The Rocco Forte group will add two more luxury properties to its collection this May, including its first golf resort.
Opening at the end of May, Verdura Golf and Spa Resort is one hour’s drive from Palermo International airport, on the island of Sicily.
Sir Rocco Forte said at the launch this week: “This is our first resort hotel – I wanted somewhere with a good climate which has extended seasons, and the south of Sicily lends itself to that. It’s also the crossroads of many cultures, which have left their mark. Sicily has a fantastic history and culture – it’s not just sun and sea.”
The resort is located in 230 hectares of grounds right on the Mediterranean Sea and has 1.8km of private beach, two 18-hole championship golf courses and a par three, nine hole course surround the complex.
Sir Rocco Forte added: “I looked at a number of different sites – I wanted to create a five-star golf course as well as hotel. In Italy there are a lot of five-star hotels with only four-star golf [offerings]. I wanted to have an open area for golf. I hate playing golf down an avenue of houses.”
There were commercially beneficial reasons for the location too, as Sir Rocco Forte explained. In Italy there are government grants available in the south, so the group were able to get up to a third of the development cost as a grant. He added that although the peak summer months would see mainly leisure travellers, business and incentive guests were expected mainly in the shoulder months either side of this period.
Conference and incentive travel is well catered for with a 24-hour business centre, video-conferencing facilities, wifi, and a worldwide courier service. There’s a 1,000-sqm open-air amphitheatre seating up to 500, a double-height 355-sqm ballroom for up to 340 guests, and seven meeting rooms with courtyards and views.
The resort has 203 rooms and suites, all with sea views and private terraces, and there are several restaurants and bars. Sir Rocco Forte said: “We had the opportunity to build 250 buildings but we only built 50 because we want it to be really luxurious.”
The complex has a 4,000 sqm spa including hydrotherapy pools, 11 treatment rooms, a gym, indoor lap pool and a 60-metre two-tiered outdoor pool as well as the opportunity for activities such as kite surfing, yoga, cycling and tennis. In a second phase of development, 60 villas are planned on the far side of the resort, for private ownership.
From Italy to the Czech Republic, the Augustine, Prague will open on May 14. Around 30 minutes’ drive from Prague’s Ruzyne International airport the Augustine is located in the picturesque Malá Strana district, close to Prague Castle, the Wallenstein Gardens and the famous Charles Bridge.
The five-star hotel is housed in a converted 13th-century monastery. Speaking at the launch, Olga Polizzi, the Rocco Forte Collection’s director of design said: “I think this was the largest restoration project in Prague. It’s made up of seven restored buildings. I wanted to make the most if it being a monastery so a lot of the design refers to monastic theme. There’s heavy linen in place of the coarse rugs and ecclesiastical colours such as purples and greens.”
Sir Rocco Forte commented on other five-star properties in the Czech capital, saying “the difference with this hotel is that it really says something about Prague”.
The Augustine has 101 rooms including 16 suites – with the honeymoon suite housed in the original monastery tower. Restaurant and bar offerings include the 90-seat the Monastery in a glass-covered courtyard, Tom’s Bar in a vaulted double-height hall, with seating on the cloister terrace and the Brewery bar in the cellar.
The hotel also features a spa with four treatment rooms, including one double room, a hamam, steam room, manicure and pedicure area, an 80 sqm fully equipped gym and a relaxation area.
For business travellers there is wifi throughout, four private dining rooms suitable for meetings, as well as a 196 sqm vaulted ballroom.
Future openings for the group include its first ventures in the Middle East with Abu Dhabi and Jeddah. Sir Rocco Forte was positive that these properties would not have any problems opening on time, despite the economic climate. He said: “Abu Dhabi will be open at end of next year – the region has a lot of money and Jeddah and Marrakech will be opening in 2011, so hopefully things will have settled down a bit then.”
When asked about the future of luxury hotels in the current market, Sir Rocco Forte said: “I think we will suffer like everyone else as a lot of the business travel element is affected as well. Companies are under pressure to travel less and, for example, banks are a big group of our customers. Lehman Brothers disappeared and we had £750,000 of business with them. Everyone is under pressure and there is an element of our customer base who are aspirational, so they stepped up to stay in a five-star hotels so we may see them stepping down now, and it will inevitably affect us.”
And when asked about future developments: “Well, the places I really want to get into are Paris, Milan, Madrid, Amsterdam, Moscow and New York City centre – it’s about finding the right commercial opportunity. In the last three years, property values have been so high its been impossible to make those work, but over the next couple of years this might change. It’s particularly difficult in somewhere like Paris. It is about choosing the right building and Paris has so many other [top-end hotels] you have to pitch yourself as something spectacular if you are going in there.”
Sir Rocco Forte said he was not interested in expanding as far as China though: “No I’m not interested in going to the Far East because I don’t understand it at all. I don’t have a feel for it and I don’t know how it works.”
The Augustine is offering special opening group rates starting from €275, per room, per night and include breakfast and a free champagne cocktail based on a minimum booking of 20 rooms.
At the Verdura, there is an early-booking offer of seven nights for the price of five or 12 nights for the price of nine, on bookings made before March 31, 2009 and valid up to June 30. The offer is available on a half-board or B&B basis. Prices start at €350 per room, per night in the low season, and at €720 in the high season.
For more information on the new hotels and the other properties in the collection see roccofortecollection.com.
Report by Felicity Cousins