Once you find your way to La Posta Vecchia, a sumptuous, historic retreat on the sea, there’s little urgency to make the 40-minute trip back to Rome. The hotel is closed until April 2021, but you can put it the list of places to go when you're traveling safely (and with abandon) again.
LADISPOLI, Italy — The Fiat zipped, as Italian cars do, from the center of Rome to il raccordo. A quick, counterclockwise spin around the ring road spit us out of the terracotta cityscape and into the green pastures of Lazio that separate the Eternal City from the turquoise Tyrrhenian.
Our destination was the sea. My friend Rebecca had flown from London to join me for a couple of days in Rome, and her one request was to sip a spritz by the ocean. The options could have been endless, from the tiny, rugged island of Ponza — a destination favored by Romans — to the dramatic, steep hills of Amalfi. But with so few days in Rome, it was impossible to spend a night away and see all the sights in town.
On a more extended trip, we could have gone to Hotel Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole, Tuscany. Before the days of Instagram, American photographer Slim Aarons pointed his camera and made the hotel a star. His iconic images of the secluded seaside property in the 1970s have sustained Il Pelicano with Hollywood revellers, high society sun-lovers, and the see-and-be-seen fashion set for decades. (Read all about it in the Fathom review.)
The downside of living an impossibly chic Slim Aarons fantasy? The bill. You need to shell out at least $500 a night to sleep there.
But thanks to Instagram, I discovered that Il Pellicano steals the spotlight from its sister property down the coast, La Posta Vecchia, which is located on the sea less than an hour from Rome.
Which is how Rebecca and I found ourselves in Ladispoli for an afternoon.
Ladispoli is a nondescript place. It's not up there with Porto Ercole, Cannes, Ibiza, Palm Beach, or any other jet-set destination that would have attracted a Slim Aarons type. It makes for a surprise when the taxi turns onto an unmarked road, a set of wrought-iron gates open, and a drive lined with stone pines reveals your Renaissance palazzo for the day. To say the least, La Posta Vecchia makes a dazzling and defining first impression.
The property and its grounds offer a snapshot of Roman history, starting with the noble Orsini family who built it in the 17th century. It later served as a postal sorting office (hence the name La Posta Vecchia, which means "old mail") until U.S. tycoon John Paul Getty restored it to its former glory in the 1960s.
Set on 15 acres of bel paese beside the Mediterranean, La Posta Vecchia became a hotel in 1990. Marie-Louise Sciò, whose family has owned the property since the 1980s, decorated nineteen rooms and suites with the trove of Renaissance furnishings Getty left behind. Marie-Louise, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has impeccable taste. But we didn't need to rest our heads in one of her otherworldly rooms to enjoy the pleasures of her dreamy seaside escape.
With the hotel's Treat for a Day program — which includes a welcome cocktail and a pass to the private beach — Rebecca and I followed in the footsteps of the Roman imperators who decided thousands of years ago that this spot on the Thyrennian was the perfect place to vacation. (Further proof that nothing ever really changes in Rome.)
The restaurant at La Posta Vecchia, The Cesar — named after one of the ancient republic's infamous consuls — is one of Italy's best places for a long lunch. At our table overlooking the sparkling sea, we ate blue lobster with escarole endive, pine nuts, and marinara seafood sauce, and cacio e pepe risotto with braised lamb, hazelnuts, and truffle. Under Marie-Louise’s creative direction, the smallest details are curated and thoughtful, down to the fancy Labirinto Scarlatto plates from Richard Ginori, a leader in made-in-Italy dinnerware for more than 200 years.
Rome encourages and sometimes requires that you take a particular approach to life. The locals call it il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing), which remains the essential purpose of visiting a place like La Posta Vecchia. Rebecca and I took in the calm of the private beach, meandered through the gardens, and luxuriated at the spa-like indoor pool. There was little urgency to make the 40-minute trip back to Rome.
When we were finally ready to leave, a decision that was very hard to make, we let the attentive front desk staff know. They called a taxi that took us away from this magical realm and back to reality.
Arriving back in the frenzied traffic and tourist crowds, in the tangled centro storico of Rome, we wondered: Did the afternoon happen, or was it a dream? Pondering that just added to the charm of the day.