The Poet Hotelier
Paolo Crepet and his wife Cristiana have created one of the most special hotels in Europe. Corte della Maestà is a monument to Italian beauty, and a living work of art that embodies the values of their owners: courage, passion and freedom. As I sit down in conversation with Paolo, I wish to understand how he became one of the best, and most unusual, hoteliers in the country.
In his youth, Paolo’s love for humanity led him to study medicine. His desire to understand mankind took him to the anatomy and physiology books, with their labyrinths of nerve, sinew and muscle. But his interest veered towards psychiatry, an area of study where he has enjoyed a long a fruitful career. Paolo is a celebrated and prolific writer, author of more than two dozen published works. The passion for creation runs deep in his veins.
“I was born to a family of artists. Painters, ceramists, sculptors… It is a very complicated and colourful story, full of emotion… All my life I have been immersed in creative chaos!”
FINDING A REFUGE
Paolo’s melodious voice resonates with deep notes that echo the storm that rages in every artist’s heart: the longing that can elevate the sensibility, but that can also drown the unwary in unchecked emotion. There is no better picture of this struggle than Paolo’s account of his first visit to Civita di Bagnoregio, the tiny hilltop village where Corte della Maestà stands.
“It was twenty five years ago, at the beginning of winter. It was pouring with rain and the wind was howling. Finally, as I came near the top, the rain stopped and this village in the sky glittered like silver. I thought ‘If I like it today, I’ll like it forever.’
And so the loving partnership between Paolo and Civita began.
“Civita has become the refuge that I’ve known for twenty five years. Even then I bought the bishop’s palace, then another floor and finally, ten years ago… la Corte.”
THE CITY THAT ESCAPED TIME
Surging towards the sky, Civita is perched atop an eroded rock, isolated from the outside world, except for a narrow footbridge. The small village has a very long history, which is counted in millennia, not centuries. It was the mysterious Etruscans who founded this city. Civita was the crown of the area during the Middle Ages but, after the 17th century, it fell into a long and protracted decline.
Civita’s decay and isolation have proven a blessing in disguise. Most of the original architecture and —most importantly— the character of the village have survived the tumults and whims of the last several centuries. Modernity hasn’t encroached on this little corner in Central Italy. But the traveller must be careful not to think of Civita only in terms of its antiquity. As you cross Porta Santa Maria you don’t enter a place that has been frozen in time, it is not a museum piece. On the contrary, Civita has become timeless, it has transcended time.
TEACHINGS FROM CIVITA
“I strongly believe,” Paolo continues passionately, “that it is our responsibility to create a place for thinking. A place to think about whatever you want: travel, love, even work, or nothing…
“The madness of our era is haste, la fretta, every one is running, craving that which is immediate, on-demand.”
Paolo sometimes speaks of Corte della Maestà as a life coach.
“Corte is an exercise to slow down and think, and understand what you really want, to feel what you really want.
“It is very rare that someone truly knows what he or she wants, because this needs to be discovered. You never know how much about yourself you will understand tomorrow. Here, in la Corte, you sit down in a beautiful old chair, you listen to your music, you read your book… you enjoy your time; and you make a project for what’s next in your life.”
Paolo is very careful with his words, his paced sentences are rich with metaphor and parallelism:
“Corte della Maestà is a refuge and an escape where you go to find beauty. Beauty is a journey, tumultuous, painful. And extraordinary.”
“There is no beauty without pain,” he says.
I stop to think of my own pursuit of beauty, that which is found in travel. There is a pang of longing… I am also guilty of giving in to la fretta. I daydream of my time in Civita and wish for a second I had walls around me to lock out the demands of the world.
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“So Civita is like a fortress!” I say, following my thoughts.
“Well, well… if it is a fortress, it is a very gentle fortress, there’s nothing military about it, nothing aggressive in it.
“La Corte is more like entering a family. This dolcezza, this sweetness is the most satisfactory part of what Cristiana and I have created.
BEAUTY AS THERAPY
“You know, in the beginning we had no idea what we wanted to do, we had no specific objective. In the last ten years, la Corte has become a collection of travels and stories.
“But I detest 'collectionism'. A true collection is that of beauty, that which you can find on a painting, or a rug, or a stove, or a statue. That is in part the reason why there is no separation between our home and the hotel.
“The history and the beauty of our Italian way of life should not be a museum. It is a living story. Yes!”
I wonder why such an accomplished man as Paolo chose an isolated, tiny village with a dozen inhabitants or so as his home. Surely his pursuit of beauty and passion could have led him to Milan, Rome or New York.
“I remember a high flying businessman who heard about us, flew from America to Rome, and then came straight to Civita. The next morning I asked him how was his night. ‘Terrible!’ he said.”
We laugh it off. I was caught by surprise.
“He said it was terrible because there is no noise here. It is very rare to be in a place where you can hear cats walking. And this is not a material question, it is a spiritual one. It is our soul that needs silence, to be quiet and think, and relax.
“Because real travel is travel of the mind, I don’t really believe in travel in material terms; real travel is born from an emotion of restlessness. Beauty communicates this restlessness.
“Without restlessness there is only death.”
“Paolo,” I say, “you speak of the need of quiet and then you immediately switch to restlessness, well, which one is it? Silence and quiet, or restlessness?”
Paolo was destined for Civita, as much as Civita was meant for Paolo. He moves between contrasting emotions with grace, adding to this little corner of Bagnoregio his care and sensibility. His map is not blind to the streets of the spirit. And so he knows how to find his way in his city in the sky.