News & Reviews Europe Italy Review: Bulgari Rome

Bulgari is the most bizarre hotel group. It’s a luxury jewellery brand owned by LVMH – a company primarily known for selling you $5,000 handbags that cost fractions of a percentage to make and then make you beg for the privilege to buy one. Bulgari’s hotel venture started in Milan, with the second opening, logically, being Bali, followed by London. You’ll most likely find one in a major city, but with Dubai and the future-opening Maldives, they’re neither resort nor hotel. They’ve also decided that unlimited growth is not the way forward, having capped the total number of properties they plan to launch to 15.  Lastly: they’re managed by Marriott.  Bulgari has nothing to do with the running of the properties, they just get royalties for the name.  So when talking about a Bulgari hotel, I’m actually talking about Marriott – they hide it, like your old, dirty magazines.

You will find no mention of Marriott anywhere.  It’s like dating someone wretched you know your parents wouldn’t approve of – hell, you don’t even approve.  Staying in a Bulgari property gets you no points, status, or even a secret handshake or a pat on the back for being a good boy.  How are you meant to feel superior to everyone when you don’t have a piece of plastic in your wallet to tell you?  Well, in the eyes of Bulgari, we’re all equal.  Just as long as you have another piece of plastic in your wallet with access to lots and lots of money.

LVMH now owns Belmond and runs the Cheval Blanc brand (and soon-to-open Louis Vuitton hotel), but Bulgari remains part of Marriott.  Yet, amidst my hatred of most chains, I consider Bulgari one of the best luxury hotel brands in the world.  Bulgari Dubai is world-class, and London is in my top five for the city.  Paris, well, I don’t know what happened there, but it’s normally a safe bet to assume they were all on strike that day.

Name me one other property where you pay for the privilege of being advertised to?  That’s luxury.

And so, here it is.  Bulgari wanted their first hotel to be in Rome, their home, but could never find anywhere they deemed suitable.  Almost twenty years on, their adventure begins back where it started.  I can only imagine how they felt after creating Bulgari Milan in 2004.  They must have been so proud of themselves that when they opened London, their ideas board consisted of two words: “copy Milan” and when it came to Paris, they outlined a brand new exciting vision: “copy London”.  I was hoping for a bit more from Rome.  Hoping but not expecting.

I often ponder when the best time to visit a property is: leave it too late, and you’re a laughing stoke in the hyper-violent world of travel agency, go too early and suffer the feeling of being in a training drill as everything goes wrong around you.  Opening in June, Dorsia clients were the first to check in here a matter of hours after they opened.  Ballsy.  The feedback was so good I felt three months was long enough for them to prepare for my higher, more unrealistic expectations.

Bulgari was very proactive in reaching out to me.  Yes, their email is automated, but it’s a useful bot, not one of those on Twitter trying to convince you to eat horse pills to cure your severe case of stupidity.  It included the weather forecast and tips on what to wear.  To my great surprise, none of the suggestions included wearing a $200,000 Bulgari necklace – salespeople aren’t all monsters.  Also snuck in was their spa menu, roughly the size of War and Peace, if someone took War and Peace and sellotaped another ten copies of War and Peace to it. It’s pretty extensive.

Bulgari collected me from the airport, where I thanked half my ancestors for having the good grace of being Irish so I didn’t have to spend three hours queuing to get in.  As I arrived at the hotel, the welcome felt as warm and Italian as hand gestures and plumbers.  I was welcomed by name by everyone from the doormen to the front office manager, then introduced to my butler and taken to the room.

It was abundantly clear from the first impressions that this was a stunning hotel.  The building is majestic, the entrance is so grand, the design is beautiful.  Thankfully, the service would match it.

The room setup was perfect.  Spot on.  Tip top.  Dolce Vita.  I don’t know what that means, I was trying to be smart.  I find Bulgari unusually cheap regarding this, whereas here, they were unusually generous. I’m on a stupid, self-righteous diet to get down to 10% body fat, so the chocolates were never going to be a match for me. I’m better than that.  Who am I kidding?  I ate them all.  They were so good I then asked for more.  Then ate them.  Then started getting the itches when none were left.  They also included freshly cut fruit, which I ate, so pretty sure it balanced out.

You’re probably asking if the location is any good.  I had no intention of leaving the hotel, so let’s take their word that it’s the best place in Rome and was worth waiting 20 years for.  The key selling point is the majority of rooms (including my Junior Suite) overlook The Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus – basically a giant, 87m, circular tomb.  Pretty cool unless ghosts do actually exist, in which case you’re really asking for trouble.  Has no one ever seen a single Stephen King movie?  Building things next to graveyards rarely ends well.  Added to this, the square is under construction.  It had no impact on my stay, but you’re gonna have to crop that digger out of your Instagram post.

My major criticism of Bulgari has been their overly dark colours that bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder, even during the summer. That’s not the case in Rome.  They have created a property that smells, looks, and probably tastes like a Bulgari, but much more…Italian?  The colour scheme and design choices are exquisite.  Much lighter, calmer, warmer, inviting, more sophisticated and thought through; more mature, like their design team had grown up.  You can tell from the bathroom you’re in a Bulgari, you can tell from the fact it says Bulgari on the bedsheet that you’re in a Bulgari, or that the TV has slight, subtle hints, like the Bulgari Autumn/Winter 2023 Catalogue. There’s no movies – just watch our damn adverts instead.

For a new hotel, though, to not include a Toto toilet is the same as BMW releasing a new car that isn’t designed to rear-end someone.  It doesn’t fit with the brand.  They also have USB-A sockets beside the bed, which seemed odd.  And there was the customary note on the environment, but then they give you a bar of soap large enough to surf on, which they obviously cannot recycle afterwards, so that’s going straight in the bin.  Besides the bathroom was a storage room with a mirror and seat.

I had an opportunity to tour the €30,000/n top suite.  Every Bulgari property has a top suite named the Bulgari Suite.  Paris has a rooftop garden, and Dubai offers a villa so large it could house all of Noah’s animals.  Rome is a beautiful space, very similar in functionality to Paris, but I don’t think it’s bucket list material.  Would I spend that much money on a one-bedroom suite?  No.  Should you?  Of course, you should.  Happiness can only be achieved at this level – anything else is just kidding yourself.

As I was convincing myself that Italian chocolate is zero calories and healthy, the butler added me to a WhatsApp group.  From there, I could request all of life’s essentials, like more of those chocolates.  They took care of my restaurant reservations, meaning everyone knew who I was when I arrived.  I still felt how much people loved working here and how much pride was on show.  Managers would come to greet me with such joy; preferences were (mostly) remembered, and everyone was highly attentive.  My room would be cleaned when I was out eating, so I never saw housekeeping.  Turndown even included something semi-useful with tea in a flask, a sleep mask and a Bulgari luggage tag.  But I was being asked so frequently about allergies that I became allergic to the question.  

For dining, on the ground floor is Il Caffe, available with a terrace; up on the roof with panoramic views of Rome, La Terrazza; below that is Il Ristorante, their fine dining offering, with the Bulgari Bar on the same floor. There’s also a lounge and champagne bar, yet even though I took a tour of the hotel, I never saw them, so let’s assume they’re infested with rats. There’s a lot of outdoor space.  Bulgari Rome is designed as a city resort – it’s made for you to spend your days there.  I was happy to oblige.

Il Caffe serves breakfast and then an all-day menu up to dinner.  Think sandwiches, cakes on display, pasta, fish, and meat.  I hope my descriptions remove your need to look at the menu.  Seeing that London used to proudly boast (The Lanesborough and The Peninsula now took that crown) of being the capital’s most expensive property, the food has always been shockingly cheap and excellent.  Paris fell apart.  So when they wanted to introduce the chef to me, for him to reveal he used to work in Bulgari Paris, I think they did it to shame me.

I asked for a menu with calories, and they looked at me like I shat in their mother’s handbag.  A few minutes later, I was told they didn’t have them, but a chef estimated 800-900 calories for a salad and more in everything else.  What a way to ruin my holiday – I thought Italians cared about how they looked.  The sea bass carpaccio was lovely, even if the salt and olive oil practically smothered it.  I went to the gym afterwards and worked out for 19 hours in shame.  The lamb chops were rather bland.  I was here on research, so had to try at least one of the cakes.  So I ordered two.  Their dessert selection is massive, and having them on display feels like a violation of my right not to want cakes.  Neither cake was enough to warrant the excess calories.  Il Ristorante was better, with the beef so soft it could be used as a pillow.  It felt like the locals disagreed, as I was the only person eating there – although I left at 8 p.m., which seems to be about an hour before anyone wakes up.

What Bulgari are most famous for is its spa and pools.  As Bulgari Rome is the amalgamation of three buildings into one, they have had to make some compromises here, which I’m surprised they were willing to accept.  The gym, filled with TechnoGym equipment, is smaller than any of their other properties.  The pool, whilst an absolute gift to photographers, has pillars in the middle, which I hear are a bit of a nuisance when it comes to swimming. Don’t try the backstroke, is my advice.  They threw in a lovely story about how it was meant to represent something-er-rather, but we all know that was marketing having a panic attack after seeing the architect’s suggestion.  It’s a stunning space, but feels more like it’s better to look at than to use.

Bulgari’s usually have a separate warmer hydrotherapy pool, but here it’s all part of the same pool.  At 28C, too cold for me.  All this is owing to the lack of space.  The men’s changing rooms still have their steam room and sauna, but in London, you also have a shared steam room.

The gym is set across four floors, but that is once again a space limitation – just one floor is the gym, another are treatment rooms, another is the pool and finally the reception and changing areas.  Getting to the gym is a workout due to needing to navigate all the hallways and staircases.  Yet the towels were so incredible I forgive the fact that swimming will give me a concussion.

The Good

  • Location
  • Spa
  • Rooms – even rooms in the same category differ in colour schemes and furnishings.
  • You’re in Rome – the most beautiful city on earth

The Bad

  • Development is taking place in front of the property. It’s not disturbing, but it’s not ideal.

The Luxurious

  • Service
  • Resort feel to a city hotel
  • Stunning design

Rating

Luxurious

Conclusion

I love Rome.  For me, it is the most beautiful city on earth.  Now it has an incredible hotel to go with it.  I also went to see Six Senses, which looked impressive, and at only 96 rooms is not a monster property like you might expect an IHG brand to be.  Even on a short showaround, it was clear it was not at the level of Bulgari, but the thing with visits is they never give you the full story of how it feels to stay there.  After all, it’s only once you have children do you truly understand what a terrible species we are – no one can teach you that from an hour with them.

With 114 rooms, Bulgari Rome is their second largest property after Beijing.  Most of their hotels quite comfortably meet the boutique criteria, with London, Paris and Milan having 85, 76 and 58 rooms, respectively.  Bigger rarely means better in the luxury market.  In this case, though, they have far surpassed their smaller European properties.  The service, facilities, setting and design shine brightly.

I would like to see them improve the food, and you have to accept the spa and gym are just not as good as their other properties.  However, it is undoubtedly the best hotel in Rome.  If you need an excuse to come to one of the greatest cities on earth, this should not be it, but you are welcome to use it.

As I departed, desperately hoping they would sneak some chocolates into my luggage, my body reeked of Bulgari, and whilst it’s probably poison, it’s my poison, and I love it.

This has elevated their brand. It’s Bulgari, but (almost) not as we know it.

Room type: Junior Suite When: September 2023 Rates: from €2,500/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 22nd Sep '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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