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When Gabriella Rasponi, widow of Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, purchased land in front of Rome's historic Quirinale Palace, the home of the president of Italy, little did she know that one day she would become responsible for one of the most exclusive hotels in the Italian capital.
In a city with such a weight of history on its shoulders - Rome's premier hoteliers have hosted everyone from Gandhi and Mother Teresa to George Clooney and Madonna - it's a bold statement to make. But the Villa Spalletti Trivelli is no ordinary hotel.
With little fanfare on the outside in terms of grandiose signage, suited concierges or a brass revolving door, it is discreet and can easily be mistaken for one of the thousands of historic residences in Rome. But this is part of its charm: push the gold-plated buzzer and within seconds you'll be ushered into the villa's opulent world.
With only 12 cosseting rooms, privacy is guaranteed and even a short stay feels like you have been given your own personal mansion. It's the perfect antidote for romantics, honeymooners and more gentrified visitors who need a sanctuary from the madness of everyday Rome. Staff are on call at the push of a button - they tend to scurry out of sight like quiet dormice - which only adds to the experience of unadulterated decadence. For those after company or conversation however, it could feel alienating.
The small romantic doubles and deluxe doubles combine modern convenience with period fixtures and fittings. While there is high-speed Wi-fi, gigantic flat-screen televisions and thunderous power showers, the handmade linens bear the Trivelli family's coat of arms and the historic Italian wall hangings are a reminder of the current owner's passion for history. If money is no object, the deluxe junior or grand deluxe suites are the best choice.
The real charm of the villa lies in its antiquated public spaces and lofty grandeur. The corridors are fitted with Roman antiques from the family's collection and hand-picked historical maps, tapestries and polished vases.
The most impressive is its expansive drawing room, Sala degli Arazzi. Here, it is easy to imagine the country's political and social elite making themselves at home with a nightcap from the fully stocked complimentary honesty bar - or picking a leather-bound book from the shelf in the private wood-panelled library. Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1913, used to pop by for afternoon tea in its stately common rooms.
Mornings in the Paper Peint dining room are a more laid-back affair. For breakfast, a simple Italian buffet of organic buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto and fresh breads are laid out alongside preserves and fresh juices. A bell is on the table should you need to ring for any chargeable extras and the coffee is self serve. The zesty olive oil is made at the family's vineyard, and just in case you forget where you are, a selection of fine wines produced by the Spalletti Trivelli family is on sale.
Outside, the villa has its own private garden and terrace, ideal for summer sun-downers, but this is only a minor distraction from the real attractions nearby, which include the unforgettable Colosseum and Roman Forum, both a leisurely 10-minute stroll along Via Nazionale. Better still, the villa is quite literally a penny's throw from the baroque beauty of the statuesque Trevi Fountain, built in 1762 by the celebrated architect Giuseppe Pannini. According to local legend, if a visitor drops a coin into its gushing waters, they are ensured a return to Rome - leaving no excuse not to come back to Villa Spalletti Trivelli a second time.
When in Rome
Villa Spalletti Trivelli
Via Piacenza 4 - 00184 Roma, Italy
Tel: +39 (0)6 4890 7934
Double rooms available from Euro360 (HK$3,617) per night.
Direct flights from Hong Kong are available with Alitalia, the Italian national carrier, but cheaper flights may be available with Emirates, via Dubai, or with Qatar Airways, via Doha.
Villa Spalletti Trivelli can be reached by a five minute taxi ride from Rome Termini, the city's transport hub.