This Is How to Experience Italy Like a Local

Rocco Forte Hotels - Hotel de Russie Rome
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When day breaks across the time-worn spires and steeples of the Eternal City, even the sun feels older, like it has been touching down here longer. Statues, ruins, palaces, and cathedrals all contribute to the weighted presence of ancient time and create a feeling of smallness, a mood of introspection. Some of the erstwhile structures you’ll casually pass by on the way to the train station or for your morning coffee have been around for a thousand years – or more.

Rome is a city of wonder, but it’s also overwhelming. The looming ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the narrow streets, and even the thronging tourists all add to its sense of stimulation, but occasionally, your weary feet will long for respite. Veteran travelers know that the most important, but often the most overlooked, aspect of picking your “home away from home” is location. “I’ll just a catch an Uber to the city center,” reason the uninitiated, not aware of how quickly those sightseeing travel costs can add up (especially in a place like Rome, where the sights are legion).

Fortunately, the ritzy Hotel de la Ville – the newly renovated addition to the Rocco Forte Hotels family – is perfectly situated right at the top of the Spanish Steps and only minutes away by foot to Trevi Fountain, the charming district of Trastevere, and basilica Sant’Andrea delle FratteHospitality legend and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte is English born, but his father was Italian, as is his wife. The children who help run the Rocco Forte empire – Lydia, Irene and Charles – come from a blended background of both European countries. 

Likewise, the Hotel de la Ville elegantly combines 18th century English decor (in the revered “grand tour” style) with echoes of Roman iconography, like the entryway chandelier that resembles the dome of the Pantheon. From bold color combinations and incredible digitized wallpaper prints to artifacts adorning the walls, the hotel’s interiors will have your head constantly swiveling in admiration – and you have Sir Forte’s sister and interior design expert Olga Polizzi to thank.

Hotel de la Ville Rome restaurant
Da Sistina restaurant at Hotel de la Ville in Rome | Photo: Courtesy of Rocco Forte Hotels

While visiting a franchised hotel in any other part of the world – no matter how elite – the experience is uniform, capable of only the most minute variations. However, each Rocco Forte hotel has a soul, a unique identity and character that impresses from the moment of arrival. Not only is the savoir faire and beauty of these hotels distinct, but they also absorb the spirit of their location, becoming one with the city. You could stay at a Rocco Forte hotel in Rome and never venture out into the streets, and still feel like you got a taste of Roman life. In fact, it is this level of attention to detail that sets Hotel de la Ville and the other Rocco Forte sites we visited apart from other hotel experiences.

It is this level of attention to detail that sets Rocco Forte hotels apart from other hotel experiences.

Here’s an example: Hotel de la Ville prides itself on being an establishment that locals can also enjoy, which is why it takes such care in its dining and lounge offerings. The rooftop Cielo Bar offers an unparalleled panoramic view of the city, a tableau so spectacular that it makes every meal feel like you’re dining in a romantic Italian film. Meanwhile, on the ground floor, Julep Herbal & Vermouth Bar draws inspiration from the Spice Route, allowing guests to choose a Venetian sachet containing one of eight exotic spices for a bespoke and expertly prepared drink.

Outdoors, Mosaico is idyllically Roman, with its striped umbrellas and peachy stucco surroundings. The menu combines the best of African and Mediterranean cuisine, but it’s the hushed and tranquil atmosphere that will keep you coming back. While on the ground floor, Da Sistina became our instant favorite of the four options because of its classic Italian cuisine, fresh seafood, and the local’s eye view of the bustling street outside. Its charming interior and mouthwatering fine food made us feel like a part of the city’s fabric – if only for a moment.

A look at the rooms in the gallery below will give you an idea of how stylishly they are appointed, how filled with light and air they are, and just how much suite (both in scale and size) you get if you upgrade to one the hotel’s Canova, Roma, or Suite de la Ville rooms.

If you’re looking for more of a getaway or a serene oasis in a city that’s bustling from dawn to far past dusk, try the mesmerizing Hotel de Russie. Of the Rocco Forte locations in Italy that we had the honor of visiting, this one stole our hearts. To say it’s a Roman institution is something of an understatement. The longstanding property was described in 1917 by French poet Jean Cocteau as “paradise on earth”. Pablo Picasso was also a regular here, setting up a nest where he and Cocteau worked on a Cubist ballet together. We’re told they took breaks to pick oranges from their window and, 100 years later, its paradisiacal nature remains untouched by time.

The hotel faces a busy street, but don’t let the humble exterior fool you. Once you pass its doors and cross the foyer, you will find yourself face to face with the most magnificent terrace in all of Rome. Spread out in all directions are chic umbrellas and dining areas that shelter the lucky visitor from an urgent spread of lush foliage. It looks like the setting for a Wes Anderson movie. It’s a place where people in Rome come to see and be seen. In fact, you might even spot a celebrity on vacation if you’re lucky – we saw two while we were there.

It’s a place where people in Rome come to see and be seen.

We recommend heading to this secret garden area for afternoon tea or a brunch buffet, but we also give you permission to wander. The terrace’s perimeter shares a border with Villa Borghese, and its gardens spill generously over an elegantly crumbling stone wall. Head further up past the dining area and you’ll be greeted by the hotel’s turtles, floating lazily in a fountain, or maybe you’ll run into one of the ground’s resident felines. Nearby are the selfsame orange trees that Picasso used to pick from. Are you charmed yet? Intoxicated by the hotel’s beauty? You will be before you ever set foot in your room.

Hotel de Russie terrace
Terrace at Hotel de Russie in Rome | Photo: Courtesy of Rocco Forte Hotels

As with most Rocco Forte hotels, Hotel de Russie benefits from the ingenious interior design prowess of the aforementioned Polizzi. Artful touches invade every corner – taking note of the actual artists and creative people who have long made a habit out of visiting the establishment – but each space still feels bright and big. All of the rooms we previewed (and the one we stayed in) were generously sized. With giant windows that opened onto the street below, the end of each each day felt like we were returning home to our very own Roman pied-à-terre

If the savory Italian cuisine, a bewitching atmosphere, and an ideal location weren’t enough, Hotel de Russie also offers the most beautiful (read: Instagrammable) spa we’ve ever seen. It appeared down a corridor like a shimmering aquatic mirage, as if straight from a Wes Anderson film. We hate to make the cinematic comparison twice, but it’s apt.

If you’re reluctant to depart Rome, rest assured, the most magical city on earth is only an hour away by train. A rolling Tuscan countryside zips by as you speed into the heart of Florence, where Rocco Forte’s magnificent Hotel Savoy awaits you. It sits steps from the iconic Duomo – quite literally a stone’s throw from it, in fact – so the views from all sides of the property are nothing short of breathtaking.

Similar to Rome, Florence is a city steeped in history, but it’s also more spread out and easy to navigate. It is lit with an ineffable, enchanting quality that is impossible to describe. To wander its streets is to feel its soul. Walk down the uneven cobblestone, and you’ll stumble upon pockets of graffiti art, ancient sculpture gardens, and mosaic-clad buildings everywhere. Florence will seduce you.

Balancing out the fulsome extravagance of Florence’s buildings and those extraordinary sunsets along the canal is a modernist haven. The Hotel Savoy’s lobby is bleach white, punched up with vivid Pucci-printed pillows (a collaborative design effort exclusive to the establishment), stunning artwork settled into gilded frames, and geometric-patterned carpets. Attached to the lobby is the perennially chic Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella boutique, where you can buy last-minute gifts. You’ll also find your room stocked with fragrant offerings from the boutique – a thoughtful touch indeed.

The rooms are upholstered in delightful wallpaper; ours featured an arrangement of leafy saplings from floor-to-ceiling. We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the newly renovated Duomo Presidential Suite that was massive and decorated with Mediterranean flare. After a day spent exploring Florence, we recommend retiring for a meal at Irene, where an expertly prepared Tuscan dining experience awaits. 

A stay at Rocco Forte Hotels feels like being initiated into a secret club. Suddenly, you look at all other hotels differently as so few seem to offer that unique blend of local culture, cuisine, service, amenities, and grandiose beauty. And with properties located in countries like Russia, China, Germany, and the UK, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to planning your next stay. Where will you start?

To book a stay at Rocco Forte Hotels, click here.

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