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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 January 2019

Executive travel: this Roman hotel is built on an emperor's villa and fit for a king

The Gran Melia Rome is a classic urban resort hotel with a twist

The hotel's swimming pool and gardens are framed against the wall of Vatican City, pictured here. Reuters
The hotel's swimming pool and gardens are framed against the wall of Vatican City, pictured here. Reuters

At first glance, the Gran Melia Rome is a classic urban resort hotel with its beautiful swimming pool and gardens framed against the wall of Vatican City, but around a quarter of its guests are actually business executives.

This January the hotel will host about 100 guests who are participating in a conference for 500 at the Rome Cavalieri hotel on the top of the Mario Monte hill, some 15 minutes drive away by transfer coach or taxi.

Yet this is much more than just an overflow residence for Rome’s premier luxury conference hotel.

Gran Melia also hosts smaller conferences in its own right with one light-filled and spacious room seating up to 80, and smaller rooms for 24 or 10 guests, often lawyers or investment bankers.

Opened in 2012, this is one of Rome’s newest five-star hotels. It was converted from an orphanage that had been abandoned for half a century.

During construction, the villa of Emperor Nero’s mother Agrippina was discovered, and work on the site was suspended for more than a decade while archaeological works progressed slowly.

Still, the long-suffering Italian family that owns the property have been rewarded with a uniquely historic location that’s also convenient for any executive visiting the centre of Rome.

The interior decor is typical Spanish minimalism from the Gran Melia’s own design studio. Think white with splashes of colour.

This April, the hotel opened two attractive new additions on the ground floor: a large blue-and-white bar, Amaro, replacing the former library; and Ossimoro, a contemporary fine dining restaurant of red velvet upholstery and white linen, serving mainly classic Italian dishes.

There is also an extensive conservatory-style series of rooms on the ground floor that serve breakfast and also function as another bar, opening on to the spacious swimming pool area on top of what was once Agrippina’s villa.

It is all light and airy, comfortable and relaxed. Combined with Gran Melia’s confident and helpful young staff, this makes for a cool glade in this often hot and hectic city.

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Upstairs, and actually also downstairs for two floors, the 116 rooms follow the minimalist design playbook with white bathrooms, wooden floors and neutral blackout curtains. Prices start from $260 (Dh954) a night.

My desk was a bit narrow for working and the single two-pin continental plug just sufficient. The internet registered 7.5 Mbps, but signal was only really good if the door was kept open.

Oddly, the sliding bathroom door did not quite cover the entrance space so you needed to remember to close the curtains before taking a bath or shower.

The bedroom also lacked a comfortable chair or couch which left you watching TV from your bed. Room service was pricey: a club sandwich for €25; Coke €7; and Acqua Panna €6; and curiously for an Italian hotel, no pizza on the menu.

But the top suites are very much designed with the visiting executive in mind and have large terraces ideal for hosting evening parties that can be sealed off from the bedroom area with separate access to the toilet.

One has a spectacular panorama of Rome from its 360-degree terrace, while the Emperor Penthouse has a more restricted Vatican wall view, a huge bathtub on its 200 square-metre terrace, and a private fitness area.

Other facilities in this luxury boutique resort hotel include a compact gym with running, cycling and stepping machines, free weights and multi-gym equipment; and a Clarins spa with three treatment rooms.

Guests in the higher-end rooms and suites have RedLevel status that allows them access to a private lounge on the ground floor offering a limited selection of snacks and drinks from noon to nine in the evening; a work station with a Microsoft terminal and printer; and an exclusive concierge.

Updated: December 27, 2018 03:22 PM

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