The suite life of Sir Rocco Forte

From golfing with Jackie Stewart to travelling with Leonardo Ferragamo, Sir Rocco Forte tells us about his best and worst travelling experiences.

October 23, 2016

Rocco Forte joined the family hotel business in 1969 and in 1996 launched Rocco Forte Hotels, a boutique brand with 10 properties including Rome’s Hotel de Russie, the Savoy in Florence, and Brown’s Hotel in London (below). Forte recently opened his first Middle East property in Jeddah.

What, for you, is luxury in a hotel?

Luxury is about feeling welcome. It’s about staff who anticipate the guest’s needs and really care about his experience. Luxury hotels have always been about personalised service, but technology is changing things today. I feel that good service has been lost a bit but it’s coming back.

Do you like technology in hotels?

I’m a dinosaur so I don’t like it when it’s overdone. In some hotel rooms it takes you half an hour to switch the lights on.

Do you play sport?

I like playing golf on holiday. Jackie Stewart [former racing driver] once said to me that his wife had taken up golf and that it was wonderful because they could spend more time together. I said to Jackie that I play golf to get away from my wife!

What holidays do you remember from your childhood?

I used to go salmon fishing in Iceland with my father when I was about 16. The light there is amazing. You see things that are miles away because it’s so clear. Iceland is the same size as England but has a population of 350,000. There are more sheep than people.

What luggage do you travel with?

I have a Salvatore Ferragamo folding suit bag. The trouble with the wheelie cases is that you can’t fit a suit in them without creasing it. I always take only hand luggage so I don’t have to wait at the other end. I was travelling recently with Leonardo Ferragamo and he didn’t have a Ferragamo bag so I told him off for not supporting his brand.

What’s your travel pet hate?

I hate getting to airports too early. The maximum I like to wait is one hour before take off. Sometimes I’m running onto the plane, which is not to be recommended. There’s a lot of rigmarole of going through airports, but you get used to it and blank it out.

What do you like to do on planes?

I read. I’m reading a book on Tony Blair called Broken Vows – The Tragedy of Power. It’s a complete demolition job on Blair. He’s not my favourite politician so I’m quite enjoying it.

What cities do you like?

I enjoy Beverly Hills – it has a freshness. I’ve always liked Geneva too. It feels like taking a painkilling injection because everything is so beautifully organised and modern and clean.

Have you had some unsettling travel experiences?

Travelling to the old Soviet Union in 1985 was terrifying. It was such a grim, miserable place. I went to Moscow for business and there was nothing, no traffic, just the odd taxi. There were empty boxes in the windows of department stores. I had the worst meal of my life there; I pushed the food around my plate and hid it under the lettuce.

Going into East Germany after the wall came down was similar – very oppressive. I feel lucky to have seen those places because it’s a reality check.

Where do you want to go next?

I’d like to go on safari to Africa. Everyone talks about the sense of space, the light, the sunrises and sunsets. I’d like to experience that.

What place has amazed you lately?

I went to India for the first time recently, it was fascinating. I had to wear all white for a party so I had a linen Nehru suit made in Jaipur in 18 hours. The jacket wasn’t bad but the trousers were perfect. They were better than what my tailor makes in London actually.