by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global
I visited Florence for the first time courtesy of a small bursary from the Italian Government. I was 16 years old and still at school. 3 weeks there in 1976 brought life and meaning to a plethora of exotic, rarefied names and words from Geography, History and art classes – de Medici, chiaroscuro, Brunelleschi, Ponte Vecchio, sfumato. It also brought me into contact with the slightly dysfunctional and unhinged de Luca family and was the beginning of my friendship with Ugo de Luca who was 2 years younger than me. We were each others’ exchange student for a few years and then lost touch.
Giuseppe Lepri – DMC legend
Over 10 years ago an Irish based client, President of a national association for lawyers, decided to hold his annual conference there. The planning process involved 2 site inspections and was the beginning of another Florentine friendship, this time with Giuseppe Lepri, owner and CEO of DMC and Events Company, NewTours. Giuseppe’s connection to his native city was inspiring and contagious. His depth of culture and breath of knowledge were limitless. He was driven by a palpable passion for Florence and transmitted that to you, easily, effortlessly, joyously. Giuseppe became for me the true model for leadership in DMC services.
Best Gala Dinner … ever
Almost 500 Irish Lawyers enjoyed one of the best Gala Dinners I’ve ever had the privilege of planning at the stunning fifteenth century Villa Castelletti, a late Renaissance noble demesne located a short drive from the city. Flaming torches marked out the route to the main entrance where trumpeters and flag bearers in full mediaeval dress welcomed guests with a dramatic flag throwing ceremony. Inside a full antipasto buffet, including huge wheels of seasoned parmigiano reggiano, was set out in the lateral halls which surrounded the main banqueting area. An elegant 8 course dinner with Tuscan wines only got as far as the sixth course as guests spontaneously rushed the stage to the opening notes of Volare played by a live 12 piece band of Lotharios with slicked back hair. Those were the days, indeed!
I’ve been back to Florence on a number of occasions since then, mostly privately. I’ve been back to the Accademia and the Uffizi. I’ve been into the Duomo and the Battistero. I’ve bought elegant belts at the Leather School and I’ve walked over the Ponte Vecchio early in the morning and late at night. I’ve eaten at Tredici Gobbi, Quattro Leoni and 3 Panche. And every time it’s been magical beyond compare.
My visit to Florence on the occasion of the Site EMEA Forum was special, however. I had time to become aggiornato, or updated, on some of the very spectacular infrastructural developments in the city. A modern tram line, similar to the light rail systems in Bordeaux and Dublin, now links the central station to the outer suburbs on the other side of the Arno. Private motorised traffic is restricted around the centro storico and it’s easier to enjoy the compact city on foot. And, of course, there are magnificent new hotels.
Four Seasons Firenze
Daniela Trovato, Director of Sales, at Four Seasons Firenze has the enviable job of selling a hotel that is truly unique. Made of up of 2 distinct accommodation experiences linked by a surprisingly spacious urban garden, the Frattini family has created a guest experience that paradoxically but successfully combines the rural tranquillity of a hushed haven with the urban bustle of a vibrant city. A seven year labour of love, the resort must now be one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels. Go and see for yourself!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arno, another branch of the same family has taken the Grand Hotel Villa Cora to another level entirely. A two year renovation has resulted in one of the most impressive boutique hotels I have ever seen. Set within the grounds of an 18th century estate close to the Boboli gardens Villa Cora has 47 magnificent rooms and suites. Restaurant Manager, Giampiero Puddu, knows a thing or two about tuscan wines and, prior to the Site EMEA Gala Dinner, introduced me to a fabulous, great value Sangiovese / Cabernet Sauvignon mix “I Balzini”. The dinner itself was an outstanding affair with perfect food and wine pairings, punctuated by live musical vignettes from Puccini, Verdi et al.
The Site EMEA Forum brought 80 meetings and events professionals to Florence from all over Europe. Three days of education and networking were set in motion by tech journalist Jonathan Margolis who presented some interesting personal thoughts around the famous Sam Goldsmith aphorism “Never Predict Anything – Especially the Future!” Despite amazing technological advancements, “Human desires do not change across the centuries”, he concluded. And this, of course, is good news for an industry which builds its success around creating motivational travel experiences and live, face-to-face encounters. No matter how sophisticated we become with on-line media, people will ALWAYS yearn for human connectivity.
How two old friends met again after 32 years
And that’s how 3 days in Florence concluded for me too. Inspired by a chance meeting with a mutual acquaintance who told me that my friend Ugo was now running a bar in central Florence I enlisted the help of Marzio, concierge at the Four Seasons Firenze. A few mouse clicks and one telephone call later I was beating a path to “Café al Communale”, the bar which Marzio had identified as Ugo’s. I entered the bar and made eye contact with the barman. We looked enquiringly at each other across a lifetime’s span of 32 years. And then I was sure:
“Ugo, ti ho cercato e adesso ti ho trovato”.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Director of Ovation Global DMC – www.ovationdmc.com and a former international president of Site – www.siteglobal.org