In my dark sunglasses and custom-made Italian sandals, I am feeling rather glam — in an Anita Ekberg, Audrey Hepburn, wannabe kind of way. I have only just arrived in Rome, but under the leafy trees lining the Via Veneto where the leading ladies (Ekberg in La Dolce Vita; Hepburn in Roman Holiday) once frequented, I am already feeling the “sweet life.” My time in the Eternal City is short, less than 48 hours, and the array of options — from shopping the designer boutiques to gorging on cacio e pepe to taking in the art and must-see sights (ancient aqueduct, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon) — is dizzying. And so I procrastinate, meander to a sidewalk cafe laden with flowers, sip the cappuccino placed artistically before me, people watch, and it is here — in this simple moment of being present — that clarity surfaces. I will forgo the chaotic streets and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and create a love-letter-for-myself staycation in this regal city far from home. Over the next day and a half, I do exactly that — move between my elegant hotel, the newly opened (May 2023) InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace, an IHG Hotel, and the city’s most famous street (Via Veneto) and neighborhood, while leaving room to experience the unexpected pleasures of Rome. Who knew wild parrots were living out their own version of La Dolce Vita in the upper tier of the Colosseum.
Although Via Veneto was replicated on the set of Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece film (in the Cinecittà studios), the real-life street remained famous for decades following the movie’s release. The area, near the InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace especially, was considered the heart of dolce vita, as it was here that celebrities — actors, singers, film directors (followed by paparazzi in search of a ‘scoop’) — packed into nightclubs and sidewalk cafes. Harry’s Bar (still popular) was a hotspot for celebrity sightings — Frank Sinatra spent many late nights crooning away in the now-legendary piano bar. Over time, however, the neighborhood, though always elegant in its classical Renaissance architecture, fell into a feeling of tired neglect. But as I sit quietly, watching locals stylishly dressed passing by — some pausing for their own coffees or gelato from Neve di Latte (known for its high-quality ingredients and creamy texture) — I can feel the new-again glam. The impetus being the InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace — the first hotel to open on the Veneto in many years, and part of the esteemed IHG Hotels & Resorts’ luxury and lifestyle portfolio, which also includes Six Senses, Regent, Kimpton, and Vignette Collection.
“Your room is ready, Signora, we do hope you are pleased.”
Eyeing my spacious room with its herringbone floor, soothing color palette (creams with pops of blue), leather-crafted headboard, sleek, Italian-mod furniture, and fluted wall lamps custom made by local artisans, ‘pleased’ is an understatement. Especially when I peek behind the billowy, white, floor-to-ceiling curtains to reveal a private balcony. In choosing the room I had paused undecided, torn between the classic room with Roman archways and this (a premium) with outdoor balcony. But always — in city and countryside, seashore and mountains — I am a breathe-in-the-fresh-air, sleep-with-the-windows-open kind of woman. And now, with my recent revelation of creating a dreamy Rome staycation, I am ecstatic with my choice. For an hour, I sit outside on the terrace overlooking the street below, sun beaming, as I scribble in my journal and listen to the signature sounds of the city — the singing pipes of a Harley Davidson (it’s not only Vespas here), the tolling of church bells — before making my way to the hotel’s three-treatment-room spa for a much-needed massage. And it is again the balcony where, in a cushy white robe and slippers, I lounge again following my treatment, before finally forcing myself into the shower to get ready for an evening out — inside the hotel.
Normally, after a long-haul flight and massage, I would steer clear of alcohol and sip only water for at least 24 hours. But here (“when in Rome”), I put on a breezy dress and sky-high heels, and float my way down a scarlet-carpeted, Carrera white marble staircase to Anita’s Lounge & Bar (yes, that Anita) for an Aperol Spritz.
Sipping my cocktail under an opulent chandelier, I feel suspended in time between the hotel’s storied and glamorous past and its meticulous modern-day reimagination. Originally built in 1900 as a residence for visiting ambassadors, the building was used in the 1940s as a library for the American Embassy (which is right across the street) before becoming a hotel yet still retaining signatures of the renowned Italian architect Carlo Busiri Vici. Its current incarnation, as InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace, took a considered three years to complete. Much of the building’s original decor — grand columns, sweeping staircase, and stucco ceiling work — has been artfully restored; while modern touches include bespoke Murano glass chandeliers and reinterpreted Roman tapestry intricately inlaid into marble floors.
“Signora, your table.” A dark-suited waiter escorts me into Scarpetta, the hotel’s velvet-draped, New York outpost serving Italian and American cuisine. The NYC aesthetic is apparent in the deep velvet banquettes, bar (in Italy, bars are for coffee, not cocktails), and the Montana-style cowboy steaks on the menu. But the service is undeniably Italian. The wait staff patiently speaks English to me while making recommendations based on my pescatarian preferences: charred octopus (artichoke, marble potato, guazzetto, celery, scallion vinaigrette) followed by the signature Scarpetta Spaghetti (tomato, basil, parmigiano). Vintage wine (from Tuscany) is expertly paired, and when I can’t finish my plate, the waiter playfully explains the origin of the restaurant’s name. In Italy, scarpetta is the art of gathering all of the sauce left on your plate with a piece of bread. I refrain, of course (and from dessert too), and take the scarlet-carpeted stairs home to fall asleep under luxurious Italian linens — my balcony door cracked open.
Wild Parrots, Quiet Colosseum
In the morning, I rise early (6 a.m.) to meet Isabella Calidonna, a licensed tour guide and Ph.D.-bearing art historian, who has promised me an exclusive Rome experience. Her brainchild, ArcheoRunning Tours, leads solo and duo joggers (or walkers) to the city’s most coveted sites in the early morning, before the crowds. I am not a runner, nor did I bring the proper attire, but I am a walker, and so we walk. Our first stop is the legendary Trevi Fountain. People are already milling around the fountain’s famed turquoise waters, but the crowd is thin — a few influencers posing in dresses perfectly matched to the water’s hue; a bride and groom, trailed by a photographer in search of the perfect shot. We continue along narrow cobblestone streets, past markets and sculpted Italian (umbrella) pines to the Colosseum. Calidonna leads me to the ‘back of house’ where a burly man scrutinizes her credentials and tickets, then nods us in. We are on the upper tier of the ancient structure — historically where women and the poor sat or stood (the lower tiers were reserved for Rome’s upper class). Caste system aside, the view from the top — of the empty arena and stage — is spectacular. Only a handful of others (seven or so) are here, and all with licensed guides.
“This is the only time [of day] that it is possible to see the Colosseum in this way,” Calidonna notes. Completely quiet, eternally ancient, with fascinating and unexpected details exposed — right down to the green parrot, chilling nonchalantly on the age-old (79 A.D.) travertine and tufa limestone-based stones of the amphitheater.
Wild green parrots (technically rose-ringed parakeets) are apparently quite common in Rome. The brilliant green birds are most often spotted in The Eternal City’s largest parks, Villa Borghese and Villa Dora Pamphilj, and throughout the city in the umbrella pines. But apparently some of the feathered flock prefer the Colosseum just as I do — high above and far away from the crowd, which Calidonna notes is fast forming below us, outside the main entrance.
“Time to go,” she laughs. “Cappuccino?” Indeed. And I’m back in my dark glasses on the Via Veneto, feeling glam.
Cover image and article in partnership with InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace.