Tsars In Their Eyes
Just off the breathtaking Piazza Popolo is the elegant yet contemporary Hotel de Russie. Ask any Roman in the know. This is the place they go to for the all important aperitivo hour and to mingle with Hollywood A-listers. I was slightly disappointed to not be able to get a room on a Saturday, only finding out later that a certain CEO of Formula One had booked out the whole hotel for a certain star-studded wedding.
I promptly booked a night in the neighbouring Hotel Lorcano, which not only vies for second place as Rome’s hotel bar to be seen sipping on a pre-dinner Negroni, but is also akin to walking through a portal back to the turn of the 20th century; so preserved are the Art Noveau furnishings.
The next morning, mere hours after a certain hotel heiress was spotted lifting a certain bottle of vodka from the outdoor bar for in-room consumption, I walk through Hotel de Russie’s somewhat baffling maze of a lobby to check myself in. I swiftly inspect my immaculate and spacious suite, complete with terrace and a view of de Russie’s famous Secret Garden: an ancient plot of land that started off as a humble vineyard in the 17th century, which has since blossomed into a Mediterranean retreat for Russian Imperials and Romantic painters in the 19th century, and now home to canoodling Romans looking for a touch of discretion. Time for me to explore…
The spa… no, sorry: the Wellness Zone (technically not a spa for the lack of thermal water) is a holistic haven open not just to the hotel’s guests, but also to Rome’s stressed out city workers. As a result the choice is phenomenal: from reiki to shiatsu, Cinq Mondes massages (5 styles from around the world: from Brazilian to Indian Ayurvedic), Skinceuticals to Carita, and a ‘Roman Ritual’ specially designed to counteract the repetitive strain of having walked up and down Rome’s endless series of stairs and participated in the city’s favoured pastime of queuing (in the loosest possible sense of the word).
I pick the hotel’s ‘Signature Treatment’, a seasonally changing treatment created to improve the balance of my precariously balanced chakra. It could also be described as a ‘colour massage’, and being the end of Summer the Italian oils used for my full body massage and back scrub suitably looked (and smelt) yellow. Feeling invigorated by the treatment, I am given a healthy (and again seasonal) fruit cocktail before hitting the sauna, Jacuzzi and pool. Discovering a distinct lack of a pool, I make do with the super-sized Jacuzzi, and amuse myself by trying to get every Jacuzzi stream going at the same time. Childish yes, but I’m reborn.
After a little mosey around the Colosseum and various other ‘When In Rome…’ adventures, I build up a considerable thirst. Knowing that Hotel de Russie houses the award-winning Stravinskij Bar, I don’t have to look far to get a decent drink. Although ‘decent’ is a vast understatement.
Despite being a deluxe five-star hotel, the Stravinskij Bar is proud of its relaxed and casual service: guests are all given a warm welcome and treated with typical Roman hospitality. My bartender is the charming Damian Coren, who – having trained and worked in some of the best bars in London – brings a distinctively broader and more open-minded approach to the hotel’s libations, than your average Italian hotel bar. Bar manager Massimo has noticed a change in not only the drinking habits of the hotel’s residents, but also the formerly cautious Italian drinking culture in general, and he has addressed it accordingly. So despite the presence of classic Italian aperitifs, there are imaginative yet simple appealing twists on Martinis, Margaritas and Dark ‘n’ Stormys, resulting in a menu composed of what the staff describes as “Worldwide Cocktails”.
The menu changes on a yearly basis and many drinks are available only when in season. I was lucky enough to be there in August, which is the perfect month to order a classic Bellini: Italian white peaches blended and mixed with Martini Prosecco, resulting in quite simply the best Bellini I have ever had the pleasure to drink. Should you visit at another time of the year, worry not as there is a special variation on the Bellini created for each month. During the sunny months the bar opens up right into the courtyard, framed majestically by the Secret Garden, and as if that is not enough, three times a week, the bar hosts live music.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do: treat yourself to the luxury of Hotel de Russie.