speeding cab curves around Piazza Republicca, screeching
to a stop to let a trio of fashionable signorinas cross
the street. I catch my breath, marveling at the mix
that makes up this quintessentially Roman scene: how
these ladies of the new millennium negotiate such an
elegant stride in those spike heels; how unfazed they
seem as they glide across what once were the Baths of
Diocletian towards a church designed by Michelangelo.
As we lurch forward, the Fountain of the Naids explodes
in the center of a circle of majestic colonnaded stone
buildings constructed in the nineteenth century. And
it happens again. No matter how many times I visit Rome,
the sight of its history blended right before my eyes
never fails to thrill me.
more curve and I'm at my destination: The Grand Hotel
Saint Regis. As the porter whisks my bag to the reception
area, I flash on my personal history as a visitor to
Rome. It was 1976 when I arrived at Termini for the
first time, trudged with a pack on my back and "Let's
Go Europe" in hand to find a nearby pensione. On
that sweltering August night, I made my way up a dark
stairway to be greeted by a signora in a housecoat who
kindly handed me a thin towel, and showed me to the
bunk-bed stacked room I shared with 3 gals from Australia.
like a deck of cards, visions of many years of other
arrivals to the eternal city -- first glimpses of hotels
and apartments flip before me -- and are solidly trumped
when I enter the dazzling vision that is the Grand Hotel
Saint Regis Lobby.
massive murano glass chandelier hangs from the ornate
domed ceiling. Marble columns surround the sitting area
of rich red and gold Empire style furniture, accented
with palms and lavish floral arrangements. Thanks to
a recent restoration, the room looks exactly as it did
in 1894 when Caesar Ritz created a sensation by opening
this as Rome's first luxury hotel.
bags have disappeared to my room. The impeccable staff
is still following Ritz's orders: "See without
looking, hear without listening, be attentive but not
servile." After all, I did mention to the desk
clerk I had a lunch reservation
I round the corner from the lobby and head into the
Vivendo Restaurant, the décor transforms to a
1940's supper club: a series of three chic dining rooms
with ivory curtains bordered in lavender. Modern paintings-oils
of Italian cityscapes, in a style recalling Hopper or
de Chirico-are my view.
The 5 course tasting menu with matching wines is unlike any meal I've ever had in Rome, where robust earthy dishes are what I've come to expect. Here, deliciously inventive recipes created by Chef Umberto Vezzoli are influenced by his studies in France, Japan, and America, and served nouvelle style on large white plates. Each perfect bite bursts with complex surprising flavors - from the Linguine with Lobster and Granny Smith Apples to the pink grapefruit sorbet.
My large room offers luxurious relaxing temptations: an oversized bed covered with pale gold damask under a Murano chandelier and a big marble bathroom, stocked with Hermes products. After a bubble bath and deep-dreamy nap, I awake in winter twilight to an overhead view out my window of the dramatically lit Fountain of the Naids. In its center water gushes from the Sea God Glacus - but it's those naked bronze nymphs on the edges, happily cavorting with marine creatures, that seal this sight in memory -- and caused quite a stir when it was first unveiled in 1901.
At breakfast in Le Grand Bar, just a few steps overlooking the lobby, the buffet is lavish -- everything from omelets to pancakes, caprese salad, salami, proscuitto, stewed and fresh fruits, cereals, and pastries.
A Vivaldi concerto plays softly in the background and as I daydream into the room before me, it happens again
I see Romans in togas soaking in the Baths of Diocletian
Caesar Ritz welcoming men in tuxedoes and ladies in tiaras who came here on opening night to enjoy a 16 course feast, a montage of personalities who have crossed under that chandelier: Queen Margherita, Tolstoy, Sophia Loren, Woody Allen, Madonna and her entourage - it's a Fellini movie in my head!
The waitress delivers my cappuccino. Her sleek hand transforms to the pudgy fist of that signora in the pensione who served me my first Roman breakfast many years ago. Just one word will fit this feeling I'm having, as I sip my coffee and get comfy in this red velvet chair. Corny as it is, I feel grand.
If You Go:
St. Regis Grand, Rome
Via V.E. Orlando, 3
Fitness room, meeting rooms, ballroom and 24- hour butler service