A close look at…
Rome | Hotel Quirinale
Crossing a beautiful hotel lobby and pushing a door at the end of a gallery that reveals itself the discreet rear entrance to a major European opera house is an exceptional oddity. But exactly that made Domenico Costanzi’s ambitious project so outstanding when he built, side by side, a performance venue and the very first grand hotel of the new, unified Kingdom of Italy in 1865. Entrepreneur, builder and already hotel manager of several Roman establishments, he envisioned the proximity of the two buildings in the newly established neighborhoods around Termini railway station an obvious and very desirable asset. After subsequent additions that established the current hotel, a dedicated corridor was created, linking opera house and hotel during performances ever since.
Although Rome’s ‘Teatro dell’Opera’ has (still) not reached the significance and prestige of its Milanese and Neapolitan equivalents, it nevertheless remains the leading stage in the Italian capital and thus a checkpoint for the Who’s Who in the music world: few hotels can look back onto such illustrious historic or contemporary artists that encompass Giuseppe Verdi, Maria Callas and Riccardo Muti who all made the ‘Quirinale’ the natural choice and convenient base during their appearances in the Eternal City.
Beyond the physical link and artistic ties to the neighboring stage, the ‘Quirinale’ is the quintessential classic Roman albergo: a hotel with an elegant but subdued lobby, a grand staircase with incredibly comfortable risers, long hallways and classic accommodations. What is more, the L-shaped property (formed by the original building on Via Nazionale and a slightly newer addition) surrounds a charming private garden in the middle of the city.
Apart from the ballroom that is a fairly recent addition from the golden age of the Dolce Vita, the hotel’s grandest space is the aptly named ‘Salone Impero’ which makes up the core of the main building. At one point, it functioned as the ubiquitous domed winter garden that was commonplace in any respectable luxury hotel of the 19th century. Supplanted by its current décor from the late 1940s that has remained pretty much intact, the massive, rectangular volume is pure vintage Italian design that reflects a rare level of old-school elegance. From here, a small flight of steps leads to a gallery overlooking the garden and finally to the already mentioned door, prominently marked by the letters ‘Opera’.
But intriguing decorative details abound all over the well-maintained ‘Quirinale’, which looks pretty much the same today than during its postwar heyday in the 1950s together with the characteristic wrought iron furniture of the garden terrace. An unusual sight in any building, the hotel still features a fully functional period birdcage elevator that serves the secondary stair hall of the hotel, adding to the image of a nearly picture-perfect grand hotel. However, the neo-classical furnishings that were chosen for the updated guest rooms and that are recent in comparison, raise the question if they were selected with regard to the hotel’s surroundings, to complement the few existing original furniture pieces in the historical suites or both. Nevertheless, the ‘imperial’ style of the hotel works out rather effectively, whether with genuine 1940s and 1950s pieces or faux antiques.
The 200 guest rooms and suites of the hotel display a charming nonconformity: being a true period hotel, the ‘Quirinale’ offers a large array of accommodations with varying layouts, depending on their location within the building. In general, exterior units are generally larger (traditionally considered more ‘noble’) than interior ones; some of the latter border on the miniscule because of the retrofitted bathrooms. Double doors (the exterior swinging out into the hallway and the interior into the guest room) are the remnant of then typical service levels in grand hotels, which included discreet deliveries being placed in this ‘airspace’ without incurring the disturbance of the guests. In other cases, small vestibules add an additional level of privacy. Equally remarkable are the gigantic ‘imperial’ bathtubs, original fittings and noble marble cladding in some of the original bathrooms (although the majority has now unfortunately been modernized in a more utilitarian way with plain tiling).
In addition to different sizes of double rooms, the Quirinale offers traditional ‘Junior Suites’ (separate sleeping and living areas that are loosely separated), conventional ‘Suites’ (essentially an ‘enfilade’ of rooms that are interconnected) and, more interestingly, a handful of ‘Executive Rooms’ that feature also a private balcony or terrace on the upper floors on the garden side. Altogether, the guest rooms offer ceiling heights that have only survived in antique buildings and which, on floors 2 and 3, reach easily 15 to 20 feet.
Although located on one of Rome’s fabled seven hills, the hotel’s situation a few steps away from Piazza della Repubblica does not provide the sweeping views that has made some Roman hotels like the ‘Hassler’ or the ‘Eden’ world-famous. Exterior views are typical city views that can be noisy, especially in the front-facing rooms that overlook busy Via Nazionale. Better than the no-view, but admittedly quiet, interior rooms are the comparatively few rooms and suites that afford views of the hotel’s garden – a small oasis in the middle of a very active city.
The ‘Quirinale’ is a solid hotel that would benefit even more from a better awareness of its illustrious history and architectural heritage, which could easily be instigated by the current management. For the most part, this would also help to overcome evident shortcomings, inevitable in this unusual hotel that comes with a patina. While housekeeping and service in the bar and restaurant are at the height of the hotel’s standing, the front desk, although professional, appears strained at times. Moreover, the ‘Quirinale’ is also a veritable city hotel pleasantly behind the times, where contemporary amenities like a pool or even the pervasive ‘spa’ are nonexistent. That said, in the height of summer, the shaded garden terrace is an exceptionally enjoyable setting for breakfast in the morning and aperitivo in the early evening that only few Roman hotels have on offer.
On a final note, the ‘Quirinale’ is an alluring and excellent choice in surroundings steeped in history like no other place in the world – and, coincidentally, my favorite place to stay in Rome.
The Name of the Game
Hidden in the shadow of its more palatial contenders, one of Rome’s most prestigious historic hotels provides a unique and charmingly old-fashioned atmosphere that is in sync with its surroundings.
Via Nazionale, 7