Beyond the Gates, the hidden beauty of Italian historical residences
Brothers Alessandro and Giacomo Cavazza are on a mission to open the doors to beauty. Their “Beyond the Gates” project has invited people who love Italy to discover magnificent historical homes hidden past gates in well known (and little known) locations around the county. Thus they share magical places that have harbored treasures of art for centuries, incredible “jewelry boxes” brimming with stories only a lucky few might already know. And there’s more. They create custom itineraries, real cultural journeys in beautiful places that the public cannot usually access, often inviting visitors to reach their destination riding vintage or classic cars, or aboard ancient sailing boats.
We asked them to tell us more about their wonderful project.
“Beyond the gates” is an interesting concept: what will we find once we’re past those gates?
Alessandro: Italy is an extraordinary country that goes way beyond anyone’s imagination. Think about Palermo: the city is still not well known, and may even seem slightly withered if you just walk around its streets. But its ancient palaces hold stories and works of art that you would never expect just by looking at their simple façades: paintings, furniture, chandeliers, masterpieces of all kids, often custom made for families that have cared for these hidden treasures for centuries. All of Italy is like that, and every home has its secrets.
How did you passion for historical residences in Italy start?
Giacomo: Our family always encouraged us to be curious, and passionate about the past. Our grandfather Novello promoted the restoration of the courtyard and nymphaeum of Rome’s Palazzo Borghese, winning the 1999 Sotheby Award for best restoration. In 2012, past the age of ninety, he still personally oversaw the restoration of buildings’ façades, putting his safety helmet on and climbing up the scaffolding. His passion was contagious. For the past few years, I’ve assisted our grandfather Giacomo in the restoration and management of the Castle of Tabiano. The project will last for generations: our children or grandchildren will complete it, if we are able to pass on our passion. These houses mean so much more to us than the bricks they are made of: they have traditions, history, lives, the work of hundreds of builders, artists, architects, engineers, decorators, carpenters and blacksmiths. Anyone who owns a historical home has a responsibility towards all those people, so that their work will not be lost.
You have a charming but probably very demanding job: what are the main steps you go through to create a custom itinerary?
A: The first step is getting to know the territory, with its houses and people. You cannot tell their story without getting to know them. We scout locations at length and prepare each itinerary: we don’t have a catalog of pre-selected trips. Our concept is to study each journey according to our guests’ wishes, and this requires a lot of time and effort – but allows us to take people on unforgettable experiences, allowing them to “live” the places we invite them to discover.
You are at the center of a close-knit network of people and projects that revolve around beauty in all of its facets… how did you build this network?
G: We started from our family: we are part of a large and close-knit family, spread between Rome, Parma, Bologna, Lake Garda and Verona. Then we got a few friends onboard, and little by little we formed a network of over forty residences scattered from the Alps to Sicily.
On your website, you mention you “do not offer just educational tours, but cultural journeys in the broadest sense”. What do you mean?
A: Many of us have been taught that culture is a list of notions, dates, and pieces of information to learn by heart. Some elements are crucial to fully understand certain experiences, but we live in a country of incredible cultural richness, where every little town makes bread in a different way and every valley speaks a slightly different dialect. We try to convey much more than a list of notions to our travelers: it’s more about the character of a place – people’s lives, and the traditions, history and flavors that make a territory unique.
You also rent vintage cars and offer sport itineraries: tell us more.
A: Italy is the homeland of Palladio and Enzo Ferrari, the Mille Miglia and the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Italians have built villas like Isola del Garda and invented Riva speedboats to get there in style. It seemed natural for us to offer people who love Italian excellence experiences that combine houses and motors, in one of the most seductive cocktails our country can serve. Our sport itineraries, instead, focus on old sailboats or bicycle tours, setting out to discover the most beautiful homes and views in Italy at a different pace, slowly savoring everything our country has too offer.
Who is your target customer, the person you have in mind in your work?
G: Our project is aimed to anyone who is interested in getting to know Italy from a completely new point of view, through historical residences. Our clients have the opportunity to live a truly singular experience, tailor made for them, and in most cases meet the people who live in these extraordinary homes in person. Traveling with us is not always cheap, but it is a contribution to safeguarding a huge heritage that is a challenge to maintain. You can be sure that the homeowners we work with use their revenues to continue renovating the residences you visit, not to buy bigger boats.
Where are your clients from?
G: We are a fairly new company but already have requests from the whole world: “classics” like United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland as well as great emerging countries like China, India, United Arab Emirates and Brazil.
Are Chinese clients increasing? How have you prepared to start positive and beneficial relationships with the Chinese market?
A: Next year, 2018, will be the year of European-Chinese tourism. We have started collaborations with various players in the Chinese market because we know that this ancient people is very interested in Italy. Also, we personally come from a long tradition of relationships with China: our relative Paul V, born Camillo Borghese, was the first pope to allow the Jesuits to translate the Bible into Chinese. That was in 1615. And in 1907, our great-grandfather Scipione Borghese won the Peking-to-Paris motor race, at a time when traveling by car wasn’t easy and streets were not a fully developed infrastructure. His victory, over one hundred years ago, proved that Europe and China are a lot closer than we might think!