A beautiful stretch of country between Fiemme and Fassa.
Moena and l’Hotel Laurino.
Una dinastia di albergatori nelle Dolomiti
A long family tradition of hoteliers that at various stages has seen the emergence of numerous women, with a consequential change in surnames: Facchini, Zenti, Galbusera. And to paint the picture, as her son Lorenzo puts it, a delightful lady, Carla Zenti Galbusera, born in 1923. On the table scores of photographs, notebooks, manuscripts.
“My family entered into the world of hospitality with a little restaurant, the Osteria Centrale. We also had a small shop that sold a little of everything: they called it the “bazaar”. My grandfather Domenico Facchini and his wife Margherita opened it in 1910. My mother and her sisters, who used to work there, were nicknamed the “bazaar girls”. To make everything possible was an extremely useful little nest egg that had been put aside by Caterina (Catina), my mother’s sister, and her husband Domenico Pettena. They had worked in Innsbruck, she as a seamstress, and he as a builder’s labourer. The shop enjoyed a period of good fortune during World War I when Domenico, “Menegotto”, left off labouring to become a barber and found a steady supply of customers among the soldiers quartered at Moena (the front was nearby, at San Pellegrino). The family lost that capital, however, for it had been invested in Austrian government bonds which by the end of the war had lost their value. But in the meantime the family had changed social status: from farm workers to small business people.”
Who was the driving force?
“Catina. She hadn’t studied but… look… I’ll show you…”
“This postcard which she sent to her fiancé in 1906 was written in Greek letters (so that her parents couldn’t read it). She took the whole family in hand at the age of 16, on account of my grandmother being ill. After the war it was she who was the driving force behind the Albergo Centrale. The building was equipped with the first bathrooms (together with water closets) constructed in Moena and was opened in 1925. The hotel immediately attracted a clientele of a very high quality. A large number of the guests came from Trieste. A brother of Mother and Catina had opened a furniture shop in that city, which was a great success. Later Uncle Antonio Facchini, together with my father, Gaetano Zenti, also opened a furniture factory here in Moena in 1923.
My father had bought the first lorry in the valley and he transported the furniture from Moena to Trieste. On its return the lorry brought up into the valley the luggage of the guests at the family hotel.”
It is not easy to stop Carla, who throws her whole self into the story (as well as her extraordinarily strong love for her “roots”).
“They were tourists of a certain social stature. The Centrale owed much of its success to Domenico, Catina’s son, who had studied at the University of Trieste. There he had joined FUCI (The Federation of Italian Catholic University Students) and the Centrale became a kind of headquarters for Italian FUCI members.”
“So it was Catina then who was the real founder of the dynasty of hoteliers?”
“An extraordinarily energetic woman. Another of my mother’s sisters, Maddalena, known as Nenòla – around 1928 – had bought a little restaurant, the Osteria del Tamburòn, and transformed it into the Albergo Posta. She was different from Catina and my mother. They had always sought to improve themselves socially. For example, they never allowed us children to go around in sandals. Nenòla remained more down-to-earth and her hotel always remained extremely simple. My aunt was a really lovely person and she used to poke fun at my mother. “L’è na siora, la mete el ciapèl””
“Giustina was your mother, wasn’t she?”
“A wonderful woman, extremely elegant. They called her the Schònheit of Moena. She married my father, Gaetano Zenti, who was the first Carabinieri brigadier sent from Italy into the valley after the war to substitute the Austrian police. He was from Verona. He was an exceptional person above all for his learning – he was self-taught – and his spirituality. I would define him as a saintly man. He left the Carabinieri and for a certain period worked in Trieste with my uncle. In 1923 he returned to Moena and set up the furniture factory. In 1932, he and my mother inaugurated the Hotel Moena. To a large extent the capital for the project had been put together through loans. You know, my father had 13 brothers and sisters, and they were extremely united. The widow of one of his brothers lent him 70,000 lire, he borrowed other sums from other brothers.”
A tumultuous flow of words is Carla. She drinks copious amounts of water. And on her face a constant smile. “What type of tourist came to Moena between the two wars?”
“The vast majority were Italians. We had an extremely prestigious clientele. At the Hotel Moena guests had to dine in formal attire. It was a hotel with running hot and cold water in all 46 rooms. The first of its kind in the area. The success of the hotel was also due to the parliamentarian Cingolani (founder together with Degasperi and Sturzo of the Partito Popolare and very closely tied to the Vatican). He knew all the important Raman aristocrats. He invited various figures from his circle to Moena. Cingolani himself stayed in Cervo but he sent his friends to Moena because we had hot water. The guests included the Cattaneo’s, Marquise Spinola, Marquis Serafini, the governor of the Vatican, Cardinal Tedeschini… Normally they arrived in a chauffeur-driven car, then I remember the Ciociaria wet nurses with their enormous bosoms. As for famous ladies-in-waiting, I remember that of Princess Orietta Doria Panfili, from Rome, and then Murri’s (granddaughter of the famous doctor and professor, whose father was killed by his wife and his wife’s lover. A tremendous scandal at the time). We also had a Jewish-Italian clientele.”
“How did your mother and father manage to deal with people from such an exclusive social background?”
“They had established friendships with the directors of a number of important hotels: I remember Lattesschlager of the Grand Hotel Carezza, the Stafflers of the Grifone and the Laurino in Bolzano, the Toffols from San Martino. My mother studied. She had a book on hotel practice, “The hotel thief and the nobility”, a book on etiquette by Elena Della Rocca Mozzati, lady-in-waiting to Queen Margherita di Savoia. My mother sought to educate us along these guidelines. And then, the two of them used to ask advice and help to administer the hotel from the guests themselves: Countess Pivato, the Becks, the Canedis. Father died in 1941 and then, of the 5 children, the one who had to take over the load in the hotel was me.”
“Was your mother a good cook?”
“Yes. For years she was helped by the cook Antonio Banalotti, who subsequently became the cook for Mussolini. At the end of the war Mother took him on again, but she was obliged to offload him immediately: he had gotten too used to the free-spending ways of the Fascist regime. After 1943 we housed some families of evacuated people in the hotel. And amongst these was the Galbusera family, with my future husband Alessandro. Then the building was occupied by German troops (just think, it was the Headquarters of the German navy in Italy), and later by the Americans who turned Hotel Moena into an ammunition dump.”
“And the tourists after the war?”
“Mother didn’t even want to enter into the dining room! In 1946 the clients were war-profiteers, vulgar and rude. With the division of the family patrimony, I took over the property of the Moena which, together with my husband, we transformed into the Hotel Laurino, which we still run today. We began in Christmas, 1954. It was a real challenge. My husband managed to get the heating working only on the night before Christmas. But we had a stroke of good luck. We opened without having a single booking but that year it snowed only in this region.”
“On the 26th of December we had the hotel full – confirms Alessandro Galbusera – Calls came in from Valle d’Aosta, from Abetone… at that time a fully-fledged winter season had not yet developed, people just came up here for the 15 days of Christmas. But it was a marvellous clientele. A large number of professional people. In 1955-1956 we had with us Popes, the Rector of the University of Rome, Ruini, the President of the Constituent Assembly.”
“Carla, what has your contribution been to the history of the family hotel business?”
“I think it’s a question of our culture. A huge amount has been due to our forma mentis; we emerged out of the FUCI and for us the interest in our fellow man has always weighed much more heavily than an interest in things. I enjoy myself enormously as a hotelier. It’s a huge satisfaction having contact with so many people, so many different cultures. For example, through my guests I even manage to study the relations within couples.”
“Can you tell us some of the famous names that have passed through the hotel?”
“Rasetti, for example, defined as the Cardinal Chamberlain of the “School in via Panisperna”, i.e. that of Fermi. Then there was Taha Hussein, the Egyptian minister of education at the time of Nasser. Then…”