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Our Journey Through Italy: Part 3

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By Brad Beaty

Part 1 & Part 2

After more than 3 glorious weeks on the Amalfi Coast, it was time to pack up and start heading north.  Again, this blog/posting this as an informational piece for those who are curios as what it is like to travel, so let me start by telling you….don’t plan ahead if you or your clients are able to travel in Europe at this time.  It is an ever changing puzzle to t understand what countries within the EU are allowing other countries citizens to cross borders.

Originally our plans were to head north in Italy, cross into France to visit our friends at Le Majestic Barriere in Cannes, and then head to Geneva to stay at the Hotel Metropole, visit our friends from Gstaad…all by train, then fly to Copenhagen at the Hotel d’Angleterre.  However, areas of France have now become Covid hotspots, and this would have had to be done by driving into France and back to Italy, with hopes of not having to quarantine again.  Denmark has now closed its borders to several countries, and in part due to its own increasing Covid outbreak.   So, as of 2 days ago, our plan was to continue our journey north only as far as Geneva.  However, we then received news that Switzerland was closing to parts of Europe and other high risk areas, including Italy.  At first, we began to look at changing plans to then fly home from Milan, however, once we were able to speak with our Swiss colleagues, we got the full story.  The report of the closing of borders specified regions of each country, and from Italy only Liguria was included, which we had not visited.  So, my point, it is important to keep up with the daily news from each country, and be flexible!  Do not buy tickets more than 2-3 days ahead of your planned movements, and keep close watch on the “new wave” areas.

Train Travel within Italy

We decide rather than driving to take the high-speed train from Salerno to Florence.  The trains are very clean, distancing measures in place, and masks required by all who board.  Safety/Sanitizing kits are handed to all passengers once the train doors are closed, which include a mask, headrest seat cover, packets of sanitizing gel.  Train station in Florence is crowded, and distancing there was really not possible at all times, but everyone is required to wear face coverings.  Bottom line, we did not feel at all exposed or unsafe during this journey.  Our driver was standing at the designated meeting spot and we were swiftly on our way to Villa La Massa!

Again, we traveled by train from Florence to Como, changing trains in Milan.  All was very similar to our first venture, and we felt safe and distanced from the other passengers and the hygiene and safety bags were handed to all.

Our last train adventure, however, was a bit different.  Finally, after tearing ourselves away from Villa d’Este, we were whisked by chauffer from Como to Milano, thanks to the kindness of Danilo Zucchetti and Massimo Dorino.  We boarded a different type of train to head to Geneva.  It was not the high speed like Trenitalia.  Instead this was a regional train.  I would compare the difference from Amtrak Acela to Amtrak regional, perfectly fine.  Why I bring this up is that we were not given the hygiene kits.  I did not walk through the entire train, but the trains overall allow between 50% and 80% capacity.  Also, something touching on the point of inconsistency between counties, there was no food or beverage service car available during the first 1.5 hours of the trip as we were in Italy.  Once we crossed into Switzerland, the restaurant car was allowed to open, and again food was available…. same train.

Villa La Massa

Wow!!  What an impressive difference the newest additions have made to this property, which is now better termed as a Resort. The Villa d’Este Hotels group has invested millions into making this a Tuscan dream on the outskirts of Florence.  The 22 acres space has been dramatically changed by the addition of the new floating edge pool, the new renovation of another farmhouse the “Limonaia” building with its brand new 2 suites and 8 rooms, and the 3 stunning new apartments now available for minimum one week stays in lower seasons, and two weeks in high season.  The area where the original pool was has transformed into a massive outdoor bricked patio, which is great for social distancing of guests at this time.  As you may know, the “main house” or Noble Villas dates back to the 1400’s. This history has been preserved in every corner while each bedroom here offers the feeling of being a VIP guest of a royal Duco or Duchesse!   Although I cannot say I have a favorite building on the 22 acres, I loved the newest additions of the Casa Colonica and the Limonaia (where we stayed).  We dined in the Verrocchio restaurant for breakfast and for dinner, overlooking the Arno.  Two of my favorite dishes are shown here being the lumberjack fish tartare and the spaghetti with porcini mushrooms and shrimp…. amazing!  If you have not yet seen this property, or if you have, but prior to the last year, it is time to return as soon as the borders open!

Florence

We ventured into Florence city center twice during our stay, once with the complimentary shuttle of the hotel and once by taxi.  I have been in Florence during this period several times, and normally it is not teeming with Americans, and in fact there were very few tourists on the streets at all.  Locally, in the city center, hotels are running about 15% occupancy, but forecasting to drop down to 5% by then end of October.  Outside the city, the resort hotels have had a much better than expected season as Europeans from France to Germany to Scandinavia, UK have rediscovered Italy this year.  Most shops and restaurants are open.  Masks are required, but outdoors, not always worn.  Indoors, most establishments take your temperature at the door, and masks are required in restaurants until seated.  I will say that we did avoid several restaurants in Florence as they were not adhering to the mandated distancing between tables at all.  Additionally, as you will find anywhere you travel, we passed by a night club full of young people inside and on the street outside, none wearing masks.

It shocked me more that it does in America because Italy was so ravaged by the virus, and the lockdown was much stricter and long than what we in America endured.  Overall, it was a very remarkable experience to see old friends and walk the streets of one of the worlds beloved cities, mostly amongst the locals.  It was clear that the Florentines were very happy to be moving about again, but from the discussion we had, they are very much struggling having no view of tourism returning until next spring.

Villa d’Este

There are so many things to say about Villa d’Este, but the name alone speaks volumes.  If the walls of this truly historic site could speak, the stories would be endless, fascinating, and in some cases probably shocking and humorous.  What hits you every time you pull into the driveway and up to the front door of this iconic hotel, is that you have no doubt you have arrived somewhere very special and very unique.  It is the second home of those of understated wealth, celebrities, and nobility from around the world. So, not only do the walls have stories, but also do those they currently surround.  Yet, there is a normalcy about this amongst the staff that is like nowhere else.  We had the double pleasure of being greeting and hosted for lunch at La Veranda by the famous Mr. Danilo Zucchetti and our great supporter, colleague, and friend to many of you in the industry, Gregory Bradelle.  Afterward, they both showed us a few secrets of the hotel we had never seen or know, and will keep in our back pocket for your clients.  Mr. Zucchetti then arranged for us to see the spectacular shores of the lake by private boat.

This is only way to see and understand the beauty and capture the feeling of the amazing residences around the lake.  It also made me understand a new way to see the grandeur of Villa d’Este as we came closer and closer on our return.  I could go on and on, but it’s all in the history, details, and the warmness of the highly professional staff that make this icon live on.  We were unfortunately there only 24 hours, so we never had any reason to leave the property, but as we never dreamed we would make it back this year, why would we!?

Summer Season 2020 at the Gstaad Palace

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By Lara Juker, Sales Executive at Gstaad Palace

Summer Season 2020 at the Gstaad Palace

Hello from the Gstaad Palace in Switzerland! We want to share a summary of our summer season 2020 with you. But before you continue reading, you must know that everyone is missing Switzerland’s #1 fans from North America, including our small boutique owners, our chefs, our barmen and barwomen… even the cows are missing taking selfies with you! In summary – we can’t wait to have you back in our lovely country.

Now, let us go back in time and share with you highlights from summer 2020 in Gstaad:

July – The Month We Didn’t Know What to Expect

We were very excited to open our doors on July 10 (three weeks later than originally planned)! Our Sales & Revenue teams calculated three different forecasts: one best-case scenario, one okayish-scenario and – obviously – “one we hoped we would never see” scenario.

To our wonderful surprise, the month of July was better than expected! Our occupancy was slightly higher, and revenue per room even increased a bit compared to last year. Not bad considering we’re almost the biggest 5-star hotel in the region with our 90 rooms and suites!  One interesting note was that almost 63% of our guests were local Swiss residents.  In anticipation of this, we became creative! For example, the very first open air cinema in Lauenen (15min away from Gstaad), was opened and brought a Hollywood feel to the Swiss Alps – it was a great success!

August – the month where we almost forgot Corona existed

For those who aren’t familiar with Gstaad and its seasonality, August is basically “festive” period of our summer season – and it totally lived up to its reputation.  With a monthly average occupancy higher than 70% our operations were working long days, but always with the greatest smile and dedication to make every guest feel at home.  We started off strong with our National Holiday celebration on the 1st of August.  Who doesn’t like to sit outside in summer and enjoy some champagne whilst looking at fireworks?

We also saw more international travelers during this month, especially from the UK and France as some quarantines had been lifted in the meantime. Some days we almost forgot that “something” was different than the other years, yet you never left the house without your hand sanitizer and mask… safety first after all.

Towards the end of August we were very much looking forward to our very own “Gstaad Palace Challenge” – the most exclusive vintage vehicle rally in Switzerland organized every year by our own GM, Mr. Andrea Scherz. We finished the month with a bang and our operational hotel staff slowly saw some light at the end of the tunnel and was getting ready for one last week of opening.

September – short, but sweet

The weekdays of our last opening week were rather quiet and gave our operations some time to breathe. Kids were back to school and the village was getting calmer, too. However, for the last weekend of our summer season, we had an amazing event planned! If you are a fast, unique and (very!) expensive car enthusiast, you were in heaven. We co-hosted a weekend getaway event called the “Supercar Owners Circle” and had a parking lot full of dream cars right at the Hotel. The motto was “go big or go home” and we took it all the way home cheerfully closing the hotel with 100% occupany our last week!

What now?

For now we have already switched to “winter mode” and are in the middle of creating new and unique experiences and adventures for our guests. Of note, our health & safety concept will be even fancier than in summer!  Winter always brings more “bling” to the understated Gstaad!  We are fortunate to already have reservations on the books from around the globe, and we obviously can’t wait to welcome back all international travelers, especially our lovely Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans! We miss you terribly and are ready to welcome you back safely to the magical castle of Gstaad. In the meantime take care of yourselves and see you hopefully very soon.

Our Journey Through Italy Part 2

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By Brad Beaty

Part 1

The most common questions I have received about Giuseppe’s and my travels to Italy thus far have been mostly concerning what the conditions are here in Italy, and what is it like to be traveling internationally at this time.

We come into the country with ease, having completed all the necessary paperwork ahead of time.  As mentioned, prior, we were asked only for Giuseppe’s Italian passport and a copy of our marriage license along with my passport on arrival. There were not lines, and no separation of EU vs Other Citizens.  We were told by the immigration office that we had to quarantine, and we provided him with the form we were given to fill out that listed this address.  He stamped our passports…and done!

After 3 days, we received a phone call to tell us we would be required to come to the town center nearest to our villa and be tested using the nasal swab (or in Italian…. the “tampone”!  As I mentioned it did not go at all as they told us it would, but regardless we were tested, and 2 days later received the good news of tests being negative.  After this, we never heard another word from the authorities, but we continued our quarantine for the full 2 weeks.  No one ever came to check on us at any point, and to be very frank, if Giuseppe were not recognized by half of the town, we could have easily moved about freely.  Even those who do know him have not said one word about how we came here or if we did quarantine.   I do understand that if we had flown into Naples, this may have been enforced a bit stricter, but we did register with the region of Campagna.  (As a side note to this, I have to say that it has been our observations that these “border closings” are quite a joke, as when we were boarding at JFK, there were hundreds of people at a gate prior to ours boarding an Air China flight, and I can tell you they were not doctors or engineers!)  We have been in contact with several Americans who are here in Italy. There seem to be as many “loopholes”, and a complete lack of coordination within and between any and all countries.

Life on the Amalfi Coast is, dare I say, a bit too comfortable.  Currently, there are under 10 cases know from Sorrento to Salerno, and people here are very proud of this.  Given the intensity and length of the lockdown they endured, it is understandable.  Regardless, we are taking our own precautions, but what we see here is that people have turned the “mascherino” into another fashion statement, worn mostly on the arm outside.  There are regulations that face coverings must be worn inside, and this is being adhered to….with an important exception.  It seems that about half do not find it necessary to cover their noses.  (I liken this to how babies are conceived with those using birth control.)  Restaurants are required, also, to take the contact details of one person in every party/table, so that should cases be found out later, the authorities can contact trace. Temperatures of each party member are taken upon arrival as well.

In short, I feel that this particular area of the world has perhaps, reached the ‘new normal” Life is going on as usual, but with distancing at the beaches, in restaurants, and hand sanitizer at every entrance. However, I worry for this region as the summer has suddenly come to an abrupt halt this weekend with the weather turning cooler.  They will be forced back indoors, and as we have heard the news of Covid cases spiking again in parts of Spain, France, and the UK we hope and pray that does not happen here again.  I want to stress, however, that this is been caused by “over relaxing”, and not following the guidelines scientists have given us to follow!

As many of you know, this is Giuseppe’s home, where he was born and grew up, and that is the main reason we are here.  We also wanted to turn this opportunity into a time to come closer to our clients.  We have been able to meet, thus far, with the Owners of the Hotel Santa Caterina, and spend the most wonderful day at the Hotel.  Additionally, we drove to Naples and had lunch with Mario Staiano, one of the Owners of Privilege Italia, another fantastic day.  There is nothing like a real human connection.  Today we began packing up again to move north, where we will spend 2 nights to see the “reboot” of the incomparable Villa La Massa just outside of Florence, followed by a night at the iconic Villa d’Este.  At both of these gems we will be meeting with our clients who are missing you all terribly, and getting the latest news and sharing some amazing food, I am sure!  Last, but not least, we will report in from Geneva at the Hotel Metropole, where we will meet with Helene, the GM and Anthony, the new DOSM (for the first time in person).  We have booked this journey using the renewed train system here in Italy and through to Switzerland.

I will end this by saying, one of the best joys in the world is traveling.  We truly learn, live, and get our of our “daily heads”.  Not only is traveling a pleasure, it is a must for those who are fortunate enough to have done so. I puts our lives, and what is going on in our country vs. the world we are citizens of into great perspective.  I will say it again, where there is a will, there is a way, and we do not need to wait for our very disorganized country officials to tell us what we can and cannot safely do.  They do not have our best interests at heart.  We, having the experience, and now knowing how we can mitigate our risks to near zero, are smarter than they about how to travel and revive our industry. Like after 9/11, we have a new list of things to do at the airport and upon arriving, but know, it is temporary until a treatment or vaccine are found, while the effects of 9/11 on travel will remain forever.  If you are without complications or at high risk, I encourage you to take your life back and move forward.

Our Journey to Italy

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Our Journey to Italy

By Brad Beaty

I am not here to boast or to make anyone envious, but to share the wonderful experience of travel that has been taken away from us all by this tragic pandemic.  Giuseppe and I have had the great fortune, and taken some risk, in being some of the first to “eat our own cookie”.  That is, we sell travel experiences, so if we do not get believe in taking them now, how can we expect others to trust themselves and their knowledge of how to safely travel.  After having safely visited my family in Colorado, we returned home for a few days to work and repack for the next big journey!

We are here on the stunning Amalfi Coast, and I can honestly say that 2020 seems miles away.  I believe that many are curious to know what it is like to take an international trip at this time, and I am very happy to share my experiences.  First, most will ask, how could I go to Italy with the travel ban?  I am a very lucky guy being married to an Italian and American citizen.  Immediate family can travel with anyone having an EU passport to the country it was issued.   There are very specific and strict rules about this, and paperwork to be done ahead of time, but it was by no means prohibitive.  What most people will find prohibitive at this time is that anyone coming to Italy must quarantine for 14 days.  Of course, once you see the pictures, you will note that it is not half bad quarantining….in a way, it is what we really wanted and needed.

Flying here…

What struck me as very sad was that Terminal 1 (the main International Airline terminal) at JFK was eerily empty when we checked in.  Normally, at the evening rush hour it would be teeming with people boarding flights to Europe and the jets would be lined up 20 deep to reach the runway.  Not this time…. we boarded a half full Alitalia fight and took off straight away.  I do know that each airline has it’s own policies about spacing, capacity, hygiene, etc., but the two we have now flown, UA and AZ have been very good (although as I have mentioned prior, UA could stand to do better with spacing).  Both have sanitizing wipes for all passengers, one can clearly see that more time has been spent cleaning the planes.  More importantly, the air is purified more efficiently and effectively.  You feel this more on a long-haul flight.   Drawbacks…. wearing the mask for an extended period of time is a challenge, particularly if you try to sleep on an overnight flight.  We both found that next to impossible.  However, I just kept thinking of all of the doctors and nurses who worked countless hours in the same mask for weeks in a row during the peak of the pandemic.  What did I have to complain about flying to Italy to see family and vacation?  I will say, do not expect normal business class service or food….at all.  But, the priority of safety, you can expect, and even more at this brief era.

Italy…

As you know, the north of Italy was the second center of the Pandemic in the very beginning.  That was back in March.  Now, in September, it is returning to a new temporary normal.  On the Amalfi Coast,  people walk outside free of masks…. until 6pm.  Indoors, and after 6pm everywhere, they are required, and you will get warned sternly or fined if you do not fully cover your nose and mouth.  We are not there yet, as we are still quarantining.  It was our impression that the quarantine would be much stricter.  We were allowed to rent a car in Rome, drive to our rented villa on the Coast.  In reality, we could have stopped anywhere along the way, and no one has every checked on our listed address since we arrived.  We were contacted via our local person we left as a main contact, to go to get a Covid test on the 5th day.  In true Italian style, it was a bit chaotic when we arrived and the directions, we were given were completely inaccurate…. got to love it!  In the end, it took only about 30 minutes.  The strange thing was that we were requested to come by car (which we no longer had) and it would be at a drive-thru.  Never happened that way at all.  We were also told we would be able to get a physical copy of the test for our future travels in the EU…. we shall see how that one goes!  In the meantime, we are here working and relaxing in this spectacular place we are calling home to respect the quarantine and keep all safe who we can.

Chauffeur Drive Britain – Discover the Landmarks

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Discover the United Kingdom

 

By Joe Decker

In the Fall, I traveled to London with friends and family for a short weekend getaway. As, I had been there many times before, I was pleased ot just wander through this capital of history, art, finance, culture…and the list goes on. However, many of the members of my party were visiting for the first time. I began to talk to them about how we will walk from our Hotel to Buckingham Palace, and then down the river, and up through Mayfair. Even as I type this out, I understand how overwhelming this sounds. I could only imagine how my friends felt. For someone who had been so many times before, I was truly unsure how to showcase one of my favorite places to visit.

This is where using the services of Chauffeur Drive Britain become indispensable. Even in a country that speaks English, and provides very little cultural barrier to Americans, it is a difficult place to fully explore on your own, especially in a short amount of time. Theo Theodorou, the owner of Chauffeur Drive has been helping guests discover not only London, but the UK for years. Built on the base of a prestige chauffeur service, handling a range of VIP clients from celebrities, to the corporate elite. Meet greet services at Heathrow, to managing their daily schedules so they arrive to their appointments on time, and even making reservations at the hottest restaurants in the city for dinner. Him and his team are more than just drivers, but a full service “butler” navigating the city, providing your clients with access, and ensuring your clients’ have a seamless stay in London. This extends to the family who maybe traveling as well, arranging the finest blue badge guides for a visit to one of the city’s world class museums, door to door service to family friendly activities such as Harry Potter Studios, or to be your personal chauffeur as you make your own itinerary (of course with a few friendly suggestions).

As I mentioned before, on my very own journey to London. I looked to Chauffeur Drive and Theo to help my friends see something that was “touristy” but to do so in comfort and without a worry. It was arranged for us to go to Stonehenge. I provided a few details to him, such as where we were staying, party size, and about how long we wanted to be out of the city.

Our driver was waiting for us 15 minutes early outside of our accommodations. Tony was impeccably dressed, and as friendly as could be. We could tell immediately we were in capable hands. The vehicle for the day was elegant, and spacious. Which was good, as we were a group of 6, some of us being very tall. We had plenty of room and were comfortable for the entire 6 hour round trip journey. As soon as we were on the road, Tony spent some time explaining to us in detail our itinerary for the day. An hour and a half drive to Stonehenge, followed by a short tour of Salisbury, ending with lunch at a place that Theo chose himself based on a description of my group.

As we drove to Stonehenge, Tony would point out interesting landmarks, answer our questions, and provide little tidbits along the way, like what the slang Sleeping Policeman meant. We arrived 15 minutes before our scheduled tour time. Allowing us to stretch our legs, and get situated before making the walk to the ancient monument. All our tickets were pre-booked and handed to us, so we all had to do was pick up our audio guides. It was truly seamless. We were left with ample time to explore the stones, take photos, and walk through the accompanied museum. We never felt rushed that we had to make it back to the van in time to push along our itinerary. There was plenty of time built into our schedule that were were able to really soak in that we were standing in front of something that is truly historic and being in the UK that is saying something.

On our agreed upon meeting time, Tony was waiting for us with a smile, and ready to shuttle us over to Salisbury and our restaurant for lunch. After the long morning traveling, we were all ready for some food. Fitting the theme of the day, Theo chose a restaurant that was historic in its own right. The Haunch of Venison has a unique history that spans over 700 years, and while we waited for our meal, we explored the nooks and crannies of this hostelry. Some members of my group had an event to attend in the city after our tour, so we had a hard time to be back at the Hotel then make our way up to the Tower Bridge. However, we were having such a good time at the restaurant chatting and eating a wide variety of prepared venison, that I decided to talk to Tony and see how much room we had in the schedule. He was happy to accommodate and adjusted our schedule to allow us more time to relax and walk around the town. He even offered to take us directly to the Tower Bridge area instead of back to our Hotel in Mayfair. Saving us time and effort. This slight adjustment made all the difference in our afternoon. On the way back, we shared in friendly conversation, and even got a few recommendations for places to have dinner in the area, granted not that any of us were close to ready to eat again after that meal. After being dropped off, I asked my group what they thought of the service, as they don’t work in the industry and maybe wouldn’t have considered taking a private tour like this. They expressed their reluctance, with the extra cost. However, once they were on the road it felt like the only true way to do something like this. There was no worry about dealing with public transportation, working around schedules in a foreign country. Also, we never would have been able to spend our afternoon in the quaint town of Salisbury, we would have been too worried about getting back to the city on time. Stonehenge is a very common place to visit, however working Chauffeur Drive Britain made our time there all the more memorable, and most importantly worthwhile.