Just Back From Rome
Rome has always ranked supreme as a romantic weekend destination. But during a recent trip I discovered a city that’s teeming with exciting new openings, including a trio of special boutique hotels, as well as incredible contemporary art and architecture.
If Margutta 54 can be called a “bed and breakfast,” then I am a convert. Centrally located near bustling and chic Via Condotti, it’s a little haven set in a private courtyard off Via Margutta. Lined with old ivy-covered stone buildings, this residential, cobblestone cul-de-sac was once an artists’ colony where Cocteau, Fellini and Stravinsky found inspiration. With just four beautifully designed suites, Margutta 54 is the brainchild of Alberto Moncada whose noble connections include a cardinal (a family baldachin to receive the Pope attests to this) and whose family has long functioned as arts patrons, from Caravaggio through to Picasso. Moncada’s urbane, well-mannered upbringing is not only evident in his every gesture, but in the modern yet classic design of the rooms themselves—both in Margutta 54 and his other property, Via Mario de Fiori 37 (a third, Babuini 181, is slated to open early 2010 and will be the swankest and largest of the triplet).
Part of Margutta’s charm is that it doesn’t feel like a hotel. Its small size and personable staff make it much more relaxing. Martina, our charming butler warmly greeted me and my beau by name, as did Lindan the next-day butler and Andrea, the head concierge who formerly worked at the city’s Hotel de Russie. Moncada keeps costs down by only serving breakfast at Margutta, but Rome has more than enough places to eat. Moncada takes his daily espresso at nearby Buvette on Via Vittoria, a charming café with delicious sandwiches, pastries and perfect coffee. (Other Moncada picks for great meals with lots of atmosphere are Al Moro on Vicolo delle Bollette and Nino on Via Borgognona).
Upon arrival, Martina at Margutta took us upstairs to room number four, which comes with his and hers dressing rooms, a big limestone and marble bathroom with a deep tub and separate shower (great water pressure), beautifully restored 100-year-old oak-wood floors and a well-chosen color palette. The sheets were Frette, naturally, as Moncada’s business partner owns the Italian luxury linen brand. The living area consisted of an oversized daybed accented by a few plump red and black cushions, comfortable brown leather arm chairs and black-and-white Italian photography.
Once we had settled into our spacious suite, the guide Indagare suggested came over to help us plan our Roman holiday. In addition to recommending a Renaissance art and architecture tour (which we took and loved!), she was so helpful when it came to local know-how. She suggested that we have lunch in the light-filled atrium of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and then go see a great Alexander Calder exhibition. (I wish we had listened to her and not gone to Antica Pesa for dinner; it was very touristy.) Other highlights: take the small electric bus number 117 on the 90-minute circuitous route through quaint Roman neighborhoods; check out Maxxi (Via Guido Reni 10), the brand new Zaha Hadid contemporary art museum in the Testaccio neighborhood; Monti, an up-and-coming district behind the Forum where British author Zadie Smith once lived; go to the Galleria Borghese on Friday night, when the museum is less crowded. In the space of an hour, Indagare’s recommended guide had made our weekend. My only regret: her company also provides special, after-hours tours to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, which I wish we’d done. Instead, we traipsed through the whole exhaustive Vatican Museum and by the time we arrived at the Sistine Chapel, I was suffering from serious sensory overload and crowd fatigue. Next trip I’m splurging on the after-hours tour: seeing Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel with no one else around…now that would be heaven.