Interview with Rome’s Hotel de Russie general manager Giampaolo Ottazz

Once a sleek newcomer in Rome’s five star hotel market, Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Russie is facing growing competition as a wave of luxury hotel brands move into the city. But the iconic hotel off Piazza del Popolo still believes it has what it takes to stay at the top.

Hotel de Russie on Via del Babuino is synonymous with modern chic as it is with Old World charm. The five-star hotel is not merely a favourite haunt of celebrities and dignitaries (Angela Merkel apparently likes to stay in room number 501) but it has also become a voguish refuge for Rome’s well-heeled.

In summer, the restaurant and bar spill into the garden whose terraced slopes climb towards the Pincio hill and the Villa Borghese, amid towering palms, magnolias and orange trees. In winter, candlelit dinners in the garden restaurant, Le Jardin, emanate tranquillity and romance. At aperitivo hour, the crowd is both international and (reassuringly) local all year round.

A century ago the hotel was popular among Russian aristocrats (hence the name) and cultural celebrities: Picasso, Cocteau and Stravinsky have all passed through. But after world war two, the building was largely abandoned and in the 1960s it was taken over by Italy’s national broadcaster RAI as its headquarters.

The hotel was eventually reopened in 2000 by British hotelier Rocco Forte. It immediately became a popular choice in Rome’s luxury hotel market. Its elegant and simple decor (designed by Rocco Forte’s sister Olga Polizzi) provided an alternative to the baroque flourishes of velvet and gold often inescapable in hotels elsewhere in the city at the time. But today, after two decades as the top hotel in the capital, it is facing new competition as international brands like Four Seasons,

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