MODERNISING ROME; Lee Marshall Visits a Zaha Hadid-Designed Art Gallery While Staying at a Hotel Nearby with Artistic Riches of Its Own

Article excerpt

Byline: Lee Marshall

I'M STANDING in the lobby of the hotel formerly known as the Rome Cavalieri Hilton -- a renovated Sixties luxe classic which stands on the verdant slopes of Monte Mario in Rome's north-western suburbs, with a breathtaking view over the city bookended by the dome of St Peter's.

In front of me is another ravishing sight, an artistic masterpiece that any of the world's leading museums would be proud to display. It's a trio of paintings of mythological subjects by 18th-century Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo, referred to collectively as the Palazzo Sandi triptych. Hotel owner Guido Angelo Terruzzi paid a record [euro]7 million ([pounds sterling]6.13 million) for these dramatic canvases when the Venetian family that previously owned them auctioned them off at Sotheby's in 2006. Now they hang here, behind protective glass, in a busy lobby.

Above the concierge and reception desks are four Arcadian landscapes by Giuseppe Zais, another 18th-century Venetian artist whose works are on display at the Louvre and the National Gallery. Gods and goddesses disport themselves above the Hertz car rental office in frescoes detached from a villa in Lombardy. There's a Warhol on the wall of the Penthouse Suite, and four of Robert Indiana's iconic pop-art "American Dream" paintings in the Planetarium Suite.

All in all, the Cavalieri has what is widely considered to be the world's best hotel art collection. It also happens to have the best restaurant in Rome -- rooftop La Pergola, under the reign of German star chef Heinz Beck, and one of just six restaurants in Italy to boast the Michelin Guide's top accolade of three stars.

When the Cavalieri opened in Rome in 1964, the Dolce Vita was still in full swing, and for Italians still emerging from wartime austerity the Hilton name carried all the right connotations of American cocktail-set panache and elegance. But that was before Hilton Worldwide gathered 3,500 hotels in some 81 nations.

Many people may believe Hilton hotels don't have the same cachet as in the Sixties -- presumably this is why those in charge came up with a new brand name for their top-end hotels. …