Travelers to Rome know the Hassler, of course, with streamlined black cars inching through the side streets to their luxurious destination at the top of the Spanish Steps. And there are other gorgeous hotels, dripping in Old World details.
The Jumeirah Grand Hotel Via Veneto is something a little different. The 19th century bones of its two buildings are as stately as the hotel's neighbors on Via Vittorio Veneto. But the ornate details are contrasted with bold, angular art deco styling on the inside. The effect is retro yet modern, cutting edge but accessible.
Red carpeting edged in black sets off crisp white walls. Original 20th century art with impeccable pedigrees, Picasso and Miro among them, are on the wall in discreet places. The ceiling of the lobby is glass, over which water flows.
We barely noticed the ceiling feature, let alone the Picasso, as we arrived dazed at 7 a.m. on a steamy August day. Our toddler daughter, jetlagged and fretful after being cooped up on a plane for eight hours, wanted to climb on the boxy sofas and expensive coffee tables in the lobby. A tantrum seemed inevitable.
And then two of the hotel staff rescued us: A housekeeper brought us a plush frog puppet, and she and the bellman brought all of us from near-tears to laughter by popping out from behind columns and trying to teach us the Italian version of "ribbit."
We were escorted into the small elevator and up to a sunny, spacious suite on the third floor that consisted of a king bed set off from a sitting room by a partial wall. The sitting area contained a table and chairs, a desk and a couch big enough to sleep a third adult, with room to spare.
A hallway closet led to the gigantic bathroom, clad in marble and dark wood veneer walls and stocked with Bulgari products. The knobs and faucets were a study in minimalist design, so it took me awhile to figure out how to work the shower.
The beds looked so inviting that the three of us ignored the cardinal rule of transatlantic travel and sacked out for two hours. Standout features
Dubai-based Jumeirah took over the Grand Hotel earlier this year.
Aside from the fashion-forward art deco design, a few touches stood out: the rooftop hangout, for example, which includes several chaise lounges and tables.
Down the hall from the roof garden, which is open to guests, are the prime suites, and the hotel is able to host parties by joining the roof garden and the lacking-for-nothing Royal Suite, which also includes a terrace that spans the front of the building and overlooks Via Veneto.
At the hotel's lower-level Aqva spa, the piece de resistance is the Vichy shower and pool. The spa's front desk can adjust the mood lighting in the rooms — called "color therapy" — plunging them into bold hues.
Breakfast was in the hotel's showpiece Magnolia restaurant. I was intrigued by the story: A Japanese chef with a Michelin star turning out Italian dishes in an intimate setting three nights a week. Unfortunately for us, Magnolia was closed for dinner the night we were there. The location
"La Dolce Vita" aside, one of the benefits of the Grand Hotel is Via Veneto itself: A leafy, curved hill of a road that was a cool and welcoming respite from the summer Roman heat. Harry's Bar and the Cafe de Paris are each a block away from the Grand Hotel.
If you don't get lost, it's a 15-minute walk to the Spanish Steps and Rome's posh shopping streets. A few subway stops were nearby, but we took taxis: about 15 minutes to the Colosseum and to the Vatican.
Despite the friendliness of the staff, as the day went on I could see that there was one flaw in the hotel's setup. The reception, tucked in an alcove of the lobby and consisting of three desks, doubled as the concierge desk, and the space seemed overwhelmed on more than one occasion. When all the desks were occupied, other guests ended up awkwardly loitering nearby.
Still, after a wait, I found my questions were answered, and, not surprisingly, we fared better at the desks during nonpeak hours. We got recommendations for a nearby casual pizzeria (see accompanying report) and advice on hiring a taxi to Civitavecchia to meet our cruise ship. Staff at the desks and door spoke English, and we were made to feel at home.
Dining spots' cozy charm
We didn't have the time or energy to stray too far from our suite at the Jumeirah Grand Hotel on Via Veneto, so we asked one of the hotel's receptionists/concierges for a tip.
She suggested the San Marco, which turned out to be a very smart-looking pizzeria and wine bar about three blocks away. The pizza was cracker-thin and quite good, though we probably didn't order enough of it (San Marco, 38 Via Sardegna, phone: 39-06-4201-2620, Web: pizzeriasanmarco.it).
On the way to and from the San Marco we passed a small restaurant where the proprietor was speaking in animated English to a table of Americans. The familiarity of the language and sheer convenience of the location -- and the smell of good cooking -- drove us to La Bruschetta E that evening.
We sat at a table on the sidewalk and were charmed by the entire experience: The staff that fawned over our daughter; the proprietor who sang at one table and talked American football at the next. And the food: fresh Caprese salad, a Bolognese spaghetti that my husband raved over, zucchini fritters with sardines, washed down with a glass of strong red wine. Not fancy, but homey and delicious (La Bruschetta E, 39 Via Sardegna, phone: 39-06-4201-3721).
We capped off the evening's meal with a satisfying trip to the gelateria up the street. -- R.T.