The first thing I learn about Parco dei Principi on my arrival is that China’s Vice President Xi Jinping stays here whenever he’s in Rome, which I suppose sets the bar for the level of grandeur to ensue.
Standing outside, I’m struck by the utilitarian façade of this purpose-built hotel, designed by acclaimed Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1964. A leading figure of twentieth century Italian architecture, Ponti came from the city of Milan, and designed over a hundred buildings across the world during a career which spanned six decades. He was a major player in the highly industrial modernist design movement which dominated post-war Italian architecture, and an advocate of the ‘made in Italy’ motif. True to form, his vision for Parco dei Principi is concrete, geometric, and a little intimidating.
Inside it’s a different story. I’m welcomed in by two Cinderella-esque white-gloved doormen, and am ushered into a grand lobby laden with chandeliers and velvet armchairs. The current owners have a penchant for opulence, taking inspiration from 17th century Italian aristocracy and giving the hotel that luxurious feeling of being from a bygone era. Gilded stuccowork and heavy red carpets are at odds with the cool tranquillity of the glitzy underground spa, which when housed within a modernist architectural icon make for an interesting partnership.
The hotel overlooks Villa Borghese, a historic medieval parkland which happens to be the largest in Rome. The peaceful park provides an ideal buffer between the chaos of central Rome, and is a lovely spot for an early morning stroll among local joggers, families and commuters.
At around the same time as building his Roman hotel, Gio Ponti designed a second Parco dei Principi in Sorrento, another 1960’s icon. White and equally imposing, it overlooks the bay of Sorrento and the sea far below, with tunnels dug through the cliff taking guests directly to the hotel’s private beach. What both hotels have in common is Gio Ponti’s unwavering manifesto of contemporary architecture.
I’m given a whistle-stop tour of various rooms, with the lovely manager proudly reeling off a list of yet more celebrities who’ve stayed here over the years: The Beatles, Woody Allen, Brigitte Bardot, Rafael Nadal, various international football teams, and the list goes on. We take a peep into the Royal Suite – a vast private 350 square metre apartment with its own terrace, gym facilities, banqueting table, and panoramic views over the Eternal City to the south. The smaller suites follow in this vein, ornately decorated with original oil paintings and deep velvet curtains.
Having settled into my own room, I discover a white fluffy robe and pad off for an explore. Parco dei Principi is home to the largest spa in the city, with a vast subterranean pool and Jacuzzi seductively illuminated by a Swarovski-studded ceiling. There’s an impressive gym, a Turkish bath, beauty area, hairdresser, boxing ring, and countless treatment and relaxation rooms. It’s blissfully quiet and I swim almost undisturbed for hours before venturing out of the underground oasis. Wellness packages and day passes for the Prince Spa are available for those living or staying elsewhere in the city.
Back outside, guests are soaking up the late afternoon sunshine around a large open-air pool, languidly ordering cocktails straight to their deckchairs. In, yet another, stark contrast of architecture, original Roman ruins can be found within the manicured grounds.
Much like the hotel, breakfast is opulence to excess. Guests help themselves from a gargantuan international buffet, with freshly baked goods straight from the hotel’s bakery, and hot dishes from the hotel’s Pauline Borghese Restaurant. There’s a full English fry-up, Parisian macarons, tropical fruit salads, truffle goats cheese, German sausages, myriad pastries, prosecco even; nothing is off the menu. I took my platter and sat alone on the cool yet sunny roof terrace, with fresh coffee brought to the table and a moment of calm.
In a nutshell
The way Rome’s Parco dei Principi jars between the modernist façade and the classical interiors is unusual, and on reflection I rather liked this conflict. The mid-century creation has assumed the aged glamour of somewhere aristocrats might have stayed during their Grand Tour of the continent, while the spa, fine dining restaurant and top notch facilities appeal to the modern hedonist.
Rooms can be booked from €196.