„It’S Our Turn Now!”
Marta and Beatrice Colombati are the new faces of the Hotel Svizzero: The siblings are the fourth generation to run the 4-star chalet complex with a view of the Mont Blanc mountains. A conversation about family responsibility, unconventional hotel standards and fairytale details.
The Svizzero is one of a kind. Even though no two hotels in Courmayeur are alike, it's hard to find anything even remotely similar. Pay attention to the details and you will see it. The best way to do this is to take a seat in one of the comfortable wing chairs in the lounge area and let your eyes wander. And then you’ll see them, the many details: The ancient hemp rope in the staircase: originally used for climbing Mont Blanc, it now serves as a handrail. Opposite the stairs is a bar made of rustic wooden beams, planed by the great-grandfather himself. The antique football table next to the wood-burning stove exudes 1950s charm while the dark brown wood panelling on the walls is reminiscent of a homely mountain home. They all add up to an overall picture. You will feel and see it in even the smallest details and, of course, it did not just happen. It was planned from the outset.
This setting seems to be taken straight out of a Wes Anderson movie.
Beatrice: But his stories are always set in the past.
Or in a time that never existed.
Marta: I think his films have something timeless about them. They seem like a modern fairytale.
You could say the same about your hotel.
Marta: We take that as a compliment.
That's exactly how I meant it.
Beatrice: Although this is not yet our hotel, the owners are still our father Ludovico and our mother Donata. They will hand it over to us one day, but until then we will hopefully work together with them for a long time.
“Together” seems to be cherished a lot in this house, a generational family business. When was your first time behind the reception desk?
Beatrice: Our family has lived and worked here for over a century. Our great-grandfather Walter Hurzeler came to Courmayeur in the 1920s to search for gold. He was the son of a carpenter, so he built a small house here. It was a guesthouse at first and then turned into a 2-star hotel. In 1983, it was handed to our grandmother Walda and rebuilt, before our parents tore it down in 2002 to build a new hotel in traditional wooden construction. Because of our great-grandfather's roots, the hotel still bears the name "Svizzero". The number of stars on our sign, however, has changed.
Is it the history of this place that holds your family together?
Marta: We all know that we all tend to be bound by traditions, but neither my sister nor I had the plan to one day run this place. While we were at university, we helped out around the hotel, it was the natural thing to do. And after we had both spent a lot of time abroad, we came back. Not just for the hotel, but for this place and all the things that make Courmayeur unique: the mountains, nature and its people. We love this place. And our hotel is part of its history.
Beatrice: ...which we want to continue writing from now on. We are not doing this because someone told us to, but because we want to. Working in the hotel, down here in the valley, is just as much a passion for me as skiing on the steep slopes up there.
I guess there isn’t much time for that in the winter season, or how is your work-life balance working out?
Beatrice: Can we please skip this question?
Beatrice: Because I spend all day around here while you are out there in the powder as a ski instructor.
But that’s work as well, isn’t it?
Marta: My words exactly!
Beatrice: Alright then, let’s swap places this winter (both burst out in laughter). No, seriously, we both like to be where we are. And when you need a few hours to yourself, you can always make it possible around here. After all, this is a family business, not a big hotel group.
Are you referring to the giant hotels on the other side of the tunnel in Chamonix?
Beatrice: You can’t compare Courmayeur and Chamonix, I think.
Marta: And we shouldn’t. Not when it comes to tourism, and not on any other level. Courmayeur is a very different place, with a very different history. Everything around here is smaller, more personal, warmer and somehow... Well, you could say, we are the fairytale indie movie, and Chamonix is the blockbuster.
What’s the fairytale that awaits guests at this hotel?
Marta: Many little stories, I’d say! We have 28 rooms, none of which looks like the other. They are completely different in size, amenities and atmosphere, every room tells a different story. What they do have in common is that we have used wood as a main material in all of them to stick to the chalet style of the original building.
Beatrice: Our parents took a lot of time with the last renovation: Traditional wooden structures combined with modern craftsmanship. Our mother took care of the interior design, she used to run a design shop and has always placed great importance to aesthetics. At the same time, it was important to her that old materials were preserved and transformed into new structures. In a way, she is the "architect" of the house.
And your father?
Beatrice: He is the soul of the house that nobody sees. He prefers to work in the background.
Marta: He almost lives in the back office! Even we don't get to see him for days sometimes.
Beatrice: He prefers to take care of business transactions and bookings, and every now and then you'll see him at the reception too. Or in the kitchen.
Speaking of the kitchen: There is no classic half-board at the Svizerro, you follow a different concept.
Marta: Exactly! A few years ago we have opened our restaurant to everyone. For our guests, breakfast is included in the hotel rate, but when it comes to dinner, they can decide every day whether they want to eat out or dine à la carte with us.
Beatrice: This is good for everyone: It allows us to offer more exclusive dishes because we cook in smaller quantities while guests are not exclusively tied to us during their holiday and can thus experience more of the place. If they do eat dinner with us for their entire stay, they are reimbursed with a discount on all food and drinks at the end of the week.
Did you two come up with this concept?
Beatrice: It was a family decision, just like all major decisions.
Marta: That’s in our DNA, that is who we will continue to run the Svizzero. And if we are lucky, we can hand this approach down to the next generation. But for now, it’s our turn!
Text: Robert Maruna // friendship.is
Photos: Ian Ehm // friendship.is
April 22, 2022