When visiting Rome with my family, we had the chance to stay at a hotel that surprised me. It was quirky, and I’m saying this as someone whose hotel stays have ranged from student-price Airbnbs to luxury hotels. But I really enjoyed the stay, to the point where I wanted to dedicate a post to it (I wasn’t planning to review the hotel, since it was one of many in Rome).
My Thoughts About Non-Chain Hotels
While my entire aviation hobby revolves around affordable premium travel, I’m much less particular when it comes to accommodation. Well, that’s not true in the grand scheme of things – I’m currently in a (fortunate) position to be able to afford my own room consistently, or share a room with friends or family. Given my sleep and work habits, that’s an investment that I make pretty much on every trip (i.e. hostels really aren’t my preference).
If I can bag myself a decent hotel at an affordable price premium over otherwise paying for a Holiday Inn, I’ll go for it. On solo trips, I’ve typically been able to do some with pre-2020 expiring Asia Miles (hotel stays that come to mind include the Atocha Hotel Madrid, or the DoubleTree by Hilton at Queensferry Crossing). That being said, I’m a happy camper as long as you give me my own room and some solid WiFi, and particularly love sharing Airbnbs with a good group of friends.
I also view “destination hotels” (e.g. Park Hyatt Bangkok) as a different type of investment. With my parents I’ve had the chance to say at some gorgeous hotels, either affiliated with hotel chains or not. While some independent hotels can be hidden gems, typically I find quality control to be inferior, mainly due to economies of scale. Cleanliness is where I’m most aware of the differences, though I’ve observed differences in terms of bedsheets/mattress comfort, room design, catering, amenities (such as WiFi, basic supplementary amenities such as dental kits, etc.), and staff training. Presumably this is because most hotel chains have dedicated research teams to finding the best suppliers for these services.
This is a very general observation which I think makes sense in theory, and is tangible in practice. I don’t think the major hotel chains (Marriott, Hyatt etc.) do better than the smaller hotel chains (e.g. Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Choice Hotels etc.). However, this does mean that when I’m splurging, I’ll typically prefer a thoughtfully designed chain hotel with a sense of place over a non-chain hotel.
The Hotel Brussels is a major exception – it’s a great hotel with no chain affiliation whatsoever
I think this is a trend people are catching onto, and pricing reflects that. Chain hotels were off-the-scale expensive in Rome, and that’s why I decided to go for a space that would work best for us, even if it wasn’t part of a chain.
Booking the Navona 49 in Rome
During the Booking.com Black Friday sale in November, after keying in our dates and number of guests, I caught a deal for a three-bedroom suite at the Navona 49 in Rome. The suite space looked super nice, and at the discounted rate the hotel was going for €542/night. We’re a family of four and typically would need two entry-level rooms to fit, and hotels were certainly charging (much) more than €271 per room per night, so I thought we had a fairly good deal in our hands.
Within a few minutes of reserving I got a message from Navona 49 giving a contact number to WhatsApp, as well as a few quotes for train station and airport transfers (both of which we took up, since we were arriving Rome by train and leaving by air).
Even before our stay commenced there were some quirks you wouldn’t typically get from a hotel stay, such as an email from Booking.com suggesting that the hotel had changed its name from “Navona 49” to “Navona 49 Luxury Suites&Apartment”.
A Not-So-Great First Impression
Having been entrusted with all logistics for our family trip once we got to Rome, our trip wasn’t off to a great start. We’d confirmed a week in advance that we’d be picked up from the train station, and were given a quote of €40 to be paid directly to the driver. The driver also contacted me on WhatsApp, as well as someone from the hotel contacting me separately and sending me the driver’s contact details. We were told to give our train details, and I’d noted the time our train arrived, as well as the time we’d like to be picked up (I even left a 20 minute buffer, just so the driver wouldn’t have to wait).
The driver arrived 30 minutes after the time I’d specified to pick us up, which was 50 minutes after our train arrived at the station (this is information that the hotel knew). When the driver got to the train station, we were already on our way to the hotel in an Uber after being fed up waiting. The driver also asked us to walk to him in a location away from our agreed meeting spot, which wasn’t fair on us, especially after waiting for so long, and that Rome was a new city for us (bear in mind that this is a hotel transfer, so should be designed for tourists). I take it this isn’t Navona 49’s fault since they presumably outsource their drivers, though we never got an apology.
Subsequently, we missed our lunch reservation, and the restaurant had closed in the meantime (we would’ve caught our lunch reservation if we just ordered an Uber once we arrived at the station by train, which would’ve been cheaper too).
The Uber driver that picked us up was friendly, and even offered to load our bags. However, the hotel is located in a pedestrian-only zone, and he dropped us at the opposite end of the square where the hotel is located.
Rocking Up to the Navona 49
The Navona 49 is located in the Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s landmarks. It’s a gorgeous square, with lots of al fresco dining options lining the square’s edges.
Piazza Navona, Rome (where the Navona 49 was located)
I was fairly surprised to see that the “luxury suites and apartment” entrance was a fairly run down entrance with a key code. This isn’t the type of entrance that would deter me if I had booked out a cheap Airbnb, though in this case I was a bit more confused (it didn’t help that I wasn’t given the key code, so had to tailgate – Booking.com sent me a four-digit code, though it wasn’t the one for the door, based on the fact that it was wrong).
Navona 49 Entrance, Rome
The lobby seemed like it may have been the ground floor of an office building in 1956. In fact, from the lobby, there was an aerial view of the Stadium of Domitian.
Navona 49 Rome Lobby
I was perhaps most surprised to find a vintage elevator with manual doors. The sign inside the elevator suggested a maximum occupancy of four, though the signs on the elevator doors suggested a maximum occupancy of three. Our family of four used the elevator together on every occasion, and had no issues (apart from one time where we thought we’d been locked out of the floor we were staying in, before I realised we’d just opened the door before the elevator had become fully become level with the floor).
Navona 49 Rome Lift
After checking in and being given a key, we began the task of hauling our suitcases up the small elevator to our room.
…but oh wow, this is nice!
I was very surprised to find an outdoor terrace on the floor we were staying on, with a sign pointing towards the Penthouse (it was cute, though I forgot to take a picture of it). Here’s the terrace to our room, which I thought was super cute.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Entrance
The three bedroom penthouse was massive – I walked straight into a living room that featured a massive sofa, chair, and TV, as well as a dining table (not pictured).
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse
The master bedroom and bathroom featured a wealth of space, and there was even a separate bathtub and shower (the shower water pressure wasn’t great, though). All bathrooms were also stocked with nice toiletries, though I didn’t take a note of the brand.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Master Bedroom and Bathroom
The other bedrooms didn’t feature ensuite bathrooms, but had a similar amount of space.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Bedrooms
Even the area between the bedrooms was tastefully decorated, with a world map (the hands weren’t real-time, unfortunately – perhaps they were before?) and some other decoration.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Hallway
The master bedroom even featured a massive walk-in closet.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Walk-In Closet
There was another bathroom with a walk-in shower, which I forgot to grab a photo of.
What I most enjoyed about the room was the terrace – we couldn’t quite see Piazza Navona from our room, though we definitely had an awesome review of Rome’s skyline. It certainly did help that weather was stunning over the course of our stay in Rome, apart from some rain on the second day.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Terrace View
The room also featured a kitchen.
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Kitchen
Unbeknownst to me, breakfast was included with the room rate, and items we wanted could be ordered off a portal (we were given a QR code in the room) – while the ordering portal was slightly annoying and required a telephone number, we had unlimited breakfast items delivered to our terrace each morning, which was a treat!
Navona 49 Rome Penthouse Terrace Breakfast
When we were shown around the room, the associate showing us round also helped us turn on the air conditioning, and brought two bottles of sparkling wine to our room, which we enjoyed. WiFi throughout the penthouse was also free and fast. Housekeeping services were provided throughout our stay, and our transfer back to the airport was seamless – the driver even arrived early.
I mean, the arrangement wasn’t perfect – the lift would only work if the doors were closed, and some guests left the lift doors wide open when they went back to the fourth floor, so I had to run up to close the lift doors and send the lift back down to the lobby to pick up the rest of my family (the stairs only went up to the fourth floor, whereas the penthouse was on the fifth floor). The hotel staff didn’t help with any of the suitcases on either arrival or departure, and the sparkling wine wasn’t great. The hotel beds also weren’t the most comfortable. But these are small things that didn’t deter a great stay at the Navona 49.
Booking a non-chain hotel with Booking.com can be a hit-or-miss experience, more so than with a chain hotel, because of quality control issues without the help of economies of scale. This was a concern when I booked the Navona 49, which advertised a three-bedroom suite at prices that were unheard of for a luxury hotel in Rome. While my stay was quirky, my family and I enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to book a stay here again.
Read more from this trip:
What’s your quirkiest luxury hotel stay?