Thirty years ago, Salvatore Maraschio was studying computer engineering in his native Puglia when a friend told him about a summer job working at a hotel in Venice. “Back then, there was no hotel business in the South of Italy,” he recalls. “This was a good chance for me to start working and make some money in the summer.” So Maraschio went to Venice and fell in love with the hotel business. Today, he’s 15 years into his tenure as one of the lead concierges at Rome’s Rocco Forte Hotel de Russie, a historic palazzo whose lush terraced gardens rival those at the famous Villa Borghese across the street. “I love to speak with people and assist them with good suggestions,” Maraschio says. These are the spots he sends his guests.
Hot Neighborhood: Located between the Coliseum and the rail station, Monti is the hip area of Rome right now. The streets are lovely and pedestrian [friendly] with local Italians walking around all new boutiques and artisans and restaurants, like Lo Scigno di Valentina, where you can personalize cameo jewelry, and Urbana 47, which is open all day and sells lots of organic foods like tomato sauce in a little glass vase prepared by the mom in the kitchen.
Best New Restaurant: I’m from the South, so I know what I’m talking about when it comes to pizza. Emma is a new pizzeria and restaurant located around the Campo de Fiore that I really like. They rest the dough for 48 hours before making the pizza, so it’s not heavy when you eat it. They have great typical Roman dishes like cacio e pepe and really good salami, too.
Toughest Dinner Reservation: Located behind the Borghese Gardens, Marzapane is really difficult to get into. The chef, Alba Esteve Ruiz, just got an award from the Gambero Rosso guide [Italy’s version of Zagat]. They have just a few tables and it’s very, very inexpensive; you can have a tasting menu for less than 50 euros. I love the red prawn tartare with burrata.
Designer Shop: At the new Acqua di Parma boutique in Piazza di Spagna, they can do personalized little bottles of perfume and have a really amazing barber in the Collezione Barbiere in the back. His name is Pierpaolo. He’s really young, but [his shop] is old style with very good products. There’s only one chair so you definitely need a reservation.
Favorite Museum: The MAXXI is a modern museum designed by architect Zaha Hadid that has lots of artists inside with different shows. Right now there’s the Bellissima exhibition that tells you all about alta moda, the high fashion, from 1945-1968. There are pictures of beautiful actresses and models, and clothes by designers like Valentino.
Urban Escape: Last summer, Pope Francesco decided to open the gardens at the Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence about 40 minutes outside the city, to the public. The gardens are really beautiful, with different plans from every part of the world, a big lake and a beach.
Locals’ Secret: It’s not very common for tourists to know about Rome’s modern art. Behind the Roman University, Fondazione Pastificio Cerere is an old pasta factory that now is galleries and studios for upcoming artists. In the afternoon you can have a look around then have a drink at the pastificio’s restaurant, San Lorenzo.
Must-Have Souvenir: A scarf from Le Gallinelle, one of the nicest women’s shops in Rome, you must take home. You can choose the materials, the colors, and they can do everything customized on site.
Best Room in the House: I like Room 537 on the fifth floor. There’s a living room, and you have a little terrace, which has a full green view of the Borghese Gardens and is right next door to residential [apartments] with people that live next to us. My feeling with this room is that it’s not part of the hotel; it’s part of the city, the neighborhood. You feel like a local instead of a hotel guest.
Neighborhood: Aurelia Antica
Minibar Temptation: Chocolate, “especially Amadei, which is one of the best in Italy.”
Favorite Hotel in the World: Hotel du Paris Monte Carlo. “I want to be concierge there in my next life.”
Next Vacation: Trentino, “skiing with my son in two weeks.”
Most Outrageous Guest Request: “One guest wanted to land a helicopter in the Piazza del Popolo.”
A Great Concierge Is: Patient.
We asked Salvatore Maraschio to plan us a single, singular day in Rome…
“I would organize after breakfast, a driver in a Mercedes S-Class to take the guest to Vatican City for the Papal Audience where they can be right next to the Pope and shake his hand. I can organize some very special tickets in a very special VIP section that you cannot be in unless you are specifically invited from the Vatican. After lunch, the driver would take the guest for a special reservation at the Coliseum. This gives you private access to behind-the-scenes areas where wild animals, brought from far-flung corners of the Empire, were once held behind bars and gladiators donned their armor and awaited their fate. You will navigate the labyrinth of cells, tunnels and passages that lay beneath the amphitheater and have the unique opportunity to climb up to the Coliseum’s top tier. Finally, we will visit the Quirinale Palace, the house of the Italian President since 1946. Our guide will unlock many of the rooms that are closed to the public. All the rooms are astonishingly frescoed and furniture is still preserved. Visiting the Palace with us you will have the chance to walk through centuries of opulence. You will end with dinner at Chorus, a new trendy address in Rome.”