A high quality example of tourist reception in Le Marche.
The charm of a place can be measured in many ways, one of which I like to call “la prova della pioggia” - 'the rain test'. If you think about it, many great cities such as Paris, Rome and New York, are as beautiful in the rain as they are the sun - perhaps even more so. In Rome, you can find yourself caught in a downpour and soaked to the skin, but such is the beauty that radiates all around that you can’t help but feel happy, liberated. The same thing happened to us at Riserva Privata San Settimio.
As we arrive to interview Marina Pieroncini, manager of the estate, it’s raining heavily, yet the charm of those 400 hectares of Mediterranean remain intact, as if all the trees were taking a deep breath in unison. In fact that’s exactly it, 'oxygen' the first word that comes to mind when I look around and contemplate our imminent meeting with Marina. It doesn’t surprise me that while, on the door of "Il Padiglione" (the country club restaurant), I'm wondering whether to knock or just go straight in, and then I catch a smiling face through the glass "Come in, it’s open!" she says, raising her voice a little in jest.
Upon entering, we immediately realize that the atmosphere is that of last minute preparations (only 4 days to the reopening). While we wait for her to deal with various phone calls in her little loft style office, our attention is drawn to a lady perched on the corner of a table in the restaurant, talking on the phone: "Two lovely large fillets, mmm, nice and big; large, smoked scamorza, four pieces; Grana Padano cheese, a quarter should do for now, no, okay, if it costs less then another quarter; ham; bresaola; three pieces of Fabriano salami with lard; two loins; then taleggio cheese: just one, one taleggio; then a pre rolled puff pastry, the one for desserts, yes? Three pieces of mascarpone cheese, the half kilos ones, ehm, three; and then a box of chocolate drops and a box of chocolate flakes, again just one. Okay”. It’s the cook, Simonetta, Marina tells us reaching up and putting an end to our dangerous 'culinary hypnosis'. Then she leads the way between the fireplace and the billiards table, settling down at one of the dining tables from where we can see across the valley to the surf on the sea at Senigallia.
How nice to eavesdrop while the cook’s ordering the ingredients with such precision and grace.
They’re all like that here, the beauty of this place is in its staff, all of whom have been here for ten years, apart from me, I’ve been here for four years. Take Stefania from the dining room, I call her KGB because in her efforts to ensure the best possible service to the guests, she questions them on virtually everything but their blood group: in the guest book the majority of the dedications are towards her, the clients absolutely adore her. They’re all like that though, like Maurizio with his off roading activities or Simonetta who is in the kitchen and so unfortunately is always a bit hidden. They’re a great group of employees, the cornerstones of our success. There’s also a new Sicilian girl due to arrive to help out for the season. I already know that I’m not going to be able to stop myself help from teasing her just a little, just thinking of her I start to speak with a Palermo accent... hopefully she won’t take any offense.
It would seem that she’s very luck to spend the season here surrounded by such wonderful people.
I think so, yes. You see, to do this job you have to love it, you need to have passion. If there were no problems that would be even better, but here the place is unique: you have the freedom to manage the work as you think best and have the opportunity to do so in a really fantastic place.
Some would say that, being so affable, you're not the typical ‘Anconetana’.
Fortunately I'm half Abruzzese (she laughs). My mum is from Ortona where I spent the best summers of my adolescence. You know, I arrived in the town as the 'foreigner' and so I was the centre of attention.
Tell us about your clients. What are the interests and activities most requested by the guests of San Settimio?
It depends on the type of package they choose, some include a visit to the wine cellars, others are wellness packages. Possibly the most popular activites are offroading with the jeep, also the quad and horse riding. It also depends on the spirit with which they arrive, they may want to relax for example or there are those who come and go walking in the reserve every day.
You have a wide range of activities on offer. Tell us about the hotel’s strengths.
Our strengths? Well, everything. A major strength could be the fact that we always employ team-building activities such as the jeep, quad, Tibetan rope bridge walking, horseback riding and trekking ... we get requests from companies wanting to do outdoor activities and we’re always at their disposal, there’s no need to contact external companies to organize outdoor activities at the reserve. As for the spa, well it’s obviously an advantage but then again now most places have a spa. Here the secret lies in the total immersion in nature, then when you see that in the midst of all this greenery there is also a wonderful spa, well then you need look no further.
Do you have plans for expansion at San Settimio in the next few years?
There are plans to renovate a little house we have on the reserve (la ‘Casa del Campo’ - 'The Field House'), when we can find the funding. The renovation costs aren’t exactly small. At the moment, however, there really is everything here. I do like the idea of a covered swimming pool behind the spa, which would allow customers to spend a whole day of well-being, rather than the current two hours.
In terms of reservations, which is your busiest period? How long is the average stay?
We mainly have guests coming for weekends. Obviously we’re busiest in high season and during bank holiday weekends, but even in high season, the weekends are always the busiest. I’d say the average stay is usually therefore two or three days, but it would be nice if more people came mid-week, from Monday to Thursday. In fact, we have designed a package specifically for such periods. Also because at those times, you can often find that you have the estate virtually to yourself, the spa is all yours, what more could you want?
People like yourself are rare.
So let's see if we can make something come out of the collaboration with tour operators and our new international partners. We must keep in touch with everyone, be everywhere, because if you only have relationships with those who your existing contacts, you’re at risk of missing what’s going on around you. That’s just my way of thinking, I’m not an economist. I know it's a utopia, but to create something that brings everyone together regardless of size, location or reputation would be really cool.
At Paradise possible we’re working to change the situation and realize the dream.
I'm there. You can count on me.
After the interview, Marina loaded us into her car and showed us the endless estate. It's worth: as you can imagine It's a very special place. Although we must admit that here in Paradise Possible we are convinced that people, before resources, make a place special. And Marina, you know...
The Paradise Trotter