The hotel scene in the Eternal City is a tricky market for discerning guests. The city certainly has enduring appeal and most of that comes from its largely unaltered and authentic architecture spanning millennia. For hotel lovers hoping that price matches space and service, frustration awaits. Every inch of real estate in Rome is pricey. Rooms are normally small, amenities limited and perks like breakfast and wifi are not always a given.
So where does the Gran Melia fit into this scene? It bills itself as an urban resort and that description is quite fitting. Still within the city walls it sits atop the scenic Gianicolo hill that offers easy access to the Vatican, sprawling views of the city and Tiber below.
The hotel is one of the newest major projects in the city in a decade. Its construction was delayed for years since it is built on the archeological site of the Villa Agrippina (The emperor Nero’s mother in law). The structure was actually a convent that has been completely renovated along with the grounds and parking garage.
The perk of the hotel is certainly its wide open social spaces. Normally one would have to venture much further out of town to find gardens, a pool, a modern lobby bar and open air patios. The decor is Neo-classical, with a blend of columns, busts, marble and thick walls. At the same time there are many soft features in the form of colorful artwork and alluring furniture.
While the building is sprawling and a bit of a labyrinth (like a typical convent) the choice of white washed walls along white stone floors feels dubious. The clean look is a bit too much of an infirmary theme throughout the space. Highlights were definitely the antique bronze room doors and the Renaissance and Baroque paintings in part that broke the monotones.
We found check in to be friendly and the staff attentive. There was a hiccup in having the room ready (even when we arrived quite late) but the staff recovered nicely by inviting us to the bar for a complementary drink while the issue was resolved. The hotel offers very nice service in a market than can be sometimes tired of tourists and impersonal.
The deluxe and premium category of rooms are small, probably not much bigger than the cell the nuns occupied. It was well appointed with nice furniture, flooring and amenities, however it is obvious they have pulled every trick in the book in order to make it look as big as possible including wall mirrors and a glass paned shower which makes the bathroom part of the room. Its a solid effort, but we feel the hotel could have really stood out more had it decided to double the size of the rooms.
The gym is little more than a tiny room in the basement although the equipment is nice and the outdoor spaces while wonderful are not accessible in winter months as it is generally rainy and cold. The hotel’s peak season is undoubtedly in warmer months. The lobby bar is a fantastic social space and the in house restaurant Ossimoro offers an emphasis on local ingredients in a fine dining environment.While the hotel has a dedicated Clarins branded spa space with steam room, sauna, plunge pool and sensorial showers, access is complimentary only for Red Level guests. Entry for all other guests is 20 Euros.
While the hotel has a beautiful layout and excellent spaces for relaxation it might not be the best tourist hotel. It can be a longer walk than most tourists want when exploring the city and it is really a space that has been created to be enjoyed in itself. Gran Melia has done a great job bringing their quality hospitality to the eternal city and preserving a building of heritage, but the hotel is more of an ideal hangout for someone who lives in or visits Rome often, rather than someone who will be spending most of the day outside the hotel touring or savoring the city.