By Maureen Jenkins
Chicago Sun Times, August 10, 2003
ROME--Some folks like to travel anonymously, loving the fact that no one knows who they are. But for those who prefer a personal touch, to stay in a bed and breakfast where the owners actually know your name and remember it even after you've gone, Rome's Daphne Inn fits like a well-made Italian glove.
Daphne is actually two B&B buildings, both blessed with fabulous locations in the center of Rome near Piazza Barberini, a minute's walk from a Metro Line A subway stop, and mere steps from the storied Via Veneto and many of Rome's other famed sites. Married owners Elyssa Bernard and Alessandro Bisceglie--she's from Florida, he's a native Roman--take gracious care of their seven rooms and the guests who stay with them.And they're what sets Daphne apart.
The thirtysomething Bernard and Bisceglie provide a level of friendly personal service that's hard to find in even the priciest hotels. Bisceglie has a hospitality management background in France and Rome and has also lived in Belgium and the United States. Bernard worked as a software consultant for 10 years before opening Daphne with her husband nearly two years ago, but she has the patient personality perfectly suited for either teaching kindergarten or soothing weary, stressed-out travelers.
Between them, Bernard and Bisceglie speak fluent English, Spanish, French and of course Italian, so it's a rare guest who has trouble conversing here. And there's a lot of chatting at Daphne. After check-in, Bernard sits down with guests, finds out what they're hoping to do in Rome, and literally helps them map out their plans. Lovers of great food and art, both owners always have a great ristorante or museum suggestion in hand--along with the cell phones that keep them connected to their guests and anything they might need in Rome.
"We thought there was a niche we could [fill]--top-notch customer service," says Bernard. "Not just provide a nice, central location, but good, personalized customer service."
Bernard--a professor's kid who's lived and traveled all over the world--first visited Rome in 1990, and "I found it to be unwieldy and difficult and big, and I didn't know where to go," she says. Basically, she wished she'd had a resource like the one she and Bisceglie have become for their guests.
"People like to have a focal point they can turn to," says Bernard. "It's all just part of who we are and how we do things.
"People remember that more than anything else. We get e-mails from people a week later," she says--and some of those folks have also sent e-mails to the Let's Go travel guide series and to travel guru Rick Steves on their behalf, raving about Daphne.
D. W. Sid Olufs, a professor who lives in Washington state, sent one such note to the Let's Go editors, writing: "The owners . . . are simply willing to do whatever it takes to give guests a rich experience in the town. Not only that, when I mentioned an interest in seeing some unusual places, they went far out of their way to tell us about places they knew of from Parma to Sicily. I thought we were somehow singled out for the royal treatment, but then saw [Bernard] treating other guests the same way."
Named for Bernini's statue, "Apollo and Daphne," standing in the Galleria Borghese--the statue shows the mythological nymph turning into a laurel tree while being chased by Apollo--Daphne is a testament to its owners' pleasantly obsessive attention to detail.
Witness: the presence of a Rowenta iron and board in each guest room, along with individual temperature-controlled air conditioning (no small thing in Rome) and heating when the weather's cool. Simmons orthopedic mattresses, crisp linens and fluffy comforters await on the beds, a special treasure after spending hours traversing the old cobblestone Roman streets. (But no TVs--that would spoil Daphne's tranquil, get-away-from-it-all feel.) A continental buffet breakfast spread features fresh pastries from a nearby bakery.
As any 21st century resident knows, a cell phone (or mobile, as they're called in Europe) is worth its weight in gold, especially when you're on unfamiliar turf. Daphne's owners provide each guest room with its own--programmed with Bernard's and Bisceglie's phone numbers, no less--so visitors can ring them anytime with questions. Got turned around on your way to the Trevi Fountain? Can't find that great little gelateria Bernard told you about? Or need her to try for last-minute reservations at the Galleria Borghese? Just dial. Plus, guests can use the phones to keep in touch with home, wherever that is, at cheaper rates than many rental cell phone companies charge.
Daphne's clientele is about 50 percent American, with the other half hailing from places like New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia and Canada. Like most good travel finds, news of the inn and its hospitality have spread through word of mouth.
"I know it sounds corny or hokey," says Bernard, "but that's what makes it all worthwhile, when people appreciate what we do for them."
Room rates range from 60 euros in low season (single room with shared bathroom) up to 240 euros in peak season (for a spacious quad room with in-suite bathroom). Guests who pay in cash--either dollars, euros or traveler's checks in either currency--save 10 percent on the rates.Visit www .daphne-rome.com.
- Maureen Jenkins is a Chicago-based writer