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a notch above the rest
by Susan Van Allen
(return to Lazio)

The speeding cab curves around Piazza Republicca, screeching to a stop to let a trio of fashionable signorinas cross the street. I catch my breath, marveling at the mix that makes up this quintessentially Roman scene: how these ladies of the new millennium negotiate such an elegant stride in those spike heels; how unfazed they seem as they glide across what once were the Baths of Diocletian towards a church designed by Michelangelo. As we lurch forward, the Fountain of the Naids explodes in the center of a circle of majestic colonnaded stone buildings constructed in the nineteenth century. And it happens again. No matter how many times I visit Rome, the sight of its history blended right before my eyes never fails to thrill.

One more curve and I�m at my destination: The Grand Hotel Saint Regis.

As the porter whisks my bag to the reception area, I flash on my personal history as a visitor to Rome. It was 1976 when I arrived at Termini for the first time, trudged with a pack on my back and �Let�s Go Europe� in hand to find a nearby pensione. On that sweltering August night, I made my way up a dark stairway to be greeted by a signora in a housecoat who kindly handed me a thin towel, and showed me to the bunk-bed stacked room I shared with 3 gals from Australia.

Now, like a deck of cards, visions of many years of other arrivals to the eternal city -- first glimpses of hotels and apartments flip before me -- and are solidly trumped when I enter the dazzling vision that is the Grand Hotel Saint Regis Lobby.

A massive murano glass chandelier hangs from the ornate domed ceiling. Marble columns surround the sitting area of rich red and gold Empire style furniture, accented with palms and lavish floral arrangements. Thanks to a recent restoration, the room looks exactly as it did in 1894 when Caesar Ritz created a sensation by opening this as Rome�s first luxury hotel. My bags have disappeared to my room. The impeccable staff is still following Ritz�s orders: �See without looking, hear without listening, be attentive but not servile.� After all, I did mention to the desk clerk I had a lunch reservation� As I round the corner from the lobby and head into the Vivendo Restaurant, the d�cor transforms to a 1940�s supper club: a series of three chic dining rooms graced with ivory curtains bordered in lavender. The view is in the modern paintings displayed on the walls - oils of Italian cityscapes, in a style recalling Hopper or de Chirico.

The 5 course tasting menu with matching wines is unlike any meal I�ve ever had in Rome, where robust earthy dishes are what I�ve come to expect. Here, deliciously inventive recipes created by Chef Umberto Vezzoli are influenced by his studies in France, Japan, and America, and served nouvelle style on large white plates. Each perfect bite bursts with complex surprising flavors - from the Linguine with Lobster and Granny Smith Apples to the pink grapefruit sorbet.

My large room offers luxurious relaxing temptations: an oversized bed covered with pale gold damask under a Murano chandelier and a big marble bathroom, stocked with Hermes products. After a bubble bath and deep-dreamy nap, I awake in winter twilight to an overhead view out my window of the dramatically lit Fountain of the Naids. In its center water gushes from the Sea God Glacus - but it�s those naked bronze nymphs on the edges, happily cavorting with marine creatures, that seal this sight in memory -- and caused quite a stir when it was first unveiled in 1901.

At breakfast in Le Grand Bar, just a few steps overlooking the lobby, the buffet is lavish -- everything from omelets to pancakes, caprese salad, salami, proscuitto, stewed and fresh fruits, cereals, and pastries. A Vivaldi concerto plays softly in the background and as I daydream into the room before me, it happens again� I see Romans in togas soaking in the Baths of Diocletian� Caesar Ritz welcoming men in tuxedoes and ladies in tiaras who came here on opening night to enjoy a 16 course feast, a montage of personalities who have crossed under that chandelier: Queen Margherita, Tolstoy, Sophia Loren, Woody Allen, Madonna and her entourage - it�s a Fellini movie in my head!

The waitress delivers my cappuccino. Her sleek hand transforms to the pudgy fist of that signora in the pensione who served me my first Roman breakfast many years ago. Just one word will fit this feeling I�m having, as I sip my coffee and get comfy in this red velvet chair.

I feel grand.

see also...
A Notch Above rthe Rest
A Modern Bridge to Ancient Latium
Cats of Rome
Extreme Rome
What do you know?
Roman Cooking
Visit Latium
Visit other Italian regions

St. Regis Grand, Rome
Via V.E. Orlando, 3
00185 Rome
T: 001-39-06-470911
F: 001-39-06-42014201
Facilities include fitness room, meeting rooms, ballroom and 24 hour butler service

About the Author
Susan Van Allen, a Los Angeles based writer, has written for the sit com �Everybody Loves Raymond� and about her travels in Italy for National Public Radio�s �Savvy Traveler,�, and other publications. Her grandmother immigrated from Molise, and her grandfather from Potenza. She travels to Italy often to visit relatives and enjoy all the country has to offer.


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