A house full of stories
There’s no eye-catching sign, no imposing driveway: only a modest wrought-iron gate to the right of the lakeside road in Gargnano that points those in the know to Villa Feltrinelli.
If you’ve booked a room or a table, just ring the bell and they’ll welcome you in – into a totally different world. ‘It’s actually a world that no longer exists,’ says Markus Odermatt. He is sitting on the terrace and looking out at Lake Garda, his adopted home for 22 years. Odermatt has been in charge of Villa Feltrinelli, which was constructed in 1892 and is now a listed building, since it was converted into a hotel in 2001. A hotel? He shakes his head: ‘We are not a hotel – we are a house with guests.’ One does indeed feel like a visitor to a private country residence here. There are no fixed times for breakfast, for example, and if guests want to have their breakfast in the park: ‘No problem at all,’ says Odermatt.
Originally from Lucerne, Odermatt worked his way up from the very bottom in the hotel business. It all began with an apprenticeship as a chef. This was followed by a period of study at Hotelfachschule Luzern (the hotel management school in Lucerne) and employment in hotels such as Schweizerhof Bern, Gstaad Palace and Park Hotel Vitznau. Odermatt then spent over ten years in South America and the Caribbean, where he managed a number of prestigious hotels. At the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles, he got to know Bob Burns, founder of the Regent Hotels. This was a fateful encounter, as Burns later brought Odermatt to Villa Feltrinelli, which he had purchased on a whim. ‘The villa was my labour of love, my baby,’ says Odermatt, who remained loyal to it even after Burns had sold it to a real estate company.
‘It is a place that is full of stories,’ he says. Mussolini spent the final years of his life at the villa, and the colourful and renowned publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli held exhilarating parties here. It is the flair of the living past that makes the villa such an extraordinary location. There’s the 300-year-old magnolia under which Henry Miller played table tennis, and the stone mosaic on whose slabs Rolling Stones muse Anita Pallenberg danced the night away in her bare feet. And then there’s simply the unique location, which the Feltrinelli brothers chose very deliberately for their villa – because Gargnano with its lemon groves has always had the best microclimate on the lake. Having spent a life studying the topic of luxury, Odermatt knows what counts:
‘A good hotel is like a flying carpet. It whisks the guests away to another place and another time.’
Words Patricia Bröhm
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