Hotel Principe Di Savoy, Milan - How Suite It Is

by Louis Bignami

Where might you find the largest hotel suite in Europe? London? Paris? How about a hint? Ask where you might sleep in a bed Sophia Loren used or enjoy a skinny dip in the private pool Christopher Lambert tried? Italy, correct? But not Rome, Venice or Florence. Where might you find the favored hotel of President Bush, Bill Gates, and an eclectic collection of movie, sports and business stars? Simple, in the Hotel Principe Di Savoy that Fodor’s travel guides describe as "The most fashionable and glitzy hotel in Milan."

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Granted, the hotel’s setting isn’t special, although the Piazza della Republica and the hotel’s grounds offer a garden setting conveniently near Milan’s business districts, world-class shopping and historic center. "Special" starts as you enter, and compounds with the architecture, furnishings and food.

It’s difficult to describe the architecture and furnishings. The outside is sort of Belle Epoque, but on entrance you find both Art Nouveau and neoclassic aspects in its public areas – the bar with its wonderful stained glass ceiling dome defies description and serves superior drinks – do ask about the special Italian apéritifs. Stained and Murano glass grow from perfect mahogany paneled walls like orchids in a tropical forest. Any spot not marbled or mosaics gets a shot of gilt and gold. Factor in anything else upscale you can imagine in the line of fittings and furniture and the result’s clearly the most lavish decor this side of Versailles. You really have to see it. While it’s not as busy as Baroque, there’s lots here to keep one’s eyes busy!

Standard, and that’s hardly the proper term here, rooms and suites reek of rococo comfort. However, the 5,000 square feet of the Presidential Suite define Milan’s opulent style. As Paolo Guareri, the General Manager of the Principe di Savoy, notes with considerable pride, "This was the reason for the hotel renovation, together with the idea of making the suite a sort of manifesto of Italian Creativity, using only the handiwork of national craftsman.

While not quite the most expensive overnight lodging in Europe – a couple of Paris Chateau’s may top that – at the princely price of 8,000,000 Lira, or a bit over $5,000 a night, the Principe di Savoia’s Presidential Suite certainly defines the top end of Italian lodgings. The public areas – lobby, café, restaurant and halls define POSH – this term, incidentally, comes to us from British Passenger ships that, in days before air conditioning, put the titled types on the shady side of ships to and from India and Australia. Hence they marked their luggage "Port Out, Starbord Home, or POSH.

The Presidential suite’s a whole magnitude past this. Even after 30 years as a travel writer all sorts of tours and the odd stay in Florentine and Venetian palaces my impression, as Marco Camiciottoli, the Rooms Division Manager, opened the doors after the ride up in the suite’s private elevator, was stunned amazement. This started in the hall with its wonderful mahogany veneer and a multi-colored mosaic floor. Admiration built with an inlaid Maggiolini chest of drawers that held wonderful butter yellow marble spheres in front of a 18th-century Venetian mirror. The immediate impression is of an Italian palace filled with treasures without the usual wear and tear.

The spectacular entrance hall opens into three bedrooms on its route to the salon. The huge master bedroom came with an oversized bed, awesome antiques everywhere, two concealed TV sets – one popup at the foot of the bed – and seating for at least eight in case you wish to entertain. The other two guest rooms feature Empire-style furniture on white carpet set off with spectacular striped red and green curtains in, one supposes, a tribute to the colors of the Italian flag. Of course, each bedroom came with a marble-to-the-ceiling bathroom with a full set of European fixtures. Of course, there’s a spare bathroom for visitors and special shampoo and a mix of other mystery liquids for milady’s use unique to the suite. Bed linens are custom-made for the suite as well. The list of other amenities extends to more than a dozen items.

All three bedrooms seemed sized for badminton as you might expect from the 5,000 square feet of the suite. One guest bedroom even offered a complete security system that uses remotely controlled TV cameras to monitor the suite. The "guard’s room" it should be noted, seemed as posh as suites in most hotels.

The center of the Presidential suite, the basketball court-size salon or living room, had to have a decorating bill of NBA salary proportions. The high ceiling room came complete with a black marble fireplace with a painting of the Prince de Savoy over its hearth and curtains – a governess once insisted "only coffins have drapes." – on the tall windows that opened to wide decks suitable for Scarlet O’Hara. A squad of surprisingly comfortable Empire chairs each with the appropriate table and a light, sprouted from the floor in conversation groups. Classic paintings, interesting objects d’arte and artfull antiques filled the light space.

Everything seemed lovingly lit with more hand-blown glass fixtures than you might see in Murano. For the media-deprived a huge TV appeared on demand. Like the suite’s world class sound system it hid behind a tricky panel. The TV I could manage, but I never figured out the sound system even after Marco Camiciottoli took great pleasure in demonstrating all the other features of the suite. A butler on 24-hour call solves any remote control and electronic problems, for once you properly programmed your music it follows you throughout the suite. Like the rest of the staff, his only reply to any request seemed to be "no problem."

milan1.jpg (10896 bytes)The opulent dining room seats twelve in memorable creature comfort. Its mahogany panel walls ran well up into the ceiling vaultings like a huge Orient Express dining car with a lovely impression of blue sky above the monster Murano glass chandelier. Special china, silver, gold and crystal on the Frenched polished table complete the picture of total luxury. A chef and such remain on call whenever! Too bad I visited solo!

The clear fall day quickly pulled us out onto the terrace with its view of the Piazza della Republica, the sandcastle spires of the Duomo and the hulk of Castello Sforesco where Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta waited. Off in the misty distance snow-covered alps showed how they funneled every conqueror through Milan. Signor Camiciottoli spent rather more time out here showing me all the sights than I expected. I only understood why when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the cleaning ladies flash the Italian version of an all clear. There was, it seems, one last treat.milan2.jpg (6768 bytes)

"Now, Mr. Bignami," he said with massive Italian understatement, "We have here the pool."

That’s like introducing Jane Fonda as "Mrs. Turner." The Pompei-style barrel vaulted 20-meter pool with its wonderful frescoes by Rome’s Studio Lucifero comes with mosaic floors, a whirlpool, a sauna, a Turkish bath and anything else one can imagine. The shell-patterned deck mosaics and playful mosaic dolphins in the bottom of the transparently clear blue pool define pampered amphibious pleasures. The risk here is, of course, that aquatic diversions turn one into a Milanese prune as you float on your back and try to count the fresco panels! Clearly, the Presidential Suite repaid its $3,000,000 investment, for it looks like movie set with Elizabeth Taylor due in any minute to feed grapes to Richard Burton.

Fortunately, on the 100 or so days a year when the suite is booked, or for those unwilling to pay 1,00,000 Lira an hour for a night’s sleep, there are upscale alternative such as the Presidential Suite at the Palace Hotel across the Piazza della Republica. It’s not quite as posh as the Principe’s, but one must make do! Otherwise you’re left with a selection of suites and rooms in the three major hotels that front the Piazza della Republica.

While all three hotels define upscale, they, like their restaurants, differ in feel. The Palace is rather more restrained than the Principe, but it offers what many feel is the best restaurant in Milan, the Casanova Grill. Retiring types can always bunk at the low key, ellegant and understated Duc next to the Principe, and all three hotels access Club 10 and other notable amenities.

The Club 10, a private fitness center that shares the 10th floor of the Hotel di Principe with the Presidential Suite runs to complimentary pool, hydromasage, sauna, Turkish bath, gymnasium and sun terrrace. There’s a host of beauty treatments, massages and more available on a fee basis. You can even have makeup personalized for that special occasion