24-Hour Room Service, Hotel Hassler Rome

Just tell your taxi driver "Il Hotel Hassler" (pronouncing it "azzler") and he will nod approvingly before whisking you off to one of Rome's top hotels. Perched next to the Trinità dei Monti church, at the top of the Spanish Steps, you then have just one choice to make, albeit a difficult one: front or back. The rooms at the front of the hotel offer a panoramic view of Rome, taking in every prominent landmark - with the dome of St Peter's at the centre. The rooms at the back look over the peaceful and gorgeously landscaped Villa Borghese gardens. (Hint; Kofi Annan and Paul McCartney prefer the panoramic view.)

However, one decision you are spared on that first night in Rome is the question of where to go for dinner. Stay in. I doubt that it is possible to eat more satisfyingly than I did at the Hassler, or to find a restaurant with a better view than the one from the hotel's rooftop restaurant.

LOCATION

Hotel Hassler, Piazza Trinità dei Monti, 6 - 00187 Rome, Italy (00 39 06 699 340; www.hotelhassler.com). Around the corner the Via Veneto, familiar from Fellini's La Dolce Vita, winds up to the recently restored Galleria Borghese, boasting one of Rome's greatest collections of sculpture and painting. At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is the room where the poet Keats died, now in the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, and beyond that the designer shops of the Via Condotti.

Time from international airports: 30 minutes by train from Fiumicino airport, or 40 minutes by coach from Ciampino airport, to Rome's Central Station (Stazione Termini), and then five minutes by taxi.

COMFORTABLE?

The hotel is a fifth-generation family business, and the current owner-manager, Roberto Wirth, has been revamping the entire place, keeping the elegant feel of a Roman palazzo but adding the latest mod cons (internet facilities, plasma TV, personal trainers). What has also been retained is an ethos of discreet and helpful service; the hurried modern world is left outside the door of the Hassler. The rooms vary in decor from black and white art deco, through the Venetian motifs of my room, to classic interiors complete with silk furnishings, antique vases and period oil paintings. But whether you have a grand suite or a basic single, you feel comfortably at home, only better.

Freebies: fresh flowers and a regularly replenished fruit bowl, and Amorvero toiletries that tempt you to pack them. Bicycles are available for cycling around the Villa Borghese. There is also a spa and a gym, where hotel guests can exercise while looking out over Rome from on high.

Keeping in touch: internet connections in the rooms, with the television serving as a computer screen, and a DVD or CD player. (No Wi-Fi, though, which would have helped me to get online with my Palm.)

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms in July cost from €572 (£409) excluding breakfast. Alternatively you can book through Leading Hotels of the World (00800 2888 8882, toll free; www.lhw.com) which offers doubles from €410 (£293) including breakfast.

I'm not paying that: the Hassler offers four rooms at its "Palazzetto", a few steps from the main hotel, at the north side of the Spanish Steps, which start at €215 (£154) including breakfast. There is a restaurant, wine bar and even an "international wine academy" in the Palazzetto, but guests can also use the facilities of the main hotel.

Il Palazzetto, Vicolo del Bottino, 8 - 00187 Rome (00 39 06 6993 4301; www.wineacademyroma.com).

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