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Roman Grandeur

History. Royalty. Shopping. These elements come together in the Napoleon III Suite of Rome's 16th-century Palazzo Ruspoli, quite possibly the world's most majestic bed-and-breakfast. The apartment where the future emperor lived in 1830 was opened to guests last June, after an extensive restoration returned its three vast rooms to their former grandeur, complete with extraordinary antique furnishings and massive oil paintings worthy of their epic setting. Service is provided by attendants from the noble Ruspoli family, who still occupy part of the palace. The location is one of the best in Rome: at the end of Via Condotti, the prime shopping street, and just two minutes from the Spanish Steps.

Every part of a stay here is dramatic. Enter the fortresslike palazzo through wooden doors 27 feet high, pass an arcade of Doric columns and displays of first-century artifacts excavated on-site, and climb the 100 marble steps, framed by illuminated marble busts, to the apartment. (Less dramatic but more convenient: a small elevator.) Step inside, and it's like moving into a palace museum--one where they'll let you eat breakfast on the antique silver, write out postcards on the 18th-century German marquetry desk, park your Bulgari and Valentino bags on the gilded Neapolitan console after a hard day of shopping, and even entertain guests in the reception salon where Louis and his mother, once a queen, held court.

Principessa Letizia Ruspoli, who oversaw the restoration, has made sure that the rooms have none of the mustiness of a museum. Instead, they're fresh and inviting, with modern conveniences like satellite TV, stereo, and fax machine. Principessa Ruspoli is there to advise, to ring up a friend if you need a guide, and--even in so lofty a setting--to make you feel at home. Suite, $655. Largo Goldoni 56; tel/fax 39-06-688-080-83.


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