Rome may have been built on ruins, but Palazzo Manfredi is the only hotel that stands on the actual site of the ancient gladiatorial training school Ludus Magnus. It is linked to the hotel by a secret underground passage through which gladiators would enter the arena, prepared for battle. (The remains of the ancient gym are still on view in the hotel’s basement.) For those not interested in gladiator fights—or even gladiator movies—this might not matter much, except that Palazzo Manfredi also has some of the best views of the Coliseum in all of Rome.
When it opened in 2003, it was called Hotel Gladiatori. After a major renovation in 2009, it got a five-star rating along with a new name that reflected its broader ambitions and sophisticated decor. It’s now part of the Manfredi Fine Hotel Collection, a group of properties owned by counts Goffredo and Leonardo Manfredi that include the Punta Tragara resort in Capri and five luxury rental apartments in Rome. “They’re looking to create a Manfredi brand,” says Bruno Papaleo, the general manager, formerly of Chicago’s Drake Hotel. “This is a small, cozy property. We hope visitors think of it as their home in Rome.”
The four-story hotel is housed in a pale pink 16th-century palazzo. In the small lobby there’s an adjacent sitting room where guests can peruse coffee-table books divided into two subjects: art and automobiles. While the hotel often hosts art exhibits, it takes special pride in its white Lamborghini Gallardo, which, as fate would have it, is available for rental (see “Rome in Style”). Italian designer Mariarenata Fimiani decorated the 14 rooms and two suites in a mixture of classic and contemporary styles, combining modern designer furniture (and lighting by the likes of Ingo Maurer) with fine antiques. The Queen Deluxe rooms and the suites have marble bathrooms, Bulgari products, Bang & Olufsen home theater systems, WiFi and pay-per-view, but the only view that really matters is that of the Coliseum: It looms so large outside the suites’ windows that you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching an IMAX version of Ben-Hur. (The Prestige rooms overlook Colle Oppio, the park that holds the remains of Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s once extravagant three-story villa.)
The best perspective, however, is from the fifth-floor Aroma Restaurant, which hovers above the Ludus Magnus and looks directly at the Coliseum, with imperial Rome in the foreground. (Realizing it was impossible to compete with such a spectacle, Fimiani chose beige, muted rose and mauve fabrics that echo the colors of the Coliseum at sunset.) But Aroma wants to be known for its food as much as for its glorious setting. Ruggero Penza, the restaurant’s manager, and executive chef Giuseppe di Iorio worked together at the Michelin-starred Mirabelle, and they have combined their formidable talents here. The food fuses hearty Roman fare and complex Mediterranean flavors, with herbs plucked straight from the wooden planters surrounding the terrace. Though the menu is small it is mightily ambitious, offering foie gras terrine with fresh vegetables and mustard-candied figs; roasted, honey-glazed Barbary duck with caramelized peaches; saffron-scented sea bass; and passion fruit soufflé with a milk chocolate heart.
Ironically, if there’s one problem with Palazzo Manfredi, it may have to do with its ideal location. While it’s a perfect spot for exploring ancient Rome and within easy walking distance to monuments and areas like the Campidoglio and Piazza Venezia, it is extremely busy, and traffic noise can be intense. Still, without the gladiators around, it’s a lot quieter than it probably used to be, and if the noise gets to you, there’s always that Lamborghini. Rooms start at $400. At 125 Via Labicana; 39-06/7759-1380; hotelgladiatori.it.
Rome in Style
Reaching 60 mph in four seconds, the six-gear, 520-hp, 2006 Lamborghini Gallardo E-gear can be rented by Palazzo Manfredi guests for $250 an hour. Drivers can cruise anywhere within Italy’s borders—or just to and from the airport—in style. General manager Bruno Papaleo provides complimentary tutorials as long as the driver is at least 30 years old and presents a valid driver’s license. firstname.lastname@example.org.