The ambassadors of Italian craftsmanship

22 March 2024
Written by
Sara Magro

How hotels support this tradition

If sustainability and genius loci are among the top priorities of contemporary high-end hotels, craftsmanship is a very effective tool for expressing them. In fact, some Italian hotels have become ambassadors, supporters, and custodians by employing the best local craftsmen – blacksmiths, carpenters, plasterers – in renovations or by choosing excellent handcrafted products. Today, craftsmanship is present in the windows, activities, and projects of some of our most renowned and elegant hotels.

In 2008, Giovanna Palimodde, owner of Su Gologone, a charming hotel nestled in the mountains of Barbagia, converted the old stables into workshops for local artisans. The initiative then evolved into a brand of fabrics, ceramics, carpets, and handmade embroideries designed by the artistic hotelier herself. Su Gologone has thus become a spokesperson for Barbagia traditions, told by the artisans themselves who take turns at the hotel to show guests, mostly international, how ancient Sardinian crafts are carried out and even teach them. Currently, there are 15 courses focused on wool processing, cork, orbace fabric, and other typical materials.

Bottega Egnazia

The bond with the territory and the local community is a fundamental concept for Borgo Egnazia in Valle d’Itria, the venue of the upcoming G7 (June 13-15). Since its opening in 2010, the proposed vacation style has been that of life in a Puglian village, with many opportunities for square parties, among illuminations, mozzarellas, and freshly made panzerotti, toys made with prickly pear paddles, bijoux with olive pits, dried legumes, acorns. Over the years, owners Aldo and Camilla Melpignano have committed to enhancing and supporting a network of collaborations in the area, which have become increasingly stronger. “Our guests fall in love with the ceramics, embroideries, and decorations they discover at Borgo Egnazia and often ask to meet the artisans who created them, to visit them and bring home a piece of Puglia,” says Aldo. Thus, the workshop was born, a true project of talent research and involvement, and next spring they will present a new association aimed at preserving and promoting the arts, traditions, and history of that corner of Puglia, which has become glamorous thanks to its authenticity.

Courtesy Starhotels

Contemporary patronage is discussed by Elisabetta Fabri, president of Starhotels, to explain the project “La Grande Bellezza-The Dream Factory” born in 2019 in collaboration with two entities dedicated to crafts: Oma of Florence and the Cologni Foundation, which organises the biennial high craftsmanship exhibition Homo Faber in Venice (September 1-30). The initiative includes meetings with masters, exhibitions in the group’s hotels (including the Helvetia & Bristol and the other five-star hotels of the Collection), commissioning of objects designed by famous designers, scholarships, and a biennial award related to hospitality.

Piccini Courtesy Dario Garofalo

These new forms of philanthropy reveal a change in the role that hotels can (or wish to) play in urban and social fabric. Not only as places to stay or spend luxurious holidays but as active subjects capable of engaging tourists, inviting them to discover workshops, buy local artefacts, and support ancient crafts. It is from these premises that Carlo and Michela Babini, the latest generation of a family of hoteliers for over 80 years, have created The Place of Wonders foundation, which organises tours for guests in the Venetian alleys with stops in an ancient weaving mill, an artistic foundry, an upcycling tailoring shop. Or among the Florentine workshops to participate in the processing of crystal, cashmere, or scagliola (ceramic carving), or even to visit small and unknown museums like the one dedicated to the sculptor Marino Marini, housed in a deconsecrated church. The latest project of The Place of Wonders is the production of a collection of artifacts to be exhibited and sold in the group’s three hotels, Londra Palace in Venice, The Place in Florence, and Borgo dei Conti opening in 2024 in Umbria, to finance scholarships to become goldsmiths at the Lao school (Le Arti Orafe) and glassmakers in the workshops of Alessia Fuga and Marisa Convento.

What happens in high hospitality also reflects on other categories. And the idea of combining tourism and craftsmanship is among the activities of Place of Charme, a group of four-star hotels between Florence and Chianti that offers tours in a leather workshop (in this case also with 3D viewer), meetings with artists, painters, ceramists, sculptors, and goldsmiths.

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