Lorenzo Giannuzzi was immersed in the hospitality industry from an early age, working as an intern and restaurant busboy. He attended the renowned École Hôtelière de Lausanne and after graduation, found himself in 1988 as area general manager for a hotel group which included a property known as Palazzo della Fonte.
Built in 1913, the iconic hotel was located in a park on the edge of Fiuggi, a thermal spring village 70km south east of Rome. The hotel had been a destination for European celebrities for many years, as well as serving as a hospital and a headquarters for the Allied Forces during World War II. At the time of his assignment, the hotel – then owned by Forte Group – was functioning with a business model catering for conventions and weekend leisure groups.
Eventually, Giannuzzi was promoted to be group director for the company’s Caribbean operations and moved out of the beautiful valley to pursue his career, eventually finding himself on the island of Sardinia, managing the iconic Forte Village.
Originally opened in 1970 as a holiday club, Forte Village gained international status in the 80s and 90s with the addition of pools, a spa and thalassotherapy centre featuring six pools, making it innovative and ahead of the times.
Voted the world’s leading resort twenty years in a row by the World Travel Awards, the unique family-oriented Forte Village comprises eight hotels, 21 restaurants, the services of a number of Michelin-starred chefs, a shopping arcade with 33 shops and a wide array of activities oriented to sun and sea. An arena seating 5,000 people showcases performing artists, while stars from a wide range of sports are available to coach guests.
Most are health-conscious couples and families and tend to come once or twice a year, so although it’s only open for six months of each year, Forte Village generates a turnover of around €100m pa, with EBITDA of close to €40m. This has made the Village a hot property and it has been sold several times over the years as a result.
Purchase of Palazzo della Fonte
With an eye on the future, Giannuzzi seized an opportunity to participate in the purchase, by the owners of the Forte Village, of Palazzo della Fonte in 2019, meaning this historic property became part of his remit once more, as he assumed the role of CEO of both Forte Village and the Palazzo.
With inspiration from his oversight of Forte Village and awareness of the demand for wellness, Giannuzzi envisioned Palazzo della Fonte being renamed Palazzo Fiuggi to reflect its thermal location and reimagined as a world-class medical spa – anticipating a demand for the restoration of health well before we’d ever even heard of COVID-19.
The lovely structure needed some refurbishment, but more importantly, a spa and wellness area had to be conceived and built that could create, according to Giannuzzi, “a total wow! effect”. Engaging GOCO Hospitality and consultant Thorsten Lipfert to guide the project, a 6,000sq m spa and wellness complex was added at a cost of €30m by completely reconstructing the lower level of the building.
The medical component includes the latest in technologies, such as MRI and infrared technologies for brain health, retinal scanning and diagnostic testing. An extensive hydrotherapy area includes thalassotherapy pools, Roman baths, private hammam suites and indoor and outdoor pools and lounges, while also incorporating the original outdoor pool – which at the time of its completion in 1936 was among the largest in Europe.
A 400sq m ballroom was refitted as a Movement Lab and offers the latest in equipment from Technogym, with Icarus for virtual fitness and Reaxing for balance and cognitive training – all with beautiful views of the countryside.
More than a spa
But Palazzo Fiuggi is more than a beautiful property. Already on top 10 lists of European spas, the goal is that it be considered a true destination health resort. Toward that effort, Giannuzzi collaborated with professor David Della Morte, a specialist in senescence-related ailments and Heinz Beck, a three Michelin star chef renowned for his healthy cuisine.
There are four main wellness programmes on offer: Complete Life Rewind, Optimal Weight, Deep Detox and Immuno Boost. Each is designed to be undertaken over a minimum of seven days and incorporate elements from the medical, hydro, movement and holistic treatments sectors.
Chef Beck worked with a team of nutritionists to design light, healthy menus using biodynamic, natural ingredients following the Food as Medicine approach. These beautifully presented meals are automatically delivered to guests in the dining room by elegant waiting staff according to their wellness programme, meaning guests need not concern themselves with making the right food choices during their visit.
Palazzo Fiuggi was originally scheduled to open in November 2020, but of course COVID-19 slowed the process considerably. Very strict construction protocols were put in place in Italy, and the procurement and delivery of materials and equipment suffered incredible delays.
The resort was finally able to soft open in May of 2021 and as with Forte Village, all team members have been vaccinated, and COVID-19 tests can be administered at check-in for unvaccinated guests.
How far back has the pandemic pushed their profitability targets? According to Giannuzzi, “We’re ready in the market with the most innovative, beautiful spa. Having this product ready at the end of COVID-19 will be a big plus – but we can recover what we lost within a year.”
It’s early days at this point, but so far clients are especially attracted to the Optimal Weight programme, while Russian and Eastern European clients seem especially keen on the concept of an “anti-COVID-19 check-up” – wanting to ensure their immune systems are fully functioning, and taking advantage of the therapies on offer for this, including IV infusions.
When asked about the EBITDA expectations of Palazzo Fiuggi in comparison to Forte Village, Giannuzzi explains the model will function differently. “We expect healthy occupancy, 75 per cent year-round and think we can perform very well.
“Margin in the spa is less than a normal resort, given the costs of equipment and medical personnel, but Palazzo Fiuggi will become an acorn of the health resort concept.” It is the intent that the resort will remain open year-round and attract a wide international following.
Does Giannuzzi believe many developers will be creating these kinds of properties? He says “Health tourism, prior to COVID-19, was increasing by double-digits every year and I’m sure this trend will continue –clients will pay more attention to prevention and remaining healthy.
“We don’t cure people,” he says, “The objective is to prevent them from getting sick – the Palazzo Fiuggi motto is, Longer Life, Better Lived.”