Face to Face House 287 Via Flaminia, Rome; 39 (06) 326 09 665; www.facetofacehouse.com. Five rooms from $230.
Rome has not always embraced modernity. With Byzantine architecture and the classical marble monuments that have withstood the tread of tourist hordes and Hollywood trailers, Rome's ancient layers are its most prominent attraction. When it comes to spending the night in the Eternal City, however, old is not necessarily good.
Rome's savviest hoteliers have come to the rescue by revamping classic budget-friendly pensiones . One of the newest on the scene is Face to Face House, a five-room establishment in Flaminio, a residential neighbourhood north of Piazza del Popolo. Don't expect the saggy beds and mouldy showers of your backpacking days.What Face to Face House lacks in five-star perks (there's no restaurant, no 24-hour concierge, no spa), it makes up for in plush amenities (Frette linens, rain forest showers, flat-screen TVs) and hometown hospitality.
Design A 10-minute taxi or bus ride from Rome's historic centre, Face to Face is discreetly hidden behind the tall iron gates, thick wooden doors, and pastel-coloured walls of an established Roman apartment block. Take the tiny cage elevator or three flights of stairs up to its entrance and you'll catch tempting wafts of freshly made espresso or simmering pasta sauce from the neighbours' kitchens.
Inside, the mood shifts quickly from traditional to trendy. Brightly lit, the reception area and communal living space is sleek and minimalist. Bright red and orange vases filled with cacti and jade plants break up the white-on-white palette. A flat-screen TV is tuned to MTV and edgy design books and CDs line the bookshelves. Instead of an ancient fresco, one wall boasts a giant black and white silhouette of a curvaceous woman, reminiscent of a Bond girl.
Amenities Since there is no full-service restaurant, spa or gym, guests are bound to go out and experience the city. The staff has a little black book of local insiders on call including personal shoppers, personal trainers and a personal chef who can whip up a special occasion dinner or wine and cheese tasting. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.
The rooms Each of the five rooms has the same dimensions, but they have distinct designs. Mine was the Philosophy suite; a phrase from Dante's Divine Comedy is written on the wall above the LCD TV. There are accents of crimson red and chocolate brown: The velvet cushions and the stout Louis XV-style stool soften the room, while long candles in glass candlesticks and a dish of potpourri seemed slightly incongruous. I was most impressed by the comfortable king-sized bed, cushy Frette bathrobes and towels to match, minibar stocked with complimentary water and soft drinks, and L'Occitane bath products.
The bathroom is relatively open with a sink and shower that overlook the sleeping area (a glass partition divides them). The view of laundry-lined balconies and neighbourhood rooftops is a charming reminder that you're living among the locals.
Service The enthusiastic staff is on site from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with an hour off for lunch, of course); they're eager to make restaurant reservations, call for taxis, or arrange tickets to jazz concerts and sporting events. They surprised me one morning with a copy of the International Herald Tribune.
Food A help-yourself pantry and fridge off the main living room is stocked with complimentary beverages, small snacks, and tea and coffee. A plentiful breakfast buffet, available from 8 to 10 a.m., includes a selection of fruit, bread, pastries, ham and cheese, cereal and yogurt.
The Verdict A hip, intimate and no-frills crash pad suited to those who don't mind a 10-minute commute into central Rome.
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