A Roman Holiday
A cacophony of blasting horns accompanies my drive from the airport; a reassuring sound for any single Indian female traveller on her first visit to a city. I pass crowded streets, crumbling facades, majestic statuettes – I’m already falling in love with loud, sunny Rome. A blink and miss appearance of what seems like the Spanish Steps and then I’m on Via del Babuino, the street where I will live on for the next three days.
The entrance to 181 Babuino (part of the Rome Luxury Suites collection of boutique hotels) is decidedly discreet; it’s only when the automatic glass doors open and the efficient front desk speeds through your check-in do you begin to realise that a plush residence awaits you above.
I take the quaint elevator up to my generous suite (Indian families can finally rejoice at the thought of finding ample room in otherwise cramped European hotels for kids travelling together with parents) – an inviting palette of rich taupe, beige and chocolate. I fidget with the Nespresso coffee machine, then the mood lighting, then the fresh fruit bowl on my dining table.
I’m torn between choices. Sink into the raised large bed and smother myself with the numerous plump pillows? Sit by the window sill, taking in the street buzz, as I devour my just-delivered breakfast of fresh orange juice, biscotti, croissant, cheese and cold cuts platter? Unpack in the large dressing area and draw myself a fragrant bath?
But, I’ve got a day tour to ready myself for and not knowing how far my meeting point will be, I rush with the eating and showering process before returning to Andrea downstairs to request help with maps and directions.
It turns out I’m as centrally located as it gets; the Piazza del Popolo (where the tour begins), a massive square surrounded by churches, restaurants and the Borghese gardens on one side, is a 30 second walk from 181 Babuino. With time to spare, I head in the other direction; another 45 seconds and I’m back at the Spanish Steps, a delightfully crackling spot in a state of constant people flow. I choose my corner on the stairs, tuck into my steaming hot pizza slice from a nearby vendor and simply blend into the chaos of daily Roman life.
Chanel. Emporio Armani. Giuseppe Zanotti. Babuino’s impressive line-up of stores casts its spell on me. I start with window shopping but the lure to buy is irresistible; there’s barely seconds left to drop off my purchases at the hotel before I race to the St. Maria del Popolo church where my tour kicks off.
An exhilarating, awe-inspiring and exhausting walk around the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori leaves me breathless, literally and figuratively. I revive myself with a magnificent view of the city from the Pincio terrace atop Villa Borghese. Ravenous now, I stop for a soothing Merlot and some ravioli at a charming café, knowing I’m safe, just a few seconds away from my charming pad. Crunchy cookies have been thoughtfully set aside on my table. Coupled with soothing lemon tea freshly brewed from the fancy hot water machine, it’s the perfect nightcap.
Breakfast in the lounge sounds good this morning. With just 14 rooms, the hotel’s abundant staff is adept at personal attention and competent service – my three glasses of freshly squeezed juice are presented in quick succession.
I’m told the Vatican City is a leisurely 20 minute walk away from 181 Babuino so I begin my stroll. Quickly distracted by the stylized windows at Via Condotti, I choose to spend the next couple of hours scooping out trends from Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and the impressive Fendi Palazzo. A rushed stop back at the hotel to request for a taxi and I’m on my way to the land of the Pope.
Alberto Moncada, owner of the collection of Rome Luxury Suites, has graciously invited me for an evening round of cocktails. He takes me through the fascinating history of the hotels’ lineage; Via Margutta 54 (a smaller boutique concept from the same chain) was originally conceived as an artist’s studio by his great grandfather in 1855; the building played host to names like Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky and opera composer Giacomo Puccini. Moncada has tried to retain that feel of a creatively inspiring, yet homely space with all the hotels today. Babuino’s upcoming addition is to be a terrace lounge cum bar where hotel guests will get a chance to mingle with Moncada’s eclectic circle – an intimate way to get to know the real Rome. For now, the lucky few staying in the deluxe suite or the Babuino suite (which spans a bedroom, separate dining area and two bathrooms) can enjoy an outdoorsy experience in their splendid individual balconies.
The bedroom’s Ipod dock is churning out my favourite music; the bath is running in an aromatic stream; a cappuccino by my side completes the set-up. The art galleries just outside of the hotel can wait until tomorrow, as will the imposing Colosseum; for now, it’s me with myself in my home away from home.
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