In Review

First Roma Dolce hotel review: the sweet life

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The First Roma Dolce is a patisserie-themed hotel. And I’ll just let that notion sink in for a while I go off on a small tangent. 

A friend who ghost writes cookery books once spent a month at a Caribbean hotel while working on their chef’s glamorous tome. Sometimes she slept in the Presidential suite, other nights in vacant staff quarters, and all points in between, depending on where they had availability. Her biggest takeaway from this month of varied beds and price points was that she’d probably never book an expensive hotel again. Her reasoning? As long as there’s a decent bed, and easy access to a toilet and shower, the rest is just trimmings. “I only saw the room for about 30 minutes when I got up and for about 30 minutes before I went to bed,” she told me, “so why spend money on something you won’t use?”

It’s an interesting point. Sure, there are reasons other than sleep and personal hygiene here – the quality of breakfast, the efficiency of staff, the sleekness of other amenities, to name but three – but, so often, you do only see the hotel for around an hour a day as you use it as a base to explore a city or region. But, before you assume I’m biting the luxury hand that feeds, or lining up for a devastating killer punchline, let’s get back to the wonderful First Roma Dolce. 

My friend’s words often rattle around my head at check-in, particularly on arrival in Rome, a city that, somehow, I’ve never visited before, and particularly on arrival at the First Roma Dolce, which is located spectacularly conveniently for so many of the tourist must-sees. To the left, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, to the right, Piazza de Popolo, and with the Colosseum and Vatican City also in short walkable distance. So what to do? Use all my spare time playing the “I Spy Book of Rome” and ticking off all these legendary places? Or stop, chill, eat patisserie, enjoy the room and soak up a little modern Roman life? 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I went with option b) because, well, patisserie. The joy of Rome though, as I quickly discover, is that there is history dotted everywhere. It’s nigh on impossible, in fact, to walk anywhere without passing 18 lesser-known-but-equally-fascinating churches, statues or jaw-dropping bits of ancient architecture so, even if you focus on the R&R side of tourism, you will still soak up a huge amount of local culture. Even looking up and down the Via del Corso from my balcony, nibbling on an exquisite raspberry tartlet, there’s the occasional glimpse of something ancient and marble in the distance. There’s also excellent people-watching as this street is one of Rome’s most famous designer-heavy shopping areas. 

Given the density of Rome, developing a new boutique hotel is something of a challenge, hence First Roma Dolce’s location above Via del Corso and the discrete doorway: so discrete, in fact, that I walk past it twice in two days, saved only the doorman’s friendly wave of recognition. 

Once inside, it’s easy to forget the bustle of shoppers, window shoppers and tourists outside. The palette – creams, rich chocolate browns, golds, deep greys – is one that doesn’t so much scream chilled as whisper it gently, from reception to the lounge, from lounge to restaurant (past a patisserie counter of which dreams are made), and from restaurant to the 23 guest rooms and suites on the floors above. 

While space is at something of a premium, architect Giuseppe Valadier’s canny design – and First’s grasp of what makes a great hotel – overcomes any of the limitations with ease. For example, while there’s no gym, some of the rooms have fitness equipment installed or a personal trainer can be arranged to put you through your paces in private. There’s no spa but some of the rooms have a hammam (also First’s next Rome hotel, their third, will be spa-themed with views of the Tiber: their first, for the record, is the nearby art-themed First Roma Arte).

And, frankly, the hammam swings it for me and, aside from an excellent market tour and “Cooking With Mamma Eva”, a brilliant, very hands-on, hugely informative cookery class (and hearty, group-cooked lunch), I spend most of my 48 hours in Rome waddling happily between the balcony, the bed and my own private steam room.

While the bathroom is spectacular – Saint Laurent black marble for those who understand such a reference – a pre-sleep steam (and a very comfortable bed) sends me off into a deep slumber, while an early morning steam and cold shower revives like very little else. It also, I kid myself, helps me sweat out a certain number of cakes because that patisserie theme is taken very seriously indeed.

As well as the exquisite selection on display between the lounge and restaurant, breakfast features excellent cheese, ham, remarkable artisan honeys, and maritozzo, a classic, cream-laden, traditional Roman bun. Even better is the afternoon tea, which straddles British tradition and Roma Dolce’s sense of flair. There are classic sandwiches (egg, salmon, cucumber) alongside bruschetta, but it’s the cakes which dazzle, particularly a rich mango cheesecake which looks like a bright yellow glazed doughnut and the signature tiramisu, which is served encased in chocolate. 

For a more savoury Italian meal, First Roma Dolce offers a free car transfer (via Rolls Royce, no less) to First Roma Arte, home of the Michelin-starred Acquolina and, perhaps best of all, Acquaroof, which has astonishing views over the city. At dusk, with a glass of prosecco in one hand, and a bruschetta in the other, there are few finer places to be. Save, of course, for your personal hammam. With, of course, a tiramisu waiting for you outside…  

Book a stay at The First Roma Dolce from €400 (£366) per night in a double room at thefirsthotel.com/dolce

Destination specialists Access Italy offer immersive cultural experiences to guests of the hotel including the 'Cooking with Mamma Eva' experience (from €850 for two people) and Wine tasting at Pierluigi restaurant (from €450 for two people) among other exclusive excursions. Both experiences include private transportation from the hotel. Enquire at www.accessitaly.net

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