Hotel Locarno, bedroom view
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Hotel Locarno, Rome. A guesthouse from the twenties made into a film by Bernard Weber in 1978

Eight years of renovation to bring back the hotel as it was once. Hotel Locarno is also the inspiration for three publications, a theatrical performance, two novels and a book by Mondadori Electa, titled Still Roma. Hotel Locarno with a View

Hotel Locarno in Rome, Lazio

In the sixties, Maria Teresa Celli was waiting for a real estate agent in front of Hotel Locarno in Rome. The woman used to purchase apartments, which she later renovated and sold. The agent was ten minutes late and Celli decided to enter the structure. It was love at first sight. The owner of the hotel at that time told the woman he was selling a small part of it. Therefore, with the money destined to purchase a sixty-meter-penthouse, Celli bought a piece of the hotel instead. She was fascinated by the twenties, being also a collector of Tiffany lamps. But what struck her attention the most were the individuals staying at Hotel Locarno. Throughout the years, Celli fixed the structure, trying to hold off its crowd of customers. Caterina Valente, Celli’s daughter and current owner of Hotel Locarno, remarks the relevance of the figure represented by her mother for the development of the structure. An eighty-year-old American director, who presumably lived at the hotel for a while, once told her: «Your mother was a legend. We were completely crazy, and she used to hold us off, trying to make everyone stop taking drugs. Trying not to make some individuals fall into the dark side». Celli also provided services the creatives who checked in at Hotel Locarno – who perhaps worked at the theatre until 2am– liked. They would paint in the rooms, work everywhere, discuss about art until dawn. If Bar Locarno was closed, they would ask for a bottle of whiskey and close the fireplace themselves, even if it was forbidden. «Hotel Locarno is about hosting an artistic crowd. Letting artists experience the structure as well as their creativity without any strict rules».

Hotel Locarno’s inception 

Hotel Locarno was founded by Swiss individuals in 1925 as a five-star hotel. The choice of the city of Rome was related to the development of the Jubilee year. The owners named the structure after their hometown. The hotel, then, went through different historical periods. During the Second World War, the owner kept it open, even though the structure was occupied by the Nazis. In 1944, during the Liberation, American soldiers occupied its rooms, while children from the neighborhood used to play with their pinball machines and football tables. In the fifties, after such difficult times, Hotel Locarno was not at its best. The sixties represented a decade of artistic and cultural excitement for the city of Rome. In those years, the hotel’s neighboring streets hosted the launch of several art galleries. While Via Veneto saw American celebrities living the good life, Via Margutta represented a relevant painting center. Further, Italian movie director Federico Fellini – a regular customer of Bar Locarno – used to live there. The neighborhood of Piazza del Popolo was characterized by a cultural, artistic and bohemian environment. This is the reason why Hotel Locarno became an international meeting point for artists. The dubbing academy was also to be found next to the hotel. Moreover, Italian writers Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia lived ten meters away from the entrance, in Via dell’Oca 27. Next to the hotel, Litografia Bulla by Romolo and Rosalba Bulla, the most ancient lithographic laboratory in the world, is to be found, as well. The establishment features nineteenth century machines and a collection of contemporary art. Anselmo Ballester developed the advertising poster for Hotel Locarno. He was a renowned professional in the twenties, working for Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer. Hotel Locarno’s artistic environment matches the cultural nature of Rome. Art, in fact, represents the majority of activities carried out by tourists in the city, which counts one-hundred-and-fifty-seven museums. 

Lampoon review: Hotel Locarno, a guesthouse from the twenties

«Hotel Locarno is a run after what the twenties were, from teapot cups, to fabrics, to furnishings». Hotel Locarno is described as the «guardian of an era». Several elements of the ancient hotel, such as the parquet flooring, were left untouched. The twenties are experienced through details, such as rooms’ keys. Clients can take even three minutes to find the right spot in which to insert them. The aim is to leave traces of history which must not be forgotten, according to Valente. Another important element is eye contact. Guests, in fact, have to go back to the reception to hand over the keys. In this way, staff members can meet them and tell them about the history behind the hotel. «Hotel Locarno is a container, which I cure maniacally through my passion for the past, and for the promotion and development of it. For me, the structure represents the history of Rome, something I want to preserve. Guests come to Hotel Locarno for its past and to meet the individuals living here, to breathe culture and art». A lot of the time, clients already know one another, and here they have a chance to meet. Sometimes they become friends while staying at the hotel. Sometimes, they even start developing screenplays together. There have been several meetings, in fact, in which projects were born and, due to this, clients decided to extend their stays. Refinement and intellectual sophistication are elements characterizing Hotel Locarno’s customers. They are, therefore, used to aesthetic beauty. Valente affirms that Hotel Locarno is also represented by its staff, made up of individuals with a strong cultural preparation. «All those who come to work at Hotel Locarno love art. We have young individuals who are emerging professionals in the Roman cinema industry. In the evening, they come to work at the bar, while during the day they study at the academy. Some of them end up staying with us, as they fall in love with the art environment one can experience at Hotel Locarno every day as well as with the cultural enrichment provided by clients». Some of the guests even asked Valente to leave their artworks at the hotel. But, the owner refused, as she wanted to preserve the spirit of the twenties characterizing the structure. When entering Hotel Locarno, in fact, clients dive into the past. Despite this, the hotel is very contemporary at the same time. When asked about what to visit in Rome, Valente always advises niche places. Examples of these are Centrale Montemartini, the first power generation plant in Rome, also hosting a statuary, and M.U.Ro. Museo di Urban Art di Roma, in the Quadraro neighborhood. «Through these activities, one can experience today’s version of Rome. One can have a different vision of the city, as it hosts a large variety of contemporary art pieces».

Hotel Locarno became an international meeting point for artists, view of the bar
Hotel Locarno became an international meeting point for artists, view of the bar

Renovation works at Hotel Locarno and Crash 

Renovation works at Hotel Locarno took eight years to complete, starting in 2013. During this period of time, clients asked the management not to change anything. For this reason, Valente’s objective was for them to enter the hotel not noticing that some changes were made. Ottonella Mocellin and Nicola Pellegrini helped in communicating this concept. The two Italian artists living in Berlin developed a performance titled Crash. In one of the two buildings owned by Hotel Locarno, the artists created a corridor of one meter and a half passing through the whole hotel, cutting everything in its way. Walls, bathtubs, bidets, mattresses, beds, antique furniture. Clients were able to see the different patterns of majolica, marbles, fabrics, wallpapers. They, therefore, had a complete vision of the hotel. Further, in every room a recorder was placed – Mocellin and Pellegrin usually work with sounds. Each room was dedicated to different characters. A writer using his typewriter, a director, a couple of lovers, heroin addicts from the sixties. The performance aimed at showing what could have happened inside the hotel throughout its history. The artists also interviewed staff members and clients, highlighting the most interesting stories. On the other building, telephones in the rooms were ringing. Clients picked up and the narrating voice of actors told an episode related to the history of the structure. «The performance was meant to last for just a weekend. But, in the end, we let it continue for a month».

Culinary proposals at Hotel Locarno and the ‘dining anytime, anywhere’ motto 

Culinary proposals at Hotel Locarno are strictly connected to the city of Rome. Chef Domenico Smargiassi, with whom the hotel has been collaborating for twelve years, personally visits suppliers around the region, to find products characterizing Lazio’s heritage. But he also adds some exotic influences to his menu from time to time. «We also advise our guests to visit places that truly represent Rome. For example, I send guests to Dar Moschino, a restaurant in the Garbatella neighborhood, where they can have a true Roman experience. There, they are offered nervetti as appetizers. Something that one could only eat in Rome». Hotel Locarno’s motto is «dining anytime, anywhere». In five-thousand square meters and two buildings, customers can eat in front of the fireplace, in three dining rooms and at Terrazza Locarno. This idea was inspired by a client. He was, in fact, working in front of the fireplace, writing while being laid on the sofa. At 10am, he had his breakfast, while at 12am he ordered an aperitif. Then, at 1pm he told one of the staff members he wanted to eat something. The waiter asked him to take a seat in the dining room. The talent was annoyed by his request and asked for his food to be served there. «I went to him, and he told me that his creative process could not be interrupted». From that moment on, customers can eat wherever and whenever they like. This, of course, determines a high cost for Hotel Locarno since staff members continuously go around the two buildings. 

Sustainability at Hotel Locarno

«We have to think about how polluting a hotel can be. This is the reason why I would like hotels and restaurants’ energy classes to be made public in Italy. In this way, clients could reward structures with energy class A or B». The area where Hotel Locarno is located in Rome is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It is also protected by the state superintendence. For this reason, the use of solar and photovoltaic panels, geothermal energy and insulation coating were forbidden. Bar Locarno is already plastic-free. But plans for Hotel Locarno to be completely plastic and paper-free will be completed at the beginning of 2023. Further, the hotel provides its clients with twelve bicycles, in order not to pollute with private or public transportation means.  

Covid-19 pandemic and future development at Hotel Locarno

«We have been one of the few hotels in Rome to remain open during the Covid-19 outbreak.  A lot of people don’t know this, but hotels could continue their services during the pandemic as they are considered places of public utility». The decision was influenced by the willingness to represent a point of reference for clients as well as of not leaving the staff home. In March 2020, only one or two rooms were booked. «We were very proud when a customer checked in into the hotel. She was a doctor, moving from Milan to work in a small town near Rome». Throughout its history, Hotel Locarno has been a source of inspiration for a movie, three publications, a theatrical performance, two novels and a book by Mondadori Electa, titled Still Roma. Hotel Locarno with a View. Contemporary artists and intellectuals staying at the hotel, such as Luigi Ontani and Achille Bonito Oliva, were represented by five under-thirty photographers. Valente’s vision for the future of Hotel Locarno is to make it become an international meeting point, even more. A destination for artists from all over the world. And also, to further develop it as a guesthouse, providing services one could rarely find in a hotel.

Hotel Locarno

Via della Penna 22 — 00186 Rome

A 5 star hotel in Rome near Piazza del Popolo

Editorial Team

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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