The Bulgari Hotel in Rome is as Timeless as the Eternal City Itself

Bulgari Hotel Roma

It’s not quite Alice’s rabbit hole or Harry’s Platform 9¾ but the second-floor corridor that leads to the dazzling indoor pool at the Bulgari Hotel Roma is, in its way, a magic portal.

The pool’s semi-secret location within the 114-room urban resort, which opened in June 2023, makes it all the more jaw-dropping when you do finally stumble upon it. A theatrical flourish of a space, it’s lined with tiny silver and gold mosaic tiles that glitter underwater like the coins tourists throw over their shoulders into the Trevi Fountain. Slipping into the water’s warm embrace is probably as close as you can now get to the experience of swimming in, say, the Emperor Nero’s villa – and a whole lot less risky, given his dodgy reputation.

View outside the Bulgari Roma

My wife and I are the only ones to have found the portal on this summer afternoon. As we make watery shapes around and between the pool’s eight arabesque marble columns, trailing ripples like diamonds, the mosaics in a wall niche begin to talk to me. “Where have we seen that pattern before?” I ask Anne. “Yesterday,” she shoots back, “with Massimo, in the Baths of Caracalla.” She’s good that way. Unlike me, she has a memory that goes back literally hours.

So, full disclosure. This is not our first visit to Rome. In fact, we lived in this glorious, chaotic, beautiful, fascinating city for 24 years. But thanks to Massimo, the affable guide assigned to take us on a tour of the city, we rekindle the flame. As soon as we tell him about our long association with the place, he recalibrates to share a conversation about the hometown he clearly loves with a passion, rather than just tell us stuff about it. And we recalibrate to see Rome afresh, to let it back into our hearts.

Bulgari Hotel Roma

“It doesn’t matter how many times I enter the Pantheon, it’s always a miracle,” says Massimo as we step into the 2nd-century CE temple to all the gods. In nearly 2000 years, he reminds us, nobody has even attempted to make an unreinforced concrete dome as large as the one we’re now staring up at. Through the eight-metre-wide hole in the roof I watch a seagull glide by and recall one winter’s evening, years before, when I walked into an almost empty Pantheon on my way to an appointment. I saw a shaft of moonlight illuminating a patch of floor like an angelic visitation.

Just a short amble away, the Bulgari flagship store, dating to 1905, sits proudly on Via Condotti. With its marble-framed street windows, the high temple of Italian jewellery is today as much a part of the city’s history as the nearby Spanish Steps (a monument recently restored with financial support from the luxury brand). There’s even a museum inside the store, called Domvs. It features pieces from the company’s heritage collection, which has taken decades to assemble because the only way to do it is to slowly buy back each piece, one by one.

Bulgari Hotel Roma

There’s a gold-and-turquoise mirror crafted in the Egyptian style for Elizabeth Taylor in 1962, when she was in Rome making the epic film Cleopatra. You’ll also find an exquisite pair of yellow-gold earrings from 1955 shaped like the wings of the angels sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini on Ponte Sant’Angelo. Time and again the forms and colours of the city emerge in gold and gems: the Colosseum, the many-hued marbles that decorate so many churches and ancient sites; even the stone slabs that edge the pavements.

I can confidently say that the Bulgari Hotel Roma is the most exciting new kid on the Roman block since Sir Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Russie opened in 2000. Even more than that contemporary classic, the Bulgari feels like you could return in 40 years and not find it dated, just handsomely aged. Maybe the tomato consommé served as an off-menu curtain-raiser before dinner at the hotel’s fifth-floor Il Ristorante – Niko Romito won’t be available four decades from now. (If you had to answer a Martian’s question about what perfect tomatoes taste like, you might offer this.) But I bet the tiramisù – the purest essence of the classic Italian dessert – will still be around. Who was it that said true luxury is tasteful simplicity done to perfection?

Bulgari Hotel Roma

This is the thing: nothing here feels forced. The seated statue of Emperor Augustus that greets you as you walk in is a 1st-century Roman work from the once off-limits Torlonia Collection, which Bulgari has helped restore and return to the public eye. But this exquisite museum piece is not a random ornament. It’s in close dialogue with the piazza outside, dominated as it is by the same emperor’s mausoleum and the graceful marble reliefs of the Ara Pacis monument that he commissioned to celebrate bringing peace to the Roman Empire.

Since 2004, when the first of the Bulgari hotels opened in Milan, only nine properties – Rome included – have joined the portfolio. Silvio Ursini, head of the company’s hotel division, takes the long view. “If the location isn’t perfect, we’re not interested,” he once told me.

Bulgari Hotel Roma

Inside the Rome chapter, occupying an illustrious address on Piazza Augusto Imperatore in the Campo Marzio district, lashings of coloured marble, walnut inlay, Marmorino plaster and the pool’s bronze waterspouts reference both the ancient world and the late-1930s style of the building that hosts it. Beyond the pool, the eight-treatment-room spa and our cocoon of a Premium Room (which mixes Mid-century Modern Italian designs like the iconic Arco lamp with more contemporary pieces by B&B Italia, Maxalto and others), our favourite inside space soon becomes the hidden-away lounge. It has a library of Rome-themed books, photos of the city in the Dolce Vita years and a collection of utterly splendid 1920s and ’30s trumpet vases by Gio Ponti. The fact that you can also get a pretty good dry Martini here is just the icing on the torta.

As we stand waiting for a taxi in the entrance vestibule with its statue of Augustus, I watch the doorman outside stretch out a leg and flex his foot in a perfect en pointe. I recall general manager Vincenzo Falcone’s comment at lunch earlier that day about how he had deliberately looked for staff with no connection to the hotel world. “He’s a ballet dancer,” I say to my wife, nodding at the doorman. “Hmm,” she replies, unconvinced.

Bulgari Hotel Roma

This time, I win the point. Graceful even in his doorman’s uniform, Luigi, we discover, had been part of the corps de ballet at Teatro alla Scala in Milan for more than 15 years, dancing alongside Roberto Bolle. Luigi moved on, he tells us, “because the world of dance is always looking for the next young thing and I didn’t want to age quietly in a corner”.

I think of Luigi again when we’re sipping rosé champagne at the rooftop La Terrazza bar. As a name, “The Terrace” feels reductive for what is essentially a private park in the sky. Mediterranean plants divide the space into a series of garden rooms; here and there, through the fronds, you catch glimpses of the Colosseum, St Peter’s dome and other sites. Just like the Bulgari hotel’s dancing doorman, Rome refuses to age quietly in a corner. It ages magnificently in plain sight, constantly renewing its fabric and its fascination.

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Image credit: Katie McKnoulty

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