St. Regis brings elegance back to Le Grand

Travel Weekly senior editor Mark Chesnut recently took a whirlwind tour through Italy to check out some of the country's newest properties. His first report follows.

ROME -- Much attention has been paid to the historic sites spruced up in time for Rome's yearlong millennium celebration. But the private sector has played its part, too, and the St. Regis Grand is one of the best examples of the fresh face of Rome.

When the Le Grand first opened its doors in 1894, it made headlines for attracting an elite clientele as well as for having countless luxuries, such as electric lights and private baths.

The building was constructed on top of the ruins of the Baths of Diocleziano, on land that once belonged to Pope Sixtus V.

The newly renovated St. Regis Grand maintains its original name atop the 1894 building. As the decades rolled by, the hotel's reputation attracted visits from a long list of luminaries, including Burt Lancaster, Fred Astaire, Richard Burton, Bette Davis, Andy Warhol and Madonna, as well as Juan Peron, Indira Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

More recently, it served as a setting for the movie, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," with Matt Damon.

Even as the hotel continued to attract big-name guests, it was beginning to need some sprucing up.

The property, which is now owned and operated by Starwood Hotels, closed for a $35 million renovation and reopened in December 1999 as the St. Regis Grand.

"This hotel has been more of a restoration than a renovation," said Stephen Alden, managing director of the St. Regis Grand.

He said an effort was made to recapture the look of the hotel as it originally was built, rather than replace original design elements with modern updates.

This is apparent upon entering the two-tiered lobby, which is graced with Murano glass chandeliers and Corinthian columns.

The ballroom is "exactly as it was when it opened in 1894," according to Alden, with original frescoes and restored chandeliers.

Each guest room in the St. Regis Grand features an original fresco. A few steps away is the Le Grand Bar, an elegant place to have a drink.

At the time of this reporter's visit, final touches were being placed on Vivendo, a restaurant slated to open before press time.

Once a week, the hotel hosts a wine-tasting session, led by a local wine expert in the hotel's 2,700-bottle wine cellar.

Staying at the St. Regis Grand is like staying at a friend's home -- if your friend happens to be an ambassador.

The Empire-style hotel has 161 rooms and suites.

Even the most basic room is spacious, with high ceilings, large windows that open, a marble bath, a writing desk, a couch, a makeup table and a safe. Each room is graced with a handpainted fresco of Roman sites.

The hotel's Butler Serviced Floor offers additional amenities, including valet service and bath amenities by Bvlgari.

There are 17 junior suites, six ambassador suites, one Bvlgari designer suite and one Royal Suite, which is a corner suite with more than 1,300 square feet of space, a marble dining table, an 800-bottle wine cellar, two dressing rooms and bulletproof windows.

The hotel has 4,000 square feet of meetings space, with 17 meetings rooms, including the ballroom. There also is an outdoor cocktail area.

The St. Regis has a small but well-equipped fitness club, which has exercise equipment as well as services including massage and reflexology.

Doubles run from approximately $471 to $712, and suites run from approximately $937 for a junior suite to $4,924 for the Royal Suite.

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