‘Tutt’ a posto? Everything good?’ our waiter asks, refilling our glasses with yet more perfectly chilled Frascati. Frankly, things couldn’t be any more a posto. Mr Smith and I are on honeymoon in Rome – staying at luxurious hotel-meets-private-apartments Babuino 181 in the upmarket Tridente district – and dinner has been a lovely, post-nuptial reminiscing session. By the time dessert has arrived, we’ve already dissected the wedding speeches, laughed at the awkwardness of the first dance and argued passionately about whose relatives were the most embarrassing.
Rome, we’re finding, is a city very much to our tastes. So far, we’ve browsed the boutiques of Via Sistina (me) and gazed longingly at the football kits and flags on display in the AS Roma store on Piazza Colonna (Mr Smith). The romantic, foliage-festooned Otello alla Concordia, tucked away down a tiny cobbled sidestreet off Via della Croce, suits us both perfectly, though. The fresh pasta is perfectly al dente; the saltimbocca meltingly tender; the service attentive and impeccable. Even the espresso is sweet, thick and reassuringly jolting.
We wander down the linguine-thin Via del Babuino, which connects all the throng and bustle around Piazza di Spagna to the only marginally less hectic Piazza di Popolo, and pass high-end jewellers, fashion outlets and appointment-only antique dealerships en route to our home for the weekend. Babuino 181 isn’t the sort of hotel that has a doorman, bellboy and room-service menu. If that’s what you’re after, Rome has plenty of other five-star grandi signore that will tick your boxes. But if, like me, what you really want from a stylish stay is a luxury home-from-home in which you can relax in elegant surroundings without being pestered by over-zealous cleaning staff, and where you feel free to hang your clothes off the end of the bed and walk around in your underwear, this is the place for you.
A discreet entrance leads into a smart, marble-swathed lobby where two friendly concierges sit behind a desk. They direct us into a futuristic-looking glass lift that glides up two floors to our room. With a wave of our keycard, the door clicks open and we’re confronted with a wall-mounted iPod-style control panel, which glows eerily blue in the darkness, and allows us to adjust the temperature and lighting to our exact requirements. Mr Smith prods inexpertly at it for a minute (I hope this isn’t a sign of how things will be now we’re married), and then our luxury suite is illuminated. Spread before us is a huge open space, decorated in a sophisticated mix of pristine caramels, creams and browns. Diaphanous drapes hang down over floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the boutique-browsing below, while warm woods and beaten copper form the contemporary artworks on the walls.
In one corner of the room sits a circular, walnut table and inviting-looking chairs – our dining area, should we wish to invite any Romans back for supper – and, just to the right of this is the most enormous flatscreen TV that I’ve seen outside of MTV Cribs. In the middle of the room is a Vatican-sized bed, surrounded by a suede banquette, and beyond this the honey-coloured, marble-and-mosaics bathroom – home to a giant bathtub, deep, side-by-side sinks and a shower that’s big enough for four (just in case, I suppose, we want to invite any more Romans back).
The best bit, however, is hidden behind shutters and more drapes. I draw these back and reveal a small but magnificent marble balcony, the centrepiece of the hotel and the perfect vantage point to people-, Vespa- and couple-watch while sipping a coffee from the in-room Nespresso machine – or, as Mr Smith and I do that evening, finish off a bottle of chilled prosecco while we wait for our 10-month-old baby to do the decent thing and go to sleep.
Mr Smith has noticed that there’s an Edward Hopper exhibition on at the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, so, next morning, the three of us head over there for a spot of dark American realism. Being in a gallery with a baby that’s just learnt to walk, we find, is akin to taking a malevolent goblin to a funeral. Art-lovers’ legs are roughly tugged, each new painting is responded to with a high-pitched scream and alarms are triggered every few minutes, as Miss Smith lurches towards priceless artworks with the same enthusiasm she displays towards our cat at home. Thank God, then, for the Italians’ innate love of bambini. Even the armed guards who rush in to thwart a would-be art thief, end up clicking their fingers and waving indulgently at our gurgling offspring.
After all that, I decide I need a break. As the other two members of my family head off towards Villa Borghese in search of greenery and chaseable pigeons, I make my way to Via Condotti, home to the flagship stores of the most upmarket Italian ateliers. I’ve always known that shopping is as much a part of life here as blaring your horn in traffic jams and dancing to dodgy Europop, but I’m amazed at what a cross-generational experience it is. The bella figura is clearly alive and well, and 70-year-old women here sport the same manicured nails, glossy lips and designer jackets as their twentysomething counterparts. As I flit between Fendi, Gucci, Versace and Bulgari, I cluster around display tables with everyone from teenage girls to great-grandmothers. Fashion knows no age-limits in Italy and I leave, bag-laden, feeling truly inspired.
As I head back to Babuino 181 through a maze of cobbled sidestreets, in which stallholders hawk everything from fresh juice and cherries to magazines and jewellery, I pass a tiny salumeria. Inside is row upon row of the sort of items that, I know, make Mr Smith very happy indeed – aged prosciutto, fine parmigiano, snooker-ball-sized lumps of minced pork, studded with herbs and dusted with cheese – so I pop in to pick him up some pre-dinner delights. And for dessert? Well, he’ll have to wait to see what I’ve got wrapped up in tissue paper inside the La Perla bag that’s swinging from my arm. Tutt’ a posto, indeed.
Anonymously reviewed by Sarah Maber (Media marvel)
Reviews of Babuino 181 from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
The location next to the Piazza del Popolo was perfect. Great rooms, great rooftop bar, perfect for end of day drink. It's small, low key and basically all you need for a short city break.
Ted, BlackSmith stayed on 20 Nov 2013
We loved the hotel and liked the neighbourhood, which afforded easy access to restaurants, shops and, most important, all the famous sights. The front-desk staff were very helpful and the rooftop breakfast facilities were great. We particularly enjoyed the booklet provided by the hotel that helped us with the choice of restaurants. The room was spacious and extremely comfortable; great to return to after an exhausting day out. We found everything perfect.
Roger, BlackSmith stayed on 18 Nov 2013
The room was just like the website, so no sad surprises. The position was excellent and the staff extremely helpful.
Helen, BlackSmith stayed on 23 Sep 2013
The staff were incredibly professional and helpful at all times. We also loved the centrality, yet the ability to go to the rooftop terrace and chill out for a sun downer away from it all. Really great hotel and location – highly recommended!
The suite was great, but dark – not a lot of natural light as we were on the first floor facing the side road.
Helen, BlackSmith stayed on 16 May 2013
Babuino 181 is a gorgeous apartment-style boutique in the heart of the shopping district of Rome. Just a leisurely stroll from the Spanish Steps and the myriad of shops and restaurants in the area, with two trattorias nearby: Edy and Babette (www.babetteristorante.it). We particularly loved the hotel’s location, from which you can see almost all of Rome's treasures by foot. A good day's excursion from the hotel takes in the Castel Sant’Angelo and the simply stunning Vatican City (www.vatican.va) with its museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica; all achievable on foot, particularly if you refuel somewhere like Hotel Columbus (www.hotelcolumbus.net), which has a great terrace. Meanwhile, spend a day meandering the Centro Storico – The Pantheon, Piazza Navora, Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto all offer wonderful sights, sounds, tastes and memories. Elsewhere, ancient Rome with its Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, is clearly a must, but take in these sites from the top of Vittoriano too. All this to see, without even mentioning the wonderful churches, museums and piazzas you cannot help but fall into on every street; a simply stunning city and a welcoming, hospitable, stylish hotel too.
James, GoldSmith stayed on 14 May 2012
Stayed here after two days in Sextantio Albergo Diffuso hotel (www.sextantio.it) in Abruzzo, and what a difference, going from mediaeval splendour to modern luxury. The hotel – found on cosmopolitan via Babuino – is excellently placed, close to the Spanish steps; and we were able to walk to all the main tourist sites easily. The rooms in the hotel were a good size and the raised bed was extremely comfortable. The extras: champagne on arrival and the Nespresso coffee machine, were a nice touch, especially as we arrived on my birthday. There’s no restaurant at the hotel, but this was no problem, because there are many good restaurants in the area. After reading a previous review, we ate at Edy – a fish restaurant, just a few minutes walk from the hotel – and found it reasonably priced, with excellent food.
Susan, GoldSmith stayed on 22 Apr 2012
Babuino 181 was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed the fact that it was a small, intimate hotel. The room I stayed in was quite spacious, considering rooms in boutique hotels have a tendency to be small. The room was very well appointed and had wonderful lighting options. This hotel is resonably priced and is very well located amongst the best shopping and restaurants that Rome has to offer. The staff were friendly and accommodating. Being quite particular about hotels, I would definitely reserve and or recommend this hotel.
Ronald, BlackSmith stayed on 24 Jan 2012
An incredible hotel, in a great location. Thoroughly recommend wandering around the corner from the hotel to Edy, in the tiny Vicolo del Babuino around the corner, for an authentic and delicious Italian meal.
Lawrence, GoldSmith stayed on 19 Dec 2011