by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Like an old married couple
When I was 15 I visited Italy for the first time. It was love at first sight and, over time, took on the vicissitudinal trajectory of a life-long commitment which just means, me and Italy, we’re like an old married couple! There’s a comfort between us, an ease that comes with time, a deep affection, a profound love.
I’m always drawn to Italy when it comes to rest and relaxation and was thrilled last week to get the chance to visit again. What made it particularly special was the opportunity to visit a part of the country that was new to me, still to be discovered.
The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in North-East Italy includes Trieste, a coastal city close to the Slovenian border, long known for its links with the Irish author of Ulysses, James Joyce. It’s also an area of unique geological formations – carso or karst – the same limestone formation as the lunar-like Burren on Ireland’s west coast.
Thanks to Silvana Menegazzi, a client from my years as an Italian speaking guide in the late 80s, I have always been aware of Friuli’s celtic heritage and how celtic culture continued to flourish there long after its decline elsewhere on the European continent.
When I asked Venice-born Lorenzo Pignatti of +39 Italy for recommendations on where we should stay in the area he mentioned a Luxury Collection property recently opened near Monfalcone, a town just north of Trieste, famous for building cruise ships. “It’s part of a brand new development”, he explained, “Residences, a beach club, several restaurants, a yacht club and extensive meeting space, all built into the side of a cliff”.
And, of course, building towns on a cliff face is not a new activity for Italian architects and engineers. There’s a centuries-long tradition that has given us the awesomeness of Cinque Terre and the extraordinariness of Positano. Long before Falisia Resort & Spa (the Luxury Collection property at which we stayed) unique hospitality experiences with implausible sea views have been served up at iconic locations like the Il San Pietro in Positano or Palazzo Avino in Ravello.
Falisia Resort & Spa
The better to ease ourselves gradually into the open arms of La Bella Italia, we took the shuttle from Venice’s Marco Polo airport to Mestre and the train from there to Monfalcone. I was reminded how extensive the rail network is in Italy and also how reasonably priced – the 120km journey didn’t even cost €10! A taxi from Monfalcone had us at Portopiccolo, Sistiana where the hotel is located in less than 10 minutes.
Falisia Resort & Spa is at the heart of an extensive development that, at capacity, can accommodate over 1000 people, mainly in stunningly designed contemporary private apartments. Laid out around a purpose built marina, all views are orientated on the yacht filled harbour and onwards to the calm waters of the Adriatic.
At one end of the harbour you can experience high gastronomy at Bris, the complex’s fine dining restaurant. At the other you’ll find the Beach Club, a section of which is reserved for guests of the Hotel. There’s another outlet there too – Maxi’s Restaurant – that specialises in fish and seafood.
The Hotel is classic and boutique with 65 guest rooms all with harbour views and a pleasing contemporary colour palette of rich reds, mustard yellows and light blues. The Deluxe rooms are laid out inside a metal framework with wall and ceiling fabric panels in greys and blues. These rooms are filled with light from two full sized windows that open onto small balconies perched above the piazza that flanks the harbour.
The public areas of the hotel on the ground floor repeat the palette motivs but add in a warm, rich gold to create an elite, luxury but reassuring tone. There’s a bar that extends onto to the piazza and a restaurant where breakfast is served with an outside terrace . At breakfast each morning we were tended to by extraordinary wait staff who moved easily between languages while constantly paying attention for signs that a guest may need a fill up or another cappuccino. It was heartening to be served by true professionals who took pride in their careers and saw real purpose in their work.
The wonderful Mirella Bellatone, Sales Hospitality Manager at Falisia Resort & Spa took me around the extensive meeting and event facilities located in the separate, stand alone building that also includes the spa complex. On the ground floor there are a total of 260 square metres of meeting space divisible into 2 distinct areas. In addition there’s a fully equipped 120 square metre “party” room with sufficient trussing, lights and built-in sound to rival any night club.
On the first floor there are an additional 567 square metres of flexible function space with capacity for up to 350 people. Importantly, this space opens directly onto an expansive terrace which, in turn, overlooks the bay. Despite its relatively recent launch, Falisia Resort & Spa has already hosted a number of high-end corporate events and many weddings.
There are sufficient places to eat and things to do at Portopiccolo but the nearby towns Duino and Sistiana also provide a plethora of attractions. On one evening, for example, we enjoyed a great fish dinner at the simple but super Fish House (15 mins walk up the hill from Falisia Resort & Spa). Another afternoon we walked the Rilke Trail from Sistiana to Duino, walking in the footsteps of the Czech poet who was a guest at Duino Castle.
We also discovered the Collegio del Mondo Unito (United World College) in Duino, a project established by the German educational philosopher, Kurt Hahn, that brings 16 – 18 year olds from all continents to study together over a 2 year period. Finally we also spent a day hiking part of the Alpe Adria, a 750 km trail that connects the three regions of Carinthia, Slovenia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It’s listed amongst the top 10 trails in the world.
As a stand alone location for a corporate event, a dream location for a family wedding or a bolthole escape for a tired executive, Falisia Resort & Spa might just be the perfect solution. It was for us!
Pádraic Gilligan, Pat Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE industry