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HIGH SOCIETY - GRAND HOTEL MAJESTIC
Bologna City | Hotel | Restaurants
Article extracted from the Autumn Issue of Bologna For Connoisseurs 2012 to celebrate the hotel's centenary year.
As 5-star hotels go, the Hotel Majestic ‘gia Baglioni’ is not easy to spot.
The entrance is tucked away between two chic shops on the via Indipendenza, and consists of nothing more than an inconspicuous set of steps flanked by two ornate lamps. If not for the welcoming doorman, you would hardly know it was there.
Visiting celebrities can be out of a taxi and safely inside the lobby before the first whirr and click of a paparazzo’s motor drive.
That is one reason why, in the decades when it was known simply as the Baglioni, this was always the chosen hotel for visitors from Hollywood: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra. Since it was renamed the Majestic in the 1980s, guests have included the Dalai Lama, Princess Diana and Paul McCartney.
The princess and the Beatle both chose to stay in the Royal Giuseppe Verdi Suite.
The hotel describes the style of this set of rooms as ‘classic Venetian’, but to English eyes they look more like a kind of vision of Edwardian opulence. The predominant tones are soothing greens – a dark mossy hue and a lighter, appley one – which are presumably a respectful nod to the Italian meaning of Verdi’s name.
In the bedroom, the lush curtains hang in velvet swags as thick and heavy as Tarzan’s leafy jungle vines; the immense lounge has a dragon’s maw of a fireplace, and a delicate Italianate cabinet filled with fine porcelain; the bathroom is lined with Carrara marble and multiple mirrors.
It is the sort of place in which you would be happy to spend an entire holiday – living on room service and punctuating your days with long sessions in the thoroughly modern ‘jacuzzi hydro-massage tub’.
The fin de siècle style of the grandest suites at the Majestic is echoed in nearly all of the rooms and public spaces – from the ‘winter garden’ downstairs to the comfortable landings with their plump, plush sofas and their dark Gothic-style sideboards. But there are parts of the hotel where another aesthetic and a different chronology make themselves felt.
Celebrities and VIPs who come to the Majestic these days often prefer to stay in the Art Deco Suite, which is accessed via a private, key-operated lift. In this exclusive suite the colours are black and silver, white and gold – all very Paris in the 1930s, but more sumptuous than Deco ever was at the time. The most glorious thing about the Art Deco Suite, though, is not the interior but the terrace.
Here you are on the roof of the hotel, almost within glass-chinking distance of the carved saints of the church of San Pietro across the road, and with a clear view across the terracotta roofs of Bologna to the holy hill of La Guardia.
But there are parts of the building that are much older than the hotel’s hundred years. The present edifice was built in the first half of the 18th century to serve as a new seminary for the city.
Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, a native of the city who later became Pope Benedict XIV, paid 2,000 silver scudi for the land, which occupied one angle of a Roman crossroads.
An exposed section of that legionaries’ highway can be seen on the lower floor of the hotel, near the breakfast room.
At roughly the same level is the vaulted basement of the seminary, now the hotel’s subterranean enoteca.
The bottle-lined room is full of atmosphere and intoxicating fumes. It’s a fine venue for a wine-tasting or a candle-lit dinner with friends.
At the time of the cardinal’s purchase in 1732, three medieval mansions stood on the site of the Hotel Majestic. Those aristocratic homes were incorporated into the new edifice, and spectacular vestiges of them remain.
In the meeting room known as the Camerino d’Europa, there are frescoes attributed to the Carracci brothers, leading members of the Bologna School in the late 16th century.
The frescoes depict a series of scenes from the story of Europa, who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a bull, and gave birth to the Minotaur.
Elsewhere, in the hotel restaurant there are ceiling frescoes telling the story of Phaeton, who dared to drive the chariot of the sun, and had to be struck down by a thunderbolt when he could not control the fire-breathing horses. These paintings are less likely to be by Annibale and Agostini Carracci, but the restaurant is nevertheless named after the brothers.
If you come for dinner (and you certainly should), be sure to study the ceiling early on, because your attention will soon be entirely focused on the dishes in front of you: salt cod with a broccoli pesto as vibrantly chlorophyllic as the décor of the Verdi Suite; a stew of roast octopus with rosemary potatoes and black olive dust; or a traditional tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce that is as good as any you will find in this ragù-obsessed city.
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