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Milan’s Bulgari Hotel, a Hospitality Gem, 20 Years On

The first Bulgari hotel marks the milestone by unveiling expanded suites, spa and a new, bigger fitness space.

Milan’s Bulgari Hotel, a Hospitality Gem, 20 Years On

The garden of the Bulgari Hotel in Milan.

Bulgari has been turning hotels into hospitality gems, as chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin likes to say.

The Rome-based jeweler was among the pioneers of luxury fashion and jewelry brands moving into the hospitality sector, foreseeing its potential and building it into a real business that now comprises nine units — with more to come. The first Bulgari Hotel & Resorts in Milan is marking its 20th anniversary this year and was inaugurated three years after the overall project was launched.

Babin says he is “happy and proud” to mark the milestone, praising the pioneering vision of the Bulgari family and then-CEO Francesco Trapani “when they boldly decided to step into what we call the experiential luxury which didn’t exist before, the first brand ever in luxury to do so.”

Twenty years on, Babin remarks that the hotel in Milan “is more than ever leading hospitality in the city, but even more important, there are nine units worldwide operating and leading in terms of average rate and service in the high-end hospitality, which we call jewelry hospitality.”

The additional hotels to open in “other major destinations in the world” create the only and first Italian luxury hotel collection in the world, he points out. Openings are scheduled in 2025 in the Maldives and Miami and in Los Angeles in 2026, which will flank the existing hotels in Bali, Dubai, London, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, as well as Milan. Bulgari has always been firm in its strategy of keeping the rollout limited, in sync with its commitment to maintaining a certain rarity and a high level of service. 

Babin has over the years also reiterated the need to take time to find special locations in the heart of major cities or in resort destinations like Bali or Dubai. Case in point: After seeking the right venue for years, Bulgari in 2023 opened a hotel in its home city of Rome, which spans over six floors and more than 151,000 square feet. The hotel opened after three years of careful restoration of the historic building, completely overhauling its interior. It stands on the very central Piazza Augusto Imperatore and from its terrace, the view of Rome is breathtaking, spanning from the Vatican to Villa Medici.

Trapani recalls that “at the time [of the move into hotels], growth was driven by the differentiation of product and distribution network and we wanted to open up to new ventures, as we had done before with perfumes, with projects that would fuel prestige.”

While mentioning Cartier as an example of this strategy, he underscores, however, that “we wanted to think outside of the box, offer something that would stand out, noticeable, and different from what others were doing.”

Studies were commissioned, and “we realized that luxury hôtellerie was an activity based on prestige, the [hotels] Plaza Athénée or the George V names were synonymous with and a guarantee of luxury.”

Milan’s Bulgari Hotel, a Hospitality Gem, 20 Years On

The Premium Suite at Bulgari’s Milan Hotel.

To manage the hotels, “we thought we should partner with Marriott [International], the best in the industry, with 30 brands, and global, powerful marketing,” contends Trapani, whose résumé includes roles such as chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s watch and jewelry activities after the group acquired Bulgari and chairman of private equity firm Clessidra SGR. Most recently he became a main shareholder and chairman of VAM Investments.

“While we would bring to the table our design concept and standard of service, we knew that if the chef decided to run away with a ballerina, Marriott would know what to do,” Trapani says with a chuckle.

The Milan hotel’s interiors were conceived by Italian-based architecture firm Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel, exalted with handcrafted decorations and furniture made by Italian companies, such as upholstered items by B&B Italia and Maxalto and and silk carpets by Altai in Rome, for example.

The goal in every hotel is to highlight craftsmanship and Bulgari involves craftsmen and artists in each category, from wood and marbles to textiles, mainly Italian and often with some local additions.

Milan’s Bulgari Hotel, a Hospitality Gem, 20 Years On

The lobby at Milan’s Bulgari Hotel.

Trapani explains that, since the first hotel, Bulgari aimed to find buildings the company could renovate or erect from scratch, staying away from buying an existing one “to pay goodwill and then tear it down.” Milan offered “a great opportunity, a former convent in the city center in a private street with no traffic and a beautiful garden. We only wished it could be a bit bigger.”

Silvio Ursini, executive vice president of Bulgari in charge of the hotels and resorts division, underscores that 20 years since its opening, Milan’s Bulgari Hotel “remains a hub in the city — an oasis of calm and relaxation between Via Montenapoleone, Via Della Spiga, La Scala and the Accademia di Brera, where international travelers and especially local clients love to meet: for work or pleasure, for the cuisine by Niko Romito or even only and especially for the aperitivo, which is the most emblematic moment of the Milanese social scene.”

Milan’s Bulgari Hotel, a Hospitality Gem, 20 Years On

The restaurant at the Bulgari Hotel in Milan.

He recalls how the hotel project was at first received “with a dose of incredulity and skepticism,” but success quickly followed.

The Milan hotel in Via Privata Fratelli Gabba, located in an 18th-century Milanese palazzo, “represented a moment of fundamental importance to crystallize what was only a vision, to write a new page in the history of hospitality, transferring all of the Bulgari brand values in this sector. In Milan, we learned how important was the choice of a location with extraordinary characteristics, in this case the garden and the closeness to the shopping Golden Mile [the Via Montenapoleone and nearby streets],” he adds.

Ursini recalls how Bulgari developed the relationship with Citterio and Viel for the style of the hotels, “contemporary classic and precious,” and how the service model was created, “impeccable but authentic, radiant and generous.” Indeed, returning to the hotel often feels like coming home, since the staff invariably greets guests by their names no matter how much time has elapsed between visits. Meanwhile, the food offering mirrors the same attention to detail, with Bulgari counting on a long-lasting collaboration with Italian Michelin-starred chef Romito as well as chef Luca Fantin, and boasting a total of eight Michelin stars across its hotels worldwide.

The spaces were conceived in order to emphasize the bar, the restaurant and the garden lounge and to provide Milan with a new meeting point. “These choices were winning, and today we are an integral part of the city.”

Over the last two decades, lessons have obviously been learned, such as the need for more suites, and, in fact, the Bulgari Suite and others have just been expanded, points out Ursini.

“We discovered that our guests, also in an intimate hotel, would have appreciated a spa and a bigger pool so we recently increased the size of the former with a spa suite and a new big fitness space. The more recent hotels have pools that are at least 25 meters. In conclusion, the first hotel continues to be for us a hotbed of experimentation and at the same time an example of timeless style.”

Milan’s Bulgari Hotel, a Hospitality Gem, 20 Years On

The Bulgari Suite in Milan.