3 May 2018

iQ Hotel Roma - Rome hotel review: Impressive 4-star in convenient location

iQ Hotel Roma is a modern hotel in the centre of Rome, with good, comfortable rooms. Customer service is of an international standard rather than traditionally Italian, which will be a benefit for overseas visitors, and a nice luxury for those used to Italy. If you're looking for something characterful and quirky, this might not be the best choice, but if you want the relief of collapsing in a comfortable room after a stressful journey and knowing all kinds of facilities and assistance are on hand, this is a real treat. 

I wrote this hotel review after a two-night stay in April.



Hotel booking, location and basics


I booked a small double room at the hotel a couple of weeks before my travel, at a cost of  €460, including Rome's city tax (prices vary considerably throughout the year). While it is possible to find accommodation in the city at a much lower price, this is usually at smaller, more idiosyncratic B&Bs, and in locations outside the centre. I wanted somewhere efficient and safe, where I could leave my suitcase before check-in and after check-out. And most importantly, I wanted a convenient location.

The hotel is just off the shopping street Via Nazionale, in the same square as the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome's opera house. It's five minutes' walk from Repubblica Metro stop and only about ten minutes' walk from Stazione Termini, Rome's central railway station. The neighbourhood is respectable and well-connected. It's not as charming or romantic as the centro storico, the historic centre, about a mile away, but it is hugely more convenient if you're planning to use public transport, to travel to different areas of the city, or to take day trips. It's possible to walk to most of the city's central landmarks, though for a few longer walks, and the centro storico, I would generally choose to take a bus from Via Nazionale to save energy and skip the duller part of the walk.

In a rather bizarre blue-painted modern building, the hotel faces out over the side and forecourt of the Teatro dell'Opera. When I arrived, and throughout my stay, there was always more than one member of staff on duty at the reception desk, so I never had a long wait for attention. Arriving early in the morning, my room wasn't ready but I was able to leave my luggage securely in the hotel, and walk ten minutes to Termini station to catch the Metro for a day out at Ostia Antica. On my return, tired and hungry, I stopped off in the food hall at the station - Mercato Centrale - where commuters can choose from a range of food and drink throughout the day (excellent ice cream). The improvements in the station area, including the opening of this food hall, add another convenient feature to the hotel's location; if you can't be bothered with heading to a restaurant or want to eat/drink/shop out of hours, Termini offers many customer-friendly options. Another good quality 'convenience' food option is the small branch of Eataly in Piazza Esedra next to Repubblica metro station. Read on to the foot of this page for more tips for taking advantage of this handy hotel location.


Bedroom


On checking in I was given a larger room than I'd anticipated, a generous-sized double with a divan that could have been made into an extra single bed - ideal for families. On the fourth floor, it had a window opening onto the quiet internal courtyard. 



A highlight for British visitors in particular will be the very un-Italian tea tray provided, complete with kettle, tea and coffee sachets, little biscuits, milk substitute, and free bottles of mineral water, all of which were replenished daily.

Facilities in the room also included a desk, a small fridge with more free bottles of water and an invitation to use the spare shelf for my own provisions, a wide-screen TV, a large mirror (not quite full-length), and a big wardrobe with its own lighting. There was also a suitcase stand, a laptop-sized safe, autonomous air-conditioning, notes offering a choice of pillows or more toiletries, a range of lighting options and convenient electricity sockets. Even coat-hooks, so rare in hotels, were provided. With carpeting, neutral decor and Rome-themed artwork, the room felt tranquil, and was generally very quiet, although I could hear other guests talking as they passed in the corridor. The bed was comfortable and I slept well, except for the time I was woken in the night by other guests talking outside my door.


The bathroom was a decent size, with lots of space for toiletries, and a hook. There was a good make-up/shaving mirror, and a typical hotel hair-dryer. The hand towel rail was a little inconveniently sited under the basin (I needed to bend down to access). Instead of a shower cubicle, the bathroom had a bath with a shower overhead- not my preference, but may have been better for some guests. It would have benefitted from a safety rail to help climbing in and out, and a better shower-head,  and it was awkward that the glass shower screen couldn't be moved out of the way. Hand towels were the flimsy Italian kind, but bath towels were large and fluffy. Toiletries were provided: shower cap, tissues, shower gel/shampoo and conditioner. Another of the hotel's helpful touches was an extendable washing line over the bath; ideal for when you want to wash small items in the basin.



Bedroom: the wardrobe door is on the left, and bathroom on the right.

Roof terrace, public spaces and breakfast


The roof terrace on the fifth floor had been decorated and equipped well: a pleasant and stylish space with greenery, a variety of seating areas and the option of shady awnings. Visitors won't find much in the way of views, due to high buildings, rooftop tanks, satellite dishes etc, though you can admire the shallow dome of the Teatro dell’Opera alongside. As well as tables and chairs, there were also a few sun-loungers and a jacuzzi too. The terrace is popular with international guests, who always seem to want to spend a surprising (to me) amount of time in their hotel bar. Sitting in the afternoon sunshine with some work, I enjoyed a free welcome drink of Prosecco with nibbles; a very nice touch. The only drawback of the roof terrace is that smoking is allowed here, unlike the rest of the hotel, so when a guest lit up a cigar, the smell drove other guests away.

A corner of the roof terrace, with the dome of the opera house

The indoors bar-dining-working area ("co-living space") is also on the top floor, opening onto the roof terrace, and would be a good place to while away some time on a cold or rainy day. A selection of board games are on offer for additional entertainment, along with table football outside on the terrace. The bar offered reasonably priced food and drinks, with wine from about €3.50 a glass.


"Co-living space"

Thoughtful extra facilities provided by the hotel include a microwave for guests and snack/drink vending machines.There’s a small gym, secure luggage storage, a self-service laundry (tokens on sale at reception), a sauna, ice available, computer terminals, free wifi, and in the courtyard/light well is a slide and swings for small children. Two lifts served all hotel floors, so there was never a long wait, and stairs were also open and accessible.

This hotel has most of the services I’ve always imagined offering in my imaginary hotel, as I've travelled around Italy and been frustrated at accommodation standards, and it is obvious that guests, and their needs, have been thought about carefully and effectively, from the friendly and helpful English-speaking staff to a shower for the use of guests arriving early or leaving late when their own room isn’t available. Offering a free welcome drink and bottles of water doesn't cost a hotel much but it makes a big difference to guests.


Breakfast in the sunshine

Breakfast was served as a buffet in the bar, with tables indoors and outside on the roof terrace. For me, the highlight was the constantly-replenished freshly-squeezed orange juice - really rare in a hotel breakfast in Italy. The food was also generous, with a wide range of foodstuffs to suit different tastes and cultures: frittata, roast potatoes, fried bread, cold meats, mozzarella, cucumber, fried and scrambled eggs, fresh bread, cereals, fresh and tinned fruit salad, croissants and pastries. The price of breakfast may vary: during my visit it cost €9.90 (if not included in room rate). I thought it was good value, but also liked the fact it was an optional extra; before a busy day out I preferred a quick cereal bar in my room and an early start. 


As a note on payment - my booking of €460 was a non-refundable rate and didn't include breakfast. The price of breakfast was quoted on the booking page, and I could see it would be cheaper to pay separately at the hotel than to opt for a higher rate. However the quoted price did include Rome's city tax, assuming two room occupants paying €6 per person per night. Although the room costs were charged against my credit card at once, the city tax was payable on check-out - and as I was travelling alone, I of course only paid for one person. So I actually paid €459 for two nights, one breakfast, and tax. All of this was dealt with very efficiently at check-out without any prompting from me, and proper receipts were issued even though I forgot to ask (not always the case in Italy).



Recommendation


I chose the hotel for its location and because of the very positive reviews I'd read. It was above my usual price range, but for a couple of nights of comfort and convenience I thought it was a very worthwhile expense. Rome is a busy and chaotic city and to have a calm, well-organised retreat is a real blessing when you're sightseeing all day.

My free 'welcome drink' on the roof terrace
If you're looking for a more quirky and historic atmosphere, and you don't mind trickier travel, I'd suggest looking at the smaller hotels and B&Bs in the centro storico. But if clean, modern convenience is a priority, I think it would be hard to do better than the iQ Hotel Roma. In particular, I'd judge it ideal for: busy sightseers who want to travel around the city and beyond; international travellers who want the reassurance of high-standard service and facilities; holiday-makers touring Italy looking for a base where they can recuperate, catch up with the gym, laundry, and enjoy a bit of relaxation in the heart of a not-very-relaxing city. And of course, culture-lovers with tickets for the Teatro dell'Opera. Much as I enjoy historic character and Italian idiosyncracies, I found the orderliness and convenience of this hotel very seductive, and would probably save up to return to the hotel. This attention to detail and generosity of services provided is rare in Italy.




Small print: I paid for my own stay and travelled anonymously. If you make a booking at any hotel through my affiliate links on this page, your booking will be through booking.com who offer a price guarantee. They also share a small percentage of commission with Italy Heaven, which supports the website and keeps it online. Thank you!


BONUS: Tips for taking advantage of the location

  • Go shopping on Via Nazionale - this busy shopping street offers a range of high-street shops and boutiques, including some local Roman and Italian brands. Some of my favourite local shoe shops are here. I popped out from the iQ Hotel and bought a dress, a scarf and three pairs of shoes (!) all within a five-minute walk.
  • Catch the Metro at Repubblica: about five minutes away, the underground Metro Linea A will take you to Spagna (for the Spanish Steps) and Flamino (for Piazza del Popolo) more quickly than walking, or carry you further afield to visit the Vatican Museums or the film studios of Cinecittà.
  • Take the bus from Via Nazionale - loads of useful buses stop on Via Nazionale including the H to Trastevere and several routes to the centro storico. While walking can be enjoyable, at the end of the day many will want to save effort by catching a bus back.
  • Attend an opera or ballet - the Teatro dell'Opera is literally right opposite the hotel, so this is a perfect hassle-free location for enjoying some fine music or dance.
  • Walk to Termini - it's one stop on the Metro from Repubblica, but it's probably easier to walk to Termini. Even with suitcases it's only about ten minutes of trundling along pavements to/from the station. Handy on arrival/departures, and also for making an early start for day trips by train, or catching Metro Linea B.
  • Walk through Rione Monti to the Colosseum or Forum - Rione Monti, a few minutes away, is a quirkier historic area where you'll find bars, restaurants, hip boutiques and my favourite chocolate shop. Appealing in its own right, it's also a pleasant walking route to the sights of Ancient Rome.
  • Convenient eats: the hotel offers simple meals in its bar. Other options nearby, if you don't want to visit a restaurant, are the informal food halls of Eataly and Mercato Centrale.

13 February 2018

Ten Reasons to visit Venice in winter

I often write about how great Venice is in winter - in case any reader hasn't already got the message, here are ten good reasons why this is a really good time to visit.

 1. No crowds

Since I first fell in love with an empty winter Venice a decade ago, tourism has increased all year round. You won't ever find the city empty of tourists now. But the quietest times are still in winter, when you'll find residents outnumbering visitors, lanes which you can stroll along without queueing, and a low-key 'local' feel to the city. The sights are easily visited and admired, and you can enjoy Venice at your leisure. If you get off the beaten track you might go a long time before you see other outsiders.  As well as lower tourist numbers, there is a very noticeable difference in types of visitor. In the winter there are very few cruises, and fewer day-trippers, meaning that most of the tourists in town are overnight visitors, spread more evenly through the city, and with more of a feel for how to behave.

 2. Cheap accommodation

There is a vast and ever-increasing volume of tourist accommodation in Venice. In winter, places to stay outnumber visitors. So you'll find good value as businesses compete for custom. If you have your heart set on a special place to stay, book in advance. But if you're looking for the lowest prices, and are prepared to gamble, you could risk leaving it until the last minute, and watching as apartments and hotels drop their prices on Booking.com in the days before you arrive. I've seen some excellent deals in the lowest season, such as a comfortable 2-person apartment for €450 a week.



3. Cheap flights

There aren't so many flights to Venice in winter, but some routes, like London-Venice, are still busy enough that you get a good choice of flights each day. Prices are at their lowest, and you can usually still find cheap flights at short notice. This week I've found hand-baggage-only fares with British Airways for £36 each way.

4. More comfort

There are many reasons why travelling to Venice in winter is more comfortable. You'll get better service and more of a welcome than in summer, when Venice groans under the pressure of tourists. You're more likely to find good restaurant tables without booking, to find space in a cafe, to meet shorter queues at the airport, to get an outdoor seat on a boat, to find an empty bench to enjoy the view.

5. It might snow

Venice is cold in winter, the city's humidity giving an extra sharp chill to the air. There will probably be a few snowy days each winter, and although snow doesn't usually settle for long, while the snowflakes are falling, Venice is magical. It's a great photo opportunity, too, as snow briefly settles on gondolas or flutters down past Gothic windows.



6. It might be sunny ... or foggy

Snow may be magical, but you're more likely to encounter sunshine. Venice gets a good amount of winter sunshine, and there are glorious brisk sunny days when laundry flutters against a blue sky, the city is at its best, and hardy diners and drinkers might brave a sheltered outdoor table in the sun. Another typical condition is the atmospheric Venetian fog, so characteristic that it has its own local name in dialect. When it comes creeping in is a great time for taking moody photos of a Venice that summer tourists will never see.

7. Hot chocolate

Casanova swore by it, and rich Venetian hot chocolate is one of the great pleasures of the winter. You can drink a small cup for a couple of euros on your feet in a busy steamed-up cafe or pastry shop, or you can settle down with a luxurious and expensive glass in one of Venice's finest cafes. I love the mint hot chocolate named after Casanova in Caffe Florian.

8. Shopping and fun

As well as designer and high-street shops, Venice has a good range of small artisan boutiques where you can buy jewellery, leather goods, carnival masks, shoes, cloaks, stationery, ceramics and more. It's great for Christmas shopping, or just buying lovely mementos for yourself. And although the city is quiet in winter, in the run-up to Christmas there are festive markets, Christmas lights and special events (including a boat race of Santas), while in Carnival time there is lots to do - although there are also crowds and high prices for that particular fortnight. You'll usually find a small ice-rink in Campo San Polo for most of the winter.

9. Frittelle, panettone and other delights

Unlike the sweltering days of summer, when eating becomes an effort, winter is ideal for tucking into hearty lunches of risotto or pasta accompanied by local wine. Before Christmas the bakeries are full of speciality Italian cakes like panettone, and the popular version at Tonolo known as focaccia da Tonolo. Leading up to Carnival, frittelle (also known as fritole and fritoe) are everywhere, and each cup of coffee or hot chocolate is accompanied by one of these small doughnuts. Produced with a range of fillings including raisins, pastry cream, chocolate, apple and zabaione,  these are hugely popular and are a real, cheap treat of the season.



10. Nuisance-free living

By the middle of winter you're unlikely to encounter one of Venice's nastiest little hazards: the mosquito - and any surviving mosquitos are unlikely to penetrate winter layers of clothing. This unpleasant creature plagues the lagoon and can make summer and autumn painful and unromantic, so winter comes as a relief for the tender-skinned. The sun is also no longer the same threat, and you can explore the city without anticipating sweat or sunburn. Without sun-lotion, after-sun, insect repellent and all the other hot-weather necessities, winter permits much lighter packing.
Other nuisances you're more likely to avoid in winter include the pickpockets who descend on the city in crowded periods, and the ill-mannered trippers who block bridges and alleys and, of course, the crowds described above.


Winter in Venice lasts from December till February; Venice is briefly busy at New Year and is busy for the fortnight of the Venice Carnival. Winter won't suit everyone, of course. You do need to dress warmly - hat, coat, scarf, gloves - and the weather can be unpredictable. High water can be an occasional problem - or an attraction - depending on your perspective. But for many Venice-lovers, this is the very best time of year to be in the city and appreciate its marvels.
> When to visit Venice (a fun quiz)
> More about winter in Venice
> Find somewhere to stay