Dear Shaded Viewers,
As you may have heard, I was in Rome last month covering Alta Roma for Diane. The official hotel of the event was Leon’s Place, located on the east side of Rome, just south-east of the Villa Borghese and the via Veneto. But despite the proximity to those touristy destinations, Leon’s Place is far enough afield that the tourists are nowhere in sight. The location feels a bit far from the hustle and bustle of central Rome, and I found that to be a plus–the area around Leon’s Place is very residential, so after a few days, the neighborhood starts to feel like home instead of an open-air museum.
Next door is a quirky pharmacy (convenient!). Across the street is a gelataria that forgoes the whole rustic down-home feel that the tourists eat up and instead feels like a very chic laboratory–spare interior, albino wood benches–with gelato discreetly hidden in sleek stainless-steel containers commandereed by frosty yet sensual scoopers–Amazons who look like they just strolled off a catwalk in Milan. And down the road and around the corner are some excellent trattorias, popular with local lunching Romans in serious suits, with prices far below what you’ll find closer to the city center.
At the risk of blowing this well-kept secret of a neighborhood, I will now recommend the hotel, where I enjoyed five pleasurable nights. (Full disclosure: I was invited to stay here as one of the journalists covering Alta Roma.) Let’s start with this tidbit from the brilliantly written press release (most American fashion and hotel press releases are horribly written and just plain unreadable. This one is wonderful):
“Is it possible for just one colour with a few dashes of purple to convey not only all the mystery, the fascination but also the malice and to some extent the sensuality of the facets of an ever changing city? Leon’s Place has succeeded in doing just that, coating in an elegant pearl grey the four floors of the new four star hotel in Rome [opened in 2010].”
Leon’s Place’s lobby is famous for the velvet swing hanging from the chandelier. Yes, dolls, swing from the chandelier! It’s encouraged here.
“Set in a glamorous, aristocratic palace dating back to the 1800s, the hotel is a new reality….the concept is inspired by that trend of art deco that amalgamated neoclassic and decorative styles. There is an abundance of ironic details, sometimes a bit frivolous, sometimes unusual, to remind that in Rome, where different styles live and merge, nothing seems out of place.”
As for the area’s history, it is steeped in 19th-century turmoil instead of the weight of Ancient Rome. The street that Leon’s Place is on, via XX Settembre, is named after September 20, 1870 when the Porta Pia–a massive gate designed by Michelangelo to the right of the hotel–had a hole blown in it, allowing Unification troops to march through and down this street. They then proceeded to evict the pope from his last residence in Quirinal palace. This marked the end of Italy’s long stuggle–starting around 1815–toward Unification.
Dario Argento, in his only departure from the horror genre, made a film about the First Italian Independence War, which started in 1848. Filmed in Milan and Rome, The Five Days is an obscure, left-wing satirical gem. “I wanted to show how false the ‘birth of Italy’ was,” Argento told me in Rome in 2005. “Because it was a revolution conducted by the rich and by the nobles. That is why six years later there was another revolution, an anarchist revolution.”
I really liked the lobby’s metallic details, such as the mesh lamp and the chrome candelabra.
Me waiting for my room to be ready as my flight arrived rather early. I loved the ostrich-feather-tufted chandeliers and sconces. Ironic details!
Chic and slightly sinister chandelier.
The rooms at Leon’s Place are on the small side (as they are in many Rome hotels and most Paris hotels) but fortunately I was awarded a Junior Suite and a long terrace, so there was plenty of room for me to do my jumping jacks and karate moves–and swing my long-chained handbags around.
My terrace view included this lovely color palette.
The bed was superbly comfortable and the mirrors around it do serve a function–if you know how to work it 😉
I appreciated the understated, elegant touches like these swirled knobs. The bathroom, not pictured, is big and bright with a large tub. (The smaller rooms only have showers.) The bathroom’s floor is precious Carrara polychrome marble, preserved from the building’s original 19th-century incarnation. The shampoo and shower gel are a sexy combination of what I think was vanilla and musk.
Staircase to the breakfast room. Italian hotels almost never seem to get breakfast right. So, I’m happy to report that the breakfast at Leon’s Place is rather excellent and the staff is very friendly and attentive.
I never had time to have a drink at the bar but they’ve done a splendid job with it.
Leon’s Place is a short walk away from the tranquil Villa Borghese Gardens. The hotel will make an appointment for you at the wildly popular Galleria Borghese, as they did for me. But that was before I knew I was being invited to the dinner held there for Jean Paul Gaultier and we had the museum all to ourselves.
While I was exploring the area near the hotel, I discovered a wonderful restaurant called the Trattoria Cadorna, opened in 1947, on the via Raffaele Cadorna. I had the heavenly saltimbocca alla romana: tender veal wrapped in cured ham and cooked in white wine, butter and sage. It’s lunches like this that make me feel sorry for vegetarians.
In New York we have a plethora of bland, generic Duane Reades. Rome has this. (Located next to Leon’s Place.)
Thanks for reading.