The Donna Camilla Savelli: 17th Century, Breathing and Echoing

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One of the qualities by which a hotel should be measured, but often isn’t, involves the extent to which it immerses the visitor in its particular locale. If we are visiting a place, we may as well experience it, right? With this understanding in mind, over the past few years hoteliers have begun bringing local cuisine, art and design elements into their properties. The result has been pleasant if in many cases monolithic. The struggle to achieve something authentic remains.

Not so in Rome’s Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel, where as we sat in the expansive lobby area sipping cocktails one evening, a nun in full habit attire floated by us, smiled at us, floated onward through the echo-y halls. She was there, I presume, because she still lives in one wing of the hotel, which is housed in a reimagined 17th century marvel of asceticism, originally and still a convent. If you stay at the Donna Camilla Savelli, you are by definition a visitor to Rome, capital of Italy, home of Catholicism, and you are experiencing this at every turn.

The neighborhood around the hotel, Trastevere, sits across the Tiber River from the city’s ancient main attractions, the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain and a million other old wonderful things. It boasts a labyrinth of small windy streets and a lively nightlife fueled by the universities located there, as well as by the Romans and tourists alike that flock in for the bars, music and restaurants. Trastevere feels like a living Roman neighborhood. The best thing to do in it is get lost.

A Stairwell Nook at the Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel

The hotel sits partway up one of Rome’s famous seven hills, at the edge of where Rome is beautiful. In one direction, it soon cedes to a more modern, straight-lined cityscape in the streets approaching the Trastevere Train Station. Walk in the other direction, down the hill, and you’re smack in the heart of Trastevere.

With its austere façade, the old convent doesn’t look like a hotel, and upon entering, orientation takes a moment. I was there in February, during the low season, and the limited number of guests made the hotel that much more contemplative. Reception is just a small office off to the side of the main hall. Elsewhere, there are many markers of a high-end hotel: red velvet, marble floors, dramatic staircases. The price, delightfully, doesn’t seem to be one of those markers, with rooms on the hotel website currently starting at $157 a night, including breakfast. The strong dollar helps make this price yet more palatable for those with American currency, but even taking the exchange rate out of the equation, there’s no angle from which this isn’t a great deal.

Our room, one of 76 total, was small but beautiful and interesting, with its original 17th century wood ceilings, terra cotta floors, and décor that felt plush without being at all overwrought. The bathroom was smaller than we would have liked, but nice and functional. The window overlooked the former cloister, now a garden and café area that, had the weather been warmer, likely would have been our go-to spot. (In the warmer months, there’s also a rooftop option that from photos looks fantastic.) Instead, we had our breakfast in a lovely if diminutive dining room off the main hall. Wifi, available only in the common areas, was free and strong, and the various nooks and crannies were a joy to explore, including the still-in-use chapel near the main entrance.

This was my third trip to Rome. For first-time visitors, depending on their goals for the trip, I might recommend a hotel closer to the major sights, but once those have been checked off, the Donna Camilla Savelli takes a person deeper into the Italian capital city, in more ways than one. She visits, and also experiences, the particular locale.

VOI Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli Rome I Via Garibaldi 27 I el +39 06 588861

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Sarah is the founder and editor of Flung, the author of Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, and a widely published travel and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.