Villa Agrippina Gran Meliá, Rome, Italy

The only thing missing at this central Roman palace is a dedicated member of staff to pop peeled grapes into one’s open mouth – though you get the feeling that it could be arranged.

Italian real estate doesn't get much more covetable than this. A rosy-hued former palazzo, the 110-room Villa Agrippina Gran Meliá sits within a verdant enclave of manicured, stone pine-studded gardens in the heart of Rome, and enjoys unparalleled direct views across the Tiber to the Vatican (best viewed by night, during a thunder and lightning storm of biblical proportions, as experienced during our stay).

The five-star abode oozes coolly classic Roman style, as befits its namesake, Agrippina. A magnificent likeness of the former empress - who managed to arrange her own marriage to Claudius, making her son, Nero, the adopted heir to the throne - graces the lobby, and archaeological remains unearthed during the building's construction are on display in communal areas.

Interiors are characterised by clean lines in a colour palette spanning white linen to acacia honey. Softening the effect of this profusion of marble - though not, happily, the pleasing click of high heel underfoot - flowers play a starring role, from the outsized arrangements of cut stems in the lobby to the subtle signature scent of orange blossom in the air throughout. Outside, meanwhile, you have the Orti Domiziani, the city's first botanical gardens, named in honour of Domitia, Nero's paternal aunt.

Take an evening stroll through the grounds, meandering along manicured paths flanked by the same plants that would have been enjoyed by ancient Roman pleasure-seekers, including bay laurel, myrtle, rosemary, strawberry tree and lentisk - all of which, incidentally, feature in the hotel's superb culinary offering, led up by head chef Alfonso D'Auria.


If you're in town to propose marriage or celebrate a three-book deal, the new two-bedroom Private Pool Suite might be for you, with its 32sq m counter-current swimming pool, huge private garden and personal chef on hand. Alternatively, there's the sumptuously appointed Vatican Suite, overlooking St Peter's Basilica; or the Emperor Nero Suite, complete with its own gym, Jacuzzi and panoramic terrace. Really, unless you're an actual empress, any of the rooms should suffice. We loved the huge artworks above beds, high-grade linens, windows that open wide to let in the evening breeze - ripe with possibility - and huge bathrooms stocked with Clarins products.

What's for breakfast?

A feast for the early-morning senses, from the bedazzling array of hand-crafted, cream-piped pastries to the excellent coffee, a mere sniff of which was enough to get our hearts racing. "Detox" and hot options are available, but we ignored them in favour of countless iterations of artisan breads, cheeses, yoghurt and local preserves.

How about lunch and dinner?

Sure, central Rome isn't exactly short of trattorias to tempt, but you wouldn't feel short-changed if you ate exclusively on-site. From casual poolside plates at GALA to the refined dishes served up in the Ossimoro dining room, guests are spoilt for choice. Think tempura lobster; tuna tataki; seared scallops with parmesan; red shrimp-stuffed tortelli pasta; sea bream "guazzetto" style; and a killer praline dessert, La Nocciola, which was almost too beautiful to eat (but which we devoured, with gusto, as soon as we'd got a good photo).

Is there a bar?

There's Amaro lounge bar, which, set in what was once the villa's chapel, wouldn't look out of place in The Great Gatsby. All teal velvet and shimmering bronze, it's the place to savour the likes of an expertly poured Milano Torino, made with equal parts Italian red vermouth and bitter, plenty of ice and a slice of orange to garnish. Light bites and some of the biggest, juiciest olives we've ever encountered are also on offer.


Plentiful and high-spec: all rooms are furnished with A/C, a hairdryer, flat-screen TV with satellite channels, Nespresso machine and well-curated minibar, while some have a hydromassage bathtub, and suites, Jacuzzi or pool.

How about their green credentials?

Villa Agrippina Gran Meliá uses sustainable and locally sourced products across its hospitality offering and is determinedly bike-friendly, among other green initiatives.

What about accessibility?

Good, with gentle slopes and ramps throughout, and dedicated accessible rooms with wheel-in shower and grab rails.

Things I should know

That all manner of bespoke experiences - including a high-octane golf buggy food tour of the city - can be arranged by the brilliant Mèlia team. But that basking on one of the sunbeds poolside shouldn't be missed. Nor should the SPA My Blend by Clarins, which offers state-of-the-art beauty treatments in world-class treatment rooms. Put it this way, our Apple Face ID didn't recognise us after our Youth Synergy facial.

Within a short walk I can find…

The Vatican and St Peter's Square, the art-packed Villa Borghese and its glorious gardens, the Spanish Steps, pizzerias, gelaterias, Giuliani, purveyors of heaven-sent marron glacé and chocolates, and moody, Roaring Twenties-themed speakeasy bar Jerry Thomas, whose cocktails are so decadent they would delight Agrippina herself.

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City Guide: Rome