Roman Saturday: delightful De Russie

September 9, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Dining in the garden

The place to be in Rome on a Saturday is the garden of Hotel de Russie. For buffet lunch. Not just for the food, tables groaning cold cuts, antipasti, and desserts and a pasta station.

The real charm is tables under the trees in gentle breeze, in a restaurant tiered up one of Rome’s seven hills. Cute legs marched past in dressy shorts, among those who would see and be seen, cool on a hot day.

This garden is one of the reasons for the hotel’s oasis reputation, another is the spa bubble bath. It is fabulous I was told by a guest as I peered in to see, and it is free (to guests).  We were merely lunch guests.

The highlight  of the meal (for us) was the charming Mario, who came with the renowned Italian charm up to me and held two tomato pasta’s (pasta pommodoro) in front of me with an arm on each side. Which do you want, he asked. This one is made with love, and this one with tomato. I did choose love…

Hotel de Russie lies in a fashionable street Via del Babuino near Piazza del Popolo. It has 122 rooms.  We were shown round a few rooms, in the style that its loyal guests love  with marble and mosaic bathrooms, understated demure colours and a hint in some of classic romance. The only brightish colour I remember in the deluxe rooms and deluxe superior rooms we saw was the case of the TV.


Heat & Roman history

August 25, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Can any city be such a transection through time?

There is the modern Rome, like via Condotti, or the road streaming traffic past the monument to Vittorio Emmanuel (and shaking it and other monuments). There is also Romanesque Rome, Renaissance Rome, Baroque Rome, Neoclassical Rome still standing.  And then there are the cracks. As if modern Rome is being peeled and the old revealed….

Crumbling, peeling, cracking to reveal pillars, foundations, carvings of classical eras.

Like Trajans market. And here and there, and everywhere…a chip of plaster off and THERE is an old column.

Not so many cracks and revelations of the classical near Hassler. But very Roman.

The Spanish steps, a happening place. A place to celebrate. Who goes to Rome without climbing the 136 steps, or sitting on them, posing on them, collapsing on them.

Fearsome heat, 32 to 36 degrees all week. But yesterday was a cool day at 28. Rising to 29 tho much more in the sun.

Beating the heat was our main object in sightseeing. Crossing streets to edge along shady walls. The heat beats you, you beat the heat…a heat dance.

And then the shady park. Hot too but with a gentle breeze.

Hot space. The square feels empty by virtue of its sweeping space, but queues of people  for hundreds of metres round to St Peters entrance, crawling like ants.

Comments written in Rome in July(on hard copy) – blogged only now


Hotel Hassler: original glam & charm

August 12, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (1)

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Half the panorama

Hassler lies at the top of the Spanish Steps with some of the best views in Rome. Most people who visit the eternal city climb at least once up the 138 pale worn steps or just sit on a step among many others. Like we did just absorbing the atmosphere.

One can fancy that the footsteps of history have passed here many times.

The US Army chose Hassler as their headquarters after World War II while in a lighter vein Grace Kelly chose it for her honeymoon, Tom Cruise chose it for his wedding according to my informant, and Woody Allen over and over for the panoramic views.

History seems to float in the air when you sit on Hassler’s terraces, with the domes and spires of Rome in the haze, or just palely glowing among the lights of night. You also drink in the view along with choice wines in the Michelin-starred Imago restaurant, with two sides of glass facing Roman magic. The corner table at Imago may have witnessed more marriage proposals than any other spot in Europe – it has views forever and back into time. There is another contender for romance in two deep red velvet seats tucked away in Imago.

The owner Roberto Wirth comes from a Swiss hotelier family. He is a hands-on owner and loves to linger around reception and greet guests. Mr Wirth is deaf and immediately explains simply: I am deaf, I lipread… A philanthropist who does a lot for deaf children, Wirth is a distinguished man with beautiful white hair and noble look, so I felt touched and deeply honoured when he came up and shook my hand, explaining about his lack of hearing and making conversation showing he had read up who I represented.

Wirth’s independence as hotelier is one of the charms of the hotel. With the help of his wife’s designer eye, it is so totally original through and through, so “uncorporate”. With a quirky charm, personality and glamour that brings people back. “We have many customers that come because their parents loved it,” said sales manager Barbara Ankin. “It is a generational hotel.” Many are from the USA.

Once called Hassler New York, the hotel is an eclectic mix of styles and tastes. There are zooty touches that go back to the jazz age. Glittery glam lounges. Refined velvety lounges. And simply staggering terraces, which must surely have the best views in Rome. We have sat in silent awe up there on the public terrace, enchanted.

Then here in this courtyard (where I am writing) you have an ancient wall of earth on one side, the edge of one of Rome’s seven hills. It is embedded with very old Roman objects, mossy urns, vases and sculptures. But in front is a flauntingly modern brand new bar, a glassy shell hovers over the counter (blue shell, silver counter) in the process of becoming a water feature. Water is due to run down the sides.

The rooms are all different with many different styles. Our deluxe room was renovated two years ago, plenty of wood, all white and bright. Pale marble bathroom. Delightful and fresh in feel. Another room (Junior Suite) we were shown was mostly black with black furniture and black marble bathroom – but had the advantage of one of the rare terraces. Another (Classic Suite) was newly attired in pale muted colours. Others newly designed were in red, black and white with waves and checks, a kind of new art deco.

The Presidential has been newly decorated with this playful flamboyance (by the owner’s wife). The Penthouse suite also flashes with vivid red. The main feature about this suite is its totally amazing unbeatable terrace. Huge…and with views to mesmerize. All the magic of Rome is there with domes and spires rising from the haze. What is more it has a roofed area on the terrace with a TV and grilling place. The Penthouse suites size, charm and status invites high society and celebrity weddings. Up to a hundred guests have been present at weddings here.

There is another public terrace adjoining the spa and the free gym where an American family of two generations was hard at work training (a former football trainer and two kids who looked like they played something pretty hard). There is a shortage of terraces among deluxe rooms – only two – but if you book really far ahead and have a good reason for asking for a balcony, you just might be lucky. You have to take a suite to get a terrace. Our Deluxe room had a view of Iglesia Trinita de Monte seen though a gap between two wings of the building. We had the best possible changing room, as there is plenty of place for two suitcases on a built in platform at convenient height (no bending over) plenty of drawers and hanging spaces. Marble bathroom. Nice amenities.

Altogether there are 95 rooms of which 13 are suites. Plenty of connecting rooms, deluxe to grand deluxe, grand deluxe to grand deluxe, and a kiddie’s programme. There can be fun for kids in Rome. Barbara Ankin mentioned a museum that taught the history of Rome to kids – Museum of the Roman Civilization. Of course kids can enjoy seeing the Colosseum, the Catacombs too and driving those fun bike/car things in the Villa Borghese park.

One very popular adult activity is unlikely to please the kids though. Window shopping in Via Condotti which starts only 138 steps down from Hassler and perhaps 50 more. Just to name a few brands that jostle side by side on a short stretch: Bally, Burberry, Bvlgari, Cartier, Damiani, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Hermes, Valentino, Vuitton, Prada, Ferragamo, Trussardi. An exception The Ferrari store will have some appeal for boys of all ages and is quite an exciting red.

See next blog about Roman Sunday.

Images (c) Per-Olov Broddeson


Rome…what can one say?

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Fontata del tritone - a ncie surpise when walk not knowing where

 “I never want this day to end, I love Rome…”


Tuscany: more than food & wine – history

August 5, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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San Gimignano medieval towers

In late July, harvested wheatfields are deep gold. Medieval stone towns cling to hilltops presenting the challenge of climbing up in burning heat. But they are worth it, full of little trattorias offering Tuscan fare.  Pizzas and pastas. Piazzas and duomos. History…

We drove up from Rome on the A1, then crossed hilly Val d’Orcia from Chiusi via medieval Montepulciano and Montalcino (park and climb)  on an entrancing winding route to the remote Castiglion del Bosco, and then drove a less exciting “fast” route chosen by our GPS,  bypassing Siena on the autostrada towards Florence and then turning south east towards Casole d’Elsa and Castello di Casole.

Both hotels (Castiglion and Castello) are well placed for exploring cultural treasures. Castiglion: Montalcino 15 minutes, Siena 40 minutes, San Gimignano 1 hour 20 minutes. Castello: Siena 60 minutes, San Gimignano 40  minutes, Florence 1 hour 10 minutes. 

We enjoyed the proximity to Casole d’Elsa when staying at Castello di Casole for its narrow stone alleys, and choice of less expensive dining venues with typical Tuscan fare.  And then we made a visit to San Gimignano. Again you are forced to park low down and walk in crushing heat  (unless you have can afford to just take a limousine or taxi).

As you climb you get closer and closer to what must have seemed a miracle in the middle ages. The tall austere towers around the Duomo…