Pros: Olivetti's and Pirelli's favorite hotel in Roma - and they're demanding customers!
Cons: Not easy to find a room here, and it's not exactly affordable...
I should have known about this hotel before anybody else. It's my job!
Instead, I found out about the extraordinary Hotel de Russie a year and a half ago, because one of the Olivetti CEOs I have to deal with for business travel told his secretary that on his next trip to Rome he wouldn't be staying at the Eden hotel anymore.
"Daniela, you should contact the De Russie hotel and ask for their corporate rates. Mr (****)wishes to make a reservation for tomorrow evening."
I was taken aback. I had never heard of the De Russie and assumed he had gotten the wrong name of the hotel. Instead, I did a little research, and felt such shame... Then again, the De Russie doesn't need any publicity whatsoever, and is easily overlooked unless heard of by word-of-mouth.
Yes. All roads lead to Rome. But not all roads in Rome lead to the De Russie hotel.
Capital letters all right. The Hotel de Russie is right on Via del Babuino - that's that quiet, cobblestone-paved fascinating little street that takes you from the Spanish Steps to the Piazza del Popolo, amidst a heaven of antique shops, upper-scale boutiques (the real icons of Italian modern fashion are based here, not on Via Condotti), beautiful, historical, exquisitely restored buildings that are home to Rome's elite. Via del Babuino is pedestrian, and that alone is worth pure gold ... Traffic and noise in Rome can definitely reach unbearable levels.
Of course, being Via del Babuino in the very heart of the Eternal City, it is also a short walk from the most important sights - within 10 minutes, the Colosseum, the Foro Romano, the Trevi Fountain, the Campidoglio, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and even Saint Peter's can all be easily reached.
I am tempted to say that this is the most perfect location for a hotel in Rome... Well, I said it.
Viewed from the outside, the De Russie is not an impressive sight. It is a seven-story, nineteenth-century building built in gray stone with a solemn, almost stern appearance. But upon the entrance through the lobby, divided in two large halls paved in marble and opening onto a private interior garden, an understated exhibition of luxury and elegance is immediately perceived.
I conducted a little research upon my visit and has been told by the concierge that the building is actually an historical landmark (and who would've guessed otherwise, when in Rome?) erected by Valadier in 1814, if I recall correctly, and a favorite haven for celebrities from the mid-800's on - from Picasso to Cocteau to Stravinskij to nobility and dignitaries from all over the world.
It had been closed to the public for over twenty years, and hosting public TV company RAI.
Was then restored to its ancient beauty and splendor under the ownership of Sir Rocco Forte, the entrepreneur formerly known as head of international hotel chain Forte Hotels, who has acquired and now manages a handful of individual luxury hotels in Brussels, Edinburgh, Florence, Manchester and St. Petersburg.
The common areas of the De Russie are lavishly decorated with marble statues and modern art paintings. From the lobby, the building separates in two wings, enclosing a beautiful garden, terraced on different levels, a truly welcome oasis during warmer months where one can recover from the hustle and bustle of the great city and relax in perfectly tended for greeneries, among rare, stunning flowers in bloom and
ancient statues and precious Roman-era ruins. A Neoclassical bridge joins the two wings on the building through the gardens, where during those seven balmy months Rome is blessed with (from April to October) the bar and restaurant lay tables out for those who wish to have their drinks or meals "al fresco".
The main facilities in the hotel - conference, meeting, gathering rooms, hallways, the restaurant and bar - are furnished and decorated in earthy, neutral tones that are very restful and peace-inducing to the eye: all shades in beige and muted gray, with some touches of terra brown and of the color I always identify Rome with - "Rosa Antico" - a soft, mellow shade halfway between a light brown and a peachy pink.
Every, and I mean every single one, of the 102 rooms and 27 suites is appointed differently, in pastel, relaxing colors and boasting excellent views on either the Spanish Steps, the Obelisk in Piazza del Popolo, or the private gardens. All rooms are fairly large, with larger-sized bed as usually featured in Italy, and providing all the modern facilities you could possibly imagine - from satellite TV to modem jacks to fax machines - and are equipped with a tasteful combination of Italian antiques and notable furniture by highly acclaimed European designers. Bathrooms are small works of art with marble walls and floors, brass faucets and appliances, and beautiful Roman mosaics on the walls.
The suites and deluxe rooms are located at the higher floors of the hotel with amazing views and are the epitome of "buon gusto" - I visited the Picasso suite and was really impressed. The profusion of luxury is never excessive, however: a display of elegance and aristocratic good taste, that whispers, rather than screams, wealth and opulence.
I would like to point out that I haven't slept in this hotel, for two reasons:
1).I own an apartment in Rome, so whenever I need to stay overnight, I curl up in my bed in my cruddy, cheap, run-down place near Cinecitta (i.e.: a step above the ghetto).
2). I can't afford such a place and that stingy Brit didn't offer me a free or discounted room when I announced Lady Daniela was coming over for a visit. After all, with Leonardo di Caprio and Bill Clinton staying in that hotel the same week Daniela Barone planned to, you'd think he'd be interested in my presence?
So I just jumped on the beds, washed my hands and peered out of the windows of three different rooms while escorted by a very patient and pleasant receptionist.
Ah, I did dine in this hotel, however. I had already heard of famous chef Nazzareno Menghini and the Jardin de Russie restaurant and wasn't going to miss that treat. It was a most memorable experience- and having dined in plenty of great restaurants in Rome, that's something!
Lovely atmosphere. The restaurant and the Stravinskji bar both face the gardens, with wide, breezy windows and balmy lights that highlighted the magnolia trees shining through. The table setting was just perfect, with Christophle silver cutlery, white linens, and impeccable service. Unfortunately it wasn't warm enough to sit outside, as it was November. And it was Friday: can't eat anything but fish when in Rome on Friday. I was warmly greeted by the maitre d'hotel, who suggested a marvelous local white wine - Frascati Superiore Vigna Adriana - while offering us a weird cocktail with caviar, which actually wasn't bad at all.
I sampled a delicious Mediterranean lobster risotto, an audacious but very satisfying flounder filet, breaded and accompanied by a flavorful herbed sauce (sage, marjoram and rosemary), and garnished with pink grapefruit. A mixed salad with a delectable dressing, and a blackberry and raspberry parfait.
I spent 390.000 lire (190 US$) for dinner for two, three entrees plus dessert, coffee - and the bottle of wine, listed for about 75.000 lire. It was worth every penny.
I thought I'd check out the fitness center as well, since most Europeans aren't interested in that sort of facilities, but overseas customers value such amenities quite seriously. It is far more than you would expect from any hotel. It's a real SPA! It boasts a large pool with a Jacuzzi, a sauna,a Turkish steam bath, a fully equipped gym, and a wide range of beauty and health treatments - from all sorts of massages: shiatzu, antistress, physio, even scalp and stone massages; to mud treatments, to aerosol and aromatherapy... I've seen thermal resorts in Capri and Abano Terme with fewer features.
Of course, if you're walking around in Rome all day or attending an important meeting with vicious Italian managers, I would suppose you might very well need a relaxing massage once you retreat to your hotel...
Both customers and personnel are extremely quiet -almost whispering! I'm not accustomed to that, not in Italy...
Aside from that, I found quite unusual that most of the staff wasn't exactly local people. Most personnel appeared to have strange accents, and I detected a couple as being Dutch and French. They were all very polite and helpful, to me- I wasn't even a customer, and I was visiting almost incognito. I overheard the concierge on duty suggesting a (very good, by the way) restaurant, and providing accurate information to reach it by bus. They will go out of their way to help you out with all of your enquiries - from taxi and limo transfers to planning a sightseeing itinerary, just about anything. The only drawback for U.S. customers, I would suppose, is they always address you too politely - i.e., haughty, I'd dare say "stuck up". But their information is honest and to-the-point, and unlike Romans usually do, they won't recommend you their ugly friends' restaurant just so they can get a chip off the bill.
Of course, such luxury carries a pretty hefty price tag...
I have had a 100 customer turnover in the past year, so I suppose the rates I've been granted with for 2002 are quite exceptional. For a standard single room in only bed basis I have a $300 quotation, and for deluxe, a $350 rate. Rack rates range from $400 to $800 for a suite. They are currently holding a winter promotion with rates starting at $280 for a double room.
I would definitely recommend a stay at the De Russie hotel for those who are seeking for an exclusive, stylish and handsome accomodation in Rome - especially for business travelers and honeymooners, and especially from March to June and September/October, when the Eternal City lets its beauty shine through most defiantly and reaches its maximum potential.
If you can't afford such upscale hotels, well, do yourself a favor and have at least your LUNCH there for once.
Ah, yes, and what's the Russie have to do with all of this? Well, except for some Irene Russian Princess and her mother who held banquets there often a couple of hundred centuries ago, and the caviar drink, I haven't figured it out yet!
Thanks for reading and enjoy your stay in Caput Mundi...