ROME - Back in 1890, Cesar Ritz himself - the namesake for all those Ritzs and Ritz-Carltons - founded the Grand Hotel in the urban heart of Rome, just off the Piazza Della Republica. All these years later, it is still grand. The hotel drips ornate Belle Epoque style, and comes complete with a grand staircase and stratospheric ceilings. It underwent a $35 million U.S. renovation recently. Thankfully, the re-do freshened the property without modernizing it in an awkward way.
I spent two nights there on my round the world trip aboard Star Alliance carriers. The main lobby and bar and central meeting space look much as they must have looked a century ago. Guest rooms, too, are swank. Mine had plush carpeting, a mural painted above the bed, and included a two-person lovebird couch, plus a desk and a chair with an ottoman. The bed was spacious and comfortable; it conveyed me to dreamland straight off. Only one more touch needs to be added: sound-proofing, to shield guests from the round the clock buzz and roar of central-city street traffic. The lovely vintage windows and wooden shutters were fine, no doubt, for the horse and buggy era, but not now.
In the morning, the St. Regis puts out a generous breakfast buffet in Le Grand Bar. Not far off, located just behind reception, the St. Regis - a high-end brand of U.S.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts - operates a well-staffed, well-equipped business center. It is open and staffed 24 hours a day - an especially nice touch for a gracious heritage hotel, and a boon to the contemporary business traveler, like me.
For more information: Web: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/. Telephone (Italy): (39) (06) 4709.