In the First Musica – the third of the Pavillions hotel group’s Roman stays – past and present are in harmony. The stay is a finely tuned instrument of modern mores, repping the Italian’s just-so chic with rooms lined in luxurious woods, Loro Piana fabrics and Calacatta marble, and gilt-splattered wall paintings; a menu with notes from across the Med keeps dining vivace; and staff keep in time to your beat. But, from your vat windows and the DJ-soundtracked roof terrace the Eternal City shows off its enduring charms, and historic outings might be a private tour of the Colosseum’s underground passages, a visit to the Pope’s private chapel and some time alone with the Sistine Chapel, thus putting two different timestamps in step.
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One drink each in the Alto cocktail bar during your stay
Double rooms from £309.09 (€360), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €10.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t include breakfast (€30 a person). The hotel accepts a number of cryptocurrencies if that’s how you’d prefer to pay.
Nose around the lobby where there are biographies of rock stars, plus coffee-table books on music and movies to borrow, plus a grand for a pianist to play every once in a while.
At the hotel
Charged laundry service, electric cars for hire, shoeshine service, small music-themed library and piano in the lobby, free WiFi. In rooms: 50-inch LED TV; Bang & Olufsen wireless speaker; Illy coffee machine; a sweet treat, wireless phone charger; control panel for lighting, shutters and climate control; Etro bath products; free shoeshine; free bottled water; USB socket.
Our favourite rooms
First Musica’s rooms vaguely resemble a deconstructed orchestra pit, barring reams of theatre-curtain-red velvet (the fabrics used are all subtly hued Loro Piana bolts, dahling), with woods as sleek as those in the string section and bold brassy parts, plus the odd wall-painting as an overture to Rome’s enormous artistic legacy. All are similar in style, with a Calacatta-marble-lined bathroom, but the ‘view’ suites are those with a vaunted vantage point overlooking the Tiber and historic centre.
Shoes for cobbled eventualities are a must, even if you want to emulate the dainty, seemingly part-mountain goat, locals in heels. And line up an Italianate playlist (Pavarotti, Måneskin, some Ennio Morricone…) to get you in the mood.
The hotel’s multilingual staff can help with local recommendations, bookings and even negotiating deals with art galleries if needed.
Onsite there’s little to do, but with several interconnecting configurations, baby kit and special kids’ itineraries, this is a stay where families are all in key.
Older children willing to have their eyes opened to the local culture.
Almost all room types can be interconnected, but for a cosier feel, the Junior Suite View and Suite both have a sofa bed (free for under-13s).
The hotel’s We Are Family itinerary includes a visit to the Colosseum, a trip to the Borghese Gallery followed by a four-seater-bike ride around the Villa Borghese gardens, a day trip to Castel Gandolfo to enjoy lush green countryside and volcanic Lake Albano, then a meal at Taverna Trilussa in Trastevere.
Some of the hotel’s dishes might be a touch too palate-teasing for smalls, but there are pasta dishes that could suit.
The hotel has English-speaking staff who could step in for the night on request.
No need to pack
The hotel has no-tears soap, baby cribs and linens, changing mats and bottle warmers.
Live your best 'La Grande Bellezza' life, taking drinks on the upper terrace.
As if you’re opera-bound, but no need for the glasses – the view can’t be missed.
Greenery-bedecked restaurant Alto sits on the fifth floor of the hotel, overlooking the Tiber and historic centre. The pan-Mediterranean menu throws up some surprising flavour combinations, serving bread topped with sea urchin and almond ricotta; tortelli pasta with anchovy, mascarpone and citrus; red mullet with duck heart and tangerine; or pork with pumpkin and date.
Alto cocktail bar, with its glamorous velvet chairs, trailing greenery and green-marble counter, is on the sixth and seventh floors of the hotel, with an alfresco terrace at the top and a 300-year-old olive tree. From up here you can admire Rome’s rich tapestry of architectural wonders, from the Vatican City to the cupolas and colonnaded edifices surrounding the historic centre, and the Tiber cleaving through. There’s a DJ set every night (not till too late as this is a more residential area), and don’t miss aperitivo hour from 6pm. You might be tempted to go with a negroni (when in Rome…), but the Hugo with elderflower liqueur, prosecco and soda is a signature sipper here, and there’s a designated martini menu.
Breakfast is from 7.30am to 10.30am, the bar opens from 6pm to 1am.
In-room dining is available all day (with a limited night menu) for a €10 tray charge. The menu has omelettes, pancakes, fruit salad porridge and more for breakfast, and pizza, salads, sandwiches, burgers and more throughout the day.
The First Musica sits on the right bank of the Tiber in the upmarket Prati neighbourhood, putting you close to the historic centre and the Vatican City, and ensuring spectacular views from the hotel’s roof terrace.
Ciampino airport is closer to the hotel by 10 kilometres, but the journey from there or Fiumicino will take around 40 minutes. Hotel transfers can be arranged in a Mercedes sedan for €100 one-way or minivan (€170 for up to four) if you’re travelling in a group.
Rome’s main Termini station, at which trains arrive direct from most of Italy’s major cities, is a 15-minute drive away. Transfers can be arranged from €75 one-way.
Try to leave the car behind if you can – the hotel sits in a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL), which means access at certain hours only and fines that’ll dig into your holiday Euros if you don’t follow the complicated rules. If you must drive, the hotel can advise you and there’s parking less than a five-minute walk away at 44 Via del Vantaggio. Valet parking is available from €55 a night.
Cruises and ferries from Sardinia, Sicily and Spain berth at Civitavecchia port – the hotel can pick you up from here on request.
Worth getting out of bed for
The right bank of the Tiber, home to the Vatican City, polished residential rioni Prati, and to the south, hipster hangout Trastevere. Usually, visitors gravitate towards the left bank and historic centre, but the First Musica positions you within walking distance of Rome’s biggest draws, and shows you how it feels to call it home. You could easily walk yourself through thousands of years of history – you’re 10 minutes from the Spanish Steps and shopping arteries, vias del Corso and dei Condotti (the hotel has a personal shopper on call if needed); 15 minutes from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona; 20 minutes from the Trevifountain; 30 minutes from Quirinal Hill and its presidential palazzo. However, the hotel’s curated itineraries mix beloved experiences with the extra special. Say, breakfast on the Belvedere Courtyard before a tour of the Vatican, then – after visitors leave – the chance to see the Pope’s private worshipping place, the Niccoline Chapel with its Fra Angelico frescoes; spiral down the grand Bramante Staircase; and then see the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica all by yourselves. Or, really dig into the foundations of the city – almost literally – on a subterranean tour of Roman catacombs, a basilica, prison and frescoes. Then, whirl through masterworks by Bernini, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and more in the Borghese Villa, followed by the chance to see the Colosseum’s underbelly, and rooms where gladiators and animals would be held before shows, and a tour of the Forum. Sure, the Romans were very impressive and the Colosseum is big and old, yadda yadda – what about the food? Well, staff can send you on a food tour, to cookery lessons that cover all the major Italian food groups (pizza and pasta making, meatballs, pastries and tiramisù), or on a jaunt to Said Since 1923 chocolate factory. Or, journey out to Tiburtino to explore former pasta factory, now multidisciplinary modern-art hub, Pastificio Cerere. And, cross back over the Tiber to acquaint yourself with its fascinating neighbourhoods: pause in a café along the Jewish Quarter’s Via del Portico d’Ottavi; hang in Trastevere, boutique-hopping and musing over Renaissance Villa Farnesina’s artworks; and crossing to Tiber Island, where an open-air film festival is held each summer.
Sure, music might be the food of love, but does it really compare to a steaming bowl of cacio e pepe, ravioli topped with delicate truffle-shaving confetti, or a cocoa-dusted slab of tiramisù? No. Paring down Rome’s dining scene can be a daunting task, but luckily there are some top choices close to the hotel. Unassuming yet authentic eatery Hostaria Da Pietro, close to the Borghese Gardens, does Roman classics – veal saltimbocca, meatballs, pork-cheek carbonara – with aplomb. In Trastevere, Taverna Trilussa brings your pasta to you still sizzling in the pan; try the secret recipe ‘ravioli mimosa’, or fill your table with focaccia piled with burrata, confit cherry tomatoes, Cantabrian anchovies and courgette flowers; fillet steak with foie gras and truffle in a port reduction, or croquettes with beef ragout and Castelmagno cheese. Il Marchese is themed around 1980s Italian comedy Il Marchese del Grillo, but you don’t need to have seen it to appreciate its fried green tomatoes with smoked mozzarella, duck ragout pappardelle with an orange and rosemary crumble, and pork belly in an apple cream. Rooftop Hi Res has a more modern menu; langoustine tartare has a spritz of lime and sprinkling of pink pepper, turbot’s paired with Sardinian fregola and smoked asparagus, and cappellacci is stuffed with lamb, chard and pecorino.
Just across the river is Antico Caffè Greco, an 18th-century drinkery with scarlet walls, gilt chandeliers and an impressive history: Keats, Byron and more furious scribblers drank here. In Prati, Sciascia Caffè 1919 is light on seating but heavy on vintage charm, and serves tasty granitas, apéritifs and artisan chocolate bars alongside brisk espressos.
Head to Bar San Calisto in Trastevere for cheap drinks and a sociable alfresco setting. Closer to home, in Prati, there’s Rome’s oldest jazz club Alexanderplatz, where music kicks off daily at 9pm on a stage under an antique stone arch. And for cocktails, hit glamorous Thirties-themed bar Argot Prati, where imaginative drinks can be paired with small plates – take the caprese-inspired Tomato Fields Forever, with pomegranate juice, tomato, Sencha tea, vodka and buffalo-mozzarella foam.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this dolce far niente hotel on the banks of the Tiber and unpacked their antique alabaster bust and bags from Prada, Moschino and Missoni, a full account of their well-orchestrated break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the First Musica in Rome…
If Rome’s the First Musica hotel was a symphony it would be a buoyant allegro. It’s the third in the Pavillions hotel group’s Rome stays, and each is dedicated to all that’s wonderful about Italy (art, living well), and from the twinkling piano music in the lobby to the heart-pumping DJ beats on the roof terrace, it plays delightfully. It’s a modern piece, where minimalist-luxe rooms are composed of rich wood panelling, Loro Piana fabrics and bronze-section metallics, with freestyle wall paintings, and yet the Eternal City keeps on keeping on, providing spectacular scenes from the floor-to-ceiling windows. And, as you ride up to the fifth floor, the hotel’s crescendo climaxes in a mod-Med eatery where flavours have been plucked from coast to coast, and a sophisticated split-level cocktail bar whose upper alfresco level has a city panorama to wax lyrical over. Staff are walking founts of knowledge, and they have inroads to getting you alone with the Sistine Chapel, heading underground to see lesser-known antiquities or taking you to off-tour areas in the Coliseum, making this a stay that can deservedly blow its own trumpet.