Eternal lure of the eternal city
While some city breaks can leave travellers feeling a bit frazzled, Chantal Borciani finds an escape that provides the perfect blend of Rome razzmatazz and relaxation.
Mark Twain wrote: “From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.”
Viewed from the balcony of our hotel, with the city trickling out beneath us as a carpet of twinkling lights, and St Paul’s Basilica glowing like an orb in the distance, Twain’s words ring truer than ever. Nowhere is quite as enchanting or as illustrious as the Eternal City.
The last time I was in Rome I was five years old. I spent the day with my nonna (grandmother) and father and all I vividly recall is a letterbox-red sauce drizzled over a bowl brimming with orecchiette. It was more pasta than I’d ever seen and it was stupendous.
It’s a beautiful sunny day when I lay eyes on Rome again. Its stone facades and peach townhouses vivid against a chalky blue sky. My dad and I wander through the buzzing centre, much as we did decades ago, he leading the way through the winding streets of his favourite city.
When in Rome
Rome brims with heart, with energy, with vitality. The air is a symphony of whirring Vespas, melodic Italian chatter, enraptured tourists and clinking glasses, all knitted together by the baritone of that famous Roma traffic.
After a compulsory espresso kick-start, we begin in the Centro Storico, gazing skyward at ancient arches, and stroll through cobbled piazzas and around walled gardens. It’s easy to find a plethora of tour guides and hop on/off buses, but we enjoy exploring as much as the final destinations, so stick mainly to wandering on foot.
We thread our way through the warren of pretty townhouse-flanked streets, their finestras open and white curtains billowing in the autumn breeze, to find the Spanish Steps. The steps and piazza may be somewhat overrun with backpack-slung teens and tourists these days, but the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, which sits at the top of the famous staircase, still provides much Renaissance charm.
Rome at sunset with a view of St. Peter's Basilica - Photo copyright: silverjohn | 123RF.COM
Picking our way through the throngs of people, we wind our way towards the Trevi Fountain where Oceanus and his marble-hewn chariot and sea horses leap from the building above the turquoise water. It’s as if the whole city stops and stares – the Fontana is really to be enjoyed by day and night if time allows.
For lunch we stop at Roscioli, a small but celebrated trattoria set at the back of a gourmet salumeria. The air is perfumed with cured meats and salty parmesan and it’s no surprise the produce is delectable. Dishes are simple and expertly crafted. The rigatoni with three kinds of parmesan (36-month matured red cow breed, a 30-month matured ‘Bruna’ alpine breed and classic reggiano) dishes up levels of velvety flavour. The carbonara tossed with crispy pork cheek, Paolo Parisi eggs and Roman and pecorino cheese and the homemade gnocchi that sells out within the hour – showstopping. With 2,800 wine labels, deli meats and cheeses it’s impossible to leave hungry or empty-handed.
We walk off our pasta indulgences along the Tiber, stopping at the ornate Santa Maria in Vallicella church before crossing the river to Vatican City: a world of gold, marble and masterpieces. The Vatican museums’ seven kilometres of hallways are adorned with one of the world’s most breathtaking art collections. As it’s late in the day, Michelangelo’s centrepiece ceiling in the Sistine Chapel is fortunately a little quieter (locals will wisely tell you to be in at 9am sharp or wait till the last entry – two hours before the museum closes).
Rooms with a view
Having roamed with the best of them, we grab a taxi to our hotel. The Rome Cavalieri perches atop the leafy hill of Monte Mario and overlooks the city and it is from here that Twain’s words really come to life. From its elevated position, the gladiatorial ruins, majestic spires, secluded parks, modern offices and terracotta rooftops extend to the horizon and fill every inch of our panorama. From our balcony, we watch the sun dance across St Paul’s below us and toast with prosecco into the evening as the wide avenues become scarves of fairy lights swirling around the city. This surely is the best view in town.
Remaining faithful to its locale, the Cavalieri reflects history, culture and art in its very design and is home to a museum-worthy collection of over a thousand treasures, including masters’ paintings, rare artefacts, tapestries and sculptures.
Around every corner we find displays of the private art collection and masterpieces that would usually be roped off, only to be admired from metres away. The public areas are dotted with Louis XV and First Empire furniture, including the cradle of Napoleon’s son, the ‘King of Rome’, and bejewelled costumes of celebrated ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev are displayed outside the Imperial Club Lounge.
Night view over Rome from The Planetarium rooftop terrace, Rome Cavalieri hotel - Photo copyright: Rome Cavalieri hotel
While art hotels may be de riguer, this hotel feels authentic, ingrained with art and culture and akin to an art gallery in its own right, sharing collections with the Metropolitan in New York and the Louvre. A series of four masterpieces by Giuseppe Zais are displayed above the reception, while three of the finest works of Giambattista Tiepolo take centre stage in the grand lobby: breathtaking. Suffice to say, for out and out luxury (and the best views), Rome Cavalieri hits the mark. The hotel sits in a 15-acre private Mediterranean park, a ten minute ride from the city centre, and is home to Rome’s only three Michelin star restaurant, La Pergola, which takes prime position on the top floor of the hotel and boasts a spectacular roof terrace making the most of the mesmeric view.
For royals, celebrities and guests wanting to push the boat out in serious style, the Penthouse, Planetarium and Petronius Suites are the crème de la crème. Andy Warhol’s Dollar Signs hang in the Penthouse Suite, Karl Lagerfeld designed the sofas, the bathroom taps are Swarovski crystal and guests enjoy what must surely be Rome’s finest roof terrace, complete with 200m2 terrace, hot tub and private access to the gastronomic delights at La Pergola via a private walkway leading to the restaurant.
City and sanctuary
We are treated to more delightful Roman sunshine the following day and spend the morning lying by the Cavalieri’s large outdoor pool (there are three outdoors in total, including a children’s pool). It’s a transformative offering for a Rome holiday; the city is a ten minute drive away and yet guests can enjoy a countryside, poolside sun escape in the same breath. The hotel shuttle buses run regularly to and from the hotel and when the city has zapped the visitor of sightseeing strength, the oasis of pools, restful gardens and the hotel’s 2,500m2 Grand Spa Club, complete with mosaic Turkish bath and Roman pillared steam rooms, provide a fabulous sanctuary. During winter months, the glassed ceiling indoor pool with its quirky log fire will suffice.
Rome's magnificent Colosseum - Photo copyright: Iakov Kalinin | 123RF.COM
After a banquet-style late breakfast, we take the shuttle bus into the city and head for Galleria Borghese. The seventeenth century garden villa sits on the edge of Rome’s most famous park and displays Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, a host of Caravaggios and Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne sculpture – gallery visits must be booked in advance.
We exit the park on its east quadrant, passing the ornate Villa Medici, and stop for a velvety cappuccino which swiftly turns into a tasting with the café owner of her homemade Amalfi limoncello.
Pepped up Roma style, we forge a path to one of the most intact Roman structures in the city – the Pantheon – where the afternoon light cascades through the 30ft hole in the dome’s apex into the grand chamber below. Our weekend of sightseeing draws to a close amid the echoing passageways of the iconic Colosseum. The top floors have recently been opened to the public offering dazzling views of the oval amphitheatre and this iconic Rome sight is the perfect crown on this city break, which overflows with history and spectacle.
We opt for nightcaps at the Imperial Lounge Club, a seventh ﬂoor bar at the Rome Cavalieri exclusively available to guests staying in the rather more expensive suites on the Imperial Club ﬂoor. Serving a range of complimentary food and beverages throughout the day from light breakfasts to afternoon tea and hors d’oeuvres, its private capacious balconies are some of our favourite secluded spots in the entire hotel. Peaceful and exclusive, we sit gazing at the view once more, prosecco in hand.
If all roads do indeed lead to Rome, visitors will not be disappointed. Just be sure to take the road up the hill for the best view in town.
Nightly rates at Rome Cavalieri start from 290 euros (approximately £250) in a king deluxe room. Website: www.romecavalieri.com