Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hotel de Russie, Rome

ROME - When I arrived in Rome by train the other day, I passed by a cluster of rather forlorn-looking but certainly affordable backpacker hotels arrayed near Termini station, the main rail center here. Back in the day, I would have plopped down my backpack and bedroll and stayed in one of them. These days, I opt for more comfort. It costs more money to do that, to be sure, but the higher-end hotels offer beauty, restfulness and attentive staff.

I am writing this at the Hotel de Russie, a brilliantly designed, art-filled 5-star located between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo. I am in the business center, where two free PCs are on offer in a snug, well-equipped center that is staffed 24 hours a day. It is a stylish property, said to be favored by celebrities, both Italian and international. I am not a celebrity-seeker, having been cured of being starstruck by serving as a movie feature writer on the film festival circuit some years back, when I worked for the San Francisco Examiner. But judging from the hotel customers, who look like they have just stepped out a glossy magazine pictorial layout, I can believe this place is the haunt of the stars.

The hotel watering hole, Stravinskij Bar, and the spa, dubbed Wellness Zone, are haunts for Romans as well as hotel guests; 60 percent of the spa customers are Romans. The Wellness Zone employs all manner of therapies, including seasonal treatments keyed to color (green for spring, orange for fall, etc.), and couple massages and includes a small but well-equipped gym. The fine-dining restaurant Le Jardin de Russie features al fresco dining on warm, long Roman summer evenings, but it is chilly here this time of year, with dusk setting in about 5 p.m. No matter. You can have nibbles at the Stravinskij Bar with your drinks, and they are quite good. Last night, my 13 euro ($19 U.S.) glass of Chanti Classico came with no fewer than four plates of unanticipated sides: they included a variety of olives, addictive potato chips and a de facto salad of assembled crispy carrots, endive, celery and tomato with cheese. It served as a light evening meal.

My room looks out on a spacious terraced garden that is restful to behold. There is a grotto with trickling water in the garden - a soothing respite from the congestion and bustle of Rome. Just off the garden, the breakfast room offers a sumptuous buffet with eggs made to order, fine selections of ham and cheese, irresistible breads, fresh yogurt, fresh fruit and more. When you order coffee, it comes with hot milk without you requesting it, a nice touch. It is hard to linger over morning coffee when the drink has turned cold.

There is much more, but you get the picture. This is an elegant hideaway. It is part of the Rocco Forte Collection, a privately held company headed by Sir Rocco Forte, the British entrepreneur and member of a family of hoteliers who originally hail from Italy. The group of 13 city hotels and one resort (in Sicily) includes Browns, in London; the Lowry, in Manchester; and the Amigo, in Brussels. A far cry from my old budget backpacker haunts, to say the least, but a nice place to come back to after a hectic and tiring day of touring Roma on foot.

For more information: Web: Toll-free telephone from USA: 1.888.667.9477.

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