It's tempting to think of Rome as a city that never changes. But it's much more dynamic than the crumbling Colosseum might suggest. The ancient forum of Emperor Trajan is now enclosed in a fabulous museum, the city centre is filled with new boutiques, and hot young chefs are giving traditional cuisine a twist.
Add Leon's Place to this list. This innovative new hotel is just a short walk from the heart of the city and not far from the Quirinale Palace, home of the Italian president. It's a four-star property pitched at the business traveller and the sophisticated tourist, and is in step with a level of style and design more usually found in Milan.
When it opened last year, Leon's Place aimed to create something unique. For a start, the location is great, on busy Via 20 Settembre, just a few blocks from Rome's central Termini station in one direction and the historic centre in the other. The designer shopping district surrounding the Spanish Steps is just down the hill, Via Veneto is around the corner, and the vast gardens of Villa Borghese, once a wealthy estate and now filled with some of the city's best museums, are also close. On nearby Via Nazionale is the recently refurbished Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a museum that shows temporary exhibits and is currently paying homage to the Bulgari fashion empire with a fascinating retrospective on the family's 125-year history.
Formerly a palace dating back to the 19th century, Leon's Place has been completely renovated, its smart pearl-grey exterior a dignified contrast to the traffic tearing along the street below. The elegance continues as you step inside, where you find respite from the urban din and understated attention from a youthful staff.
The secret to the tranquil feel also lies in the lack of gaudy Baroque or heavy brocades so common in this town. Leon's Place is all about minimalism enlivened by splashes of colour and quirky elements, creating a cheeky yet charming ambience. In the centre of the foyer are large comfortable Art Deco-inspired sofas, full-length mirrors and chunky chandeliers trimmed with black feathers. There's even a black velvet swing dangling from the ceiling. If you can imagine a marriage between Armani and Versace, you're on the right track.
Interior designer Alvin Grassi describes the decor as "Art Deco amalgamated with neoclassic and decorative styles", adding that he wanted to redesign the building in a "feminine" way. To this end, he has created a comfortable space that doesn't take itself too seriously and makes the visitor feel instantly at home. Grassi looks at interior design as a piece of theatre and clearly relishes the challenge that a hotel space provides. "There is an abundance of ironic detail," he says, "sometimes a bit frivolous, sometimes a bit unusual, to remind you that in Rome, where different styles have always merged together, nothing seems out of place."
Grassi put the same effort into designing each of the hotel's 56 rooms, which are all decorated in soft grey tones, with white bed linen and simple black lamps that complement the hotel's sensual contemporary concept, as do the marble ensuite bathrooms. There's a constant drone of traffic on the street, but many of the rooms face away from the madness while the others are thankfully well-insulated.
Falling under the Design Hotels umbrella, Leon's Place is part of the Hotel Philosophy group, which has 15 hotels across Italy, including several refurbished properties and some modern resorts on the popular island of Sardinia. In Venice, the group successfully transformed the 16th-century Palazzo Barbarigo into a glamorous 18-room hotel on the Grand Canal.
Apart from its unique design, Leon's Place is looking to strengthen its position in the business market with a commitment to service and hospitality. As well as having two conference rooms and valet parking - a rare asset in Rome - the hotel is already building a loyal clientele of local and international guests. It has a small fitness centre offering massages, a sauna and Turkish bath, and an elegant cocktail bar, and there are plans to open a new restaurant soon.
But perhaps its best asset is not what's going on at Leon's Place but what's not. With an unrivalled position amid the buzz of the Italian capital, Leon's Place is a unique oasis of calm.