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Australian Family Hoteliers in Italy
Florence Travel News ( Press Release )
We are immersed in the peaceful, green countryside of the rolling Umbrian-Tuscan hills,
five kilometres from Cortona, near Lake Trasimeno, where an antique villa stands out
against the sky, completely renovated, with a simple yellow facade, a stone and brick
wing, and a tiled roof. It is the Hotel Villa di Piazzano, first built in 1464, later
used as a hunting lodge during the Medici period, and then as a convent. The hotel,
with fifteen rooms contained within a single building, is part of a small hamlet with
10,000 square metres of park, a beautiful Italianate garden, a swimming pool,
and avenues of cypresses and linden trees.
The building was bought six years ago by the Wimpole family, which has quite a story
to tell. "My great-great-grandfather emigrated from England to Australia, where he
bought a beautiful hotel: the George Hotel in St. Kilda, a district of Melbourne",
explains Alessandra Wimpole, who manages the hotel together with her father John
Damian and her mother Adriana, who comes originally from Rome. "My family operated
the hotel in Australia for a century and then sold it in the Sixties. My father, a
diplomat by profession who lived abroad for long periods, was always very strongly
tied to his memories of home". So much so that after many generations, the family
antiques, such as the grandfather clock, that looks magnificent in the Cortona hotel,
were brought back to Europe. Signs of travel can also be seen in the eclectic
collection of furniture: the chests of drawers dating back to the Eighteenth or
Nineteenth centuries, the old lamps, the paintings and the prints collected from
all the countries where the Wimpoles have lived around the world. Even an antique
cot, which has been slept in by all the Wimpole babies for generations.
It may seem strange, but there is most definitely a link between diplomacy, the
profession of the father of the household, and the family's hotel business ...
"There's more than one reason " explains Alessandra. "First of all, you have
to understand that a hotel needs a soul, and that the ability to be a good host,
to provide good service, to focus on human contact, is not something that you can
just conjure up on the spur of the moment ". In other words, the guests must feel
at home. "And then, my family's diplomatic experience - my father has travelled a
lot, from the USA to Italy, from El Salvador to Spain, I was born in Sweden and we
have lived in Sicily too, among other places - forced us, or rather allowed us, to
live quite often in hotels. This led us to go through many different situations, and
allowed us to make comparisons - in fact, it gave us an invaluable experience. It also
enabled us to cultivate a truly international vocation". All the staff in the hotel are
English-speaking and this, in places that are frequently visited by English and American
tourists, definitely counts as an added value. "But Italians are are quite used to
foreigners", Alessandra adds.
There must be quite a difference between Australia and Tuscany...
"Yes, the countryside is very different, but I find I can enjoy contact with nature
just as much. I adore Rome, but I have to say that Tuscany is fantastic for the peace
and quiet, the horizons, the different rhythms, and the calm that you can breathe in ...
And the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, the monuments of nearby Cortona, the
magnificent food and wine have a huge success with international tourists. Also,
this is a good stop-over coming from Cinque Terre and heading South and quite a good
base for visiting southern Tuscany." The city of Cortona, only 5 kilometres away, was
founded by the Etruscans and still maintains a fascinating maze of old streets and
medieval buildings. The highlights are the Museo of the Accademia Etrusca and the
Alessandra's life, so unusual and international, certainly arouses curiosity. I ask
her how she sees her own identity, being at the same time Swedish (by birth),
Australian (on her father's side), and Italian (on her mother's side, and by language,
residence and current occupation). Alessandra smiles "I am not fully Italian or fully
Australian. I feel a real citizen of the world, always at ease in every situation but
a little envious of the strong sense of identity that my parents and my daughter Lisa
have. Her daughter is seven years old and already has a vocation for the hotel
business. Will she carry on the family tradition?"
How to get there:
Villa di Piazzano is easily reached by car from the A1 Rome-Florence motorway, taking
the Bettolle-Val di Chiana exit, and following the road from Perugia to Castiglion del
Lago, which is only a few kilometres away. Alternatively it may be reached by train.
VILLA DI PIAZZANO (five kilometres from Cortona)
LocalitÃ Piazzano, 06069 Tuoro sul Trasimeno, Perugia
Tel. +39.075.826226, fax +.39.075.826336
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