One of the unexpected benefits of running this blog is getting to meet wonderful new people. Valérie Antomarchi is one of those. She is the general manager of the just opened Hotel de la Villeon in Ardèche, France, a beautiful boutique hotel that is sure to please all of your dear readers.
I couldn’t pass this opportunity to ask a boutique hotel expert and professional to give us a bit of a “behind the mirror” insight and asked Valérie to answer a few questions.
You have a very distinctive and beautiful writing style that really added to my delight in discovering Hotel de la Villeon. How did you develop it and what’s your background?
Thank you for this compliment that goes straight to my heart. The love of words was an early revelation as I was lucky enough to have parents who exposed me to various readings, art and cultures (we travelled on all continents). Later my professional career allowed me to solidify my love of litterature – I am constantly inspired by what surrounds me, and I often translate what I experience into words to capture the emotion of the moment.
When I visited Hôtel de la Villeon for the first time, I was touched by its history and rich background – here, the walls speak to you, I only had to translate their message as humbly as I could. It was obvious that beautiful words should become companions to the place – I also thought that the tone of the pre-launch communication should be intimately linked to classic authors, hence some references to famous quotes, associated to images from the hotel.
When did the project to create a hotel came to your mind? What were the deciding factors?
The project belongs to the Hôtel’s owner, with whom I’ve been working for more than a year. His vision for Hotel de la Villeon is inspired by his love for beautiful hotels, good wines, gastronomy and quality produce. He is very attached to the Drôme-Ardèche as his family is in part native from this region and he has been thinking for a long time about once owning a place where he could offer people passionate about beauty and good food the experience of living luxury in an authentic way.
He took the time to view several places and fell under the absolute charm of this private mansion and its garden offering a sublime view onto the heights of the town and the Hermitage vinyards. It’s really while walking around the grounds that the spell worked.
Other factors that contributed to this adventure are the location – we are in the heart of one of the most beautiful Rhöne valley vinyards. The region welcomes clients from all over the world and all year long. You can easily get to Tournon and Tain and people are attracted by the wine tourism but also to discover a region with a rich gastronomic culture.
World-renowned companies such as VALRHONA are implanted here and the Rhône Alpes economic area is very active. Tournon is right in the middle of the North-South European axis, only 2 h from Paris by TGV and 2h40 door to door from London by plane.
What have you found the most challenging and, on the opposite end, the most rewarding, in creating your own hotel?
The most challenging was to build a boutique hotel in a partially listed building, protected by the “Bâtiments de France”. Our industry has to conform to very strict environment, safety, technical regulations so we had to create a team of highly skilled professionals – our architect understood our ambition and selected craftsmen all very attached to precision and quality of work. Some of the listed elements were removed and restored to then be re-inserted following the exact rules of the craft.
The most satisfying is to realize, day after day, that the initial vision was the right one and that the place’s DNA matches our clients’expectations. We live in stressful times and our role, as hotel professionals, is to create anticipation in our client’s minds about their stay via the power of stunning photography and beautiful words. We hope to help them picture themselves here, breathing, relaxing and resting in a peaceful and sweet cocoon.
What advice would you give to boutique hotel lovers who would like to embark on the same path as you?
My first advice is to be absolutely sure that this profession is deeply rooted in your heart. You can’t embark in a boutique hotel adventure without a true passion for service and a love for satisfying clients.
Then you have to relentlessly maintain a global vision – nothing happens by change in the Luxury Hotel industry, you are constantly facing many details that together will create the true soul of a place. You have to surround yourself with the right team, the right skills, know very well the region where you are implementing your project and ensure that you associate it with the local economic life.
Finally, you have to be conscious that such an adventure will require a lot of energy and understanding, you need to be adaptable, able to anticipate changes, keep yourself abreast of new trends, immediately understand client’s requirements, create a sincere and friendly link with them before, during and after their stay.
Today our clients seek very high quality prestations but pay also particular attention to the care that you provide to them all throughout their interaction with the hotel.
Boutique hotel visitors rarely get the opportunity to go behind the scene… What secrets about the boutique hotel industry can you share with us?
Oh yes, there are a lot of anecdotes – as we are constantly in touch with the need to be looked after and cared for. We can witness some private moments but those need to remain secret…
However, there are stories related to technical aspects of our profession that many other colleagues probably experience too and that can sometimes test your serenity : delayed orders, furniture that doesn’t arrive in its entirety or in a colour that is absolutely not the one you had chosen just 24h before your first client arrive, the weather that of course gets bad just when you had planned a big event outside…
Because we are a small hotel with a very close-knit team, our collaborators are very skilled at adapting to unexpected situations in a way that makes said problems totally invisible to our clients.
You can’t be a hotel manager or owner and build a sustainable business without a very solid team. It’s a collective and participative adventure.
What would you like clients who come to the hotel to experience or remember? What sets Hotel de la Villeon apart?
Our wish is for our clients to let themselves be wooed by the beauty of the place and the history of the mansion, to forget time. From the first smile until the end of their stay and even after, our mission is to ensure that Hôtel de la Villeon means confort, pleasure and happiness. Every one of our staff puts their heart into answering our clients’ needs and expectations. Hôtel de la Villeon will become a special part of their life because a strong link will have been created between clients and people working here. Our strengths lie in the soul of the place, the personalised welcome and the special attention given to our clients, all of this within a majestic historic place.
Finally, apart from Ardèche, what is your favourite destination and why?
In France, I particularly like Corsica, Camargue and the Atlantic coast. These regions have a strong story because of the presence of nature and earth!
Beyond borders, I am very attached to Latin America where I grew up – Brazil and Peru provide such strong emotions and have been crucial in building my imagination as well as seeding in me a taste for authenticity. I learned flavours, savours, majestic sceneries, a strong attachment to nature again.
This could be because of my origins, I was born in Vanuatu and I’m always very touched by the environment and the respect of great outdoors.
Thank you very much Valérie for this look behind the mirror 😉 and for sharing your project, emotions and experience. I really hope that the hotel is a great success and will make sure to get there as soon as we can.
Did you enjoy this? Do let me know in the comments.