Travel

Il nuovo lusso

Words By Samuel Muston

The Villa Spalletti Trivelli in Rome is a three-storey building parked like a dowager duchess across from The Quirinal Palace. So symmetrical, so square and so equal in finish is it that if you asked a child to draw a large house, you might very well find a facsimile of this villa staring out at you.

What this lends the small, 13-room and 2-suite hotel – it has been such since 2004 – is a sense of permanence. It looks like it has the antiquity of The Trevi Fountain. It’s an impression that is redoubled as I sit in the drawing room surrounded by vast, wall-clothing Flemish tapestries and 19th-century sideboards crowded out with black-and-white photographs of the late Countess Spalletti Trivelli perched on a chaise with Elena, last Queen of Italy.

The view from Villa Borghese gardens

But there is another thing that reverberates around the room: a quietness bordering on the silent pervades. I have been sitting here for 15 minutes and I have not once been asked, “Would you like a drink, sir?” “Is everything OK, Sir?” or  “Can I get you something, Sir” and I could not be happier about it. Instead, there is something much more civilised:  a silver tray in corner of the room, with spirits and mixers lined-up on it like soldiers with a capacious ice bucket standing sentry by its side. This, like the fully stocked minibar in the rooms, are gratis. As Andrea Spalletti, the son of the last man to use this large edifice as a home explains, “We want it to feel like you are staying in a friend’s house. To feel that you can relax.”

This place does confect the air of a private house, not least because you can sit in its well-stocked library, with its first editions of André Gide, for hours reading or playing cards and not be disturbed. Like the underside of a swan gliding across water, the activity here is hidden. The ice bucket is constantly refilled, the Prosecco never runs out. The staff might very well be ghosts, so little do you see them. If you need something, you simply press the doorbell-like buttons stationed around the Villa, and with that, someone appears. The hard sell of the traditional luxury hotel, the clamour of the staff for attention (and tips), is not what they go in for here. They want to give you what you want, rather than what they imagine you expect.

What the hotel does within its 100-year-old walls is neatly tie together the strands of The New Luxury into something resembling a satin bow. In fact, it manages, in some ways, to be the very embodiment of it. You have the discreet soft-spoken service, the extra touches like the stupendous Turkish bath, and most importantly an absolute, cast-in-iron focus on creating a luxury that doesn’t scream from the rooftops and instead is subtle, implicit.

The hard sell of the traditional luxury hotel, the clamour of the staff for attention, is not what they go for here. They want to give you what you want, rather than what they imagine you expect.

You see it in the breakfast room laid out with cold cuts, cheeses, pastries, cakes, bread and seven different types of preserve. You see it in the fact that the family are very often be found walking across the parqueted floors. It’s evident in the olive oil and the white and red wine – Decanter World Wine Award winners – which come from the family groves in Umbria. All these things are, of course, things you find elsewhere – but here they are presented to guests with sympathy and personality.

The owners start with their guests – and with so few rooms, there aren’t that many – and then build what they do around them. They are steadfast in their commitment to their hotel being a Roman experience, but not so much that they wouldn’t stretch themselves to providing something extra for non-European guests. It sounds so simple, and yet so often it seems to be beyond the realms of imagining for even the best luxury hotel chains. The reason for this is sometimes economics, but more often it is the expression of a cookie-cutter corporate structure that deems a luxury hotel in Tokyo not so different to a luxury hotel in Miami.

What you find in this hotel is hospitality at its most personal and it’s most adaptive – making it the very best available. It is here, in a corner of Rome a few minutes’ walk from The Trevi Fountain and The Pantheon, that you’ll find The New Luxury.

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