One of the worst and nails-dragging-on-a-blackboard question I can think of is "What's the best hotel in Rome?" First of all, Rome hotels - and I mean the gamut from random apartment lets to five-star luxury - cannot be compared to anything you've ever experienced outside of Rome. Space means far more here because there is far less, tradition has been known to outweigh innovation, and, thanks to the Eternal City's historic pole position on the Grand Tour, hotel competition has always been more of a numbers game - all about getting you in the door, but not necessarily keeping you in and coming back. Secondly, recommending hotels is like stepping in dog crap right after you cleaned your shoe from the last time you stepped in it. It's a lose-lose game that comes a close second to offering constructive criticism to parents who pointedly asked for it to begin with.
For me, the best hotel in Rome is one that makes me feel good because of a crazy discount, an incredible location, an amazing rooftop, or even a great affair- essentially, qualifying a hotel as Best has far more to do with mood of the moment, personal fantasies, and unspoken expectations and less to do with size, interior design or location. There is no rhyme or reason... but just three must-haves: proper hair dryers, quality bedding (no twin mattresses masquerading as a king and no bouncy pillows) and a bowl of fresh fruit. . . every day. You get it.
Round 1: The Five Star
Parco dei Principi: I love this hotel when I love the city so much I want to get out of it. Its Villa Borghese location (the sprawling park above Via Veneto) brings a little Great Escape to the Great Beauty. Though the hotels' design is a little heavy on Baroque (in public areas) for my sanity- the lobby and bar are perfect for a afternoon cocktail. And happily, the rooms are toned down to a more simple, refined design and dare I say modernized Baroque vibe. I'm sold on the view - yep, park facing rooms from the fourth floor and up have an incredible front row view through the greens of Villa Borghese to St. Peter's dome. If you know me, then you know it's the pool that keeps me obsessed with Parco dei Principi. From May through September, this is my go-to spot because it has my favorite pool in the city- a large Art Deco piscine complex with beds and cabanas, and drinks.
- Plus: The pool, hell yeah. And underneath is the best equipped and most stylish spa in the city. Quite possibly the best five star prices.
- Minus: The design can be a little busy on the eyes. And if you aren't used to walking around Rome, you might find it a bit out of the way.
Grand Melia Villa Agrippina: Sprawling estate, gorgeous greenery and pool, and a little bit of antiquity. Villa Agrippina is what I like to call Miami-meets- Mannerism, thanks to the mix of vintage Italian design and contemporary flair throughout the entire hotel- which, back in the day, was Emperor Nero's mom's villa. The rooms are large and luminous, and with just enough design (contemporary luxe- soft lines, neutral colors, quality pieces) that I automatically am relaxed. On a personal note, I love the hard wood floors and any room with a Vatican-facing balcony. The Danish design pieces make me smile while the oversized Caravaggio prints make me chuckle. But its the lush pool garden and its views of the Vatican that keep me coming back.... and the bar-side Bloody Marys.
- Plus: Trastevere-adjacent location makes it walkable to the Vatican and historic center. The Spa is great for an afternoon free.
- Minus: I really can't think of any at the moment. Maybe the oversized Caravaggio prints?
Grand Palace Hotel:I recently discovered the Grand Palace in review I was writing up for The Telegraph, and I have to admit I was really happy. Grand Palace gets thumbs up for being a modern monument- it was designed by Marcello Piacentini, the very same architect who gave us Via della Conciliazione, the facade of the Teatro dell'Opera and was head of the EUR project, all circa 1930s. Piacentini's gorgeous Art Deco meets Rationalist exterior facade has modern references to ancient Rome, and the hotel's curvy interior still has some of its original ornament like the ball room decorated in frescoes by Venetian artist Guido Cadorin, showing 1920s high society. The 2012 reboot brought in loots of pinks and greens, lacquer and velour.
- Plus:CO Bigelow beauty and body care products, a small groundfloor spa with salt water pool, and lots of elbow room. So far, this hotel has the biggest standard and deluxe rooms I've seen for a five star. Views from Fifth floor and up are total Great Beauty. Walking distance to Villa Borghese and my dentist.
- Minus: The rooms have a lot of design, but definitely palatable. The views may be Great Beauty, but keep in mind, it's modern Rome you're looking at, not its undulating history of domes, mega-monuments and tiled rooftops. The Via Veneto address is posh, but it is all business so you are going to have to walk if you want a bit of Rome joie de vivre.
J.K. Roma: If it's raining, and it's winter, and I want to have an affair (which at this point either means Me time or a child-free get away), I'd book a room at the JK. And to be honest, it doesn't matter what size the room- there is a luxurious coziness that designer Michel Bonan-inspired in each room- rich jewel colors mixed with white accents, incredible bedding and gorgeously spacious white-on-white bathrooms. Even in the small classic, you'll just want to lie around for hours, like I did. But since the hotel is literally a step out in the charm and chaos of Rome's historic center, it's [almost] hard to stay since you have the heart of the Eternal City at your door step.
- Plus: You automatically are stylish just by staying here, or just getting a drink. The ground floor lounge is the haute couture living room and library you've always wanted- atrium high ceilings, museum-piece furniture and every single Taschen and Assouline art books you could ever covet.
- Minus: In the evenings, the neighborhood is quiet- great for those who need a rest, but not so great for the restaurant scene, or lack there of. Summer months find me feeling slightly congested here.
Bonus points go to the following:
- The Instagrammable: Though I need to get back for a full review, the Boscolo Exedra is a gorgeous spot for Instagram- artsy and selfies. Neo-classical, white on white, big rooms with glittery things.
- The Holy Triumverate:the Hassler, a traditional beauty with a secret contemporary Art Deco flair; de Russie, the Grand Dame of Rome's 21st century hotel reboot; and the Eden, once the renovations are completed.
Coming soon . . . Round 2: The Luxury Suite