How over 50 years, the Weisser has gained the reputation of one of the leading hotels in Alto Adige
Blending modern touches with tradition and exquisite service, Hotel Armentarola’s guests return from year-to-year to this truly special place on the outskirts of the town of San Cassiano in the Dolomite Mountains.
The hotel offers an excellent restaurant and has a spa, pool and wellness area; in the winter its location right on the ski slopes at Alta Badia makes it the ideal destination for a skiing holiday in Italy. While in the summer, guests can take advantage of a tennis court, horseback riding, nordic walking and nearby golf.
Mussolini’s Fascist regime was at the height of its power when Hotel Armentarola first opened its doors to the public. With Europe on the brink of another World War, times were uncertain. Yet in 1938, Toni Weisser’s grandparents constructed a 50-room boutique hotel in the Dolomites with their very own hands. 75 years on, Toni Weisser – the 3rd generation of the family to own and manage the hotel – talks more about its history and why the Alto Adige mantra of hospitality has been so instrumental to its success.
“My grandmother was a cook and my father a bellboy, both at hotels, but they dreamed of opening their own place.”
Your grandparents opened the hotel in 1938 in a remote part of the Dolomites. What made them take on this challenge at this difficult historical time?
My grandmother was a cook and my father a bellboy, both at hotels, but they dreamed of opening their own place. They were from Merano and had heard good things about this area. My grandfather came to Armentarola at various times, in all the seasons, looking for the perfect location with lots of sunshine and a good view. Armentarola is unique in this matter – there is a minimum of 7 hours of sun per day here! Everyone thought they were crazy – nobody opens a hotel so far outside of town. There was not even a proper road from San Cassiano, and this area was very remote at the time. But they already had a vision of what this place could become.
“My grandfather was to credit in this: he was one of the first hoteliers to use a form of marketing to attract return customers… he sent letters with pressed alpine flowers to previous guests!”
When the hotel opened at Christmas, 1938, the dining room was not ready yet – guests had to dine in their rooms! (11 rooms, 2 with bathrooms, formed the nucleus of the hotel.) The season was short – two weeks at Christmas, then empty again until Carnival and again perhaps a week at Easter, and then it was full in the summer. My grandfather rode the horse and cart into town each day to recruit prospective guests from the bus stop and bring them back to the hotel. One thing that they certainly appreciated was the food: my grandmother was quite a famous cook – all the families in the Alto Adige sent their daughters to learn from her. And many guests returned each year. My grandfather was to credit in this: he was one of the first hoteliers to use a form of marketing to attract return customers… he sent letters with pressed alpine flowers to previous guests.
“Armentarola gets its name from ‘Armenti’, meaning remote, sunny pastures.”
Was there a lot of tourism in the Dolomites in this period?
Not really, the boom here in Val Badia was in the 1960s and 70s, and did not receive state investments like in Cortina which developed in the 1950s. Our house is one of the oldest in this area, and it is also of a very different style than the others – big and square, it is in the fascist style. Armentarola gets its name from ‘Armenti’, meaning remote, sunny pastures. This higher ground was used for animals to pasture in the summers by residents of the nearby village, who were mostly poor farmers living in the area’s typical structures calledmaso.
So your parents still help around the hotel… what is the secret to maintaining a family hotel for over three generations?
The Alto Adige way, applied usually to the maso, is that the eldest son inherits it and helps the other offspring find appropriate jobs outside of the home. This is the only way to make sure that it is not dispersed, divided, and finally sold.
I read that your father enjoyed growing up at the hotel and performing various chores like chopping wood. What was it like for you to grow up at this hotel?
My parents and I still live on the premises, but I was sent away to school after the elementary level, so I was really only here during the holidays, when we kids were given small tasks like washing glasses or opening a bottle of wine. We were of course never forced to work in the hotel!
Hotel Armentarola is located in an area known as Ladinia. Do you feel closely connected to this culture, and how is it reflected in this hotel?
Yes, we are “Ladini.” We grow up speaking Ladinian dialect. Then at school we learn Italian, German and English… Various aspects of the hotel reflect our culture, including the wood and certain parts of the decoration. The food is typical of the Alto Adige area – not so much specifically to Ladinia, because this was a poor farming area and we cannot survive just on speck and milk!
“The hotel is made up of its people. We have many collaborators who have been here for a very long time – the sommelier for 25 years, the housekeeper for 40. So yes, our forte is the people.”
Can you sum up the mantra or personality of Hotel Armentarola?
Hmm… The hotel is made up of its people. We have many collaborators who have been here for a very long time – the sommelier for 25 years, the housekeeper for 40. So yes, our forte is the people. In keeping with my grandfather’s tradition of encouraging return visits, 90% of our guests are return guests, and they are happy to find familiar faces year after year.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Hotel Armentarola, South Tyrol