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Hotel Hassler: Hospitality for Generations (Interview with Roberto Wirth)

Hotel Hassler: Hospitality for Generations (Interview with Roberto Wirth)

roberto wirth

Rome’s living room

Have you ever been to Rome? Then you must have come across The Hassler. Dramatically located on top of the Spanish Steps, this grand dame could celebrate its 125th birthday just a few years ago. Sometimes referred to as "Rome's living room", this hotel has been welcoming guests from near and far since 1893, making room for a whole repetoire of thrilling stories and fascinating anecdotes.

American presidents, film stars, politicians, royals... and hedonists seeking a bit of Rome's sweet lifestyle. They've all been here. Audrey Hepburn even made the hotel her home during the filming of the iconic movie, "Roman Holiday" in 1953.

hotel hassler rome
hotel hassler rome
As Hotel Hassler sets sail into a new era of hospitality, it remains strongly rooted in a fundament of true elegance and traditional elegance. Some things never change - nor should they. After an extensive renovation in 2018, the hotel now offers 91 spacious rooms and suites, a Michelin restaurant on the sixth floor, a bistro and a bar that will undoubtedly make you feel as if you were stepping back in time. In the good way, that is. Hotel Hassler is the epitome of a grand luxury hotel proudly representing a glamorous era where courtliness was the norm. Here, it still is. Its rich history is partially what makes The Hassler so unique. In 1982, Roberto Wirth became the General Manager of the hotel, and in 2001, the sole owner and Managing Director. Being born deaf, his career as a successful hotelier happened against all odds - and it's an inspiring story of how far passion can take you, if you let it. I'm happy to introduce you to Mr. Wirth and his story in the following section.

In dialogue: Roberto Wirth

roberto wirth

I sat down for a virtual talk with Roberto Wirth – the Managing Director and President of Hotel Hassler. How is it being fifth generation of a famous hotelier family? What has been the highlights of his long career? And what are his visions for Hotel Hassler moving forward and past the Corona Pandemic? Read the answers of Mr. Wirth below.

Q: Hotel Hassler is a celebrated institution in the world of luxury hospitality. Can you tell us a bit about the history of this magnificent place? When did the hotel first open its doors?

A: I am the second-generation owner of the Hotel Hassler, and fifth generation of a famous hotelier family of Swiss origin. My dynasty began with Franz-Josef Bucher, now considered one of the pioneers of the hotel industry in Europe. In 1890 Franz-Joseph appointed his son-in law – and my grand-father – Heinrich to manage Hotel Quirinale and later Albergo Minerva, bought by Bucher in 1894. Then, one of my grandfather’s friends, Franz Nistelweck, who was the son-in-law of Hotel Hassler’s founder and owner of Hotel Eden, proposed a partnership between them to manage Hotel Hassler and Hotel Eden. My grandfather entrusted the management to my father, Oscar, who became General Manager of both hotels. In 1964, my father Oscar became the sole owner of the prestigious Hassler Hotel. A fun fact: During Mussolini’s dictatorship, the Hassler had to change its name and became Villa Medici. Thereafter, the hotel was requisitioned by the U.S. Air Force to serve as their Rome headquarters during World War II. In 1947, Hotel Hassler reopened for travellers from around the world and took up its traditional position as a temple of hospitality. Originally, The Hassler was a four-star hotel, and the rooms had no bathrooms. When rebuilding the hotel, my father modified the room structure, created the upper floor, moved the restaurant – usually based on the ground floor – to the 6th floor (making it the first Roman panoramic restaurant in a hotel). The Hassler became a five-star hotel. In addition, when my father married my mother, the hotel became very popular again. She had lived for many years in New York where she had a large circle of friends. When they came to visit her in Rome, they would stay at The Hassler.

roberto wirth
Q: Can you reveal some memorable moments from the hotel’s long life? And some of your own highlights?

A: The Hassler is the favorite destination of royals, actors and state leaders from all over the world. For example, the Danish royals, Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid used to stay at the Hassler at least twice a year. They were so fond of Italian food that every Christmas, the hotel management would send a parcel of fresh fruits and vegetables along with a case of a famous Italian drink to the Royal palace in Copenhagen. Upon departure, the royal couple would express their satisfaction about their stay in the penthouse suite with the following farewell: “I do not say if we come back, but when we come back!”. Besides royal families, many state leaders preferred the Hassler for their official visits to Italy. Dwight Eisenhower stayed at the Hassler several times. Once, shortly before winning the US Presidential elections, the Front Office manager placed a little ivory elephant in his suite as a good luck charm. The elephant, in fact, is the symbol of the Republican Party. The future President was deeply touched by such a thoughtful gesture. At the Hassler we can make every wish come true. When a hotel offers a great experience, all guests, VIPs and less VIPs, are treated equally: each of our guests should feel like royals when entering the Hassler. Princess Diana was one of our loyal guests. I had taken the initiative to organize a small party for her on our panoramic guest terrace on the 7th floor, as she was with a small intimate group including her sister and some assistants. I asked her what she wished to drink, and since she was often in Venice, she asked for a Bellini, which we proceeded to prepare with great attention as we always do for our guests. We use freshly squeezed peach juice, prepared right at the moment, which really makes the difference. Before departing she told me personally that it was the best Bellini she had ever had, which was a great accomplishment for us. So, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can experience the signature and personalized Hassler service and enjoying an exclusive experience beyond expectation.

roberto wirth
One of the sweetest memories I have from my life at the Hassler is when Audrey Hepburn walked down the stairs. Her grace and elegance fascinated me from the first year here. I remember her as a fairytale princess. She was a regular guest at the Hassler for many years, up until her death as she used to come to Rome often to visit her children. She always had a smile for everyone. She always remembered to send me a Christmas card every year, and we had a nice relationship. The Hassler was the place that Audrey Hepburn called home while filming “Roman Holiday”.

Q: In your words, what is true hospitality about?

A: At the Hassler we grant every wish. Our job is to anticipate the desires of our guests – and learn about their habits in advance. With more than 40 years of managing the Hassler – and 15 years of experience in the hotel business – I personally welcome guests as I would in my own home, with consideration and care. I always keep an eye on every aspect of the hotel in order to give our guests the best service and experience when in Rome. I welcome and greet them to make them feel at home. Furthermore, I always guarantee the utmost of privacy during their stay. The Hassler is the woman of my life, I am bound to nurse it, treat it with velvet gloves and love it with all my heart. My first aim is to keep it as a jewel that shines more and more. It is an independent hotel and one of the most well-known properties in the world. I am proud of that. The Hassler, being an independent hotel, has its own character, personality, and its own history. This is a rarity these days. The great international chains tend to standardize everything without taking into consideration the origins and the history of each hotel and, above all, the city they belong to. I am proud of being able to maintain the Hassler’s independence. It is 100% my own property.

hotel hassler rome
Q: The Pandemic has certainly been challenging for the industry. What are your visions for Hotel Hassler moving forward? Are you implementing any new initiatives or changing the focus of the operations in any way?

A: In this period we have to be flexible and, in order to follow the restrictions, we have to constantly change our programs. Prevention and following the rules are a must – and we still continue to guarantee the highest standard of service. Last summer (in 2020), I decided to offer a gourmet rooftop experience, so I relocated the restaurant to the 7th floor suite terrace. A great gift to my guests: a Michelin starred dinner under the stars with the beauty of Rome under your feet. It has been a great success. Furthermore, I have finally decided to open the terrace to external guests. The position, the location, the impeccable service and the stunning view obviously are some of the Hassler’s strengths. We are working on new interesting projects and ask everyone to please keep on dreaming of visiting the Eternal City and Italy.

Also read: 5 Enchanting Boutique Hotels in Rome

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