STORIES

Meet the guardians keeping two of Europe’s most historic hotels alive

Behind every great historic hotel is a team of hardworking, enthusiastic and dedicated hoteliers that go above and beyond to look after the property in their care. 

We caught up with the people spearheading two of the most beloved and distinguished properties in our Collection to find out what they’ve done – and what they’re currently doing – to set their hotels apart from the competition. 

Hotel Stefanie: Vienna, Austria

Conveniently situated in Vienna’s first district is Hotel Stefanie: an exemplar of Austrian tradition and culture and one of our most esteemed historic hotels. We spoke to its owner, Dr. Schick, to find out what makes his hotel so special and some of the things he does to keep its historic spirit alive.

It was back in 1888 when my great-grandfather acquired the ‘White Rose’ hotel. He renamed it Hotel Stefanie in memory of the marriage between the Crown Prince, Rudolf, and Princess Stephanie of Belgium. The property has stayed in my family ever since. In fact, we’re the fourth generation to have managed it.

It’s an immense honour being at the helm of this historic hotel, and we do everything we can to preserve its roots while making it comfortable for the contemporary traveller. Over the past few years we’ve implemented an extensive renovation program combining the charm of days gone by with modern needs. That’s our vision, in a nutshell: ensuring that our guests have the elegant four-star experience they desire alongside hundreds of years of tradition.

On that note, I’ve always been passionate about the history of this place. Along with the restoration work, we hired a historian to research Hotel Stefanie’s storied past. One of their most exciting discoveries was several pieces of evidence that show that Hotel Stefanie really is the oldest hotel in Vienna. It’s exciting to have the documentation to prove it.

You’ll find personal anecdotes and touches everywhere in the property, too. I’m a big fan of collectibles so Hotel Stefanie is filled to the brim with them, especially in the hotel lounge: though you’ll also find them in the restaurant, library, café bar and along the building’s halls, where numerous antiques sit in display cabinets on the walls or in recesses.

History lovers will be amazed with what we have managed to gather. Among our finest treasures are some elaborately-designed clocks from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as spectacular silverware from the 18th century. There’s some stunning porcelain collections here as well, ranging from service sets to dishes and plates, including designs by Meissen and the much-coveted ‘Imperial Manufactory’ collection by Anton Kothgasser. Our crown jewel, though, is the original wash basin set of Princess Stephanie, complete with pitcher and washing pan. Having it is a great way to remind ourselves of our historic hotel’s roots and namesake. For us, that’s priceless.

Fernhill House: West Cork, Ireland

Fernhill House is resplendent both inside and out. From its sprawling gardens to its pristine and vibrant rooms, guests have been falling in love with the property for years. We spoke to the proprietor, Michael O’Neill Jr., on the recent work he’s done to the historic hotel and what he thinks makes it such a unique destination.

Though I’ve been managing Fernhill House for over a decade, the property has actually been in my family for a lot longer: since 1946, when my great-grandparents bought it. Their investment became our family business, and we’ve been going strong for nearly a century.

I take my inheritance very seriously, and as a family operator, wear a great many hats! My day to day is extremely varied and can include everything from service to garden design and cheffing to finances. It’s what makes my job so exciting, and what we hope translates into such a personable and memorable experience for our guests. We all pitch in, and put our heart into everything.

Recently, we’ve been focusing a lot on how to make our practices more sustainable without compromising the historic integrity of this astonishing building. One of the things we’ve done is plant over 3,000 trees – an achievement I’m particularly proud of. We’ve also rewilded areas of the land, which now display Ireland’s gorgeous, natural biodiversity and environment while capturing a huge amount of carbon. Elsewhere, we have expanded our historic walled kitchen garden to grow more of our own produce and reduce food miles, and have also refurbished our bedrooms, practicing sustainable interior design by upcycling things like picture frames with the help of local producers. It’s been a great exercise in preserving the past here, while at the same time reworking our practices to protect the planet.

Focusing so much on our exterior landscape, in particular, has also given us the opportunity to refresh what makes Fernhill House so special: our gardens. They’re truly amazing, and we count ourselves lucky to have designs from the wonderful Mary Reynolds feature that echo the beauty of celtic Ireland. I’d also say that colourful stories are at the heart of this historic hotel. I love regaling guests with fun tales, particularly the one about the judge who changed the world with the help of a snail and another about a ‘leprechaun haunting’! You’ll never leave Fernhill House without an extraordinary story to tell.

Curious to learn more about our historic hotels? Check out the full Collection.

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