‘I’ll talk to the big man and see what he can do,’ says Andrea, our concierge.
We were discussing the weather, so I’m a little confused. As we’re in Rome’s Portrait Roma (formerly Portrait Suites), a sleek, fashionable townhouse hotel owned by iconic Italian shoe designer Ferragamo, I assume, at first, he means Signor Salvatore himself. But then I realise, as he died in 1960, that particular ‘big man’ hasn’t been making decisions about bed linen and toiletries for a while. Having just flown from grey, drizzly London to the eternal city, we are disappointed to discover the forecast for the next few days isn’t good. I visualise bruise-coloured clouds hanging ominously over piazzas and palazzos, and can’t help but wish for a little divine intervention, too.
Situated above Ferragamo’s flagship store, Portrait Roma occupies an elegant building, just minutes from the Spanish Steps and the fashion thoroughfares of Vias Condotti, Borgognona and Frattina. We couldn’t be closer to the action. Indeed, Mr Smith and I are even given a Ferragamo lookbook to flick through while Andrea makes our dinner reservations. Only in Italy…
The dedication to style continues inside. On the way to our room, we climb a staircase lined with black-and-white photographs and sketches, all with a shoe theme; and smouldering portraits of old-Hollywood glamour girls. Our simple-but-luxurious room is equally chic. It has beautiful black-wood walls, complemented by a grey colour scheme that allows the occasional bright pop of lime green in unexpected places such as the curtain lining. And there’s a lovely window seat overlooking the beautiful, yellow Hermès store on the other side of Via Condotti – it’s the ideal place to curl up with an early morning espresso or late-evening prosecco.
Mr Smith and I spend a delightful couple of hours lounging on the enormous Roman emperor-sized bed – there’s enough room in there for the multiple generations of an entire Italian family – and watching the massive flat-screen TV. Mr Smith particularly enjoys poking around the in-room kitchen but, alas, refuses to rise to my challenge to whip us up a quick gnocchi alla Romana. It’s so peaceful. Though we can hear hints of the bustle on Via Condotti below, all that changing-room swishing and credit-card swiping at street level seems a long way away.
We finally rouse ourselves to shower and get dressed for the evening – me in a navy 3.1 Phillip Lim sweater and jeans, and Mr Smith in a shirt and white linen trousers – and, after much giggly pouting into the free-standing, fashionista-friendly mirror, we are ready to head out and begin our own Roman holiday. Inspired by a photograph of a stunning pair of heels on the wall, I decide to wear my new six-inch Louboutins. But, oh, how unforgiving cobblestone streets can be to stiletto-clad feet. Despite the fact I’m clinging onto Mr Smith’s arm, the stones on the Via della Pace nearly claim my dignity a few times. I eventually persuade him to set me down outside a nearby trattoria, where we indulge in delicious artichoke antipasti, wonderful pasta with bacon, pecorino and more artichokes, and the kind of tiramisu Mr Smith has been searching for his entire life.
After a refreshing sleep, Mr Smith and I spend the following morning wandering around the vast gardens of the Galleria Borghese, one of the city’s finest art galleries. They’re beautiful. We make our way along wooded avenues to sit beside fountains and ornate Renaissance statues, and watch with concern as an elderly couple, seated beside a running track, shear off their dog’s hair with evident relish. Is this an attempt to make him more aerodynamic? Afterwards, fully aware we’re a big romantic cliché, we hire a boat and row out to the middle of a tranquil, terrapin-filled lake. It’s turtle bliss.
We enjoy a hearty lunch of red lentil soup with creamy goat’s cheese followed by a rigatoni amatriciana that bursts with fresh tomato and white wine flavours at Cul de Sac, a charming restaurant on a side street off Piazza Navona. Mr Smith, a gifted cook in my eyes, mournfully declares he’ll never be able to match the culinary artistry before him. I suggest we come back to Rome a few more times in the name of research – that way, he’ll be able to perfect his skills. To be honest, though, I’m now looking for any excuse to return to this beautiful, atmospheric city.
We return to the Portrait Roma with bellies full and the taste of fresh tomatoes still on our lips, and climb to the roof terrace. It’s one of the hotel’s biggest draws. On one side we can see the Villa Medici and the Spanish Steps, while, on another, we have an uninterrupted view of the hideous Vittoriano – scathingly called ‘the wedding cake’ by locals. To the southeast, the domes of St Peter and the Vatican are ascending heavenwards. More charming than any of these, though, are the tiny rooftop gardens the citizens of Rome have cultivated amid the spires and pinnacles. The sun is setting, and the heady mix of yellows, browns and oranges, bathed in that heavy evening light, is just breathtaking. ‘We need to start taking more mini-breaks,’ says Mr Smith as he reclines in a deckchair. I couldn’t agree more.
The next morning, we finally make it inside the Galleria Borghese, where both Mr Smith and I are stunned into uncharacteristic silence by the sheer dynamism of Bernini’s four sculptures. Afterwards, we head to Piazza Navona for a final ice cream. We sit on a bench and savour our last hours. But, for now, the skies are blue and the sun warms my upturned face, its heat seeping down into my body. The big man has definitely come through for us.