< ITALY | CORTINA D´AMPEZZO: Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf
The Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf was founded by two pioneers of tourism in Ampezzo, Giuseppe Menardi and his wife Emilia Volkan, and it opened its doors in 1901. Originally known as the Palace Hotel Cristallo, the new building in Art Nouveau style which dominated the Ampezzo valley, was designed by the master architect Gustavo Ghiretti. At the time the hotel opened, Cortina was still a small mountain village under the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The Hotel immediately became one of the most coveted destinations for the upper bourgeois elite that characterized the tourism of the age. The earliest hotel registers contain the signatures of
famous personalities, such as Leo Tolstoy, and guests from every part of the world: Vienna, Berlin, London, Budapest, Moscow, Denver, New York, Boston, Chicago, Dublin and even Singapore.
The popularity of the Hotel Cristallo began to grow right away. The first expansion was built in 1906, and by 1913 the Hotel offered 110 rooms with 45 baths. But the pulsating heart of the Hotel was the grand hall at its centre, which became a place of cultural, economic and political exchange.
The outbreak of The First World War ended the golden life of that era. By order of the Austrian authorities, the hotels were requisitioned and transformed into military offices. The Cristallo was set up as a military hospital. At the end of the war, in 1918, the hotel re-emerged, heavily hit by the four years of conflict; it wasn’t able to reopen its doors until 1920.
Thanks to the introduction of skis, and therefore the rise of winter tourism, Cortina was finally able to return to its pre-war magnificence. The person to introduce hockey was in fact Leo, the son of Giuseppe and Emilia, a passionate sportsman with sophisticated knowledge of the world, who did much to build up the attraction of Cortina and the Hotel Cristallo. In 1928, the hotel was provided with two tennis courts, which converted to skating rinks in the wintertime, and in 1932, a covered swimming pool, which was a novelty and a new sought-after attraction for a mountain hotel.
Society life revolved around the grand hotels of the age and the Cristallo was a favourite of Italian high nobility and its entourage. Important guests included Duke Amedeo of Aosta, his brother Aimone, Mafalda d’Assia and Gabriele d’Annunzio. The hotel’s international clientele included King Fouad of Egypt, King Milan of Serbia and King Albert of Belgium.
During the Second World War, tourism in Ampezzo was to take another pause. With the post-war reconstruction, a new era of tourism began in Cortina in 1947 as the hotels of Cortina were not derequisitioned until 1947. Careful renovation work restored the Cristallo to its old splendour and, under the management of Leo Menardi and his wife Ofelia Zardini, the hotel once again welcomed guests in that elegant and exclusive atmosphere. Just three years after the war ended, the number of beds and stays had already returned to the level of ten years before.
One of the Hotel’s most famous guests was Noble Prize winner Saul Bellow. Following his departure, the author wrote a letter of thanks to the Hotel management, praising its hospitality and remarking on the great number of American families he had met in Cortina. The eccentric Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov passed many hours in the hotel park catching butterflies, and was never without his net, not even during meals in the restaurant, much to the amusement of the waiting staff and other guests.
Between 1950 and 1957, Leo Menardi brought ice hockey and curling to Cortina, he promoted the Cristallo Bob Club team and, above all, the legendary “Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti” (Dolomites Gold Cup), the race that brought the best drivers in the world, and the first Ferraris, to the hairpin bends of the Alps. Already the chosen home of winter sports, Cortina was the first Italian mountain resort to host the Olympic Games in 1956. Thanks to the Olympics, Cortina became a true capital of both elite and mass tourism. In these years, Leo and Ofelia Menardi left the management of the hotel to their son Rinaldo.
In 1965, Rinaldo opened the Monkey in the Cristallo, which soon became one of the most famous and most frequented clubs, not only in Cortina, but anywhere in the Alps. These were the years of protest against bourgeois respectability, unconventional fashion and nightlife and Monkey organised unforgettable parties and events. Klaus Kinski, Ira Furstenberg, Philips Niarkos, the Princes of Liechtenstein, Shirley Bassey, Brigitte Bardot and Luca Cordero of Montezemolo... were just a few of its many frequent visitors, which included the offspring of noble families, industrialists, actors and artists who electrified those endless nights.
They were carefree and richly creative years, during which Cortina and the Cristallo began to be used as the setting for numerous films: In 1959, "Vacanze d’inverno" (“Winter Vacation”) brought Vittorio De Sica, Renato Salvatori, Michele Morgan and Alberto Sordi to the Hotel Cristallo for the first time. In 1962 Frank Sinatra booked the whole hotel for the entire month of September for Von Ryan’s Express. In 1963, the Hotel Cristallo was the backdrop for Blake Edwards’ "Pink Panther". Many of the scenes were filmed in the rooms of the Hotel.
1978 Times and fashions change quickly and while Cortina continued as a fashionable society meeting point for summer and winter holidays, the great aristocratic families now preferred to stay in splendid restructured chalets. The Palace Hotel Cristallo, managed by the Rinaldi family for over 70 years, no longer had its clientele of former years and was sold to the Compagnia Italiana Grand Alberghi - CIGA (Company of Grand Italian Hotels), owned by Aga Khan Karim. The CIGA Group managed the hotel for ten years. Unfortunately, the weaknesses of big hotel chain model soon appeared. In 1988, the Cristallo closed its doors.
In 1997, Paolo Gualandi, an entrepreneur from Bologna, purchased the Hotel Cristallo with a goal to bring back to life the hotel that had been the centre of society life, politics and economics in Cortina d’Ampezzo for so many years. About a decade after its closure, The Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf reopened its doors in July 2001.
The unique style and the refined, warm, welcoming allure of the Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf permeate each of its 74 rooms, of which 22 are suites, no two the same, including 5 Royal Suites and 2 Presidential Suites, the “Frank Sinatra Presidential Suite” and the “Peter Sellers Presidential Suite”. The distinctive finishings and furniture and the exclusive service create the atmosphere of an eighteenth-century fairytale, while The Cristallo’s wines and cuisine follow the footsteps of the grand culinary tradition of the Hotel’s history while keeping up with the latest trends.
Today, The Cristallo – the only Luxury 5 star hotel in the Dolomites, continues to offer hospitality to the international élite, for whom Cortina d’Ampezza has always been a point of reference, and who can now find in the Cristallo the perfect combination of impeccable refinement and the warm and welcoming atmosphere of home.
Additional literature: n/a