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Hotel de Russie: once noble mansion, then national broadcast center, now elegant hotel

Columbia Hillen

It’s not often a hotel can boast of once being the nerve center of a nation’s broadcasting network but that’s exactly the fascinating pedigree of Rome’s luxury Hotel de Russie.

Nudging Piazza del Popolo and a leisurely 10-minute stroll from the Spanish Steps, this historic 5-star property was once the headquarters of Italy’s television and radio operations.

That’s only one element of its multi-faceted and illustrious 200-year ‘career.’

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Planned by Giuseppe Valadier in 1814 and once owned by the noble French, Torlonia family, the property was transformed into the sumptuous Albergo di Russia at the end of the 19th century.

Following comprehensive interior refurbishment by architect Tommaso Ziffer and Rocco Forte Collection designer, Olga Polizzi, Sir Rocco Forte’s sister, it is now part of the Rocco Forte Collection of 13 hotels and resorts. Hotel de Russie now comprises 121 rooms including 33 suites of which four are signature, with a new one to be opened later this Summer.

Photo courtesy of Hotel de Russie

With its outstanding interior garden, a vertical visual treat of palm and yew trees, orange groves and rose bushes, it has long been the choice of influencers from every walk of life. Talk about quirky celebrity stays. In 1917, Pablo Picasso and French filmmaker, playwright and artist, Jean Cocteau, stayed in adjoining rooms while preparing for the first ever Cubist ballet. In more recent years, special guests have included Irish rock group, U2, actor Kevin Costner and former US president, Bill Clinton.

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Stepping straight off Via del Babuino in the Campo Marzio district, one enters a striking lobby of terra-cotta and marble flooring where a mix of framed photographs by Rome-based Serafino Maiorano, decorative ceramics, stone wall masks and twin hanging chandeliers create a fusion of classic and modern styles.

A spacious relaxation room beside the open lobby offers soft leather armchairs, seductive smells from flickering scented candles and a host of eclectic art including a mirror decorated with assorted seashells, a quaint 18th century bust of a bishop, a monumental white vase atop a table and a large wooden winged angel hovering from an adjacent wall.

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Tired and thirsty from long travel, we were escorted to the intimate, ‘Stravinskij Bar Café,’ just behind the lobby. Reflecting classic décor with thick carpet, cozy armchairs and sofas and curtained windows, it overlooks a cobblestoned courtyard which is a particularly popular cocktail destination in warm weather.

The café’s menu is bistro-style but it was a rich, delicious hot chocolate drink served in an elegant silver pot that eased our travel weariness. Impressively, the hotel employs no less than eight clefs d'Or at the concierge desk to attend to guests’ needs.

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Our room, 301, featured a high ceiling, classic lines of furniture, a pastel ambience and views along Via del Babuino. A bright golden sofa with a matching chaise longue and vibrant butterfly and leaf motifs on satin pillows reflected what’s termed in Italian ‘modernariato,’ a replication of 1950s design. Room fabrics were from C&C Milan, the initials standing for Castellini (Piero) and Castellini (Emanuele), owners of the innovative textile design company. Alluding to Rome’s world-renown art, among the room’s ornaments were a miniature version of Michelangelo’s David in marble and a shapely green horse. About a year ago, under the direction of Irene Forte, organic products were placed in guest rooms. We were delighted to find special water from Sicily and assorted fruits such as oranges and lemons left for our consumption.

Photo courtesy of Hotel de Russie

While there was no balcony, immediately outside our room, across the corridor, a communal one presented wonderful views over the interior garden terrace, summer home to a cocktail bar and restaurant, which rises high up a slope to the Pincian Hill and extensive Villa Borghese gardens behind it.

On the ground-floor, with French windows leading to the interior courtyard, the newly refurbished restaurant ‘Le Jardin de Russie’ is where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. The latter features a classic Italian menu and thanks to both the chef’s innovative creations and attentive staff, including waiter, Gabrielle, and David, a knowledgeable sommelier, our experience was a memorable one.

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As it was our first evening in Rome, we opted for local dishes such as starters of artichokes Roman style, home-made gnocchi with burrata and bottarga and ravioli ‘cacio e pepe,’ a traditional Roman pasta of pecorino cheese and pepper. Our mains comprised perfectly seared octopus flavored with thyme oil and capers and veal Milanese with saffron risotto. The perfect finale was home-made Tiramisu de Russie and a heavenly digestive from zibibbo grapes, also known as Muscat of Alexandria, from the island of Pantelleria, near Sicily.

Wine choices led us from Sicily’s Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso to Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo in the Piemonte region and to the only wine produced in Rome itself, Tenuta di Fiorano by Prince Alessandrojacopo Boncompagna Ludovisi.

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Leisure facilities at Hotel de Russie include a spa with six treatment rooms and a fully-equipped gym. In terms of corporate services, four rooms can accommodate meetings from as little as eight to large groups of 90. Events that have taken place here have included press conferences for movie premiers.

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An interesting program for guests who book suites is entitled the ‘Avenue of Style.’ Launched within the last year, visits are organized to prominent brand name stores throughout Rome where guests receive exclusive service and learn details about the history of the company and the design and manufacture of the products.

Sean Hillen

Sean Hillen has been an international journalist and editor for almost 40 years and is also a published author. His latest book is a high-end contemporary fiction novel, Pretty Ugly - a thrilling, intriguing ride through the murky undercurrent of corporate and political machinations bridging the complex worlds of medicine, media and modeling. http://www.seanhillenauthor.com/ His experience spa...(Read More)

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