Few stories are more romantic than Romeo and Juliet, and few places embody the tragic love story more than the courtyard with Juliet’s balcony.
So when Michael Corteletti, a restaurateur in the Italian town of Verona, got a knock on his office door in the summer of 2021 from a friend who was looking to lease his family’s old home — which just so happened to overlook the iconic balcony — Corteletti jumped at the opportunity.
In less than a year, he created the 16-room boutique hotel Balcone di Giulietta, which opened in spring 2022 and is in one of the world’s most romantic courtyards.
“Like many great things in life, it happened by chance and friendship,” said Corteletti.
It was a gamble for Corteletti, considering most of his experience is rooted in food. He owns four restaurants, a bar that also is an event space, and an ice cream shop in Verona — plus two pizzerias he inherited from his father. Corteletti saw the property and spotted its challenges.
“The building is not made to be a traditional hotel,” Corteletti said. “There is no lobby, no kitchen, no real breakfast room.”
Instead, Balcone di Giulietta was originally a multigenerational home built in the seventeenth century and filled with different units.
While most people looking to open a hotel may see that as a disadvantage, Corteletti saw it as an asset in an era where travelers increasingly seek experiential, locally flavorful trips.
“This was the right property for a foodie, rather than a hotelier,” Corteletti said. “I say it has everything I need.”
Corteletti calls Balcone di Giulietta a “network hotel.” The idea: The hotel offers a luxurious place to sleep and immediately encourages you to step out and enjoy the cultural, artistic, and gastronomic scenes outside.
Everything else, like service, support, food, and events, is delivered by Corteletti’s restaurants — all within a short walk.
That dynamic brings frequent traffic to Corteletti’s built-in network of restaurants under the group label Food Democracy. But it also gives guests a sought-after, live-like-local vibe.
“Wake up, step out on your own balcony with coffee, and look at the balcony,” said Corteletti. “Or in the evening, sip a glass of Spumante and enjoy the view.”
When the gates to Juliet’s courtyard close to visitors, only the hotel’s guests remain, and they can book an aperitivo to admire it.
To fit the “network hotel” concept, guests find that every amenity in their room is free, whether it’s the basics like water and soda or the finer things, like a proper-sized bottle of Spumante — no mini bottles here. There’s also coffee from a local roaster for an espresso fix.
“As the restaurant guy, when I stay at other hotels, I always ask why I have to pay for the mini-bar?” said Corteletti. “I’m already paying for the room.”
Can Corteletti now take advantage of this prime spot? So far, with its first Valentine’s Day sold out and guests reserving rooms for their second summer, Corteletti says he’s on to something.
Understated Romance in the Design
When Corteletti signed the Balcone di Giulietta property lease in October 2022, he wanted to act fast. Covid had hit his restaurants hard, and he was looking for a way to bring life back to his company.
Corteletti was not completely new to the hotel scene. He originally started his career interning at the Plaza in New York, and he got his master’s of management in hospitality at Cornell University. But a corporate job offer after graduation from the German seafood restaurant chain Nordsee took his career in the food direction.
While the building had a good base to work with — considering someone had tried to renovate the property already — the design was something Corteletti and his team thought deeply about.
“I was looking to capture the spirit of the place,” Corteletti said. “Let’s find decorative elements you can see from the window, and bring them in.”
Also, color was key. He chose four hues present in the frescos around Verona.
Corteletti wanted to bring in personal elements, too. Each room features an important object to him and his family, whether it’s some of his mom’s favorite white vases, a pair of binoculars his dad used at the opera, or a painting from the family’s collection.
Last year, Balcone di Giulietta won second prize in 2022 for Europe’s best hotel design in a contest overseen by the consultancy PKF Hospitality Group.
While there’s no denying the rooms look romantic — and they’ve been described as “feeling like a VIP with private access to Giulietta’s garden” — the goal wasn’t to make the property scream “love.” A Las Vegas honeymoon hotel it is not.
Instead, the look is more understated, so guests ideally come back every year, not just on their honeymoon.
“I wanted the design to reflect what is around us, but not overdo it,” said Corteletti. “It has to be a romantic moment. But our design also needs to be subtle to let our guests be on the scene as the protagonist of the story.”
Still, it’s no surprise that Balcone di Giulietta has become a popular place for proposals. Corteletti and his team have had to figure out the best protocol.
“We are learning to be secret managers,” Corteletti said. “We’ll get an email that says, ‘I am going to propose on my visit and you need to keep this secret: I need flowers and a reservation.’ That’s when our poker face comes into play.”
New Hotel Genre?
Corteletti sees his restaurants as an extension of the hotel. And also the other way around. People may come to Verona to enjoy his restaurants and then book his hotel for a place to rest their heads.
“If you need to arrive at 2 am, it’s not a problem,” said Corteletti. “One of our restaurants will still be open, and a person from that restaurant knows you’re coming, and they’ll walk over to meet you at the Balcone.”
Corteletti thinks the movement toward non-traditional boutique hotels like his is gaining momentum.
“These hybrid concepts are coming and becoming more and more interesting,” he said.
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