Tales of families in the hospitality industry: the Schiavo legacy

Pioneer in hospitality, Hotel Rufolo has been an integral part of Ravello’s tourism development. Luigi Schiavo, co-owner of the hotel, tells us about its evolution.

By Anna Volpicelli

That Hotel Rufolo is an adventure that began in the 19th century when the two Schiavo brothers ran one of the first hotels in Ravello based in the ancient Palazzo D’Afflitto. Famous artists fell in love with Ravello, and the town inspired them to create works. Among them are Giovanni Boccaccio, who mentions Ravello in the fourth novella of the Decameron, and Richard Wagner, who found the creative leap to compose Parsifal. After several years, probably due partly to increased tourism, the two brothers decided to move their business to Cathedral Square. “In the early 1900s, my grandfather Ferdinando and his brother split up, and my grandfather began to run a small restaurant, which he called Rufolo,” says Luigi Schiavo, better known as Gino. The latter today owns Hotel Rufolo together with his sister Rosaria. “In addition to the restaurant, my grandfather also had an apartment with a few rooms that he rented out.” 

From a small inn to a large hotel 

In 1920 following an expansion of Piazza Duomo, Ferdinando Schiavo’s inn was razed entirely, so the family moved the entire restaurant business to where the hotel is located today. “More than a hotel, it was an inn,” Luigi says, “At that time, my father, Alfredo, was 14 years old and very lively. He spent a lot of time in the piazza with his friends, and my very strict grandmother told him that he had to start working. So he found his first job in the kitchen of various hotels and embarked on a career as a cook, culminating at the Capricci hotel in Amalfi, which at the time was one of the most prestigious hotels on the Amalfi Coast.” 

Café Rufolo in 1910, curtesy of Hotel Rufolo

Major milestones 

After honing his skills in cooking and hospitality, Alfredo Schiavo returned to Ravello in 1930 to run the family business. “With his entry, the first major changes began to take place within the hotel. One in the 1950s, after the war, and then the one that took place around the 1960s shaped what is now Hotel Rufolo. My father devoted his heart and soul to the family business. He was the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave. He continued to work until late in life.”

D.H. Lawrence’s remembrance

From literature to the art world, Hotel Rufolo hosted great personalities of world renown over the centuries, including President Einaudi, Rostropovich, Bruno Walter, Carla Fracci, Alida Valli, and the novelist D.H.Lawrence, who found inspiration in Ravello to write Lady Chatterley’s Lover. “When Lawrence was in Ravello, my father was about 18 years old. And he always described him to me as an atypical man for that time. He had a prominent beard and always dressed in very long gowns; he was a man who did not go unnoticed,” says Luigi, who began working at the hotel as a young boy. “My sister and I would help out after school or during summer periods. My father would come and call us at home and ask us to go and help because there was so much to do. And we would do everything from drying glasses to whatever else was requested.” 

A postcard from Ravello, courtesy of Hotel Rufolo

Changing tourism

Once Luigi and Rosaria Schiavo grew up, they took over the reins of the business. “I have always taken care of the administrative part, that is, accounting, dealing with suppliers, permits, laws, tax, and so on. My sister, on the other hand, all the part related to the front office, so reservations, dealing with customers.” In the 1960s and 1970s, the way of traveling was very different than it is today. Many loyal customers considered hotel Ruffalo to be a kind of summer residence. “We had guests who would spend weeks, if not months, here. They were people near retirement, ex-notaries, university professors, and lawyers, who, with their families, would come every year to spend their vacations. You would see the wives sitting at the tables, spending their afternoons chatting, or reading books, while their husbands may be playing cards. It was a more regular stay, in some ways, with well-timed schedules. There was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Over the years, we watched our hosts’ grandchildren grow up and vice versa. We built intimate relationships with them. Today, however, it is different. Guests stay here for up to five days and are so busy with their activities outside the hotel that you often only see them in the morning at breakfast.” 

The relationship with guests

Currently carrying on the family business is Alfredo Schiavo, Luigi’s son. “I, like my father then, am always present, coming here in the morning and leaving in the evening. And to this day, I am still involved in the more administrative part, although my son is running it. It’s a good sign of growth and continuity because even though none of us have ever lived in the hotel, this has always been home for us, and it has always been important for us to have a direct relationship with our guests. It is what my father taught us, and this is what I try to pass on to my son. It’s a family tradition that continues.”  

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