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Hotel Isola d'Elba
Our history

Danila, the first Elban woman to found a hotel

When the architect Mario Puliti, a professor at the University of Florence, came to Scaglieri with his family, he couldn’t believe his eyes: the beach of golden sand crossed by a little stream of the purest water with three pine trees on one side and three haystacks gilding the landscape. On the other side of the beach the neighbourhood, consisting of two rows of houses bordering a breezy paved road that ended on the rocks.

A happy village inhabited by simple, polite people became instant friends, sympathising with us and offering us fruit, fish and a superb local white wine. (1)

It was 1948 and in the whole of Elba there were only 7 hotels with a total of 159 rooms. There were 11 bathrooms in total available to guests. In Scaglieri there was absolutely nothing and the Puliti family was put up in Paolino Balestrini’s cellar, suitably divided with a curtain.

The toilet? A hole in the stable floor, where normal bodily functions took place in the company of a horse and a goat.

Fascinated by the village’s charm and the kindness of the inhabitants, the architect thought that this was the ideal place to build a holiday home; he bought a plot of land for 30 lira a square metre right on the tip of Scaglieri and the following year work began on the construction of the “refuge” overlooking the sea.

Word of mouth, as we know, is the most efficient form of tourism promotion and Mr. Puliti became a formidable salesman without spending a penny.

Of course, Paolino the farmer had no plans to reinvent himself as a tourism entrepreneur but understood that those “foreigners” taking a dip in the bay could constitute a new income opportunity, supplementing his normal farming activity.

He turned the stable into an eatery and provided food to the ever-increasing people using the beach, attracted by its unspoilt nature.

During the peak period, the whole Balestrini family rolled up their sleeves and cooked memorable fry-ups with slithery fish, freshly caught by Paolino. His wife, his son Ilio and his daughters Idia and Paolina cooked and waited on tables, but the young, 20-year-old Danila shone for her resourcefulness; attentive to the epochal changes in the economy of the island, and always ready to respond to the tourists’ demands, seizing the opportunities of modern times.

Simple, but never ordinary, she naturally captured the sympathy of the people until she formed a stable clientele that ensured an ever-increasing income.

But why settle for just serving food and drinks when the conditions were right for increasing the workload and upping the takings?

And so, Danila, as the first Elban woman, experienced the impervious path of female tourism entrepreneurship.

In those years, we are in 1952 by now, Emilio Isotta, a famous architect from Milan used to go to Elba and became involved in various projects, particularly in Marina di Campo, where he built the Iselba hotel, still considered an example of compatibility between environment and urban planning.
He too fell under the charm of Scaglieri where he oversaw the extension of the Fabiani house, bought for pennies from the industrialist Guardigli.

Lured by the delicacy of the Balestrini cuisine, every day he had them prepare the most exciting dishes, washed down with several glasses of wine.
But he had the bad habit of not paying the bill and Paolino, after having repeatedly demanded he settle his account, gave him a serious telling off and, as the people of Scaglieri remember, chased him with a stick, forbidding him from setting foot in his restaurant again.
And this is where Danila comes in, understanding the opportunities presented by the architect’s debt situation. Why not take advantage of Isotta’s talent to design a hotel?
Negotiating isn’t simple, but with such a fire in her belly, this allowed her to overcome the obstacles of her prudent father and the whims of the architect. In the end they reached an agreement: Isotta will draw up the project without expecting any payment and will be able to keep eating for free.

Thus arises the first core of the hotel that starts trading in 1956. It is a small, family-run establishment that focuses all on guest loyalty. Requests are growing and Danila does not bat an eye: she sells part of the land that makes up the centuries-old heritage of the Balestrini family, gets into debt, battles short-sighted bureaucracy, invests in order to increase the number of bedrooms and update the little guesthouse every year, adapting it to the dynamics of rapidly evolving demand. She does not use tourism marketing experts or promotional techniques and wisely filters the proposals from travel agencies. She listens but is not easily persuaded.

She makes up her own mind.

Yes, because she has understood that the best development policy of a small business lies in customer satisfaction.

During periods of closure of the hotel, she travels a lot, going to see how other hoteliers in the most popular tourist resorts behave, looking at the equipment that the businesses use, and every year enhances her own business with innovative managemant and organisational techniques.
Devoted to getting things done, she works at a dizzying pace and does not tolerate delays. Is her father’s van too slow and inconvenient to deal with the hotel’s activities? So, here she is speeding along the bumpy roads of the Capannone on a Vespa at a time when women were still prohibited from riding a bike.

Was she a feminist ahead of her time? Not a chance... She thought big, challenged the prejudices of a decidedly bigotted and backward society, but kept her femininity intact, she was aware of and proud of her sensuality.

The world of hoteliers, aimed exclusively at men, looks on with scepticism at the initiatives of this enterprising, gritty young woman, bewildered by her thoughts of equality.
But time proves her right, her enthusiasm grows, profits significantly increase. And there she is driving her first car, a black Fiat Topolino, gradually evolving into newer and bigger cars up to a prestigious Mercedes.

The tiny guesthouse from 1956 becomes a hotel with more than 50 beds, typical of what local tourism offers, gradually built up with careful and reasoned development, respecting the ecosystem. And the magic continues...
The management of the hotel is still in the hands of women (her two daughters) and promotion is aimed at the female world. The latest shot? The girls of the Swiss Alpine Skiing National Team chose Scaglieri for their first seasonal training of 2009.

I am sure Danila is gloating...

By Umberto Gentini
1) Mario Puliti - “Come scopersi l’Elba” - Lo Scoglio, No. 22, Page 35

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