Room Key: Starhotels Rosa

Address: Via Pattari 5, Milano 20122, Italy

Reservations: (800) 816-6001

Phone: (011)39-02-8831

Fax: (011) 39-02 805-7964

General Manager: Agostino Buggio

E-mail:[email protected]

Nightly Rates: From about $186 to $609

Guest Rooms: 242

Meetings Rooms: 4

MILAN, Italy -- This city hasnt always been known primarily as a business and fashion center. Its two major tourist sites -- the magnificent Duomo, or cathedral, in the center of town and da Vincis mural of The Last Supper, painted on the walls of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie -- provide testimony that Milan was once a religious center.

The citys sacral past is evident in some of its lodging venues, as well. The Bulgari Hotel, which opened in 2004, makes much of the fact that it is housed in a former convent, as is the nearby Four Seasons Milan. A less well-known property (to Americans, at any rate) is the 242-room Starhotels Rosa, also a former convent.

The revamping occurred well before the Starhotels flag went up. This year, in fact, marks the Rosas 100th anniversary as public lodging; Starhotels bought it only 18 years ago.

But changes are again afoot at the property, changes that may also signal an evolution of Milan as a destination.

The Rosa has an enviable location, equidistant to the Duomo and a huge Prada outlet (two blocks from each) and convenient for those who come to Milan on business in the fashion industry.

But the hotel has lately been trying to attract leisure travelers, as well, said Agostino Buggio, its general manager, and is preparing changes that will strengthen its appeal to business and leisure visitors.

By the end of next year, the hotel will be unrecognizable, even to people who have been staying there for years. After 10 years of negotiations and two years of waiting for permits, Starhotels has acquired a large parcel next to the Rosa and has started a major expansion.

When completed, the Rosa will have 358 guest rooms, nine meetings rooms (up from four), a new restaurant and coffee shop, the only parking garage attached to a hotel in Milans center and a grand new entrance on Piazza Fontana that will replace its unassuming doors off a small side street. The expanded Rosa will be the largest hotel in central Milan.

Work has begun on another transformation that is less visible but equally dramatic. 

In thinking about how to raise occupancy rates during the weekends, Buggio decided to capitalize on his location near major tourist attractions and shopping. To that end, for the past nine months, the hotel has offered a weekend program that targets families.

Children under age 16 stay for free. When families arrive, they will find childrens books, coloring books and crayons as well as DVDs of popular childrens movies in their room.

Children eat free at the hotel restaurant, and a kids menu has been created. But dont expect mac-and-cheese: the Rosa childrens menu features prosciutto crudo dolce and veal cutlet, Milanese style, among other haute cuisine offerings.

But perhaps the most welcome innovation is a childrens area of the restaurant that has been set up for breakfast on weekends, complete with small tables and chairs and an English-speaking nanny to watch the kids while the parents, and other guests, eat in peace.

Families also find a folder in their room with a detailed street map of Milan and ideas for Great Things for Guests and Their Families to Do and See in Milan.

Milan is not known for kid-friendly attractions, but management has pointed out a few child-oriented things to do. Directions are given, for example, to a place called Fun & Fun -- Children Town. Given the dearth of kids attractions, the list falls back on general activities that most young children enjoy. Among the suggestions are to simply ride the trams, feed the pigeons, eat gelato and walk over the many bridges in I Navigli, an area of the city defined by a series of canals.

Buggio said the program has been so successful that Starhotels in Florence, Venice and Rome have cloned it.

To contact editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, send e-mail to [email protected].

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