Some of us collect classic sports cars, some expensive shoes and jewellery, others works of art and then there are those who collect historic five-star hotels.
The Oetker Collection, one of the most valuable collections of luxury five-star hotels in the world, is a group of old masterpieces of hospitality and icons of ‘l’art de vivre’ and was originally owned by a German family who made their money from frozen pizza, cake decorations and baking powder.
The company was founded by pharmacist August Oetker who in 1890 patented the ‘Backin’ baking agent. British chemist, Alfred Bird, had already invented baking powder, in 1909 he filed a patent for his “Procedure for making long-lasting baking powder or ready-to-bake flour.” He died in 1918 in Bielefeld, the site of the group’s HQ and August Oetker, the great-grandson of the founder, moved the company into shipping, food, and brewing.
The extraordinary hotel portfolio is now overseen by a gentleman with a doctorate in acquisitions and mergers in corporate crisis. Dr Timo Gruenert collects grand dames and modern palaces and is proud of his collection, it is one of the finest in the world. Gruenert began his career with the Oetker Group as assistant to the managing partner in 2005 after receiving his PhD from University of Giessen. In 2020, he became CEO and curator of the Oetker Collection, and he currently manages the collection of eleven hotels and 150 villas.
Gruenert shared: “The hotels are true masterpieces located in the world’s most desirable destinations. Each property is a landmark and a timeless icon of elegance. With deep devotion to local culture and community, our hosts of choice preserve a tradition of legendary European hospitality and genuine family spirit that began in 1872.”
“Being a very small company in this big gorilla market, we decided to take an extreme niche approach and focus on a small part of the market. So, this means that in order to open another hotel, we really have to believe that this hotel is already a masterpiece or that it can become a real masterpiece.”
Gruernert remembers his father taking him to The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida: “That must have been the experience that hooked me into the hotel and hospitality industry. The grandeur of that hotel was simply overwhelming.
“We operate exceptional hotels – true masterpieces – with family spirit, elegance and genuine kindness. We create a strong emotional bond with our guests. Our hotels are places that people really care about, and that become a part of their lives.
“Qualities like sincerity and kindness will gain in value and building meaningful connections will perhaps become more important than ‘the next big experience’.”
The Oetker Collection comprises eleven masterpiece hotels including The Woodward, a relatively new acquisition and revamp project. Geneva’s first all-suite hotel as re-imagined by architect Pierre-Yves Rochon, is in a 1901 post-Haussmann-style building on Quai Wilson across from the marina. Most of its 26 suites have views of Mont Blanc.
The latest addition to the Oetker portfolio is in famously chic Capri. When it first opened in 1822, Hotel La Palma was known as Locanda Pagano and the original owner, Giuseppe Pagano, often hosted travellers in his villa for ‘the pleasure of long conversations’. The address, which became known as the ‘artists’ hotel’ and has ceiling frescoes by Robert Ruspoli, was soon a magnet for jetsetters and the glamorous, much like most of the Oetker Collection.
Near La Piazetta Square, La Palma Capri has 50 rooms, including 18 suites. Its Gennaro’s Restaurant is overseen by chef Gennaro Esposito, who has run his own two-Michelin Star restaurant, Torre del Saracino, for over twenty years. Bianca is a newly created rooftop restaurant and bar.
Gruebert commented: “Hotel La Palma is a tribute to ‘La Dolce Vita’ and again at the epicentre of the island’s vibrant social scene.”
Originally built in 1869, as a private mansion for Hippolyte de Villermessant, the founder of the French Le Figaro newspaper, the Villa Soleil Cap, on Antibes on the French Riviera between Cannes and Nice, opened as a hotel thirty years later, instantly attracting celebrities. F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalized it as the Hôtel des Etrangers in ‘Tender Is The night’, Chagal drew in a beachside cabana, the Kennedy family vacationed there – the hotel is on Boulevard J.F Kennedy.
It is still the place to be seen on the Cote d’Azur, especially during the annual Cannes Film Festival.
Today’s Hôtel du Cap-Eden Roc has three restaurants, the main hotel is a Napoleon 111 chateau and there are also three private villas – Eleana, Les Cèdres and Villa Sainte-Anne.
Gruenert believes the desire for travel experiences to reconnect with family, friends and with nature is stronger because of the Covid pandemic.
“Guests can tell if a smile comes from the heart or from a playbook, and whether people consider it their job to serve or if they truly care. Finding hoteliers who have a real passion, those we call ‘hosts of choice’ and creating a culture in which these team members feel at ease, get inspired and are empowered, and as a result create meaningful connections for our guests, will be the biggest and most rewarding challenge for the years to come.”
Officially established in 2008, Oetker Collection’s roots date back to 1872 when Brenners Park-Hotel and Spa, Germany first opened. The resort in Baden-Baden (‘so good they named it twice’) was bought by Oetker in 1941. It was called ‘the top’ by Paul Getty and ‘the best’ by Frank Sinatra.
Over the years, the collection has grown, but no class sacrificed, or opulence spared. L’Apogée Courchevel (a contemporary ski chalet at the top of a former Olympic ski jump in the Jardin Alpine, built for the 1992 Winter Games) followed in 2013, Eden Rock – St Barths in 2014, The Lanesborough celebrating Regency-style luxury and overlooking Hyde Park Corner in London in 2015 and Palácio Tangará in Sao Paulo and Jumby Bay Island in Antigua in 2017. They all boast ‘generosity of space’.
In Vence in Provence, France the 14-hectare Chateau Saint-Martin and Spa exemplifies the refined luxury of a hotel worthy of being part of the prestigious Oetker Collection. Built over a twelfth century Templar fortress at the foot of Beaou des Blancs, the surrounding park was landscaped by famous French garden designer Jeran Mus. The house retains its old Commandery and a drawbridge gate.
Ulysses S. Grant stayed on Paris’s Rue du Fauborg Saint-Honore for five weeks. Le Bristol, named after a luxury-living bishop, the 4th earl of Bristol, opened in 1925. During the Second World War, it was the US embassy. The 188-room limestone façade hotel has a swimming pool resembling the front of a sailboat. Its designer, Pinnau, designed the yachts of the Onassis family, its decor is the toile de jouy.
“We don’t have US property yet,” continues Gruenert, “but the same logic applies – we have to go to destinations that are already relevant to our clients today, like Miami and Palm Beach. About a third of our guests come from the United States, so it seems natural to us at some point to have one or two hotels in the United States.”
All imagery supplied by The Oetker Collection