If you’re looking for the Rome of the Romans, you don’t have to go to a dark part of the Eternal City to find it; simply head down Via Margutta, a short walk from tourist hubs such as Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo. Long a refuge for artists, composers and painters, Federico Fellini lived there; Pablo Picasso painted in one of his studios – the street, very central to things, but conveniently removed from the captivating exuberance of the city, retains a bohemian 19th century charm and an eclectic assortment of shops, studios and galleries, where owners are often behind the counter, or otherwise nearby in a back room working or ordering beautiful pieces. Margutta rose to worldwide fame in the 1950s thanks to roman holidays, although today it remains a lesser-known address for many visitors.
Alberto Moncada di Paternò has close ties with Margutta. Not only did he grow up here, his family has owned part of the street for centuries and have long been instrumental in its artistic history. In recent years he has made his own indelible mark on Margutta and the Italian hospitality industry, most recently with Margutta 19, a five-star boutique hotel launched in 2017, offering a contemporary approach to luxury with competitive five-star prices. This is his second foray into lodging on the legendary street.
An advertising manager in London and New York before returning to Rome, Moncada is a gracious hotelier who seems to speak the language he needs with disarming ease and carries his aristocratic heritage lightly (he’s an earl; his great-great grandfather was a marquis). He knows luxury, marketed it and grew up with it; a conversation with him can effortlessly shift from a casual reference to a family castle that was once rented to a major movie star to the rapidly changing dynamics of the Rome travel scene during Covid.
What he knows well about luxury is how it’s changing, and that today’s upscale travelers are often looking for more than high-density linens and rare hardwood floors when booking a place; how they hope to find unique connections with the place where they decide to stay – and preferably these places will have a particular history, a fascinating history, a rooting in the place. “Many sophisticated travelers are looking for a true local experience,” says Moncada “I [want] my clients feel that they have not entered another hotel, but are exposed to a different and authentic Roman reality.
While on Via Margutta, you may feel like you could soon be playing in your own version of roman holidays. After all, you’re not far from where Gregory Peck, as journalist Joe Bradley, had an apartment (Margutta 51), in William Wyler’s film, which also starred Audrey Hepburn. At Margutta 19 in Moncada, you can settle into one of the spacious suites (50 square meters for a deluxe room) or a one-bedroom garden suite with its own terrace and private entrance, before exploring the street paved lined with khaki palazzi. Stop at Margutta 110 and see the memorial plaque where Fellini lived, then head to one of his favorite cafes, Canova, in nearby Piazza del Popolo for an espresso.
Down the street at Margutta 54 from Moncada you will find the Court Studios, former artists’ studios built by Moncada’s great-great-grandfather, Marquis Francesco Patrizi, in the mid-1900s. 1800, and once the site of an influential artists’ group, the Associazione Artistica Internazionale, These are large spaces (up to 840 square feet), some of which can be combined for what will look like your own pied-à- -Earth in the heart of Rome. Next door at 53B is where Picasso once had his studio.
Moncada was a pioneer in the development of contemporary boutique hotels in Rome, properties often located in historic structures, founding his company Rome Luxury Suites in 2007. After Margutta 54, he opened Babuino 181 and Mario de’ Fiore 37, two four-star accommodations in prime locations nearby. (Other notable boutique hotels in the immediate area include Fendi Private Suites in Palazzo Fendi, run by Moncada; Portrait Roma, part of the Lungarno Collection, owned by the Ferragamo family.)
Space can be limited in historic buildings in downtown Rome. In boutique hotels, it is therefore devoted to rooms and suites rather than vast halls. But you probably won’t need to – Moncada says he urges his guests to mix and mingle in the restaurants, cafes and cocktail bars of this endlessly fascinating city rather than hang out in the common areas of a hotel. He has written a detailed and charming guide in notebook form, available free to customers, to help you do just that.
One of the places you’ll want to hang out at Margutta 19 is the stylish Emme Restaurant, on the property’s ground floor. Emme has drawn both Roman regulars and international guests to the hotel since it opened in 2019 shortly before the pandemic hit. For many restaurants, customers may fall into one category or the other – a locals’ favorite or a foreigner’s favorite, but Moncada likes that the two groups overlap here. “You need that in a successful restaurant,” he says. “The Romans are happy to see the international clientele; travelers want to see the Romans dine. Emme has a new chef, Vincenzo Mobilio, a talented maestro who trained in the best hotels before working for Rome Luxury Suites.
The menu at Emme adheres to Roman culinary traditions, Mobilio says. He updates his dishes by experimenting with cooking techniques, researching ingredients for the most memorable flavor profiles, and sourcing produce from the best food artisans across Italy. One of Mobilio’s signature dishes, Emme Spaghetti, is a good example of his efforts to find authentic flavors. When praised for his delicious preparation, he mentions how he personally returned to his native Basilicata a few days earlier to find the best peperone crusco for the recipe.
If you can’t decide which of the three Roman pastas to order – carbonara, cacio e pepe or amatriciana – Emme will provide you with a sample of all three, beautifully presented in small copper pots. The dishes are beautifully presented, whether it’s a tuna tartare or the divinely decadent tortina al cioccolato. A fruit tart birthday cake that arrived at a table near where I was seated was almost too good to eat. Emme also offers well-curated taglieri or tasting boards, which include a sampling of cheeses, salumi or fish starters, tapas and a taste of three different pastas to accompany the appetizers.
While you’ll find it hard to resist Emme’s cuisine, Moncada’s Roman Diary will guide you to other delicious addresses, as well as historical sites and shops near the hotel. It’s a thoughtful collection of insider favourites, the places he says he likes to recommend to his friends. Rome Luxury Suites can also organize tailor-made tours and specialized experiences in the Eternal City. “My idea is to create memories for our guests through authenticity and commitment that can last a lifetime,” he says.