24-Hour Room Service: Margutta 54, Rome
Published in The Independent (October 31st, 2009)
The plan seemed simple. A couple of days in Paris, then the overnight train to Rome followed by a day showing my son the sights of the Italian capital. But the train trip turned into an endurance test, taking 25 hours, nearly twice as long as planned. Our evening meal of lasagne and chicken was eaten in a stalled and sweltering dining car, looking out over views of concrete and graffiti, before reversing back to Gare de Bercy. After a night baking in our compartment, we were kicked out the following morning in Milan to squeeze into a packed local train. Elderly passengers, losers in the race for seats, wept on the platform surrounded by their piles of luggage.
Life seemed a bit better after pulling into a pretty Tuscan village and being told of another 45-minute delay. Within seconds we were ordering beers and panini in a family-run bar by the station, only to be screamed at by the guard for delaying his train. Throwing down some euros, I grabbed chocolate ice-creams for our compartment of starving travellers.
So it was with some relief that we finally disembarked from the slow train to Rome and hailed a taxi for Margutta 54. And even more relief when we pulled up at pretty cobbled backstreet to be greeted by Lindan, our Sri Lankan “butler'”who had stayed on to welcome us through the antique iron gates despite arriving 10 hours later than planned.
Scrunching on gravel, we dragged our suitcases into a tranquil courtyard, with Porsches and Jeeps parked amid ancient buildings clad in creepers. Margutta 54 was opened last July by Alberto Moncada di Paterno in a palace built by his great-grandfather in 1855. It was created originally as an oasis in the heart of the city for artists, and Cocteau, Picasso, Puccini and Stravinsky are among those who spent time there, while Fellini lived just down the street. And somehow this bright yellow villa still retains a bohemian feel, despite being turned into a tiny luxury hotel.
Inside, there are just four rooms, each serviced by a friendly and in our case, wonderfully chatty butler. Given the heritage, it was a relief to find that the rooms were not only tasteful, with their wooden floors and contemporary dcor, but also finished off with suitably artistic flourishes of classical ceramics and modern art. And within minutes we were showered and set off for a fine local restaurant recommended by Lindan, our holiday back on the rails again.
Hard to beat, whether you want shopping or sight-seeing. Via Margutta was the street that could claim to have given birth to the dolce vita, where movie stars of the Fifties mingled with local artists and hipsters. It is within a couple of minutes’ walk of the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, while the Piazza del Popolo, Villa Borghese museum and the Mausoleum of Augustus are similarly close. For those with money to burn, Via Condotti is just down the road, filled with designer shops such as Prada, Herms and Gucci as is the Via del Corso with its more affordable shops. In between are countless chic boutiques, restaurants and tiny galleries in a meandering maze of tiny alleys and small piazzas. The only drawback, given the exclusive nature of the neighbourhood and current exchange rates, is that even a simple snack can cost a small fortune. But if you are wilting in the heat and the bustle of the city, or have run out of money, nearby are the beautiful landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese, the second largest public park in Rome.
The four rooms all feature big bedrooms and vast bathrooms, divided by sliding wooden doors from the seating and eating areas. The style is ultra-chic modern Italian, the overall tones reminiscent of a good cappuccino with various shades of brown, from the wooden floors and leather chairs to the plump cushions and beds made up with Frette bed linen. Our bed was one of the most comfortable I have slept in, although in truth that could have been relief after the trauma of the Italian rail system.
The suite had a plasma television on a clever swing device so that it could be watched either in bed or the sitting room although not both, which might lead to disputes during a long stay. And there are the usual mini-bars and espresso machines that might be expected, together with the slightly quirkier offering of dry toast and marmalade. There is also free Wi-Fi, a hairdryer and an ironing board, while the bathroom is suitably luxurious.