Think of Rome and your mind will likely conjure some combination of spectacular food, wild romance and large historical monuments. During a recent visit I was lucky enough to experience all of these, without even leaving my hotel. Welcome to the Palazzo Manfredi, where gladiatorial glamour is reimagined in a 5 star luxury hotel near the Colosseum.
As a child I was always fascinated by scale. I liked really big things. Dinosaurs were an obvious early choice. A trip to London’s Natural History Museum soon gave me a new fixation with blue whales. After this I became transfixed with big ancient buildings. The pyramids. The Sphynx. Knossos Palace. When I learned at school about the Colosseum, Rome’s famous ancient amphitheatre, I was enthralled. Its epic size and the juxtaposition of so much beauty with the macabre brutality of the entertainment it hosted was utterly captivating. So, when I discovered there’s a fabulous five-star hotel that looks out over it, I obviously had to get there – pronto.
A Blend of Old and New
As locations in Rome go, you really cannot do better that the Palazzo Manfredi. The discreetly stylish boutique hotel commands an exceptional Colosseum view – one so compelling it’s tempting to sit all day in the rooftop restaurant and gaze.
The building dates back to the 17th century when it was built as a villa for the Evangelisti family. It was then re-built in the 18th century as a hunting lodge for the noble Guidi family. Fifteen years ago Count Goffredo Manfredi, a famous construction magnate and entrepreneur, bought the property and transformed it into a luxury hotel. With such an auspicious past, it’s fitting that the building lives on as a sanctuary of elegance, great food and relaxation.
In stark contrast, directly in front of the hotel you can see the ruins of the ancient barracks, where gladiators lived and trained before meeting their fate in the Colosseum. Like so much of Rome it blows my mind that, nearly 2000 years on, it’s all still here. The good news is that life at the Palazzo Manfredi is about as far removed as you can get from the harsh realities of gladiatorial life.
Quiet Roman Luxury
Despite being next to one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, the hotel feels discreet, quiet and intimate. If it wasn’t for the sparkling Christmas lights around the door I might have missed the entrance – once inside the sophisticated earthy tones, welcoming Chesterfield sofa and exquisite service made me immediately feel like Italian gentry.
I arrived in the morning before my room was ready, yet before I’d even blinked my luggage was stored away and I was whisked upstairs for a welcome drink. The hotel is centred round a dramatic spiral staircase, through the centre of which runs a charmingly old-fashioned iron-gated Italian elevator. You really do feel you are in the house of a grand Italian family.
From this you emerge into the hotel’s crown jewel – its rooftop restaurant and bistro. Sitting here in the morning sun – still warm even in winter – sipping espresso and staring in wonder at the magnificent Colosseum was the perfect welcome to Rome.
A Place to Rest
The hotel has 16 rooms, ranging from smaller roadside options to the larger suites with that film set Colosseum view. The road is reasonably busy, but double-glazing dulls out most of the noise. My room was stylish and cosy. Crisp white linen, elegantly striped wallpaper, high ceilings and ample storage space. In the little seating area, a welcome note, bottle of Prosecco and some tempting nibbles were waiting next to a beautiful orchid. There was well-stocked mini-bar and even a pillow menu to ensure a restful night’s sleep.
The bathroom was tastefully decorated in the same theme and stocked with generously sized Acqua Di Parma products for a luxurious bathing experience. A phrenology bust on a shelf in the large rainfall shower was a fun touch – as was the transparent glass wall separating the shower from the rest of the room! In this city of romance be sure you stay with someone you feel comfortable with…
Room service here offers more than just food. The hotel is small so there is no gym – but a call to reception and you’re provided with in-room gym equipment, a personal trainer or a masseuse.
To be honest, I didn’t think anything about this hotel could outshine its views. Then I tried the food in Aroma. The hotel offers two rooftop eateries – the formal Michelin starred Aroma Restaurant overlooking the Colosseum, and the more relaxed Aroma Bistro, which looks out over the Oppian Hill. The adjacent American Bar on the hotel’s terrace (cleverly covered over with glass in winter to keep out the chill) also offers snacks, and is a great relaxed place for an early evening drink.
The chef overseeing all of this is the talented Giuseppe Di Iorio. He’s a big believer in using local produce (the herbs used are those grown on the hotel’s terraces) and sustainable fish, and puts a modern twist on traditional Mediterranean cuisine. The food is utterly glorious. Unable to make a decision, I went for the tasting menu, which was so good I fear every meal I eat from now on will be a disappointment.
Highlights included beef tartare with watercress pesto, tomato tempura prawns on sweet carrot cream, roasted scallops on celery juice, hand-made ”Busiate” pasta with prawns and veal cheek with mustard.
This is Italian food done brilliantly and I was pleased to see a gluten-free menu is also available. The knowledgeable sommelier provided excellent advice on the best Italian wine, and the service in general was impeccable. It’s a testament to this that we failed to notice the busy restaurant had closed and we were the only people left. Exceptional food and one of the best views in Europe can do that to you.
I was also delighted to discover Aroma is also where breakfast is served. A morning cappuccino with a Colosseum view is surely the best way to start any day. Breakfast is buffet style but high-end. Freshly squeezed juices, fruit, cereals, yoghurt, breads, cold meat and smoked salmon. Eggs and bacon are also available on request to give you fuel for a day’s exploring.
Exploring the City
As a hotel near the Colosseum, the Palazzo Manfredi is well-placed for exploring Rome, if you can tear yourself away from the view. You’ll find the friendly staff ready to help you do this. Nothing is too much trouble, from restaurant recommendations to arranging queue-jumping tickets at Rome’s busiest attractions, they can really help you make the most out of even the shortest stay.
The Colosseum and Roman Forum are on your doorstep and even the Vatican museums are less than an hour’s walk away (passing some extraordinary landmarks en route).
The great thing about Rome is how easy it is to explore on foot. So I’d really recommend putting on a comfortable pair of shoes and seeing where the day takes you. The beauty and history of the place are almost overwhelming; you can barely walk 10 paces without coming across another incredible ancient ruin in the middle of a roundabout, or a church housing a stunning Renaissance painting. When your feet get tired there’s always a cosy welcoming place nearby to provide you with the world’s best coffee or a reviving plate of something delicious.
At the end of a busy day exploring, it’s wonderful to retreat back to the understated luxury and comfort of a one’s own Palazzo.
Palazzo Manfredi Rome
Via Labicana, 125, 00184 Rome, Italy
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Palazzo Manfredi Rome for this stay. As always, the opinions, words and images are authentically our own.
Annie Scott is a freelance writer, communications pro and wannabe urban hippy. Since quitting corporate life you’ll find her saying yes to anything that terrifies her, lurking at the back of West London yoga classes and pretending to like kale.