A Gracious Transformation

Charles Colett describes his experience of transforming a palazzo into the discerning traveller's dream location...

Palazzo Passerini was always conceived as a place in Cortona for the discerning traveller and not as a personal home. We (Mark Farmer & I, Charles Collett) spent the majority of three years designing, planning and curating an experience for visitors. As architects we looked at every detail but as travellers we understand how important the experience is and how that experience creates a lasting memory for the visitor.
We were captivated by the early Renaissance style of Palazzo Passerini, with its beautifully proportioned rooms, exquisite fireplaces, and imposing and typically Tuscan facade on Via Roma. The property required minimal structural work thanks to the previous owner's restoration efforts. Consequently, we only needed to focus on renovating the interiors, but this also required entirely new plumbing, heating and electrical systems. We were not daunted by the task, with over 30 years of experience renovating properties in the UK, but although we are architects, we engaged the Arezzo based firm, Superplum, to develop the design and obtain the relevant permissions. With their close connections to Cortona this was a good choice.The most difficult aspect was the unscheduled arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic; we closed the contract with the former owner on 8 March 2020, but just a few days later, Italy and Europe were in the grips of lockdown.
Before the transformation 1
Before the transformation 2
The aim was to open in 2021 but after an extended design and planning period, resulting from Covid-19 restrictions, the building was not handed over until December 30 2021. This was disappointing because we had hoped to spend Christmas at Palazzo Passerini, but unfortunately the gas had not been connected and the boiler and heating systems had not been tested or commissioned. It is essential to allow sufficient time for these activities, which can take several weeks.
In the meantime, we were working with wonderful local and world famous companies like Busatti of Anghiari and Tosconova in Florence to procure our bespoke furniture and sourcing key products. We also worked closely with interior designer Sarah Townsend who introduced us to Betty Soldi, a Firenze based calligrapher and graphic designer. This was a key and highly influential decision, which helped guide the interiors based on the history and coat of arms of Passerini. The simple logo of the crowned bird became our hallmark.
One thing we have learnt is that there is so much more to running a private luxury residence than completing a successful renovation. From the creation of a website, professional photography, the engagement of booking agents to branding design and finding the right people to help operate and deliver the experience we wanted to give our guests.
Having photography done mid-winter is not the best time, so we had to wait until April 2022 before we could do this, by which time most people planning a visit to Tuscany in the summer had made their bookings. So, the first year of operation was slow with just a few long stay guests, but it gave us the opportunity to fine tune our operations.
Thanks to the help of Lulu Townsend, we were able to develop our marketing strategy, but it takes time, effort and of course there are associated costs. We were recently included in the UK Times Magazine as one of the top 10 places to stay in Umbria and Tuscany alongside gold standard destinations such as Reschio. We have also just joined HIP Hotels. Although we are not a hotel as such, we offer our guests hotel like experience with daily maid service and private chef, if required. Our manager, Marialena is on hand daily to assist with guests’ needs and arrange experiences for them, from wine tasting trips to truffle hunting, cycling or walking tours or learning to make pasta in the Palazzo’s fully equipped kitchen.
Reviews both on booking platforms and our own website have all been 5-star but even more rewarding is the genuine enjoyment of our guests; one family from New York arrived and the wife was literally moved to tears on arrival (from a sense of joy I must add); this is the most rewarding feedback we could hope for.
Our advice to others attempting to do the same, would be to look carefully at the marketing strategy from the beginning, decide who your target market is and consider the seasonal nature of Italian tourism. You can’t be all things to everyone, so pick your target market, stick to that and develop your strategy around those visitors, consider what they want to do and make connections with local suppliers who can create a complimentary relationship with you. For example, our wines are supplied by Molesini wine shop with whom wine tastings can be arranged in-house at the wine shop or as part of the wine club.
We are very happy with the result at Palazzo Passerini and the feedback from press and guests bear witness to this success and we are hoping that in the next few years we will create another experience in or around Cortona to compliment Palazzo Passerini Residenza (to give its full name), watch this space!
Web-site: www.palazzopasserini.com
E-mail: info@palazzopasserini.com
Contact: Charles Collett
Palazzo Passerini Residenza is perfect for intimate groups of six, whether friends or family, to indulge in the charm of an authentic medieval Palazzo in one of Tuscany's most picturesque hill towns.
Charles Colett, 13/12/2023 14:05:21

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