Born and raised in Gallura, North Sardinia, Elena joined the family hotel business and has worked her way up to become the Brand Director for Delphina hotels and resorts.
Delphina is a collection of twelve 4* and 5* hotels, 2 exclusive residences, 6 SPAs and 23 villas in North Sardinia. Delphina’s President, Francesco Muntoni (Elena’s father) now in his 70’s, is still in charge of the day to day running and development of Delphina. A local property developer from Gallura, he built his first hotel, 5* Capo d’Orso, for another operator but then took it over in 1992 under the Delphina hotels & resorts brand.
From the very beginning Delphina was established on sustainable principles, and continuing to balance luxury resorts with an eco-friendly philosophy is one of Elena’s top priorities. Read on to find out more about this ambitious lady and the family business.
Describe a typical day, if such a thing exists?
I try to start each morning with a scenic walk to put me in a good frame of mind for the rest of the day. I live close to the Hotel Capo d’Orso, set in an unspoilt corner of Sardinia, so I walk a lovely trail to a lighthouse, about 15 minutes from the beach of the hotel, where you can see all of the islands of the Maddalena Archipelago.
Then I come back, have a shower and breakfast and head to the office where I catch up with the rest of the marketing department. Key day-to-day activities for me include planning improvements and refurbishments for the resorts each season, doing site visits and checking in with the General Managers and travelling to promote our offer to the world.
After my morning meetings I usually have lunch with my father and brother. Normally we’ll have another reunion around 7ish before I head back home.
Delphina Hotels and Resorts is a local family-run Sardinian hotel chain, tell us about both the challenges and benefits of operating as a family run business in such a competitive industry.
The benefit of operating as a local family-run business is that we share the same inherent philosophy, both in life and in how we approach and operate our resorts, which I believe is a key factor in our success and longevity.
Our business philosophy is a customer-driven hospitality which is rooted in Sardinian tradition, making guests feel truly welcome and at home. We treat our guests as we would our friends coming to stay, and we craft everything around their comfort. Our collective aim is to give them a genuine experience, understanding and taste of Sardinia, this is really important to us and our community.
One of the challenges of operating as a family-run business is that we tend to talk about work constantly, even at home, because everyone is so invested in what they’re doing. The dynamic of working with immediate family members means that we have a natural shorthand with each other which is useful in getting things done, but also that we can fight sometimes, especially as a passionate Italian family! Ultimately it’s a wonderful environment with love and trust which filters down through the business.
As the second generation of Muntoni’s stepping up through the business, how / if at all does your business approach differ to that of your father’s first generation style?
Essentially I am aligned with my father (my boss) on the most important areas, mainly the ethos of Delphina and our vision for the future. Obviously as individuals we have our own perspective about certain things based on our personalities and experiences, but having a multi-generational approach gives new ways of thinking and we always try to work in a collaborative way.
Please share with us what you love most about Sardinia, especially the north.
It sounds simple but what I love the most is the fresh, clean air and year-round sunshine. Whenever I go abroad and come back I take a deep breath and feel rejuvenated again, that’s what I really love about Sardinia, the feeling of being nourished and secure.
Also particularly in the North where we’re based, we are surrounded by pristine natural beauty. Sardinia is a very green and bountiful island encased by Caribbean-like beaches and over 7,000 archaeological sites, so you have a rich variety of landscapes and amazing panoramas in a relatively short distance.
And for readers who have not yet visited this beautiful destination do you have any top tips?
I’d say definitely visit the Maddalena Archipelago because it’s a real paradise, it’s the most crystal clear group of islands in the world and features a unqiue pink beach. A boat trip to see and discover the coastline with the magnificent colours of our seas is a must so bring your goggles! North Sardinia also has the advantage of being very close to Corsica, just a 40 minute boat trip, so you can pop from an Italian island to a French island just for the day.
I would also recommend venturing inland, only 20mins to an hour away, to explore small villages like Aggius. Not only is Aggius a charming stone village, but you can discover real Sardinian heritage in the ethnographic museum and watch locals make intricately detailed and colourful rugs and carpets on traditional wooden looms. This is an incredible and physically demanding skill that’s really important to our history and culture.
Lastly eat everything! Sardinian cuisine is fresh and abundant in flavour so don’t hold back, it’s worth the few extra pounds you might take home.
Who is a typical guest at the Delphina Hotels and Resorts and what should they expect from the Delphina experience?
I think the typical guest is someone who loves nature, respects the environment and wants to stay somewhere that shares this sense of responsibility to protect and preserve the land. Our guests also want more than a standardised experience which they can get in other chains, they want a unique local touch that gives them a real sense of location.
Which is your favourite property from the portfolio and why is this the case?
It’s impossible to single out just one resort because each has its own distinct personality, but I would like to shine a light on one which has been recently honoured and that we are very proud of; Resort Valle dell’Erica, which won ‘Europe’s Leading Green Resort’ at the World Travel Awards 2019, aka the ‘Oscars’ of the travel industry.
Valle dell’Erica is really special in that it overlooks the Maddalena Archipelago and Corsica, and is absolutely immersed in nature. It has over 2km of private coast so you can wonder the many picturesque coves and find a private spot for yourself, and the grounds are covered in fuschia bougainvillea and scented juniper trees. No matter how many times I go there it feels like a dream every time.
This season has been hugely successful for Delphina Hotels and Resorts, with 5* reviews and recognitions for their industry-leading Green initiative, please tell us more about this worthwhile programme.
To be recognised and awarded for our good environmental practices is a real honour because we work really hard to make sure we are as sustainable and thoughtful as possible. Across the portfolio we have a We Are Green® protocol, a brand created and registered by Delphina specifically for the environment. In this we outline our eco-practices including using only electric buggies to transport guests and goods which are re-charged on-site, using eco-label products to clean rooms, eco-bio and paraben-free spa and courtesy products as well as eco-friendly paper and vegetable-based inks for all catalogues. We were very proud to become the first Italian hotel chain to use 100% green energy from fully renewable sources in all hotels, resorts and the main offices.
We also work hard to promote local events and excursions and we try not to import anything for our resorts, instead hiring Sardinian companies, suppliers and craftsmen to cater for all needs in an effort to support and maintain local businesses.
And are there any future plans to expand this and go even ‘greener’?
Absolutely, this is one of our top priorities so we are constantly building, growing and evolving our green policy to lead the way in this field.
This season we gifted all staff with re-useable water containers and replaced single use plastic water bottles for guests with glass bottles and recyclable cans. Over one summer alone we saved 68,700 plastic bottles which was an important, and very welcome, investment.
For 2020 we will showcase an amazing extended organic vegetable and fruit garden at Resort Le Dune. Built on an old vineyard, the huge vegetable garden will feature aromatic herbs and fruit trees, providing fresh zero-kilometre produce for the resorts. Not only that, guests are encouraged to explore the gardens and learn about the native plants and species and families can freely wonder the henhouse and aviaries to see the peacocks, ducks and chicks and even collect the eggs laid by free-range hens.
The travel sector constantly evolves to satisfy and in many cases, exceed the expectations of global travellers, what are the key trends you have observed in the last few years and what do you predict for the next three to five years?
The first Delphina property was built 27 years ago, and was built on the principle of respecting the local environment, landscape and culture. I believe that current trends, such as ‘wellness-seekers’ and eco-conscious travellers looking for authentic experiences, are just catching up to what we have always offered. For example our organic courtesy line is not just the latest fashion, we have been doing it for the last 10 years. In general we don’t look for trends that come and go, just a philosophy that remains. That’s not to say that we don’t adapt to the needs and wants of our guests, for 2020 I am proud to introduce free Hatha yoga lessons in a new outdoor, sea-facing space so guests can connect with nature, and themselves, in an amazing and genuine way.
Luxury means different things to different people – what epitomises it for you and why?
For a high-end market, it is expected that you will have great service, top quality food and products in a comfortable and stylish environment, that is fairly standard for 5* properties and nothing particularly special. For me luxury is about having time, and using that time in a way that is meaningful to you and that makes you feel good. Taking a vacation is important for everyone – it’s valuable time to relax, change your surroundings and get in touch with yourself. Giving guests the space and facilities to use their time in a meaningful way, be it a free cooking lesson with a local chef, walking a trail through indigenous flora or simply finding a secluded hammock to read a book, is true luxury.
What is your life motto (if you have one)?
Live well and be present in each moment.