Upscale lodging doesn't have to break the bank



For ages, there seemed to be nothing in Rome between expensive luxury hotels, such as the Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps, and the dirt-cheap pensions around unlovely Termini railway station. But in 2000, when the Eternal City prepared for an influx of pilgrims celebrating the Roman Catholic Church Jubilee, the municipal tourism agency tried to better categorize and promote lodgings offered by religious institutions and encouraged Romans to open bed-and-breakfasts.

Now there are more than 1,000, according to the tourism agency. Some of the convents and monasteries have facilities as polished as those in good hotels, and Romans have put their own spin on the B&B formula. Increasingly, they are more like small inns than private homes, with a professional staff and attractive amenities.

But most Americans prefer hotels in the four- and five-star categories, said Daniela Martellucci of the tourism agency. Those are frightfully expensive, from $265 to $900 a night, on average. Even three-star places can cost as much as $250.

Thus, budget travelers would be consigned to generally uninviting, bare-bones hotels with a maximum of two stars were it not for the fact that Rome has two distinct tourist seasons, priced accordingly. Top rates are the rule from April to October, but if you can visit Rome in low season, from November to March, excluding holidays, you can get a room in a handsome upscale hotel for less than $200 a night.

The Beehive

The Beehive is a happy surprise just a few blocks northeast of Termini. The neighborhood is neither the safest nor most storied part of Rome, but from there you can easily get a bus to the Vatican or a train to the airport.

Clean, contemporary Kartell-style furnishings and original art decorate a large ground-floor apartment, converted into a little inn with six doubles starting at about $90 and a mixed-sex bunk room that starts at $27. The results are cheerful and airy, in striking contrast to the dim, claustrophobic rooms that are the Roman budget standard.

All the rooms share baths and toilets, but there are plenty of them and they come with shampoo, shower gel and soap. WiFi access is available and the basement has a communal kitchen and cafe.

The Beehive, 8 Via Marghera, 011-39-06-44-70-45-53, the-bee; doubles from $90 with shared bath.

Hotel Campo de' Fiori

Hotel Campo de' Fiori, in the medieval section of Rome, has been undergoing renovations to give all its 22 rooms private baths, Internet access, satellite TV, air-conditioning and double-glazed windows.

Prices have increased accordingly, beginning at about $180. Nevertheless, this hotel remains one of my favorites, largely because of its central location, near the marvelous Campo de' Fiori piazza with its wine bars, antiques shops and open-air market.

The hotel occupies a narrow, seven-story Roman tenement building, which will be more user-friendly when it gets a new elevator. Views from rooms on upper floors can be extraordinary, especially 601 and 602, from which you can see Michelangelo's dome at St. Peter's.

Hotel Campo de' Fiori, 6 Via del Biscione, 011-39-06-688-06-865,; doubles $144 to $240, including breakfast.

Navona, Zanardelli

The Navona is simpler and less expensive than the Zanardelli. It has 31 well-equipped rooms starting at $145 with private baths, Murano glass lights and vintage prints of Rome.

A few blocks away, the Zanardelli occupies part of a grand 19th-century palazzo overlooking the Museo Nationale Romano, with its renowned collection of Roman statuary. Its seven doubles are decorated in the ornate style of the Roman nobility with Versace tile and silk wallpaper.

Hotel Navona, 8 Via dei Sediari, 011-39-06-68-64-203, hotelnavo; doubles from $145, including breakfast.

Residenza Zanardelli, 7 Via G. Zanardelli; 011-39-06-68-21-13-92,; doubles from $180, including breakfast.

Hotel La Rovere

When I first chanced on La Rovere five years ago, it looked fussy and somewhat tired, but the owner has been renovating it room by room, re-exposing wood beams, simplifying color schemes and replacing carpets, making the hotel lighter and more stylish. Several chambers on the third and fourth floors have inviting terraces. Doubles begin at about $168 and include such amenities as air conditioning, refrigerators, heated towel racks, TVs, telephones and bicycle rentals. It's the only hotel in a forgotten corner of Rome near the Tiber River, an easy walk to the Vatican, central Rome and Trastevere.

Hotel la Rovere, 4-5 Vicolo di Sant'Onofrio; 011-39-06-68-80- 67-39,; doubles from $168, including breakfast.

Scalinata di Spagna

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