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Find My Hotelier Friends: Italia Edition

With Italy as our top-booked international destination and countless SmartFlyer travel advisors visiting the region throughout the summer, we couldn’t resist a check-in with the General Managers of some of our clients’ most beloved destinations.

To travel to Italy is to fall in love: with its people, history, cuisine and of course, hotels. For our team, the process of pairing guests with the property that best suits their needs is so deeply entrenched in knowing the personalities that bring them to life. Enter: the General Managers running some of the country’s top hotels who we are fortunate to call friends. We checked in with a handful of these beloved hospitality magicians to get a pulse on how they’ve innovated this year.

  1. Claudio Meli, General Manager, The Place Firenze
  2. Andrea Obertello, General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Milano
  3. Luca Virgilio, General Manager, Hotel Eden
  4. Aldo Melpignano, Owner + Managing Director, Borgo Egnazia
  5. Marco Novella, Managing Director, Cipriani, a Belmond Hotel
  6. Davide Bertilaccio, Regional VP + Managing Director, Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco
  7. Oliver Hutten, General Manager, Capri Tiberio Palace

Claudio Meli, General Manager, The Place Firenze

SmartFlyer: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at The Place this year? 

Claudio Meli: In a changing world, we set ourselves a challenge: to chart a new route on the map of Italian hospitality and become a point of reference for those looking not only for a place to stay in Florence but the keys to the city. Like a stylish, well-connected friend, The Place allows its guests to go behind the tourist façade, to meet fascinating local people, and enjoy enriching, one-of-a-kind experiences. Humanism was born in Florence, putting man at the center of the universe. We put our guests at the center of our universe. I speak for a team that seeks to write a new chapter in the history of Florentine hospitality, confident that this special Place can become something quite unique: the place to be in Florence, the place to meet, to eat, to sleep, to dream.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property?

CM: Me and my team were finally welcoming our guests to our renovated home when we opened our doors on May 20th refreshed and transformed in body and soul, doing hospitality with passion. We were all missing the human connection, the possibility to interact with our guests–after a few hours with us, they feel as if they were staying with old friends in Florence. It is really great to see how much our new guests and returning ones are loving our new identity and design, they all want to visit our amazing artisans friends who created with us such an experience of Made in Florence masterpieces including crystal glass, bespoke fragrance, tableware, bed linens, and many other special details.

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

…there are so many different amazing shopping and artisan experiences.

CM: We usually give very sartorial suggestions to our guests with our Concierge Team, since we are located right in the middle of the city and there are so many different amazing shopping and artisan experiences. Surely you can’t miss a visit to Museo Marino Marini. Marino Marini was one of Italy’s greatest 20th-century artists and sculptors. Housed inside the deconsecrated church of San Pancrazio, the museum that bears his name contains 183 of the master’s works. Our guests have the opportunity to visit the museum outside of its usual opening hours with an English-speaking guide. Then, just a few minutes from us you have the possibility to visit Pineider, one of the oldest Florentine brands for artisanal production of stationary. Pineider’s essential and refined style attracted international elites for unique letterheads and business cards. The privilege of a monogram carved by hand or the luxury of a pure gold ornament makes for the perfect Florentine memory. 

If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking and what song is playing that epitomizes The Place?

CM: Surely The Terrace, our brand new outdoor bar and restaurant just in front of the hotel which is complete with a stunning view of the Church of Santa Maria Novella is one of the hippest places of Florence. Order a smoked negroni and Zaccaria, our Restaurant Manager, will be thrilled to surprise you with a fantastic beverage served in a glass bell to preserve all the aroma of the different woods he uses to prepare it. Our music playlists are very eclectic; I love music, it is my passion and I used to be a DJ many years ago….one of my favorite songs for an aperitivo is “No Man No Cry” by Oliver Koletzki, the Jimmy Sax version. We play a lot of Italian songs too!

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Andrea Obertello, General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Milano

SF: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at Four Seasons Hotel Milano this year?

Andrea Obertello: Four Seasons Hotel Milano is an iconic property in Milan and we wanted to be faithful to that but simultaneously take the hotel to a new level. We renovated the common areas of the hotel including the reception, lobby, bar and lounge areas, restaurant, and garden. For this project, we chose to work with Patricia Urquiola, a world-famous architect and interior designer whose mastery of eclecticism is ideal for achieving a blend of contemporary interiors with the period features of the building. We’ve also rebranded our restaurant and bars and revamped our offerings. The restaurant is now Zelo, the bar is called Stilla while our fireplace lounge remains Camino. We’ve also renovated the garden with architect Flavio Pollano who instantly understood how to transform it into a garden that can be ‘lived’ – an oasis in Milano, where guests can enjoy cocktails or our raw bar.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property?

the hotel looks fresh but hasn’t lost its soul…

AO: We’ve been excited to hear that our clients love the renovation, that the hotel looks fresh but hasn’t lost its soul, and the timeless appeal it was known and loved for. Needless to say, it’s also been a relief to see tourism return to Milan and to welcome guests from many parts of the world back to a vibrant city that has so much to offer.

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

AO: For shopping, we couldn’t be in a better location, Milan’s Fashion District known as Quadrilatero della Moda. If you are looking for the world’s best luxury and fashion brands from Gucci to Balenciaga to Valentino they are a stone’s throw from the hotel. For design lovers, a trip to Nilufar in Via della Spiga never disappoints, the furniture and lighting are divine. For a coffee, you have to pop by Marchesi in Montenapoleone. When in Milan, a visit to Leonardo’s Last Supper is a must. If contemporary art is something you are interested in, I suggest Fondazion Prada?

SF: If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking, and what song is playing that epitomizes Four Seasons Hotel Milano?

AO: I’d definitely suggest a Tap Negroni or one of our bottled cocktails like a Bergamot Gimlet. We’re the only bar in Milan that has mixed drinks on tap. As far as music goes, I am thinking of pianist Keith Jarret, one of his live concerts where he improvises. He is truly a master at his craft, and his ability to go off-script is pure genius, it’s an inspiration in being able to balance skill and artistry.

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Luca Virgilio, General Manager, Hotel Eden

SF: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at Hotel Eden Rome this year?

Luca Virgilio: Since the hotel was fully refurbished just a few years back, we have taken this time to progress further into our journey towards guest centricity. It’s an ambitious project where we work simultaneously with new technology and look at our current work structure to ensure it is well adapted and relevant to the guest’s journey and to the guest’s emotional needs. Hotels have worked with the same organizational structure for far too long and we thought that it was a great opportunity at both a company and hotel level to completely reassess how we operate.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property?

LV: How everyone really missed traveling! The simple fact of taking a plane or checking into the hotel was a reason for celebration. What our clients loved the most was the fact we kept the hotel as it was and did not transform the experience into a hospital-like feel. Guests didn’t see any signage throughout the hotel about social distancing and all protocols have been implemented to avoid disrupting our guests so that they could have a very normal and enjoyable experience. All of the magic happens behind the scenes.  We kept the entire staff on board during lockdown so we had time to train them and to be at ease among ourselves in order to give this sense of security and ease to our guests who of course loved coming back to see the same familiar faces to welcome them back while providing the same stellar service.

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

LV: All of the sightseeing is within walking distance, from the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps to the Pantheon, but one of my favorites and not to miss is the Borghese Museum. It’s all about intensity. It’s a small museum–so it won’t take you forever to visit–but has some really amazing pieces of art. I never get tired of going there. And right now there is also an exhibition by Damien Hirst to make the visit all the more exciting. In terms of shopping, apart from the main area close by the hotel where you can find all of the name brands, I very much like Via di Monserrato close by Piazza Farnese. It’s a lovely street full of great and interesting shops, from fashion to art, to jewelry with high-quality artisan shops that you can only find here in Rome. Also for the same type of experience, I would suggest the Monti area, close to the Colosseum. 

SF: If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking, and what song is playing that epitomizes Hotel Eden Rome?

LV: La Grande Bellezza which is one of our signature cocktails whose color represents the colors of the lovely sunset that you can see from our rooftop bar.  As for music, I would say “Happy” by Pharrel Williams as there is no way you cannot be happy while savoring that moment.

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Aldo Melpignano, Owner + Managing Director, Borgo Egnazia

SF: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at Borgo Egnazia this year?

Our main goal is to offer the opportunity of feeling good while being inspired to live better, healthier, and most of all happier.

Aldo Melpignano: We strongly believe that wellbeing must be the core of the whole guest experience and at the heart of life at Borgo Egnazia for all involved: guests, employees, and local communities. Therefore, all our innovations follow this path towards a lifestyle based on positive feelings and a renewed happiness for everyone. Our main goal is to offer the opportunity of feeling good while being inspired to live better, healthier, and most of all happier. For example, our culinary offering has been completely revised, considering a meaningful balance between taste and health based on our “Golden Rules” of nutrition. They are simple guidelines to enjoy good food, which is always deeply related both to the superb Mediterranean culture of food and the most relevant scientific pillars of good food habits. Puglian tradition is always our main reference because we believe that we can’t be innovative without a strong bond with our roots. The result is fantastic, and it is a great example of how food can support a happier quality of life.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property? 

AM: It has been lovely to see how happy guests have been to be back at Borgo and it has been even greater to see how this feeling has been truly shared with our staff. For the first time in our history, we had to close Borgo for several months; it was very tough, but all the magic of Borgo was simply “put on ice”, waiting to be uncovered again with the people that love our place. Also, it has been amazing to see people smiling again, many guests told us that they were once again feeling free and happy after many months!

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

AM: We are very lucky because Borgo Egnazia is close to many special Puglian places. I think you should never miss the Puglian light at sunset which is truly magical and can be enjoyed by the sea, in the countryside or in one of the beautiful small towns like Ostuni. One of my favorite spots, which is still quite unspoiled, is “Lama d’Antico”: an ancient rock settlement close to Fasano which features two small, lovely churches whose walls are still frescoed in bright colors. This precious place is curated by “Fondazione San Domenico”, a project of my mum, Marisa Melpignano, who is deeply in love with Puglia and is a great leader in the development of Puglia as a tourist destination. I would recommend visiting Puglia outside of the summer season when there are fewer tourists and the mild climate is perfect to enjoy the land and discover nice towns. Autumn and winter are the best seasons to taste local food and find the best vegetables and the most delicious fish and seafood.  

SF: If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking, and what song is playing that epitomizes Borgo Egnazia?

AM: We are drinking a delicious cocktail made with our Egnazia Vermouth Rosso, the first Puglian vermouth, and we are enjoying the fantastic Puglian light at sunset while listening to Egnazia Theme, our song produced by DJesus and Dominique Antonacci (Terraròss)! Cheers!

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Marco Novella, Managing Director, Cipriani, a Belmond Hotel

SF: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at Cipriani this year?

…a one-of-a-kind hotel in Venice and the true Venetian experience…

Marco Novella: The Cipriani is a one-of-a-kind hotel in Venice and the true Venetian experience we offer here is complemented by world-class service and amenities that only top resorts worldwide can offer. There is a lot going on at the hotel this season. First of all, we are joining the celebrations for the 1600 years of Venice – as part of this, we are hosting an incredible photo exhibition from the iconic photographer Terry O’NeillFrom Venice with Love. He has captured some of the world’s most celebrated characters, including many of our former guests and the exhibition is an homage to the lasting love between Venice and Hollywood. For a deeper immersion into the movie experience, we offer our guests the possibility to explore Venice’s best-loved film locations with a dedicated tour. For those who wish to enjoy a relaxing day exploring the lagoon by boat, we offer exquisite picnic baskets with tailor-made treats. And once back at the hotel, they can join Walter, our Head Barman, at our Bar Gabbiano for a traditional Venetian aperitivo with local cicchetti (bites) such as our famous Cipriani carpaccio with chargrilled bread or polenta with cod and Spello risina bean salad to pair their preferred cocktail.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property?

MN: It’s wonderful to finally welcome guests to Venice and after a long period of world travelers being stuck at home. Talking with my guests, I can understand they are now eager to enjoy memorable experiences to share with their beloved ones. It is also important to know more about Venice from an environmental point of view–they show a real interest in our city and its fragile ecosystem.

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

MN: For our guests, we love to create unique and very curated experiences. This season we suggest them a tour through the secret archives and libraries of Venice, they can visit stunning buildings such as the Fondazione Cini Library, the Library San Francesco della Vigna and the Biblioteca San Vidal, and peek at rare books and manuscripts, rarely available to the public, in the company of renowned historians. Another experience not to be missed is our “A history of Venetian fashion”, an homage to the sartorial past of La Serenissima with exclusive access to the opulent Palazzo Mocenigo, Ridotto Venier, and a private palace. An authentic treasure trove.

SF: If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking, and what song is playing that epitomizes Cipriani?

MN: Our Barman can surprise you with a rich selection of signature cocktails, his latest creation is 421 Venezia Mia, an homage to Venice in a glass, named after the year in which the city was founded. It’s an authentic delicacy with notes of blackberry, citrus, and aromatic spices, combined with maraschino, Select Aperitivo, and Prosecco. An alternative is our classic Bellini, still prepared following the original recipe of its creator, Giuseppe Cipriani. In the background, you’ll probably be listening to “Venezia, la luna e tu”, a sweet ode to our romantic city.

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Davide Bertilaccio, Regional Vice President + Managing Director, Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco

SF: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco this year?

DB: There are many exciting changes and improvements this year for our guests to enjoy the very best of Tuscany! We have just launched nineteen new suites, expanding our offering to include fifty-three guest accommodations, with forty-two ultra-luxury suites and eleven one-of-a-kind private villas. We have also added a second pool, a semi Olympic lap pool, as a new development. In addition, Osteria La Canonica, our rustic yet refined restaurant, presents a revamped look: the kitchen, which includes an original wood-burning oven, has been enlarged and transformed into a show kitchen together with a larger outdoor space – the village little square, is set up with tables for outdoor lunches and dinners. Furthermore, for the first time, the full property will remain open for an extended season, allowing guests more time to enjoy these new accommodations and resort experiences through the fall and festive period.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property?

…the essence and magic of this place remained untouched…

DB: After a year and a half of closure we were all impatient to welcome guests back. The most surprising part was that despite what happened to our lives, guests were very relaxed and only craving to experience the tranquility and privacy of this place with long stays, staying together, and enjoying quality time through life’s simple pleasures. For returning guests, being back here to their beloved Tuscan retreat finding that the essence and magic of this place remained untouched was a reason for great joy.

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

DB: We are immersed in an area that is incredibly rich in hidden cultural gems and artisan traditions. Here it is not about glamour, rather about timeless beauty and invaluable craftsmanship pieces. I would definitely not miss a visit to the jewels of Val d’Orcia, small villages such as Pienza, Bagno Vignoni, Montalcino, and Montepulciano. The amazing Madonna di Vitaleta is also not to be missed, a small chapel framed between two rows of cypresses in one of the most iconic spots of Val d’Orcia. While visiting these locations, don’t miss small artisanal shops where you can find leather works, artisanal textiles, and off-the-beaten-track family-run producers where you can taste some of the best local products such as cheese, honey, and charcuterie. And of course, Brunello di Montalcino. 

If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking and what song is playing that epitomizes Castiglion del Bosco?

DB: I would go for one of our signature cocktails, the Amerituscan made with Tuscan Bitter, Tuscan red vermouth, grapefruit essential oils, herbs from the garden. Without a doubt, the best soundtrack is to simply enjoy the cicadas’ unmistakable sound that for us is a synonym of summer and relaxation.

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Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco

Oliver Hutten, General Manager, Capri Tiberio Palace

SF: What are some of the most exciting innovations that you’ve implemented at Capri Tiberio Palace this year? 

Oliver Hutten: I was thrilled to begin my new role with Capri Tiberio Palace during a year that brought very important changes. The continuous research of our food and beverage team led us to have a fantastic signature list of cocktails and refined gastronomy at Terrazza Tiberio, thanks to the amazing job of Executive Chef Nello Siano. We are delighted to receive more dinner reservations both from locals and external guests which speaks to the authenticity of this offering.

SF: What has been the most surprising part about welcoming back guests to your property?

OH: It has been so great to see how much our guests were missing Italy and Capri specifically. We are pleased to host family reunions as the meeting for those who have not seen each other for a long time. 

SF: If we’re headed out to go shopping or sightseeing from your hotel, where can’t we miss?

OH: All shopping and sightseeing are within easy reach of the Capri Tiberio Palace–it’s the perfect location to enjoy the best of Capri within few minutes. You cannot miss the charming vibe of the center: head to la Piazzetta for the aperitivo or to Gelateria Buonocore for the best ice cream around, after enjoying the upscale shopping in Via Camerelle, just ten minutes away. If you walk up the street of Tiberio Palace, you’ll be met by the beauty of the Natural Arch or the Faraglioni Rocks, about twenty minutes away. Finally, if you wish to see the historical sites, it is a ten-minute stroll to reach or the very colorful Gardens of Augustus. 

SF: If we’re sitting at your bar, what are we drinking, and what song is playing that epitomizes Capri Tiberio Palace?

OH: Sitting at the Jacky Bar you are drinking a top signature drink from our bartender list, perhaps “La Dolce Vita” which is made with two Italian classics white martini and maraschino. Or, there’s Tiberio Garden, made with fresh herbs from our private garden while listening to FKJ’s “Open the Door.”

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Love this series? Check out Part I, Part II, and our Fierce Females Edition

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