I am at the blossoming rooftop garden eaterie of Rome’s Hotel Mediterraneo, across from a dapper gentleman and a glass of orange juice, with the dome of Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica silhouetted in the far distance. The restaurant has not opened for the day but Maurizio Bettoja of Bettoja Hotels, has the key simply because he owns the place. In fact, the Bettoja family is proprietor to the largest family-owned hotel chain in Italy with four hotels in Rome, all situated within easy distance of each other and the Relais Certosa in Florence, built in the 1400s as guest quarters for the Certosa dei Galluzo Monastery.
The gentleman informs me that it all started in 1875, five generations ago, when his great great grandfather, Maurizio Bettoja, bought a wine cellar and a restaurant Massimo d’Azeglio, still one of Rome’s leading restaurants. His son, with his wife’s dowry, bought the rest of the building which today houses the hotel with the same name as the restaurant. The second hotel, the Mediterraneo, was purchased across the road, in the 1930s. In the years between the World Wars, the Hotel Atlantico and Hotel Nord Nuova Roma were added to the chain, all around the area of the Termini Railway Station. “The railroad was new at the time,” explains Maurizio, “and it had an enormous impact.”
The hotels retain the décor and ambience of their times. The Mediterraneo flaunts the 1940s Art Deco style and by some accounts is a favourite location for couturier Valentino’s fashion shoots. It is the tallest building in the city’s historical centre and was the first air-conditioned building in Rome. The Atlantico, housed in a 1936 building, is decorated according to that era in wood with marble floors while the Nord Nuova Roma boasts a classic ambience. Only last year, the cast and crew of the Bollywood flick Bachna Ae Hasino, including stars Bipasha Basu and Ranbir Kapoor stayed at the Mediterraneo, creating a major stir.
The group has an Italian clientele that remains faithful to it and Maurizio claims that this is due to the “good old fashioned service”. He recalls a particular client so at home here that he is known to come down to breakfast in slippers and bathrobe! The staff too have meandered down through the generations. “The gentleman at the front desk…his great great grandfather was known to my great great grandfather….” And the Bettoja family itself is fully occupied with the hotels. “The furnishings and decoration are looked after by my cousin while my grandmother and great aunt took care of the linen. My grandmother would just feel the linen before deciding yes or no; she would not even look at it….”
Family recipes have been passed down through the generations and continue to be perfected at the restaurants and rooftop eateries while the 1875 wine cellar boasts wines from around the world including several rare bottles for the connoisseur. Maurizio urges me to sample the fare at the popular Ristorante Massimo d’Azeglio, named after a statesman greatly admired by his ancestor. And if I am back in the winter, he says, bollito misto, a traditional family preparation of boiled meat, is on the cards – followed by a generations-old recipe of steaming bread and butter pudding.
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