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by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

[This is part 2 of a two part post on Rome – it dates from 2012]

17:15 The sweeping views over Rome from Piazzale Garibaldi are breathtaking. Strangely, it’s a part of the city that I’ve never been to before. Now I wonder how a visit to Rome could be complete without this astonishing bird’s eye view of a place that witnessed the rise and fall of an Empire and the flourishing and decay of multiple cultural epochs?

“E nata una stella” – Gran Melia Italy

17:30 We arrive at Gran Melia Rome and are immediately impressed by its extensive footprint featuring undulating landscaped gardens, multiple out door spaces and  the impeccably restored Villa Agrippina, now offering a 5 star experience with over 116 individually appointed guest rooms. Like most construction projects in Rome, this has been a stuttering, delayed affair, on-going since 1998 due to historical layering whereby any digging inevitably results in important archaeological discoveries.

17: 45 Sales Manager Ian Thomas who followed his heart to Italy leads us around the property. You’re immediately struck by the pervasive light that greets you as you meander around the vast layout. The 116 sleeping rooms and suites are laid out over 8 floors and each floor has  a different artistic theme following masterpieces by The Grand Masters whose originals are exhibited at the gallery in Villa Borghese.

Corridors are wide and bright with marble floors and soft vinyl inlay. Guest room doors are veneered with distressed copper panels affixed with brass rivets. You open these dark doors into airy, light filled rooms ranging in size from 23sqm – the entry level deluxe category – to the Junior Suite category at 42sqm.  However, despite the tight dimensions of the Deluxe Rooms, you don’t feel cramped. Bathrooms have glass walls – screened, when necessary, with blinds – and the rooms are bathed in natural daylight. Colours and fabrics are muted and mild, drawing your gaze immediately to the over-sized canvas headboards which depict magnified details from key Renaissance works of art. It’s classy and cultured but never heavy and in-your-face.



The public areas combine period detail with contemporary design and express themselves with subtle whimsy and understatement. The Cocktail Bar, for example,  is white, off set with stools and chairs in ecclesiastical reds and purples and capriciously decorated with reproductions of art pieces featuring Vatican cardinals and officials in full battle dress.



Gran Melia Rome looks set to become a gastronomic and culinary destination too thanks to the appointment of Alfonso Iaccarino as Executive Chef. Iaccarino was awarded 2 Michelin stars as Chef and Owner of Don Alfonso 1890 and now brings his unique talent to the kitchen at Gran Melia.

19:15 We return to the lobby and meet GM Francesco Ascani. This is something of a reunion for Michael as he and Francesco worked together at the Cavaleri Hilton in the 1990s. A true professional and doyen of 5 star luxury properties around Italy Ascani has been systematically dipping into his extensive Rolodex and assembling a veritable A team of 5 Star pros, including sales manager Ian Thomas and front office manager Johnny Spano, to work with him in Gran Melia. And this, as we know, is the best guarantee of success. You can hire the best architects and designers, select the best locations for your property, position it perfectly in its chosen market but if you don’t have the right people to run it for you, then it’s a piece of useless beauty.

Dinner at Antico Arco

20:00 Michael and I head out for dinner to Antico Arco, a favourite of Michael’s located about 5 mins from Gran Melia. Comprised of a warren of different dining spaces, Arco Antico is only “Antico” in name. In spite of its “distressed” exterior, decor here is decidedly contemporary with good abstract fine art set on tope coloured walls. Food, too, is contemporary Italian  and service is fine dining with complimentary amuse bouche  and pre- desserts.

With true military discipline and restraint Michael observes his doctor’s orders and eats only grilled vegetables and fish while denying himself the pleasure of an adult beverage. I opt for the onomatopoeic Mozzarella di Bufala Croccante alla parmigiana followed by the Carbonara al tartufo nero con rigatoni Gerardo di Nola and drink, for the first time, Loam, a cab/merlot mix from Alto Adige, that part of Italy where German is spoken.

22:30 Lights out in Room 406 at Gran Melia Rome. It’s been a long day.

“One day like this”

O7:30 I’ m already awake and cut off the alarm before it ruins my contemplation of a beautifully appointed room. I place my iPhone in the in-room Dock Station and opt for Elbow’s “One Day Like This”. I pop a pod in the Nespresso machine and down an early AM, pre- shower espresso. I can see the sunlight creeping in under the curtains and, as I start the process of throwing back the heavy drapes to allow the light flood in, the song reaches its anthemic coda “Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year will see me right”.

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events Industry


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