Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Rome Cavalieri Imperial Room Rome view
Imperial Room with Rome view

The famous hotel on Rome’s highest hill but not one of its famous seven, specialises in the art of living well.

The 15-acre Rome Cavalieri on top of Monte Mario (once Monte Malo – the bad mountain after a murder and now home to the city’s observatory) opened in 1963.

Its frontage is still of the rather unstriking, underwhelming shabby sixties “Modular Reinforced Concrete School”, jarring with entrance’s splashy bronze dolphin fountain and sweeping drive. But the interior is the thing. And what you get inside is priceless.

Three kilometres from the Vatican City, five from the city centre and 35 from Fiumicino airport, the 345 room, 25 suite coveted Roman address is still a magnet for celebrities and royalty.

It is the spiritual home of “La Dolca Vita” with its Karl Lagerfeld couch couture, 17th century Flemish wall hangings, Galle glassware, Swarovski crystal, Louis Quinze furniture and highly collectable Marie-Antoinette endorsed French cabinetry as well as antique stopped clocks.

The hotel boasts 1,100 objets d’art. And many A-list celebrities. Ancient and modern.

Around every corner at the Cavalieri you may meet Hercules, the King of Crete, Marco Aurelius, the guardian of hell or Rudolf Nureyev in the shape of framed costumes from his 1977 performance as Prince Albrecht in Gizelle. Suites have Andy Warhol originals, the Grand Spa a marble caldarium, amethyst Turkish bath and Swiss bliss caviar and platinum facials by La Prairie.

The snapper, roast lamb, the made-in-front-of-you gnocchi, shucked oysters and oishi sushi Sunday brunch is an occasion. Tea is taken with Tiepole and Ulysses.

Rome Cavalieri pool view from terrace
Rome Cavalieri pool view from rooftop terrace

Under the lobby’s 1725 $8m triptych behind glass which protects it from gateaux cream squirting over the daughters of Lycomedes.

Apart from the artwork, the hotel houses Napoleon’s son cradle and the King Poland’s commode. There is in-house tour.

The Cavalieri gets its name from being the last pit stop for pilgrims on horseback on the arduous Via Francigena from Canterbury. These days the keys to a Ferrari F430 Spider or Maserati GranTurismo are all available from reception.

It also gets its name from its restaurant.

There are not many places that could do it because I have been repressing it for so long. But Rome released my inner voluptuary. The air smelled sweeter, colours became brighter, and I was in denial no longer. I came out as a total hedonist. And it all started with Fijian mineral water. Containing no acid rain, tropical rainforest water drawn from a Polynesian artesian aquifer is the perfect palate cleanser and preparation for La Pergola.

Heinz Beck’s restaurant on the ninth floor of Rome’s Cavalieri has had 3 Michelin acclaim for over a decade. You feel envious of the Michelin judges – 80 in all reviewing 240 restaurants annually – suspecting they visit Rome more than strictly necessary. Ostensibly to confirm the view hasn’t changed. But mainly because the fare’s so exceptional.

Because every mouthful really is a pinch-yourself, unforgettable moment. And every course makes you wonder what your taste buds have been doing all your life. And how underutilised your senses have been. There is nothing so distressing in life than idle gastric juices and atrophied sensual pleasure. The euphoric sensations I experienced I first put down to electric-magnet signals coming from the nearby telecoms tower. But, of course, it was the food, setting, privilege and theatre of it all.

You run out of superlatives and saliva when Herr Beck cooks for you. You revert to Trip Advisor-speak “impeccable”, “flawless”, “unsurpassable” and “super good”.  You don’t use “bucket list” in the same sentence as Beck.

Rome Cavalieri La Pergola
La Pergola Restaurant

He and his brigade de-banalize your palate and change the way your tongue looks at life. He’s a scientist and artist and just as much an aesthetician as those in the hotel’s spa, delivering the same emotional and physical well-being. Heinz has studied naturopathy.

Dinner at the hallowed La Pergola perhaps makes you feel too alive. Because, eating in a fabled “3” amounts to a paranoiac as well as transcendental food experience.

Entering is like a golfer walking onto the first tee of the Old Course at St Andrews. Your heart pounds, your pulse races and your knees knock. You want to appear calm and look like a major player.

You want to walk like you know Monaco and Modena and have eaten all round San Sebastian. That you are used to dining from Bernardaud plates on Tebro napery under 18th century chandeliers surrounded by Sevres glass and Nanking cargo vases.

You want to walk the “Via Michelin” walk. The cool “Bib Gourmand” amble. You feel the pressure. The adrenaline.

There are people so nervous about eating in Rome they carry snail porridge from The Fat Duck, Eleven Madison Place Vanilla Baked Alaska and white tuna and rhubarb in their jacket pockets. Just to give off the right New American Heston and New Basque aura to prove they aren’t Michelin virgins.

Which means avoiding inducing that horror struck look in the maitre d’s eyes, signally he instantly suspects you can’t provenance seasonal Carciofi artichoke by just smelling it. With one nostril closed.

But just like the starter at St Andrews will ease your anxiety, as an invisible hand saves you the unconscionable exertion of spreading your napkin over your lap yourself, as you weigh the pure silver and 24ct gold plated Sambonet cutlery and savour the vermeil flatware, charming manager Simone Pinoli distracts you from your pagan and philistine alter ego with his backstory.

Tiepolo Terrace
Tiepolo Terrace

As a child in the Swiss Alps, he remembers seeing a gentleman wearing a black jacket, white shirt and this star around his neck and wanting to be like him.

“He was waiter not James Bond! From that day I wanted to work in a restaurant. Now if a waiter doesn’t learn how to tie a bowtie within a week, he doesn’t want the job enough! I once taught two hundred men to tie a bow tie. At one dinner!”

The dipping sauce arrives with Manni olive oil and Hawaiian and Peruvian salt. Djibouti is discretionary. Deft white gloves carve pistachio and fruit bread and soon you’re indulging in some “fare la Scarpetta”, mopping up everything. When in Rome you make the shoe – the finger becoming the leg that pushes the bread.

And you hear a voice saying “mangia che ti passa” (eat and it will pass). And it does. Memorably.

The restaurant has a choice of 55 mineral waters and the well mineralised, well balanced water sommelier, without suggesting you are economising by foregoing the 1922 Lafite Rothschild and the 350 labels and 60,000 bottles in the wine cellar, suggests an Italian (Lauretana) to go with your amuse-bouche.

Un biccatiere d’acqua of Icelandic glacial water accompanies the duck foie gras powder with red berries. More totally dissolved solids complement the white asparagus, seaweed pesto and squid. And then there’s a problem with the spring vegetables. Low mineral residue? Umbrian manganese or Dolimite sulfates?

Such dilemmas 10-course gourmet menus throw up. High carbonate would be sacrilege and Germanic salinity an overpowering heresy. We settle for an Etruscan Nepi.

The menu represents Fourie’s Palace of Circe tapestry. It’s chosen wisely. Beck is no nymph. But he makes you feel you’re eating and drinking from enchanted vessels. Especially his rabbit tortellini with carrot and chamomile scent.

Sole with spinach and black truffle is followed leg of lamb with topinambour (earth apple or Jerusalem artichoke) and mushrooms. And a disembodied Level 6 TripAdvisor contributor whispers “Swoon-worthy”.

Rome Cavalieri Grand Spa outdoor pool
Rome Cavalieri Grand Spa outdoor pool

One must never count your age or your glasses of wine or water I am advised. To eat, live and love well you must eat well. Which means your stomach shouldn’t perform an all-night oboe recital.

Eating gives way to eavesdropping. In a Michelin restaurant perhaps, you expect a level of pretentiousness from the customers. And definitely a level of creativity and ingenuity from the kitchen. Beck cooks for his customers. Not for stars.

I expect to hear effusions about the concentration of flavour in the à la carte fagotelli carbonara and that the John Dory with liquorice crust and almond purée is the divine and sublime side of exquisite.

Instead, the lady opposite, daintily absorbing her caviar-filled zucchini flower with saffron consommé, simply says: “This is a fairy tale”.

The mwah-mwahing is minimal. There’s no one-upmanship inside La Pergola. That comes from outside. From the Vatican.

During the meal St Peter’s Basilica is a constant presence. But I sensed it flinch and become a little diva-ish when the cheese chariot guerdion trolley arrived. As if one of the great sights of the world which took 106 years to build felt it couldn’t compete with slab of 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano. And then a voice says: “We are French. But this is great”.

And then the digestifo arrives. American BLK black water, PH high with added electrolytes. Nothing at La Pergola can discomfort or dehydrate you unless you’re the crystallised raspberries with the iced sphere om tea cream dessert.

You must book four months in advance for four hours of intense, self-indulgent pleasure ending with Mignardises (petit fours) served in a silver miniature chest of drawers.

You need a quarter of a year to plan your coming out as a sybarite.

The Details

Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Via Alberto Cadlolo. 101, 00136 Rome, Italy.

Tel: +39 06 35091



From Fiumicino Airport take the Leonardo Express train from the terminal to Termini Station which runs every 30 minutes. From Ciampino Airport take the Terravision bus direct from arrivals to Termini Station. Then take the underground Metro A line to Barberini (direction Battistini) which is just 2 stops. Walk from Piazza Barberini up Via San Basilio to Via Bissolati (just off of Via Veneto) where you will find the Rome Cavalieri Shuttle Bus between Via Bissolati 25 and 31. Click here for comprehensive directions to the hotel.

Type of Hotel: 5-Star Luxury Hotel

Number of Rooms: 345 guestrooms and 25 suites, starting from around €734 Euros a night.

Price Band: High

Insider Tip: Enjoy their Sunday brunch, lunch by the pool or have afternoon tea under the triptych. And do try and dine at La Pergola if you get the chance to.

Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10

Author Bio:

Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appear worldwide, and he has been published in over 800 titles.

Photographs courtesy of Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel

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