By Marc Kristal
“Location, location, location,” that governing incantation of all real estate deals, isn’t quite as ironclad when it comes to choosing a hotel. For one, part of the pleasure of travel involves discovering unknown, out-of-the-way gems; for another, hostelries in the heart of the action tend to be crowded, expensive, and touristic. The site of the InterContinental De La Ville Roma, however, would be impossible for even the most dedicated alternative traveler to resist. Just down the hill from Trinità dei Monti, at the top of the Spanish Steps, on Via Sistina, the hotel offers the privacy afforded by a discreet, narrow walking street while being a minute from one of the most majestic and storied overlooks in all of central Rome. De La Ville Roma is a pleasant stroll from such famous destinations as the Borghese Gallery and its sublime surrounding gardens and park, the Villa Medici, Piazza del Popolo, and vias Condotti (for shopping) and Veneto (for pretending you’re Fellini); and, if you enjoy sightseeing on foot (and in Rome, who doesn’t?), it’s not much further to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, the Forum and the Vatican – many of the places that, in spirit and in fact, make the city feel “eternal.” And like the street where it lives, the hotel itself, comprised of three buildings surrounding a central court, owns a discreet, old-world decorousness that enables guests to feel at once a part of, and apart from, the city. The pleasures of its setting aside, De La Ville Roma presents a number of charms that separate it from the typical “brand” hotel, and make it a pleasurable place indeed to vacation, vacation, vacation.
Appropriately, for a city in which the past everywhere haunts the present, De La Ville Roma is layered with history. During the Roman Empire, the land formed a part of the legendary Gardens of Lucullus, developed by the great general and politician whose name is synonymous with extravagant gourmandizing (as in “a lucullan feast”). Beginning in the sixteenth century, a monastery occupied the site; what is today the hotel’s inner courtyard functioned as a cloister in which the monks devoted themselves to prayer. In 1924, the Hungarian architect József Vágó combined the multiple structures into a hotel – which quickly became one of Rome’s most prestigious – and its modern, and very colorful, life began. According to Ciro Verrocchi, De La Ville Roma’s general manager, the hotel’s back door made it a popular choice for philandering politicians, and then as now the place remains a favorite among film stars, rock musicians, and supermodels (and, apparently, a good location: Woody Allen shot a scene for To Rome with Love in one of the suites).
With 192 rooms (24 of them suites), De La Ville Roma isn’t especially large, and the public spaces, though mostly high-ceilinged, are intimately scaled, which gives the hotel the welcome flavor of a private villa or pensione, a quality enhanced by the multiple terraces and balconies, many of them lightly, colorfully landscaped, that overlook the interior court. These alternate with 27 rooms that take advantage of the hotel’s location near the top of the Pincian Hill to deliver commanding panoramic vistas of the city and Borghese Gardens. The availability of the outdoors, the curiosity encouraged by the terrace-ringed communal courtyard, give De La Ville Roma a distinctly Roman companionability that’s unusual in a five-star hotel – in which the experience is typically more about the room than what’s outside the window – a sense of community echoed in the second-floor outdoor dining terraces and the Emperor’s Terrace, the rooftop bar/restaurant that opens in the warm months.
When asked what most distinguishes De La Ville Roma from the competition, Verrocchio answers, immediately, “it has the old charm,” and unlike other hotels with what he calls “a big tradition in the city, like the Excelsior, you have the great location.” Combined with “the consistency of a branded hotel,” Verrocchio adds, “it’s a place you can feel ‘old fashioned’ but with good quality.”
That’s largely a fair assessment, though De La Ville Roma is not without its shortcomings. The traditional hotel, with its festoon curtains and patterned rugs, requires freshening to rescue it from dowager-dom – both the rooms in which I stayed needed a coat of paint and new carpets – and more attentive housekeeping; and certain elements, notably the tiny, underequipped fitness room and frustratingly hit-or-miss wifi, would elicit complaints from travelers used to InterContinental’s dependably consistent amenities. De La Ville does not disappoint, however, when it comes to service: you are fussed over by teams of suitably (but not excessively) friendly and colorful receptionists, concierges, waiters, and bellmen in a fashion that does feel old-school in the most enjoyable and genuine of ways. If the ultimate measure of any establishment is its staff, De La Ville Roma deserves its five stars – and just outside the door, the heart of Rome awaits.
Marc Kristal is an architecture, design and travel writer. Kristal, a contributing editor of Dwell and a former editor of AIA/J, and has written for The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Wallpaper, Surface, and numerous other publications. In 2003, he curated the exhibition ‘Absence Into Presence: The Art, Architecture and Design of Remembrance’ at Parsons School of Design, and in 2009 he was part of the project team that created the award-winning Greenwich South planning study for the Alliance for Downtown New York. His books include Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors (2010) and Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture (2011), both from The Monacelli Press. Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the film Torn Apart. He lives in New York.