‘Location, location, location’, estate agents tell property buyers.
It’s even more crucial advice for a new five-star hotel and something the InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace has with knobs on.
It has a prime position on the illustrious Via Veneto, its gentle curves lined with historic Italian architecture, cafes, and restaurants and immortalised in film director Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece, La Dolce Vita – ‘the sweet life’.
In its 60’s heyday Via Vittorio Veneto, to give it its full moniker, was a magnet for the glitterati.
Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, Audrey Hepburn, Anita Ekberg, Gary Cooper, Orson Welles and Tennessee Williams all frequented the street’s famed cafes and hotels.
Café de Paris, Harry’s Bar, the Baglioni, the Westin Excelsior, and the Palazzo Margherita, home to the US Embassy, sparkled with chandeliers, jewellery, and old-fashioned star-power, preserved for posterity in a blaze of paparazzi flash bulbs.
Ian Walker checked in to the five-star InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace. Pictured: A one-bedroom suite
‘The beautiful entrance hall (pictured) features the original, majestic white marble staircase adorned with a cardinal red carpet,’ writes Ian
The entrance hall (pictured) leads onto dark-panelled corridors lined with ‘160 rooms and suites’
Over time the glitz and the glamour faded, but now a slew of luxury brands have arrived to keep the Intercontinental company and breathe new life into this most renowned of Roman streets.
The W Rome is just around the corner, a Rosewood Hotel is under construction across the road and a Nobu Hotel will soon open alongside.
Officially opened in May, Intercontinental parent company IHG heralded their latest Roman acquisition as ‘an oasis of discreet luxury’. I checked in for a two-night stay to see if the hotel lived up to the claim.
Constructed in 1900 to host ambassadors staying in Rome, before serving as the American Embassy Library in 1946, the hotel incorporates a classic Renaissance style with columns, gables and Roman arches accentuated by dazzling chandeliers.
The beautiful entrance hall features the original, majestic white marble staircase adorned with a cardinal red carpet, contrasting sharply with the dark-panelled corridors leading to the 160 rooms and suites, where light floods in from floor-to-ceiling windows.
Alabaster walls, double-height ceilings and long, floaty voiles dissipating the warm afternoon sun, compliment the leather headboards, fluted glass wall lights and rich patina of herringbone wooden floors.
The swish downstairs lounge bar, above, is named ‘Anita’s’ in homage to actress Anita Ekberg, star of La Dolce Vita
Perched atop the sixth floor with views including the iconic dome of the Pantheon, is Charlie’s bar, which Ian says is ‘hard to beat’
The hotel (pictured) was constructed in 1900 to host ambassadors staying in Rome
Clever design touches of recessed lights and mirrors, marble-clad bathrooms with oversize showers, wall-hung towel warmers and wall-mounted upscale toiletries make the most of the space.
The swish downstairs lounge bar, named ‘Anita’s’ in homage to actress Anita Ekberg, star of La Dolce Vita, boasts a marble U-shaped bar, with a recessed arch backdrop bearing a colourful array of spirit and liqueur bottles. It’s a good spot for afternoon coffee and postprandial drinks, but for sunny day drinks and sunset cocktails Charlie’s rooftop bar is hard to beat.
Perched atop the sixth floor with views including the iconic dome of the Pantheon, Charlie’s offers the best bits of a nightclub – great cocktails, delicious canapes, slick service, live DJ sets, comfy seats and funky jungle-themed wallpapered loos. And none of the worst – deafening music, standing room only and snooty staff.
The luxe feel of this Intercontinental is fitting for the distinguished history of the Ambasciatori Palace, but it was the excellent service, a recurrent theme in every interaction I had with staff during my stay, that raises the bar for the competition on the newly resurgent Via Veneto, from the welcome of Marco at reception and the infinite knowledge of Head Concierge Cristian, to the constant attention to detail of Alice and Gianluca at breakfast and dinner.
The first meal of the day is an elegant spread with a huge choice, including freshly squeezed juices, fruit, grains, yoghurts, ‘full English’-style hot options, pancakes made to order, cured meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, artisan breads, cakes, and a La Carte choices.
Being so close to iconic landmarks such as the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Colosseum and Piazza Navona and benefiting from warm October sunshine, I opted to walk off breakfast along a suggested route courtesy of Cristian.
Ian is impressed by the ‘clever design touches’ such as the ‘recessed lights and mirrors’ at the hotel. Pictured: A junior suite
Bathrooms, such as the one pictured here, are marble-clad ‘with oversize showers, wall-hung towel warmers and wall-mounted upscale toiletries’
Dinner at the ground floor Scarpetta restaurant (pictured) was ‘[a] life-affirming experience’ for Ian
The joy of Rome is that even if you have been fortunate to visit more than once, such is its richness of architecture, history, and culture, almost every turn provides some new visual feast, an ancient statue here, a beautiful fountain there, and a plethora of lavishly ornate churches and age-old Roman ruins.
A stone’s throw from the hotel the city walls, built over 1,700 years ago, lead into the Villa Borghese Park, a wonderful place to meander and for coffee, at one of the outdoor cafes nestled in the shade of aged Italian stone pines.
My two days of serious walking incorporated slightly lesser-known Roman gems such as the distinctive boat-shaped Tiber Island, linked by two bridges to the rest of Rome. One of these – Ponte Fabricio, built in 62BC – is the only original bridge left in the capital.
Piazza di Pietra was a good spot for a light lunch, a charming square dominated by 11 massive Corinthian columns, all that remains of the Hadrianeum, a huge temple built in 145AD dedicated to the emperor Hadrian that in 1879 was used as the grand facade of a building that once served as Rome’s stock exchange.
The trendy bar area creates an almost theatrical backdrop to Scarpetta restaurant, declares Ian
I also squeezed in a visit to the site where Julius Caesar met his end on the Ides of March in 44BC, the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey at Largo di Torro Argentina. The large open space reveals ancient foundations and broken columns, contrasting sharply with the surrounding honking traffic and hustle and bustle of modern city life.
Five minutes from the hotel, La Cripta at Il Convento dei Cappuccini beckoned. The crypt is decorated with the bones of 3,700 Capuchin friars which, though macabre at first sight, is intended to remind us how fleeting life on earth is.
With this in mind, back in my room a glass of pre-dinner Prosecco on the bijou stone balcony watching the hubbub of the famed street below seemed a good way to celebrate being alive.
Dinner at the ground-floor Scarpetta restaurant, helmed by bonafide Italian and executive chef Ricardo Ioanna, was another life-affirming experience and one I was glad I worked up an appetite for.
Ian recalls enjoying ‘a glass of pre-dinner Prosecco on the bijou stone balcony’ of his hotel room while watching ‘the hubbub on the famed street below’
Inviting velvet banquettes in deep reds and forest greens and a trendy bar area create an almost theatrical backdrop to the commanding presence of manager Samuel De Luca, who directs his team with the precision of an orchestral conductor and the charm of an Italian.
Stand-out starters include truffle mushroom fricassee with cream polenta and smoked wagyu, served on a heavy pink stone.
Pictured: An example of a living room at one of the hotel’s suites
The Scarpetta Spaghetti, meanwhile, is so simple and yet so perfect, with an intense tomato and basil sauce, this will be the dish that many guests remember long after they return home.
All the food is delivered under cloches removed with a flourish. Portions are generous, but not overwhelming.
My final hours before an early evening return flight home were spent tapping into the Dolce Vita of a bygone era with a cocktail and lunch at the legendary Harry’s Bar, where Fellini was a regular along with Marlon Brando, Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, and where Frank Sinatra famously played the piano.
Seated at the bar’s Via Veneto pavement patio bathed in Italian sunshine, I know it’s a cliche, but I really was living ‘the sweet life’.
Ian was hosted by InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace hotel, where rooms start from £305.
PROS: Fabulous rooftop bar. Superb service from knowledgeable and attentive staff. Location with true ‘La Dolce Vita’ vibe.
CONS: Very limited outdoor breakfast and dining space. Many rooms do not have baths.
Rating out of five: 4.5.