I had a chance to tour the brand new Excelsior Gallia Hotel in Milan, Italy before it opened and it is stunning! Check it out.
Recipe For an Amazing Property
Here is the recipe for an amazing property.
Start with a historic building.
The Excelsior Hotel Gallia (a Luxury Collection hotel) is a preserved historical site within central Milan. The hotel is constructed of two parts, the first is the original building with traditional Italian style, the second, a more modern approach. The Excelsior Gallia is grandiose and inline with the equally dramatic central train station equipped with massive horses set on marble. Italian designers were given free range to make this luxurious hotel a renowned Milanese institution.
The hotel has been shut down for refurbishment under new ownership for several years and while it’s opening may not be a secret, it was certainly news to the bellman at the Park Hyatt, “But the Excelsior Hotel is closed sir, are you sure you want to go there, please let me verify the address” he said helpfully in his thick Italian accent. But what may be a quiet opening week will soon make lasting impressions on their guests and the traveling public at large.
Enhance with a modern addition.
From the outside the building, conjoined in the middle, would appear as two separate buildings with perhaps two separate functions altogether. The historical hotel side looks the part of a traditional Italian hotel – stone slabs, polished and wonderful; but the new structure is glass, and steel appearing modern and sleek. While I am sure that the hotel and their staff will do an excellent job of welcoming guests, it would be easy to understand if they were confused upon arrival at these two stunning but very different structures in the heart of Milan.
Add some opulence, and attention to detail.
The hotel was purchased by the Emir of Qatar and it shows. The hotel features an indoor cigar bar and smoking room while the rest of the hotel will be non-smoking. The Italian leather couches exuded the “spared no expense” approach and gold plated ashtray holders were clearly a custom and thoughtful touch. But a smoking room is just one of the opulent touches, such as a top-floor Shiseido spa (instead of commonly placed in the basement), a convention center with separate entrances, and a restaurant and bar on the top floor that features wrap-around indoor/outdoor covered dining with a stunning view of the station and square.
(smoking room photos above with custom Italian leather couches)
There are three entrances to the hotel, 1) The main lobby and main common areas, 2) The convention center in the new building, 3) The Lounge entrance. The Lounge entrance is of particular importance to business people who may prefer to have a drink or snack at the hotel as opposed to sitting on a train station bench. The lounge entrance is close to the train station but a better place to wait for your train.
In addition to drinks and food, you could also settle in with a book in their library before a long journey or waiting for colleagues. Selene (Account Manager for SPG hotels and our host for the day) pointed out that the station is critical because in two hours you could be in Rome, an hour to Florence, an hour and a half to Venice, and just thirty minutes to Lake Como, situating Milan in a prime position – I would have to agree.
(lounge for cocktails and waiting for trains)
(lights in the library off the lounge, a separate room)
(train entrance, across the street is the station)
(Sherpita having a look around before our tour)
(seven story custom chandelier)
That same high level of detail found elsewhere goes to the main dining room where SPG Platinum guests will enjoy their breakfast (though they may move breakfast upstairs to the main restaurant in the future). The chairs, tables, and even cutlery looks every bit the part of what the middle east has recently shown us, excellent taste, attention to detail and an insistence of high quality, but with the style of a European classic. The chandelier alone took a week to construct with each strand hand-cut, and placed for perfection. It’s art deco modernized.
(lounge and bar with side train entrance)
(restaurant set up for breakfast service)
(just waiting for a Platinum)
(impressive chandelier in the restaurant steals the show like lights elsewhere in the hotel)
(put together strand by strand, over a week to complete – incredible attention to detail)
Marco Piva, the architect of this project put a great deal of care into the design down to the hallway carpet flooring (the only carpet on the premises) which featured a custom design resembling ink, folded onto antique paper – it’s a wonderful combination of color and unique design that it’s a shame it’s meant to be walked on. “He focused on the lights” and in fact there are sketches of the lights that appear as wall art throughout the Excelsior Gallia, but these large bell style metal lamps really run concurrent from the lobby to the bedrooms.
(ink blot design)
(sketch of the light fixtures as artwork around the property)
Maintain Italian Class and Style.
The Emir had his hand on the design of the hotel as well, and put his touch on the property but let the architect do his job as well. Both the Emir of Qatar and Mr. Piva wanted to present something truly Italian. All of the furniture on site is Italian, management and staff are also local legends. The GM of this property, Marco Oliviero previously managed the property under prior ownership, his front desk staff and even the regional account manager, Selene Di Flamminio all have a history working within the city of Milan or are Milanese themselves. This was particularly important to Mr. Oliviero, “The great decision of the owner is to have a perfect representation of Milan” he mentioned, focusing on fashion, business, and design – cornerstones for the city.
Mix them together and serve, warmly.
What you get when you mix these altogether is a stunning blend of old and new, Milan perhaps encapsulated in a property. The classic features remain, but the modern, and sleek is not pushed to the side in favor of traditionalism. During my tour, the two adjoined buildings were seamless and I could not tell that I had crossed from one to the other. The hotel features 182 guest rooms with 53 suites making it one of the larger properties in their class. Only the Dorchester’s hotel is comparable with both the Four Seasons and the Park Hyatt utilizing a smaller more intimate space.
The convention center features a ballroom that can be divided into four smaller rooms with a max capacity of 420 in a theater style arrangement. Speaking of which, there is a feature room on the top floor whereby a projector and massive screens show films or games to a half moon shaped audience, and “Maybe when your team wins, the couches drop into the floor and it can be used as a ballroom to celebrate”. That sounds more like something you would find on a yacht in a James Bond film than in a classic Italian hotel but something I’d like to try out.
(entrance to the convention center)
(convention center that seats 480)
We walked through a few rooms and the Katara suite which is still being finished. The standard guest room will satisfy most business travelers and is a nice departure from the typical experience (long, rectangular hotel room with bathroom to the immediate right or left, and beds facing parallel to the windows with a desk tucked in somewhere). We entered the room and to the immediate right the bathroom awaited. For a standard room it was impressive. The sink featured a his and hers vanity with a fog-free mirror, lit and bright nearly to the point of a sun tan. The room we saw had both a tub and shower (not a shower over tub – a personal pet peeve) and were told in rooms where both were not an option, a shower-only layout would become the standard. The amenities befitting a modern hotel were all there, a large variety of connection ports, a flat screen tv (though the ones I saw were the best you could buy), a desk, reading lamps, and a closet. Design, however, is not lost on these rooms. The standard guest rooms are anything but run-of-the-mill featuring design elements of the rest of the hotel throughout the space.
(118 – standard room)
(separate deept bathtub and full walk-in shower)
(fogless mirror with light activated, it effected my camera, but the room looked no different in person with the light on)
(complete with bidet of course)
(his and hers vanity and sinks)
(enough room to relax, photo taken from the desk)
(the bed was plush but needed to be slept in, it was of course brand new; the lights, again are key in the design of the room)
There are five suite designs in this hotel. There are ten Executive Suites, eligible for SPG Platinums but unfortunately I did not get a chance to peek at any of these. If there was one complaint of my 90 minute tour, extensive in all other aspects, it would be that I did not get a chance to see this particular room.
In fact, the only element that was not clear in my tour was the upgrade process which had me a little worried. As an elite traveler, these upgrades are the very reason I find myself staying at the Sheraton Four Points Kansas City Airport instead of a more desirable property downtown that is not part of the SPG brand (or any other loyalty program, for which you actively participate).
It’s nights and upgrades in hotels of this exquisite quality that make the doldrum, the drive for the hotel out of the way but part of the program, worth it. I can appreciate that the hotel might not be excited about the suites they would be giving away for free instead of selling, however, these are the customers that will be loyal and visit again and again, so of 53 suites with only 10 available for upgrades I’m concerned about how the staff might process these.
I can also appreciate that though the SPG program states for platinums, the best available room, and that room will likely be the Katara suite, I can understand why something like that goes outside of the rules of the program. But if I were to arrive booking a standard room as a Platinum, and found that there were as many as 43 suites available but I would not be upgraded because the Executive Suites had all gone, I would take issue with such a policy. I hope for clarity on this matter.
The prices for this hotel are also a little bit confusing. Their entry level rooms are incredibly affordable, especially in relation to their competition (standard rooms range from €245-350 while the Park Hyatt starts at €400+ for a standard room). But the art suite, which has a good amount of space and a unique sliding door to separate out the sleeping area from living area is shockingly high at €1400+ which compares to the Park Hyatt with a terrace, lots of outdoor space and a bathroom more than twice the size of the Excelsior. The comparison on these two rooms at the same price level, are unfortunately, not close and I wonder if prices for standard rooms will come up and the suite prices may come down.
(The premium room is a great deal at that price considering the amenities of the hotel and comparable rooms elsewhere in Milan)
(Art suite is a steal, can’t comment on the executive suite)
(Design suite is significantly higher than the competition and other suites on the property)
All suites outside of the Executive Suite feature a steam shower, heated marble floors and many had balconies facing the square. Heated marble floors really show the care that Mr. Piva, the Emir, and the rest of their design team put in to these rooms. They embody Italian, modern and are reflective of the the Luxury Collection hotels.
(Design suite photo from entrance, dining room and living room in view)
(lots of space)
(bedroom feels private and separate from the living space)
(different bathroom design with a closed toilet and bidet opposite)
(walk-in steam shower)
(another soaking tub)
(the gray marble created a classic look)
(guiding lights are motion activated, no switches to fumble)
(Art suite entrance)
(Art suite reception)
(Art suite boardroom style table from privacy sliding wall)
(Art suite from boardroom style table looking towards sliding wall which features design elements of the building)
(behind the sliding doors)
(the lighting is of course at the center of the design of the room)
The Katara suite is something of dreams. A 10,000 sq ft suite, it boasts a private diplomatic entrance and dual private elevators. In addition to several bedroom suites, there are nanny or security quarters complete with bathrooms, showers, beds, and the ability to host whatever requirements the wealthiest and most important leaders in the world may require. Selene mentioned that another SPG property recently hosted one of the most prominent G8 leaders and their staff. It was from hosting guests like that as well as the Emir himself that led to some of the specialty amenities in the apartment.
There are two external corner terraces which will feature a tasteful foliage privacy wall allowing for views of the square, and train station but high enough to keep prying eyes away. The bathroom (as large as the design suite it seemed) included a feature jacuzzi in the middle of the room and of course the luxuries the rest of the hotel has demonstrated (heated marble floors, lots of custom lighting, mirrors and artwork).
Standing in the bedroom, looking up to the vaulted ceilings, the wall of windows on two sides of the room and the terrace waiting outside, this is a level of luxury I am not privy to. So much so, that even after I asked for a rack rate on the room, I was stonewalled. The price is private, but you know what they say… “If you have to ask you can’t afford it” and I am afraid they might be right.
(the layout of the kid’s room in the unfinished Katara suite)
(Katara suite terrace – 1 of 2)
(view of the train station from the top)
(private Katara suite “diplomatic elevators” just off the “diplomatic entrance”)
No recipe would be complete without a great kitchen or a little bit of wine, and that can be found where most post the spa, in the basement. Just downstairs from the primary lobby, there is a wine cellar and private kitchen where a sommelier and chef will pair custom foods with premium wines from all over the world.
(cold wine cellar with kitchen and table, reds are around the corner)
The cherry on top for this writer is the car service, available for local in town trips whether it’s dinner, a meeting or shopping. This is something that really captures the luxury aspect of this property. Considering that their entry level rooms start at just over €200, this gives even the bargain traveler looking to splash out a bit, a lot of luxury and some cost savings for short local trips. Who doesn’t like getting picked up from some retail therapy in a Mercedes?
(presumably where your chariot will await, “even the street outside [the hotel] is under our control”)
On a personal level, everyone in this hotel seems to care about guests and this property. The Sherpstress, and our daughter the Sherpita, were with me for much of this tour. As some areas were under construction, it would not have been the best place for a 10 month old baby. The two of them waited in the lobby as I finished my tour and were entertained by front desk hosts and the head chef for the entire Luxury Collection of hotels. However, the most impressive part of this was that Marco Piva, the architect welcomed “the first guests” and discussed at length with my wife the design elements that he loved the most. He had no idea I was there, nor that I was pacing the halls, taking pictures and composing my review – the first review of this hotel. He was just happy to entertain my daughter, and discuss his beautiful creation with my wife and baby. Not only are his style and taste exquisite but he is apparently also just a great guy – what more can you ask for?
(having a snack with Marco Piva and company)
(front desk, all dressed-up with nowhere to go)
(a classic AND modern entrance co-habitating)
As Marco Oliviero (GM) said when we walked in the door, “From the moment you walk in the door, the tone is set” and he’s right. From the concierge-focused check-in and the clocks featuring international times from all over the world including, of course, Doha, one feels like they are in a world-class hotel. The lights, the reflection on the floor, the smooth Italian leather (on sofas, and on doors) make it absolutely Milanese. On my next trip to Milan, I know where I’m staying, it’s just a shame that I won’t be able to try a suite.
* Corrections have been made for spelling and titles.