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Keeping it in the Family with Rocco Forte

When guests set foot in the lobby of a Rocco Forte hotel, the personalized greeting they receive is just the first of many hospitable moments created by the family of hoteliers behind the brand.

“You can feel the family across the hotels and this creates a certain warmth and atmosphere; it creates a sense of belonging,” says Sir Rocco Forte.

Rocco Forte Hotels is the Forte family. From development to design and everything in between, Sir Rocco Forte, his sister Olga Polizzi, and his children, Lydia, Irene, and Charles, have each left their mark on the forward-thinking brand. “You can feel the family across the hotels and this creates a certain warmth and atmosphere; it creates a sense of belonging,” says Sir Rocco Forte. Join us as we pull back the curtain behind the check-in desk to meet the Forte family and in turn, discover the magic they’ve created across their collection of exquisite European properties.

First Things First: The Design

Since acquiring his first hotel project, The Balmoral in Edinburgh, Sir Rocco Forte has always had the family legacy in mind. His sister, Olga Polizzi, Deputy Chairman and Director of Design at Rocco Forte Hotels carefully considers the history and culture of each hotel’s location as the brand expands in service of that legacy. “My father was incredibly hard-working; I learned that from him,” she says. “But I got the attention to detail from my mother. Today, that attention to detail has resulted in creating a sense of home in every property Rocco Forte puts its name behind.” The collection has innovatively ‘un-done’ conventional hotel design as it has evolved, in turn creating an irreplaceable ambiance for its guests.

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Sir Rocco Forte and Olga Polizzi grew up learning the hospitality ropes from their father, Lord Forte at Trust House Forte, which later became Forte Hotels. Over the last twenty-five years and counting, the two have collaborated to translate what they learned first-hand from their parents, beginning with design. “In fact, my grandfather had incredible taste, considering that he grew up in a tiny village of 300 inhabitants up in the hills in between Rome and Naples. My aunt worked in the design department [at Trust House Forte] too, and she and my mother were always redoing their houses. So the design thing was always there,” Polizzi shares.

As a family-run brand, Rocco Forte Hotels has the ability to make each of its properties as unique as the team members behind them. Polizzi’s design ethos is rooted in her belief that design must reflect not just sophistication and discerning taste, but the genuine warmth of the welcome offered to guests. “A hotel room must always be welcoming,” she shares emphatically. “Soft lighting, good bathrooms with space to put down wash bags, and concessions to space. Comfort comes first.” But this doesn’t always mean brand-new furniture and fixtures. Polizzi buys goods at auctions and antique fairs to blend in more mature items with those that are fresher and modern. She elaborates, “I find it quite harsh in a space to have everything new, even in a new build the odd antique can fit in well. It’s the same with fashion in a way; a mix of old and new often looks good.” Her recent collaboration with Belgian-American designer Diane von Furstenberg at the Hotel Amigo in Brussels embodies the perfect mix of colors and textures with a bold zebra rug and a collection of DVF’s striking artwork.

But it’s not only antiques that Polizzi is sourcing. She aims to weave in the flair of a destination by seeking out its artisans and local craftspeople. In London at Brown’s Hotel, the recently launched Sir Paul Smith Suite combines hand-selected artworks with classic British heritage in his signature quirky style. Whether it’s Laudomia Pucci’s bold textiles at Hotel Savoy (the younger, more gadabout sister of the collection) in Florence or handmade tiles from Bagheria for Villa Igeia in Palermo (the elegant, but cooler cousin who always has the perfect vintage dress to wear to a black tie soirée), local designs “are what give the hotels their sense of being rooted int he place they’re in,” she says. No matter which property you’re speaking with Polizzi about, it’s as if they are people with their distinct personalities because that’s very much the ethos with which she designs them.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

“For us [siblings], having on both sides these Italian grandparents who really cared not just about the food but the hospitality, was a lifelong learning experience.”

The Forte family has shared a love for food around their dinner table for generations, so the chance to extend a culinary passion to their properties in London, Rome, Florence, Sicily, Brussels, Munich, Berlin, Edinburgh, and beyond has been a natural evolution for the family-owned brand. “For us [siblings], having on both sides these Italian grandparents who really cared not just about the food but the hospitality, was a lifelong learning experience,” Lydia Forte says. “Sunday lunch with them was always at least twenty or twenty-five people, with a kids’ table on the side. It was always delicious, always fully laid up, and my grandmother always in the kitchen, overseeing the food.”

The art of eating and drinking well is one that Lydia Forte, Group Director of Food and Beverage, focuses on with fervor. After training across some of London’s top restaurants, she’s made exploring the ways eating and drinking can define, enhance, and evolve the Rocco Forte experience her singular pursuit. Lydia operates from the belief that there are few elements of a hotel that connect you to a setting and the people in it so immediately as a delectable meal being prepared with precision. “In general, it’s clear that people want to be healthier,” she says; all Rocco Forte Hotels menus have vegetarian and gluten-free options and a myriad of choices.” 

Today, her role encompasses everything from operations to nutrition across the hotels. She works in partnership with Fulvio Pierangelini, Rocco Forte Hotels’ Creative Director of Food. The award-winning Roman chef and onetime restaurateur also oversees the vast gardens at Verdura Resort as a part of the brand’s commitment to local produce. “He has taught me so much about food,” Lydia shares. “Some say he’s like a food whisperer…When you go to his apartment in Rome, he might have just a few vegetables and somehow with what seems like nothing, he’ll conjure up a meal of dreams.”

This same spirit of innovation is applied to menus across every Rocco Forte hotel restaurant or bar, including its forthcoming hotel in Milan’s golden triangle, The Carlton, set to open in 2025. Lydia is collaborating with Pierangelini and the brand’s luminary bar consultant, Salvatore Calabrese, on several venues. “The whole of the ground floor is for dining and drinking,” she says. “We want it to feel like it’s a bar and restaurant with rooms, a place for locals as much as out-of-town guests. While the restaurant will lean towards more of an evolved menu, there will be Italian crudo and fish with a bit of Asian inflection,” she says. The bar will lean classically Milanese, with Pierangelini shaping a menu of regional, easy classics.

“And of course, it’s different in every hotel—the authentic DNA of the place will be in each one,” Lydia affirms. The restaurants appeal to locals, and guests alike. Whether it’s locally made marmalades, produce from the family’s organic farms at Verdura in Sicily, or salmon smoked in-house in Edinburgh, guests immediately know where they are if only relying on their plates to tell them the story.

Wellness Abound: Irene Forte Style

An intrinsic component of a Rocco Forte hotel stay is a visit to its spa. But wellness isn’t a concept contained to the walls of a treatment room. It starts with cutting-edge spas and fitness centers, but wellness extends into organic in-room amenities. Under the helm of Irene Forte, Wellness Consultant and Founder of Irene Forte Skincare, Rocco Forte Hotels have revolutionized their treatment menus, therapist training, facilities, and the overall guest experience as it relates to wellbeing.

In 2009, Irene spent a year working at Verdura Resort, the then-newly opened Rocco Forte hotel on Sicily’s southwest coast. She was immersed in the Sicilian culture, the healing properties of its products, and the palpable energy of the island. The transformative experience – in which she deepened her understanding of the power of nature on mind, body, soul, and skin – led her to develop what is now known as the Rocco Forte Spa concept, as well as her own line of esteemed products.

What is today known as Irene Forte Skincare was born from the fruits (literally) of Verdura Resort’s extensive gardens. Irene studied the properties of citrus, pomegranate, pistachio, and olive oils to create a skincare line based on the natural bounty. This “Mediterranean Diet for the face” isn’t just beautiful and sustainable packaging – it’s clinically approved for sensitive skin. Every product in the Irene Forte line undergoes extensive clinical trialing. “The hibiscus night cream performed the best of any natural product Doctor Ferri had seen tested,” at EffigiLab, Irene says.

…the design of the spas is under the helm of Irene’s vision, too with a lean towards airy and modern, splashed with subtle references to local artisanship.

You might be wondering, how does the skincare line impact Rocco Forte guests? Well, its shampoo, conditioner, and body soap will be sprinkled all over your room or suite’s shower, to begin with. But you can also take advantage of the line’s facial products in the spa – which will inevitably lead to you purchasing some of the full-sized bottles on your way out of the spa (does it sound like we’re speaking from first-hand experience?). Speaking of spas, the design of the spas is under the helm of Irene’s vision, too with a lean towards airy and modern, splashed with subtle references to local artisanship as a nod to her aunt’s signature touch.

Irene debuted the first Irene Forte Spa at Villa Igiea perched above the sea and featuring two stories of indoor-outdoor relaxation zones, treatment suites, a beauty salon, and a Technogym-equipped fitness center overlooking the harbor. Four more Rocco Forte spas have since rebranded Irene Forte with the full offering of treatments and products including Rome’s Hotel de Russie and Hotel de la Ville, Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia, and Verdura Resort in Sicily.

The Future of Rocco Forte

Hotels in development that are to join the Rocco Forte family remain a key part of the path forward. Aiming to honor the family’s illustrious legacy, Charles Forte took on the role of Director of Development at just thirty years old. But if you look back at his first experience working for the family business as a fourteen-year-old waiter at Brown’s Hotel in London. From there, at age eighteen, he toggled between the reception desk and prep-chef stations in the kitchens of Dorchester Collection’s Principe di Savoia in Milan. Ultimately, after university and a couple of years in commercial real estate, he shifted to working alongside his sisters, father, and aunt at Rocco Forte Hotels.

Alongside Sir Rocco Forte, Charles Forte is responsible for mapping out new destinations and exploring both geographic and operational expansion for Rocco Forte Hotels. Due to the success of Rocco Forte House in Rome, there are upcoming iterations of the same residential concept in Milan, due to open in 2024, and Florence. The forward momentum is driven not just by profession for Charles, but ultimately, legacy.

“We are excited to open the two Milan properties and Costa Smeralda in Sardinia in the next couple of years…”

When asked about what he’s working on these days, Charles enthusiastically dives into a series of projects that are sure to surprise even those fully immersed in the hospitality space. “We are excited to open the two Milan properties and Costa Smeralda in Sardinia in the next couple of years. Looking ahead, opportunities in European cities and areas of beauty, as well as Italy, the USA, and the Middle East are progressing nicely, too.” No matter which direction you look, the future of this family-owned brand is filled with promise.

Ready to plan your next stay looked after by the Roccof Forte family? Contact your SmartFlyer travel advisor to get started.

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