Rome can be a total onslaught of beauty and chaos. Popupla contributor Christina Ohly finds peace in the middle of it all at a design-driven hotel near Piazza del Popolo.
Set in a stunning 19th-century villa in the heart of Rome, Palazzo Dama is the newest (and possibly best) addition to the city's chic, boutique hotel scene. Located just steps from the bustling Piazza del Popolo, and in striking distance of the Tiber River, Spanish Steps, and gardens of Villa Borghese, the 30 rooms and suites are soothing, zen oases in the middle of the city. Designy touches courtesy of architect Antonio Girardi abound. In addition to beautifully appointed, light-filled spaces — many featuring crystal chandeliers mixed with mid-century sofas, crisp white linens, and state-of-the-art bathrooms — there is also a lovely back garden with a refreshing swimming pool. This extremely rare feature puts Palazzo Dama in a different league. As does the clubby L'Autre Dame bar, which is decorated with lithographs by Andy Warhol and Picasso and serves some of the meanest aperitivos in town.
The hotel just opened in January so everything is technically new, but there are several recent additions worth noting. While not a spa hotel per se, you'll find that every kind of massage and treatment is available in-room with just a quick phone call. Fitness facilities, an afterthought at most hotels, is nicely done with high-end, air-conditioned gym machines.
The members-only club downstairs looked positively sultry when I was there, but the real claim to fame has to be the petite swimming pool. I am still marveling at how the hoteliers got city approvals for this special feature.
Best of all: endless food and beverage options. This isn't like hotel dining, but rather like dining at an extremely aristocratic friend's house. Enjoy an Aperol spritz on the stunning rooftop terrace before a meal in L'Autre Dame downstairs.
What's on Site
Resting in the lush garden, nibbling club sandwiches served by the pool, and rubbing elbows with glamorous people in the lounge makes Palazzo Dama a sybarite's dream. In addition to the L'Autre Dame bar, the refined hotel restaurant of the same name serves beautiful pastas and wonderful fresh juices in a pristine white space. The basement gym, something of a rarity in central Rome, is impressive. The WiFi is fast and free, well-stocked minibars are free, too, and the most knowledgeable, kind front office/concierge team in town (Andrea and Gianmarco in particular) will cheerfully book you in at the the best restaurants, arrange car transfers, organize cooking classes, and reserve after-hours tours of nearby churches and museums.
Breakfast is served in the exquisite L'Autre Dame restaurant, which takes on a more relaxed atmosphere and soundtrack in the morning hours. It truly feels like eating in a laid-back, Michelin-star restaurant — and one with an expansive buffet that includes meats, cheeses, fruit and cereals, as well as an endless array of healthy juices and eggs made to order.
Lunch is outstanding as well — especially when served under an umbrella at one of the bistro tables by the pool. Simple sandwiches, burgers, and elaborate pastas are all possibilities. The kitchen will gladly make you whatever you'd like to eat, 24/7.
In the Room
Designer Antonio Girardi left his mark at the ultra-hip D.O.M. Hotel Roma (for the same owners). It has a similar feel: midcentury furnishings swathed in tasteful fabrics in hues of navy and sea green by Loro Piana. Other touches pay homage to the palazzo's original art nouveau finishes and marble mosaics, but the rooms also incorporate clean lines, Venini glass fixtures, and modern luxuries. Tasteful flat-screen TVs, well-stocked minibars, and vintage objets d'art in rooms overlooking the pool area all make this feel like a lived-in escape, a home away from home. Some of the street-facing rooms reportedly have more noise, but I didn't notice this on my tour — immense shutters are pulled at night so that visitors can't hear a thing.
Room with a View
My junior suite faced the pool and garden and I loved watching the afternoon crowd (a few tourists) morph into a chic cocktail set by 8 p.m.
This Place Is Perfect For
The 12+ year-old set. Palazzo Dama doesn't have a "kid" feel; it is intimate, sexy, and spare. It would make an ideal stopover on the way to a honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast, and is also perfect for a long weekend away.
But Not So Perfect For
Anyone on a budget, young travelers, or families with multiple (3+) children. There are rooms and suites that join nicely for families with older children, but this is an old, historic building that isn't well-suited to crying babies or families needing several adjoining rooms. It's ideal for teenagers who need to be in proximity (by law, I suppose), but also want separate space.
The Piazza del Popolo area has everything a visitor could want: great restaurants, bars, shops, the Villa Borghese for long walks and great art, the Ara Pacis for culture, and some of the best straciatella gelato in Rome at Gelateria dei Gracchi.
What to Do Nearby
Take a short stroll from the hotel and you'll find national treasures, including the beautifully baroque Santa Maria in Montesanto church and the Museo dell'Ara Pacis, the Altar of the Augustan Peace that dates from 13 B.C. and is now housed in a sleek Richard Meier-designed space.
The area has wonderful shops including those of the larger luxury brands (the Hogan sneaker store here is the world's best; ask for things not on display) and niche Roman finds as well. One of my favorites, Artisanal Cornucopia on the sweet Via dell'Oca, is the ultimate Mediterranean-inspired concept shop and features beautiful, beachy bags by Istanbul-based designer Misela, statement-making/uber-cool jewelery by Roman designer Benedetta Bruzziches, and much more. Ask owner Elif Sallorenzo for tips — she is a font of information about not only the store's curated collections, but also about the best hidden bars and under-the-radar restaurants.
On the food front, you'll be spoiled for choice in this area of town. You can do no better than a dimly lit dinner at the hotel's L'Autre Dame. For something a bit less formal, try Da Bolognese or Rosati (Piazza del Popolo, 5a), both frequented by well-heeled tourists — but I love them anyway for solid pastas and waiters in crisp, white jackets. Best of all, however, might be drinks at the elegant Hotel Locarno. Be sure to ask for seating in the magical garden. A drink or a light lunch in the Hotel de Russie garden just around the corner runs a very close second.
Good to Know
The hotel is just nine miles from Rome's Ciampino Airport and it was, I swear, the most scenic ride I've ever had to an airport. The trip takes you over cobblestone streets, under viaducts, and through lush neighborhoods. I felt like Hadrian.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get There
Rome Fiumicino Airport is 45 minutes from the hotel and is served by American Airlines, Delta, and Alitalia. In-country flights also depart from this airport, and many to the rest of Europe (British Airways) as well.
Rates start from $348. Click here for reservations.