Step back in time at the Bettoja Hotel Mediterraneo Roma

 In Europe, Hotels

I walked in to the soaring marble-clad lobby and thought to myself – “things HAPPEN here. I don’t know what – but it’s SPECTACULAR.” I felt as though I had stepped in to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, slightly modified for the Italian market – stately, impressive, and slightly out of time – a grand dame of a building, perfectly proportioned to her role as an entertainer, a hostess, and an impressaria, proudly wearing ostrich feathers in her fabulous dotage.

I was in LOVE.

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From the moment you walk into the Hotel Mediterraneo Roma, the history of Rome and all her historical glory surrounds you, tailored to a mid-century imperialist Italian aesthetic. The marble-clad and wood-paneled reception lobby opens on to a plush mezzanine, the grand stairs flanked with mosaiced columns encasing the two public elevators. The mosaics dramatically emphasize the two mythical stories of the founding of Rome. On the left, Aeneas, having landed on the western shores of Italy after his success at the battle of Troy (Trojan Horse, anyone?) stands holding a sheaf of wheat – the fertile land which would become the Eternal City. On the right, the mosaic depicts Romulus and the She Wolf – the more well-known legend by which Rome came to be. The central marble stairs lead to a slightly elevated seating area, where comfortable chairs clustered in groups of 3s and 4s invite a morning cafe, an afternoon tete a tete or just some fantastic people watching – the beautiful italian habit of “dolce far niente” – sweet idleness, the pleasure of the very moment.

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The hotel was built in 1938, in preparation for the 1942 World’s Fair, which was to be held in Rome (due to a minor eruption of a major war, the World’s Fair never came to pass). The principal architect in charge of the bulk of the Worlds Fair projects was also in charge of the Hotel Mediterraneo – and he positioned her with the same imposing stature that you see in other New Imperial projects – EUR, especially. Imperialist grandeur peppered with the finest the late 30’s had to offer: the city’s 1st air conditioning, elevators, grand reception rooms. Her name reflects the importance of the sea in Rome’s history – and is emphasized by nautical detailing, reflecting a great seafaring ship, with paneled walls and aquatically influenced textiles.

Sited on one of the tallest hills in Rome, the 10-story Hotel Mediterraneo has progressively more spectacular views as you ascend to the top – which you might do by stair, as the elevators are quite small and rather slow, by contemporary standards (pro tip: let the bell hops take are of your luggage and avoid the space crunch!) The grand staircase is a marvel unto itself – constructed of giant carrara marble slabs, the massive stair seems to float upwards; the purple porphyry marble balusters will be the closest you ever get to the excesses of ancient Rome, where Nero used to hold debaucherous parties in his giant porhyry bath tub.

Am I digressing? Please – stay with me!

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All of the hotel’s 251 rooms are well appointed, with comfortable beds made with fresh crisp linens, large operable windows, a small refrigerator/minibar, color TV with an array of international channels, and air conditioning. A welcome tray offers cookies, candies, tea and instant coffee, with bottled water and a small electric kettle for your convenience. The large bathrooms all feature full soaking tubs (and bath salts!) to ease your tired muscles after a long day of walking. They also have bidets – which might send your boys for a loop!

However, not all rooms are created equal, and as you go higher, the views and the rooms become superlative. The 8th floor holds a junior suite with a private balcony overlooking the city. The 9th floor junior suites have fabulous views either to the east, where the Alban Hills project on a clear day, or to the west, where the dome of St Peter’s basilica crowns the cityscape. But just one more floor up, on the 10th level, 7 grand suites boast private terraces and fabulous views, while the restaurant offers a small terrace, perfect for an evening apertif and dreamy sunset views of the Eternal City.

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During our stay in late May, we had two suites on the 9th floor – 915 and 916. Room 915 was a one-bedroom with a separate closet, and a large bath; there were 2 twin beds pushed together to form a king bed. The herringbone parquet floors, Florentine linens vintage styled furniture and  had my attention – it turns out that, though the hotel is continually upgraded, they maintain the vintage detailing by crafting everything new, to the standards established when the hotel was originally built.  This suite was very comfortable; I had ample space to set up my daughter’s travel crib in the closet, while I enjoyed the rest of the room. However: 916 was phenomenal. I stepped in and felt like a traveler on a 19th century Grand Tour – a sitting room with two (TWO!!) built-in writing desks; a stately bedroom (again with the pushed-together twin beds), a dressing room with an incredible set of paneled closets, and finally the spacious bath – also featuring a large soaking tub. The attention to detail in the paneling and the room layout felt reminiscent of gracious train travel in the early 20th century – luxurious, with the needs of a traveling lady attended to. As Keryn and I sat chatting in her dressing room the eve before her departure, I felt like I could be Audrey Hepburn, with a cigarette holder and kitten heels, laughing about the day’s escapades on a Vespa. It was comfortable and allowed us a little space away from her sleeping boys, with a great view of the roofscape of the Eternal City.

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The Mediterraneo also offers a complimentary breakfast to all her guests. The primary dining hall is on the main level, where a spacious room, trussed and decorated like the dining hall of a seafaring ship, offers a wide array of breakfast items: croissants and pastries, breads, cheeses, salami, fresh fruit and cereal are all available, as well a scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. Coffee machines dispense perfectly acceptable espresso, cappuccino and cafe americano. The breakfast offerings are quite varied and abundant, and they are fantastically attentive to parents with children, bringing extra napkins and a high chair without asking. The large tray of fresh apples, bananas and pears is an excellent option for an on-the-road snack.

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Should you have a higher level suite, you may be welcomed to breakfast on the 10th floor restaurant level, where the only difference is the view and the fresh-prepared coffee. We had the pleasure of meeting Alessia while there – she was marvelously solicitous, and was delighted to bring my daughter a high chair and small breakfast spoon, which she happily poked in to fruit and yogurt alike.

With on-site parking and its central location, the Mediterraneo is a great option for a family visiting Rome. Located on Via Cavour, the hotel is on a main artery of the city: restaurants and shops abound nearby. If you take a right turn out the lobby doors, a 15 minute walk takes you to one of the city’s best views of the Coloseum; a 20 minute walk gets you Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and more. Located only 2 blocks from Stazione Termini, Rome’s main train station, it’s very easy to catch the train to or from Fiumicino airport, or any local or pan-European destinations.
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