The Italian Dream Job
Navigating Italy's bureaucracy is not for the faint of heart. Then again, neither is getting Christina Aguilera out of her dressing room on time. "My old job was to contain stars who were exploding," says John Voigtmann, former VP of International Marketing at Sony, where he was responsible for acts such as Maroon 5, The Strokes, and, yes, Aguilera. "It was," he pauses, "frustrating."
In 2001, while looking for a wedding location in Europe with his fiancée, Condé Nast Traveler contributor Ondine Cohane, Voigtmann stumbled upon a villa in the Val d'Orcia, a stone's throw from Pienza, Tuscany. The villa was in ruins. Abandoned since World War II, it was owned by a Sardinian sheep farmer who kept his pigs at the property. After four more years at Sony, Voigtmann quit his job in 2005. He and Cohane moved to Pienza, learned Italian and, one year later, paid €450,000 (approximately $565,000 U.S. at the time) for the villa. It took another year and another €1.3 million to transform it into the midcentury modern boutique hotel that Tuscany lacked. The idea was to create a hip alternative to the area's nostalgia; it would even have an infinity pool. He called it La Bandita.
There were more than a few hurdles. The villa lay in a Tuscan park that just happened to be a Unesco world heritage site. "Even the earth was protected," Voigtmann jokes. Forget adding a pool; authorities told him he couldn't even renovate the pig house.
Utilizing the sangfroid that helped him navigate the music business, Voigtmann had a park surveyor testify that the pool site lay outside park boundaries, and Voigtmann explained that he was spending $1 million to repurpose the pig house. "There are a million laws in Italy," he says. "You can't follow all of them, so you separate the ones you actually go to jail for and follow those."
The eight-bedroom hotel, which opened in May 2007, has been so successful that Voigtmann recently purchased another property in a nearby village to keep up with the heightened demand. For now, the former pig house, which starts at €395 a night in the high season, is booked solid.
From Taming Egos to Tackling Bureaucracy
Amount spent on La Bandita renovation (new roof, new floor, new electrical and plumbing): €1.3 million
Estimated hours spent dealing with Italian bureaucracy: 2,190
Kilometers of pipe required to reach nearest water supply: 6 (nearly 3.75 miles)
Number of human neighbors vs. sheep neighbors: 2 vs. 740
Number of bottles of Brunello drunk since opening: 1,420
Amount spent on new property: €1.5 million
Expected cost of renovations to new property: €1.75 million
Sony salary: $300,000 a year
New salary: €60,000 a year, plus a house, a car, and "all the brunello I can drink (literally)."
Price of a stay in the Pig Sty Suite: €395- €495 per night