It Takes a Village TUI Builds Tuscan Playground for the Wealthy
Part 2: A New Village Community
What they want is originality and international standards all in one, and the chance to chat with their neighbors in English over a non-existent garden fence, while someone named Pietro prunes the hedges and palm trees.
The German upper class is not alone in its yearning for such a global village. The first Russian potential buyer Schlüter remembers was mainly interested in knowing whether other Russians had already bought property in Castelfalfi. He was relieved to hear that the answer was no. But there is an even greater threat than the Moscow nouveau riche.
When Marco Boldrini of the environmental organization Lega Ambiente gazes at the golf course in Castelfalfi, he says: "We gave TUI too much freedom." But at least Germans and Italians have been interacting long enough that they understand each other. Boldrini still prefers the German picket-fence fetishists over the Chinese. He fears that within a few years they'll be buying up other Italian villages and copying what they see in Castelfalfi.
In fact, could this be the future of tourism? Instead of buying a club or a beach, a developer simply goes out and buys an entire strip of countryside. Right now an Egyptian has plans to transform the sleepy Swiss town of Andermatt into a giant resort, but faces massive local opposition.
Meanwhile, Schlüter's dream is something of a platinum card-carrying, multicultural society, which could look something like this: 25 percent Germans, 25 percent Britons, 25 percent Italians and the final quarter consisting of Swiss, French and Scandinavians. The one thing they would all have in common is a certain net worth. The executives at TUI believe that this mix of people would form an entirely new type of village community.
It would certainly be interesting to watch the London stock market speculator, the Swiss heir of millions, the Russian oligarch with his entourage of young female companions and the Swabian businessman gather for a glass of wine on the village plaza in the evening. The original inhabitants of Castelfalfi won't be getting in their way. In fact, only one still lives on the property.
Real Italians Wanted
But Schlüter's paradise urgently needs real Italians. The bartender in the castle has to be a Giuseppe. And perhaps Schlüter can drum up a few weather-beaten craftsmen in the surrounding region to play at life -- any life -- in Castelfalfi's little shops.
A few of the original inhabitants get together on Sundays in the small park at the castle, including people like kiosk owner Paolo Leoncini, who was born in Castelfalfi but has been living in Montaione for some time. Then they sit in the shade of ancient trees and reminisce about how their little village was free of aristocracy and landowners.
Although TUI's initial designs felt "like a punch in the face of Tuscany," says Leoncini, he also concedes that tourism is part of the region's future. Now the issue is jobs, and Schlüter is promising 250 full-time positions.
TUI's preliminary investment is slated at 250 million ($361 million). And because even this princely sum won't be enough, the company isn't just looking for well-heeled buyers, but also potent partners. TUI says that it isn't in a hurry. But people who are in a hurry, anxious not to make the impression that they are in a hurry, also like to say that they are not in a hurry.
At any rate, there is still plenty potential trouble in Schlüter's paradise. It could end up looking like assisted living for millionaires. It could attract the wrong buyers. Even worse, it might not attract enough buyers at all.
"I'm not worried," says Schlüter, as the sun sets. "The entire project is fully financed. If the markets were to collapse again tomorrow, it might take a little longer. But we will finish this project."
Schlüter is now 51. He will stay for as long as his company in faraway Hannover lets him. He has been playing God in Castelfalfi on behalf of TUI for the last six years. It could take another six years to finish what he has started. And perhaps he would finally be able to rest in the seventh year.
But Schlüter says he would probably prefer to spend his retirement in Germany, anyway. It may have less sun and Carrara marble, there is also something paradisiacal about the safety net of an eminently reliable healthcare system.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: TUI Builds Tuscan Playground for the Wealthy
- Part 2: A New Village Community