s it is inevitable that Italy’s capital, Rome, will be your entry point into the country (after all, all roads – and all flights – lead to Rome), you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to suitably grand hostelries. If on business, you can be assured of all the executive trappings at the Hotel Splendide Royal, which borders the Borghese Gardens. If your room is on one of the upper floors, you may enjoy a view across the rooftops to St Peter’s Basilica. For an intimate, contemporary and sleekly glamorous stay try the Hotel Lord Byron, located a little deeper into the Borghese Park, in the exclusive ambassadorial Parioli quarter. It has high-lacquered, artdeco furnishings, beautiful books in the lounge and a Noel Coward quote stencilled onto the lobby wall. For sheer blow-away grandeur, however, nothing in Rome comes close to the Residenza Napoleone III. A suite of inter-leading rooms in the Palazzo Ruspoli, the Residenza was the domicile of Emperor Napoleone III, who lived here with his mother,
PRE S TI G e
the former Queen of Holland. Saying this suite is fit for royalty would be an understatement: gilded candelabra, gleaming parquet floors, a swooning canopy bed, 17th Century oil paintings standing three metres tall, and sumptuous velvet upholsteries; this is by far the most luxurious self-catering apartment in the Eternal City. And the Residenza has a butler service, so expect your breakfast to be laid out on Bulgari silver each morning. There’s a bijou little kitchen – hidden behind one of the many museum-quality oils that swing open on a secret hinge – probably a practical necessity since you really don’t ever want to have to leave these damask walls for something as prosaic as nutrition. For honeymooners or for serious shoppers who want strolling distance to the luxury labels on Via Condoti, Rome’s über shopping street, this is a superlative choice of accommodations. Florence is well known as a repository of art history. In fact, Stendhal called it “a vast museum full of foreign tourists,” so one cannot stress too highly how important it is to find restful lodgings far from the
maddening crowds. The historic Villa San Michelle, situated on the breezeassisted hillsides of Fiesole, just five minutes out of town, has many a desired feature. Originally a 15th Century monastery, the current structure owes its façade to Michelangelo and its discreet patina to the always consistent OrientExpress group. Even if you don’t choose to sleep here, at least enjoy a meal on their terrace, which overlooks the red-tiled Renaissance roofs and the gleaming curve of the Duomo baking in the valley below. Some of the best contemporary art in Florence can be seen not in a museum but in a boutique hotel – the Residenza del Moro. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels portfolio, it is the 10-roomed, mid-life crisis of its owner Gilberto Sandretto and his wife, architect and art gallerist Maria Rosa. Sandretto is a billionaire industrialist who certainly does not need the money while Maria Rosa, who presumably does not need the work, has impeccable taste. Combine the talents of the two and you have the perfect Florentine pied-à-terre; equal parts elegance and luxury. A palazzo in its past life, the Residenza has a fitness centre in the former kitchen and one of just two roof gardens in all of Florence, not to mention the only cork tree in the city. If you can, make like Liza Minnelli and request the Suite del Marchese – a 92-square-metre former ballroom with impossibly high stucco ceilings. The Residenza’s extraordinary contemporary art collection is valued at some €60 million and includes an Anselm Keifer – his only canvas in a public collection in Europe outside of a museum. I worked out that our room, which featured a Gloria Pastore and an Amish Fulton, must have had over €1million displayed on its silklined walls. With that kind of outlay, it seems positively Philistinistic to switch the lights off at night and sleep – albeit under 500 thread count, hand-stitched-in-Naples-bed linen – while the masterpieces appreciate in value overnight. Now, when in Venice, getting lost
Lifestyle magazine. A window on the finer things in life.