a passage for cars. But once inside, the décor is stunning. The front desk has an eye-catching silver relief inspired by Italian futurism, and just beyond it is the building’s centerpiece, a spectacular spiral staircase of black-and-white marble with no internal support. The steps, attached only to the wall, almost seem to float. They (along with elevators) lead up to the Singer Palace’s main amenity, its rooftop restaurant and bar.
We had a leisurely lunch there shaded by an umbrella, with a view of the rooftops of the Corso as well as a corner of the Vittoriano monument. I asked if the tonnarelli with asparagus and guanciale was a good choice, but our waiter was unenthusiastic. “You can get that in any trattoria in Rome; I suggest this,” he said, pointing to the mezze maniche all’amatriciana, a dish that really is available at every traditional Roman restaurant. “Yes, but we make it differently,” the waiter insisted. In the event, it was perfectly tasty, but I failed to see how it was special. The underseasoned turbot was also disappointing, with its boring “crust” of soft potato slices and bland accompanying chard.
We received an upgrade to the S. Ignazio Suite, which had a lustrous contemporary décor. The dove-gray living room came with a round dining table topped with a white orchid and surrounded by three robin’s-egg blue chairs. A bottle of complimentary Prosecco was chilling on the coffee table in front of the sofa. A shimmering wall covered in bronze-toned fabric separated the living area from the bedroom, where a padded black-and-white chevron-patterned headboard backed a very comfortable king bed. The shower-only bath was small but beautiful, being clad entirely in white and burgundy marble.
Unfortunately, service did not live up to the expectations set by the price tag. I asked to change a €10 or €20 bill for some smaller notes or coins but failed to receive any assistance. The next morning, I asked again, only to be told that I might have some luck at a café nearby. When I tested the front desk further, asking them to mail some postcards, I received a similar response: “I don’t have any stamps, but there’s a tabac shop around the corner that should have them.” When paying $1,300 a night, I expect the hotel to handle such matters. At my insistence, the staff eventually got me both change and stamps, but the interactions soured me on the Singer Palace.
The spectacular original art deco staircase; the view from the upper roof terrace bar; the lustrous décor of our spacious suite; our small but striking marble bath.
The high price; the staff’s initial refusal to perform basic services such as making change and mailing postcards; the mediocre food in the restaurant; our suite’s lack of a coffee or espresso maker (we had only a tea kettle).
Construction on a building across the street means that the view of the city from the roof terrace temporarily includes a large crane.
I moved on to a brand-new property near the top of the Spanish Steps, next to the Hassler. With 104 rooms, the Hotel de la Ville is not a hideaway, but it seemed important to review it, as the property has been splashed all over the travel press. A total renovation of the former InterContinental has reduced the room count and transformed the public spaces. The results are impressive.
I’ve long enjoyed Rocco Forte properties, and as soon as I walked into the soaring lobby, with its high coffered ceilings and black-and-white chevron-tiled floors, I felt I was somewhere special. Its focal point was a round table decorated with globes and wooden geometric and architectural models, as well as an imposing flower arrangement. Since our room wasn’t quite ready, we sipped espressos in a small adjacent lounge that leads to the hotel’s striking Da Sistina restaurant.
Forte’s habitual interior designer, his sister Olga Polizzi, has collaborated on this occasion with Tommaso Ziffer, who has added a sumptuous quality to her unfussy contemporary style. We arrived at our room to find a red door befitting a Chinese temple. We had been upgraded from a Deluxe Room Panoramic View to a much larger Panoramic Suite with Terrace. Reproduction architectural and sculptural fragments decorated the bookcase and writing desk, while the coffee table bore images of Roman mosaic floors. A framed cross section of the Pantheon hung above the comfortable sofa, and on the far side of the room, reproduction busts stood atop chests of drawers flanking the door to the bedroom. At the touch of a button, a television would emerge from a box at the foot of the bed. The attractive white-marble bath with black accents had space for only one sink, but it had a reasonable amount of counter space. I also appreciated the freestanding tub, large shower and good lighting.
French doors led to our sizable terrace. Buildings across the street prevented our view from being as panoramic as the one shown on the hotel’s website, but we could still see the distant Vittoriano monument and the domes of several churches. As soon as the bellman had departed, we took our complimentary bottle of Franciacorta, plus a bowl of strawberries, and headed outside.
We indulged in a second aperitif on the Hotel de la Ville’s roof terrace, which has less-obstructed views of Rome. In order to secure a table with a view for the following evening, we made advance reservations. For dinner, we headed downstairs to the Mosaico restaurant. Like the roof terrace, its broad courtyard patio had tables topped with candy-stripe umbrellas festooned with strings of lights. The chef spent far more time chatting with patrons than in the kitchen, but our dinner was delicious nonetheless. We began with a delightful tomato-free pizza bianca from the wood-fired oven, with a thin crust and a topping of mortadella and black truffle shavings. My main course of tender lamb in a clay case (broken open tableside) was similarly impressive.
I certainly had no regrets about missing the museums. The only thing weighing on my mind was checking out the next morning.
After a dessert of zabaione and fresh raspberries, a digestif was in order. So instead of returning to the rooftop, we headed to the Julep Herbal & Vermouth Bar. The exquisite little space opened onto a grand lounge, lit with candles. I asked the personable bartender to recommend an amaro, an Italian bitter herbal liqueur. He poured an Amaro CioCiaro, redolent of gentian and orange zest.
The following day, I revised my plan to visit some of the lesser-known art museums in the Villa Borghese gardens in order to take advantage of the spa discount included with our room rate. The contemporary space encompasses a sauna, steam room, salt room, experience shower and wide hydropool, in addition to five treatment rooms. I opted for the 60-minute Mediterranean Nourishing Treatment, involving two scrubs and two hydrating massages, each using a different Irene Forte product. My good-humored therapist had strong hands and unimpeachable technique.
Afterward, I reclined on a heated lounger in the relaxation room, feeling thoroughly at peace. I certainly had no regrets about missing the museums. The only thing weighing on my mind was checking out the next morning. The Hotel de la Ville is a luxury hotel of the first order.
The palatial décor; the always-helpful and cheerful staff; the romantic courtyard restaurant; the panoramic roof terrace; the well-appointed spa; our superlatively comfortable and well-thought-out suite; the cozy Julep bar.
The extremely busy location near the Spanish Steps; the view from our suite’s terrace was interrupted by buildings across the street.
The five-suite Rocco Forte House recently opened near the base of the Spanish Steps, offering more residential-style accommodations that also have hotel-style service.