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Grand but empty, Italian hotels await tourists

This picture taken on Thursday, May 14, 2020, shows the outdoor restaurant overlooking the swimming pool and lake of the historical Grand Hotel Tremezzo, in Tremezzo, on Como Lake, Italy.

LUCA BRUNO/AP

By BEATRICE LARCO | Associated Press | Published: May 17, 2020

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ROME — Like lonely grande dames, Italy's luxury hotels lack company amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Associated Press photographers have captured the atmosphere inside prestigious establishments in Rome, Milan, Venice, on the shores of Lake Como and in Rimini, the Adriatic beach town that inspired native son Federico Fellini's cinematic vision.

Foreign tourists are the mainstay of these high-priced hotels. But foreigners aren't allowed yet into Italy because of COVID-19 containment measures in one of the world's hardest-hit countries. And Italians aren't yet allowed travel for the purpose of tourism. So these days, elegantly-dressed staff stand at the ready for guests who aren't likely to step into their grandiose lobbies.

The void in the stylish yet hushed lounges and rooms is notable. Unused keys hang neatly from wooden racks or lie stacked in drawers. There's no buzz of clients clonking glasses and chatting by the hotels' swanky cocktail bars.

"It's the first time in almost 80 years of this hotel's history, since it was renovated in the 1930s, that it is empty, closed," says Maurizio Bettoja, who heads the Bettoja hotels, including the Hotel Mediterraneo Bettoja in Rome.

Many of these top-of-the-line, must-stay places for politicians, industrialists and movie stars are steeped in history. The Grand Hotel et de Milan, where 19th-century opera composer Giuseppe Verdi stayed and has a suite dedicated to him, dates back to 1863.

On Lake Como, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo has marble bathtubs overlooking the lake and a posh terrace facing the Alps but no guests to populate them.

At the empty Hotel Hassler, near Rome's Spanish Steps, management likes to recall that actress Audrey Hepburn — who rode a scooter with Gregory Peck in an iconic scene in the movie "Roman Holiday" — would stay in the same suite each time she visited. Staff say that at this time of year the hotel would be full, or nearly so.

There are no cocktails to mix at the art-deco Hotel Locarno near Rome's Piazza del Popolo, which has barely had any guests during the pandemic. Yet bartender Nicholas Pinna stands ready to serve as always.

Federalberghi, an Italian hotelier association, predicts that one in five hotel workers in Italy could lose their jobs because of the pandemic-triggered travel restrictions and economic woes. The industry is looking forward to June 3, when Italy reopens both regional and international borders.

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