Lonely Planet Writer

An historic tea house at the Spanish Steps in Rome celebrates 125 years in business

The Eternal City’s beloved English tea room Babingtons has a reason to celebrate: this month, the historic business at the foot of the Spanish Steps turns an impressive 125 years old. To mark the occasion, a cocktail party was held at the sumptuous Villa Wolkonsky, the official residence of the British ambassador to Italy in Rome, who was in attendance along with 600 other invitees.

Babingtons, Rome. Image by Babingtons

But what is an English tea house doing in Rome, where coffee reigns supreme? Babingtons was first opened in 1893 by Brits Anna Maria Babington and Isabel Cargill, an unusual feat for two women at the time. Nostalgic for their native country’s cherished hot beverage, the friends, who had come to Italy’s capital during their Grand Tour, used their savings of £100 (€112) to launch the city’s first English tea and reading room. Their enterprise quickly flourished, becoming a favorite of expats and Romans alike.

The party at Villa Wollonsky. Image by Babingtons

Throughout the decades, the tea room survived the Spanish flu epidemic, which claimed Isabel’s Italian painter husband; and two World Wars. During WWII, the resistance would convene in secret in the very back of the tea room, entering and exiting via the kitchens. Babingtons has also hosted its fair share of VIPs, like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Margaret.

Afternoon tea at Babingtons. Image by Babingtons

Today, Babingtons is run by Cargill’s great-grandchildren Chiara Bedini and Rory Bruce. ‘We are truly proud and grateful to have been given the opportunity to work and promote what these two incredible women started back in 1893,’ shares Bruce. In honor of their 125th anniversary, a slew of events and recipes have debuted, including tea blend ‘125 Years Tea,’ and ‘Isabel’s Cake,’ a traditional English sponge cake adorned with meringues and fresh raspberries. Other new additions are the ‘1893 Afternoon Tea’ priced at €18.93 (£16.82), and 21 February’s 19th-century inspired ‘Victorian Tea Time,’ where guests will be seated at tables set with antique cutlery, Victorian porcelain, and live harp music.

Words: Alexandra Bruzzese