Roma. It may be one of the most alluring cities in the world, but when it comes to accommodation, poor Vesta's flame doesn't burn so bright. In fact it's more of a fizzle. The eternal quest in the Eternal City is to find a stylish abode that's well placed, well appointed, well served, and, well, nice to look at.
For a populace so preternaturally obsessed with the notion of la bella figura (looking fabulous), there are an inordinate number of very ordinary hotels. Make no mistake, there's no shortage of 'decent' rooms; you'll find chintzy silk-padded walls, or 'cosy' rooms where you walk in and are immediately obliged to lay down. And you'll find no lack of 'bathrooms' the size of which would normally be regarded as an alcove.
But where, oh where, are the amazing, tucked-away, smart, atmospheric, friendly places to stay? Do they even exist? The good news is they do - they just take a little hunting down. Which is exactly what we've done.
Here are our favourite rooms in Rome, from the ultra-exclusive (with prices to match) to the affordable gems you wish you'd known about long ago.
Master Garden Rooms, The Roman Inn at the Forum
Say howdy to the newest babe on the bed-and-breakfast block, and what a romantic little stunner she is hiding away behind the Forum in the upcoming Monti area. Don't trouble yourself with the standard rooms - go straight for the four-poster jugular in the two Master Garden Rooms. They not only have direct access to their own little gardens and Jacuzzis, but lovely heavy wood beam ceilings, stone fireplaces, brick floors, marble-floored bathrooms (which can be a bit chilly underfoot during winter), blowsy drapes and neat contemporary flourishes. Take your breakfast fireside in the chic striped guest lounge, or on the little rooftop terrace, and be sure to find out what's lurking in the crypt. Master Garden Rooms from about $1340. Via degli Ibernesi, 30, +39 06 6919 0970,www.theinnattheromanforum.com.
Cardinal Junior and Venetian Suites, Hotel Locarno
This old three-star Deco-esque dolly has been round the block a few times, and while the staff need a good swift boot up the culo and some of the standard rooms are miniscule, in the older palazzo wing, the spacious Cardinal Junior and Venetian Suites with their soaring ceilings are perfect for a glam tryst and memorable Roman adventure. Both are sparsely but gracefully furnished, with ornate bedheads and courtyard views. The Venetian's rich black and green marble bath is a knockout, but for sauce and style take the Cardinal with its crimson-soaked palette. The pretty courtyard is perfect for aperitivi, the bar does a pretty good martini, and you're just around the corner from Piazza Popolo and Dal Bolognese, one of the town's top tables. If you can handle a dip in service at Locarno, your pay-off is real European charm. Cardinal Junior Suite from about $755 and Venetian Suite from about $1595. Via delle Penna, 22, +39 06 361 0841,www.hotellocarno.com.
Suite 51 and Duplex 52, Portrait Suites
From the moment you buzz the doorbell in the discreet side-street entrance you know you're in for something a little different. From the Ferragamo family you would expect nothing but the finest of everything, so it comes as no surprise that its latest 14-room residence in the heart of Rome has been dipped in the la bella figura fountain and blow-dried with Hollywood 40s panache. Attention to detail means you are spoilt with leather-bound furniture, mini-kitchens (the property has no restaurant), gorgeous chrome fittings and mouldings, light woods and dove-grey velvet drapes. The most personable staff cater to your every whim; whether it be breakfast on the ravishing roof terrace with extraordinary views of the Spanish Steps and surrounds; or shopping advice (you are, after all, positioned smack-bang on fashion-central Via Condotti). Go for Suite 51, which has its own terrace overlooking Via Condotti, or the divine Duplex 52, complete with sauna and exercise bike to work off all that bucatini Amatriciana. Suite 51 from about $1720 and Duplex 52 from about $960. Via Bocca di Leone, 23, +39 06 6938 0742,www.lungarnohotels.it.
Zebra Room, Casa Howard
Jennifer Howard-Forneris has cornered the market on luxe affordable guesthousing with her two central properties on Via Sistina and Via Capo le Case featuring five unique rooms each. The feeling is more like staying at a super-stylish friend's house, relaxed and ambient, with lots of nice touches such as luxury soap and a hammam (Turkish bath). While the rooms are on the smaller side, each has its own character, reflected in its name; the Shanghai Tang-esque Chinese Room; the wall-to-wall toile de Jouy White Room; the American Cousin's room; and our saucy fave, the Zebra Room, complete with scarlet walls and black and white signature stripes - the only room with its own balcony. Not all rooms at Via Capo le Case have their own bathrooms. Zebra Room (double) from about $380. Via Sistina, 149; Via Capo le Case; +39 06 6992 4555;www.casahoward.com.
La Residenza Napoleone III
Feeling flush? When you want the full-on Grand Tour experience, it doesn't get any grander than this lavish apartment, once home to Emperor Napoleon III and his mum. At the bottom of Via Condotti on Largo Goldoni, this extraordinary 16th-century palazzo property is home to the Principessa Ruspoli. The three vast rooms are drenched in romance and hung with gorgeous fabrics, tapestries and oil paintings, while your own ultra-discreet butler and maid attend to your every whim, setting log fires in winter and lighting scented candles to lull you to sleep at turn-in time. The separate Roof Garden Suite upstairs is an adorable attic affair with a huge decked terrace that delivers romantic rooftop city views. The epitome of exclusive luxury, but it doesn't come cheap. Residenza Napoleone Suite from about $2000; Roof Garden Suite from about $1040. Largo Goldoni, 56, +39 347 733 7098,www.residenzanapoleone.com.
Room 102, Daphne Inn
Like Casa Howard, Daphne's rooms are spread over two properties, Daphne Veneto and Daphne Trevi, featuring a cooler, more contemporary style in a palette of taupes and naturals, with good linens and mattresses. In the Veneto branch, check out the spacious Room 102 with its own courtyard and terracotta floors. Daphne really scores in the fabulously helpful and attentive attitude of owners Elyssa Bernard and Alessandro Bisreglie. From start to finish, the personalised hands-on service in this B&B makes a huge difference, and keeps the guests coming back for more. Doubles with ensuite from about $200. Daphne Veneto, Via di San Basilio, 55; Daphne Trevi, Via degli Avignonesi, 20, +39 06 8745 0087,www.daphne-rome.com.
Picasso, Popolo and Nijinsky Suites, Hotel De Russie
The diadem in hotelier Rocco Forte's crown was restored to glory with the deft interior hand of Tommaso Ziffer. The result is the pinnacle of chic understatement and taste. There are few greater joys than sipping your coffee while the early-morning sun floods your sixth-floor private terrace, either the Picasso, Popolo or Nijinsky Suite. George Clooney prefers the expansive Picasso for its peaceful garden views, while the see-but-not-be-seen-scenesters may prefer the fabulous piazza view from the smaller Popolo. The Nijinsky Suite, meanwhile, can be connected to a deluxe double room. Suites are furnished in elegant, powdery tones and clean lines; the perfect antidote to Rome's florid chintz obsession. Add some very good martinis at the Stravinskij bar, a cool courtyard terrace and the excellent Wellness Zone spa, and you'll find it difficult to leave. Popolo Suite from about $4210, Picasso Suite from about $5390 and Nijinksy Suite from $10,900. Via del Babuino, 9, +39 06 328 881,www.hotelderussie.it.
Green, Blue and Orange Rooms, Buonanotte Garibaldi
Over the Tiber to fabulously atmospheric Trastevere, park your bags in this friendly, artsy little B&B set around a sunny courtyard. Luisa Longo's colour-filled guesthouse/home has three smart but simple rooms all featuring her vibrant fabric designs and opening onto a charming terrace. Themed green, blue and orange - all you have to do is take your pick. Doubles from about $370. Via Garibaldi, 83, +39 06 5833 0733,www.buonanottegaribaldi.com.
Room 402, Intown Luxury House Situated little more than the toss of a Renè Caovilla sling-back from the Portrait Suites is this cute little number with only six rooms and the world's smallest lift. Intown is another firm step away from the overblown classic chain hotel to the more modern, private B&B experience. If you like your furnishings streamlined and functional and don't mind the lack of bar or restaurant, then make your way up to room 402 at the top of the building with its street-facing terrace. All that remains is to pop in your Jacuzzi and crack open the Prosecco. Room 402 from about $545. Via Bocca di Leone, 7, +39 06 6938 0200,www.intownroma.it.
Room two, Il Palazzetto
Hiding in a 16th-century palazzo, the Hotel Hassler's baby sister Il Palazzetto overlooks the Spanish Steps and has four pretty neoclassical rooms, a sweet rooftop terrace and a terrific bite-sized restaurant. Check in to room two with its simple, tasteful creams, dark woods and brass lamps, throw open the windows and have your own Roman Holiday moment. When you're through being Audrey, shimmy down the fabulous spiral staircase to the Library bar for one of the regular wine courses. Take a leisurely lunch on the small rooftop terrace with the milling tourists below on the Spanish Steps looking up and wondering how impossibly glamorous it must be to be sitting where you are. Rooms from about $350. Vicolo del Bottino, 8, +39 06 699 0878,www.ilpalazzettoroma.com.
Grant Thatcher is publishing editor of LUXE City Guides, available from David Jones, Borders and on Qantas flights. Luxe Rome is available for $14.95 at www.luxecityguides.com.