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The Capella & Rocco Forte European Empires

Courtesy of Capella Hotels and Resorts Capella Hotels and Resorts

Photo: Capella Hotels and Resorts

Before leaving New York for Schloss Velden, in southern Austria, and Capella Castlemartyr, in County Cork, Ireland, just as I was choosing which ties to pack and about to oven-dry some tomatoes, Benjamin and Iona called, identifying themselves as my private assistants. Was there anything they could do for me or needed to know about me before my arrival—dietary don’ts, transfers, reservations, specific things I wanted to see or do?

Wow, I thought. Lots of hotels send “thank you for staying with us!” notes after you check out, but such exhaustive “pre-calls” are rare. I was impressed, even if I failed the keen, bright voices on the other end because I couldn’t think of anything for them to do. Both Schloss Velden and Castlemartyr are part of Capella Hotels and Resorts, the upstart luxury hospitality group based in Atlanta and headed by Horst Schulze. Do you know Ritz-Carlton?If so, it is thanks to Mr. Schulze, who left the company as vice chairman in 2002 and whose name is synonymous with visionary hotel-building. The idea is that he will do for Capella what he did for Ritz-Carlton, minus the cobalt goblets.

Nobody phoned me from Le Richemond, in Geneva, or the Charles Hotel, in Munich, where I would also be staying, which is not to say these places don’t have their knives sharpened: They are, after all, urban hotels that do big business with business travelers, not country resorts focused on the leisure market. Warm and fuzzy is not their style, which is fine. As outposts of an empire built on a different model, they have other attributes.

Slick, sleek, and possibly impossible to trip up no matter how many traps you lay for them, Le Richemond and the Charles belong to the Rocco Forte Collection, which by July will also have the Augustine, in Prague. Looking onto the Wallenstein Garden, a geometric masterpiece of the early Baroque, the Augustine is set to inhabit a historic complex of five buildings, including a portion of a working 13th-century monastery. Spying monks on their way to vespers isn’t normally part of the five-star hotel experience. But it will be here, and you won’t even have to pay extra.

Using some creative math, Forte has lately taken to calling itself the largest luxury hotel operator in Europe. Oh really?Tell that to the Four Seasons, whose Hotel Istanbul at Bosphorus bows in June, followed the next month by the Hotel Firenze, in Florence. While the Istanbul is folded into a romantic 19th-century Ottoman mansion with views across the strait to the Asian side of the city, the Firenze claims a ravishing Renaissance palazzo steps from the Duomo.

Capella is too wet behind the ears for the established big guns to really care about it. Richard Power, Forte’s brand managing director, calls Four Seasons his “most admired competitor,” but insists he’s never even heard of Capella. Forte and Capella are not head-to-head rivals, but Power’s ignorance is still a little odd when you consider that both are luxury brands vying for consumer mind-share. When Schulze told me he did not know the Forte product well enough to comment on it, I started to think maybe I was the paranoid one. I always assume these guys read each other’s moves like tea leaves. But beyond a preoccupation with size, maybe they really do live in a bubble.

Richard Power may finally hear about capella when its third property, the Breidenbacher Hof in Düsseldorf, opens this month. Not that it will be an easy sell. Much is being made of the hotel’s location on the “glamorous” Königsallee, the city’s principal boulevard, but for many, glamour and Düsseldorf will never make it down the aisle.

There will be a lot more to get your teeth into at Capella Dunboy Castle, in Castletownbere, Ireland, launching this summer. Dunboy was built around 1400 by ancestors of Donal O’Sullivan Beara, the last Irish chieftain to forswear allegiance to England. Guest rooms (as at all Capellas, the number hovers around 100) overlook grounds where in 1602 Beara and his army clashed bloodily with English troops.

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