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Independent Minds: Andrea Quartucci, QRA Hospitality

Keeping the heart and soul of these once aristocratic family homes very much alive, Andrea Quartucci has transformed three historic Sicilian villas into elegant escapes for the modern day traveller. Staying in Taormina with the Quartuccis means experiencing the ancient city like a local, from hopping on Andrea’s vintage Vespa to fishing in secret spots on the family boat, guests are given an authentic taste of Sicily.

With not one, but two hotels in Taormina boasting Mount Etna and Mediterranean Sea views, the Quartucci dream began in 1990 with Hotel Villa Ducale – where life revolves around its panoramic terrace from the freshly prepared buffet breakfast to the pop-up candlelit dinner tables – and has since extended to Hotel Villa Carlotta and their most recent venture, Q92 Noto Hotel in the heart of the Baroque capital. Each storied property has an understated look of luxury and the feel of a private residence, where the idea is very much to make yourself at home.

What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?

In my life I have always been an independent spirit since I was a working student in Oxford, so it is absolutely part of my personality. It gives you the freedom to show guests exactly all those single aspects of the hotel that really make it special. Chain hotels, for example, have detailed standards to follow, resulting in them all being the same, whilst being independently minded means having the possibility to express the real soul of the place. I have tried to reflect my personality in the hotels through the friendliness of the staff, the interior design and by offering a really customised experience. A day at one of my hotels for me is like acting on a theatre stage every day with a basic script and a lot of improvisation. One of my slogans is, “stay at my hotel, stay with me”, allow me to show you our lifestyle influenced by Greeks, Romans, Arabs and mostly Italian Mediterranean culture.

What was the inspiration behind the hotels, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?

My wife Rosaria and I opened our first luxury hotel, Villa Ducale, in 1993 with just 9 rooms, which was quite a crazy idea in those times. It was originally her family home which we converted from an old mansion into a niche hotel wanting to maintain that vibe of understated luxury matching the totally local atmosphere. It might be that then we invented the today so-called “boutique hotel” without even realising.

Our inspiration was our sense of hospitality which is strongly part of our culture. Our hotels are all ancient buildings with a history behind them and the contemporary interior design under the project of top Italian architects and artists. However, for a successful hotelier travelling the world is essential – we often go to Asia and Bali from where my wife Rosy has found many inspirations. One example? We offer a free 10-minute back massage during breakfast time in a separated corner near our restaurant…guests are in love with it!

How do you think your hotels stands apart from other boutique hotels?

This is in many ways. We have got the best views in Taormina, we continuously update and improve our furniture, service and personal knowledge, which is the secret of a successful hotel, we carry on offering complimentary staff training about our extremely challenging technical subject such as revenue management or marketing. But mostly we stand apart from others for our amazing staff and their heart and soul, their devotion to work that I passed to them and recently to my children who are slowly taking up some essential areas of hotel management.

How would you describe your own perfect luxury experience?

The perfect luxury experience is certainly a beautiful elegant place with luxury furnishings and an outstanding view, a very good restaurant and excellent top-class service. But in order to fill the box you need to have that extraordinary human factor that always makes the difference. My staff’s best skill is empathy. Luxury means a totally problem free experience, from the moment the clients arrive to the moment you say, “arrivederci”, I always teach my staff to keep in mind that a guest’s problem is their problem and that we need to read their minds and deliver what they actually expect in that precise moment.

Do you have a vision for the future of the hotels?

My vision of the hotels is very simple. Our hotel guests need to experience more than simply sleep, drink and eat. Sometimes I invite them for a glass of wine or a friendly cooking lesson to my home in Taormina which is a Sicilian retreat from the 1600s where they can breathe a true and sincere local atmosphere – or take them on my boat to fish, swim and snorkel in secret places in our sea I have known since I was a kid. However, the best experience I can offer is driving my vintage 1971 orange-colored Vespa along our narrow streets to feel like a true local…it’s sometimes a bit of sufferance for my beloved vehicle but guest smiles and laughter pay me back. These things always win.