Magical Moments: The British Hotelier, whose establishments include the hotel de Rome in Berlin, raves about a trip he took as a child.
It was in the summer of 1953, when I was eight years old. My sister, Olga, and I traveled with our parents from London to my father’s hometown in Italy. We climbed aboard the Golden Arrow at Victoria Station, a luxury train that took us as far as Dover. There, we took a ferry to Calais and continued our journey from there on a French train.
We had a sleeping compartment. Olga and I were delighted because we had never traveled on a night train before. Of course, there was immediately a tussle over which of us would sleep on the top bunk and who would have to take the bottom bunk. If my memory serves me correctly, I won. We didn’t have to change trains at the Italian border, but there was a switch of dining cars – from cuisine française to cucina italiana, so to speak. Actually, the food on the train was fantastic because it was prepared from fresh ingredients by proper chefs.
When we arrived in Rome after almost two days on the move, we stayed at the Excelsior in Rome, in a suite with two bedrooms. For us kids, it all seemed very grand and splendid and imposing, a little bit like in a fairy tale. You see, even as a child, I found the hotel trade fascinating. But we had not yet reached our final destination. From Rome, we traveled another 140 kilometers to the small mountain village of Monfote in Lazio, quite close to the famous Montecassino Abbey. The people there still drew their from the well back then, and electric cables had only recently been laid. None of all that mattered to me.
I spent practically the entire four weeks of our vacation out of doors with the village boys. When we weren’t flitting across the meadows, we were riding donkeys up the hill and leaving them there to graze while we ran back down to the village along the narrow paths. For me, it was a time of adventure and at the same time, pure luxury.
My father later renovated the house in Monforte where he was born, and today it’s a comfortable place to spend the night, with running water and Wi-Fi, too. I often spent time in the summer there with my three children; the last time in 2002, when Casalattico, the neighboring village, named a new sports hall after my father. The journey there was very much shorter than it was in 1953, of course, and life is also far more comfortable, but I will never forget the magical moments of that vacation long ago.