When a friend and I ran the Venice Marathon in October we chatted to another runner who told us that the Rome Marathon was a very scenic race to do. Call us crazy, but we agreed to make it our next target.
The Maratona di Roma starts and ends at the Colosseum, and the rest of the race passes by some of the most iconic landmarks, including the Trevi Fountain (yes, they really do enable all 15,000 runners to pass by), the Spanish Steps and St. Peter’s. We timed it perfectly to be passing when Pope Benedict XVI was giving Sunday morning mass. It was rather surreal to see his face on the TV screens as we ran by.
The race also corresponded with the 150th anniversary of the Risorgimento, the political unification of Italy under King Victor Emanuele II, so I decided to arrive early to enjoy the celebrations, and experience some pampering before the hard work. I started my stay in Rome at the privately-owned Hotel Hassler, just at the top of the Spanish Steps, which provides its guests with great views over the city towards the Vatican. Roberto Wirth is now charged with continuing the family reputation and running this hotel, many of whose guests have been staying with his family for years.
At the Hassler with President and Marketing Director, Roberto Wirth.
Hotel Hassler has a very impressive Presidential Suite with one of the largest rooftop terraces in the city, perfect for enjoying the views or relaxing after a busy day exploring. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes stayed here when they were in Italy for their 2006 nuptials. The suite is currently being renovated and Roberto hopes to have it ready for its next guest in May. Until then, there are plenty of other stunning rooms and suites to choose from for a weekend getaway.
The following day after a quick trip to the spa and gym for final preparations for the race, I left the Hassler and moved to stay with Vincenzo Falcone and his team at the St. Regis Grand. This hotel, like the Hassler, has had its fair share of famous guests including Madonna, and just recently the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The rooms are all huge and beautifully decorated, but my favourite are the newly renovated contemporary style junior suites–plus you get a butler for free!
For dinner, I tried a hot spot that Vincenzo recommended to me, Antica Pesa. Apparently, this is the restaurant that every visiting celebrity has to go to at least once. I might not be celebrity, but civilians are also welcome and I wanted to test it out. Verdict: Delicious. I recommend their Spaghetti Carbonara. The dish was invented in Rome, but I think it was refined here.
The St. Regis Grand is a short walk from many of the historical sites, but right next door is one of the famous churches featured in The Da Vinci Code movie, Santa Maria della Vittoria. If you are a wine lover make sure you make time to enjoy a tasting in the hotel’s wine cellar constructed amongst the Diocletian ruins beneath the building. Another bonus: if you wish to go on and explore other parts of Italy, such as Florence, this hotel is only a 5-minute walk from the main train station.
For the final night of my stay in Rome, before the big race, I stayed a few steps down the road with Maria Merra at the Villa Spalletti Trivelli. This villa, once a private home family, is now a 12-room boutique hotel just behind the Quirinal Palace and a short walk from the Colosseum–perfect for my running start the next morning.
Each room has a name and different decor, all cleverly combining both the classical feel of the palazzo with contemporary touches. Underneath the hotel they have just added a fantastic spa, which has a very impressive range of treatments for such a small property—I spent some time in the thermal suite there, then enjoyed some delicious pasta and headed to bed.
The next morning the sun was shining and so after a quick breakfast I set of to the starting line of the 17th annual Rome Marathon. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but we both finished and the sense of achievement was huge.