The Grand Hotel Billia, the far-sighted initiative of brilliant entrepreneur, Sir Stefano Billia, who gave his name to the Hotel, was officially opened on Monday, June 15th, 1908. For over 100 years, this impressive buildinghas played a primary role in the field of tourism and not only in theValle d'Aosta region, confirmation of the strategic vision of the founder, who, incidentally had already launched a number of other initiatives in other tourist areas of the Bel Paese.
First it was atherapeutic centre/tourist attraction that benefited from the International reputation of the Thermal Baths, "passare le acque" was said to be a summer and winter retreat in a natural context of unique beauty: a privileged and almost essential holiday for the wealthy classes, the aristocracy and the high bourgeoisie at the time, following in the footstepsof the members of the Royal House of Savoy who had made it fashionable for the region: a holidayat the Grand HôtelBillia represented a sort of status symbol.
After the historical events of the pre-war and war period, in which the building was under German command for a brief period, from 1947 to 1957the Grand HôtelBillia was a Gaming House and since thenhas been the basis of what has become the largest Casino in Europe.
In 1983 the construction of a congress centre began to be added to the venue,cutting edge both in terms of size and technological facilities, thus allowing expansion and diversification - with a vision towards itstarget customers.
Such competitive and consistent developmentsin line with evolution and market trends - in apparent contrast to the grandeur and the stillness of the building, is reflected in the sheer flexibility of the structure.
We need not list here the various events that have happened over its centuries-long history, however, as important as the history of its origins is the chronicle of the last fifteen years.
The nineties started with the vicissitudes that involved the private company that manages the BilliaEstate and the Region which consented to the Casino’s activities, and so on the 1st July 1994 the official separation between the management of the hotel and that of the Casino was sanctioned and from that day would be directed by a management other than that of the Region.
Themeticulously built“mosaic”, that since the Fifties had allowed the Saint-Vincent structure as a whole to take an extraordinary leap in International quality, began to lose its“tiles”. There was no universal glue that would hold it all together, while aiming to enhance the individual excellence, all the while adapting to a common vision. Within the extraordinary Management one could see clearly that the interests of private shareholders were different from those of the Region, who started to think about a way to break with this feeling of encirclement that the operators of the Gaming House were experiencing. The Casino reminds us in some way of the Gallic town of Asterix that resisted despite the siege of Julius Caesar and the Roman Legions. The gaming house, in fact, was having to follow the passion of the players, encountering objective difficulties to promote and stimulate collateral activities with the other structures that surrounded it and that was the property of the Lefebvre group that in the meantime had acquired the Grand Hotel Billia. To break this impasse a great leap in quality was required.
A regional decree of 6th August 2001 declared the Grand HôtelBillia and its park "of particularly important interest" and made it a listed building and named the park a protected area. It was a fundamental act because it recognised the true value of the architectural and environmental properties of the structure to which any plans for the development or modification and enlargement of the building and its appurtenances would be subject. Thus began, perhaps even beyond the will of both parties, a virtuous journey that lead towards a positive solution, compared with previous years and has had to overcome many obstacles of various kinds.
A press release given by the information agency Ansa on September 9th, 2002 seemed to confirm this impression. The title announces, "Group Lefebvre sells St. Vincent Casino real estate. Agreement reached with the Region of Valle d'Aosta for more than 67 million euro". In reality it would have taken another four years to conclude the deal. The Regional Council, made law number 15, on 3rd August, 2006, governing the preparation of balance sheets, authorised the GiuntaRegionale to proceed with the purchase of the building, the Grand HôtelBillia, its Congress Centre, car parks and other assets, as well as the associated hotel company, in consideration of its primary strategic role and the interest in the Grand HôtelBilliain particular for the development of the Saint Vincent Casino.
The region as a whole contributes 90 million that should cover not only the costs for the acquisition but also the interventions necessary for the restoration, expansion of services and the re-launch of the hotels construction. The objective; to bring it back to its former glory of decades past. One of the earliest realities of its sector in Italy. The Region relies on theValle d'Aosta Tourist Services (STV) that already ensured the food service for the Casino and that would transform it into a public limited liability company entirely controlled, on behalf of the Autonomous Region of the Valle d'Aosta, by Finaosta,the region’s finance company. Their mission was to purchase and manage the premises. With this acquisition they could put into practise their strategic design and relaunch of the Saint-Vincent brand.
The GiuntaRegionale plannedthe journey in many steps. STV began to set upa series of interventions required to restore and improve the services and functionality of the building: access by road, park, renewal of the computer system and Pay TV, the electrical, technological and audio-visualinstallations of the Hotel and Congress Centre, and the renovation of the façade of the conventional wing in Liberty style. The European tenderfor the design of the restructuring,(that in the past few days has seen the first phase concluded with the provisional allocation of the project for the restructuring of the hotel complex/congress centre of the Grand HôtelBillia)hasdesigns aimed also atimproving the structures of a series of services at present missing or deficient,such as an underground garage, an indoor swimming pool, spa and technological centre.
16 highly professional companies both in Italy and abroadtendered for this project, as confirmation of the interest and prestige that
this building still manages to provide.
The completion timings can now be summarised as follows: 300 days from the date when the tender was awarded to realise the preliminary, definitive and executive projects, not including the time necessary required for the approval of the projects on behalf of the Client.
Obviously, during this period the hoteland Congress Centre will remain open as usual, although it will probably be subjected to some delays and temporarydown-sizing, as has happened for the works implemented to date.
Some of the works of unquestionable effectiveness and impact mentioned above have already been completed: for one, the afore
mentioned beautiful Liberty facade, taken back to its originalsplendour in both its colours and finishes, which, as well as highlighting the overhangs of the frames and windows, has revealed the unsuspected richly decorated bands which surround it, the pictorial friezes under the canopy and in the central part. In addition some interior venues have also been refurbished, such as the bar, an intimate, chic little restaurant furnished with some original ad hoc pieces and the main conference room that represents the prototype as far as the key structural solutions and technical/AV systems are concerned. This prototype will be the model for the other larger meeting rooms which will be refurbished in due course. Thus becoming one of the principal Congress Centres in Italy, as once it was.
Even the lesser important areas of the premises have been given the go ahead for refurbishment (by way of example, a very complex, high tech system is to be put in place allowing the Congress Centre to communicate directly with the Casino).
The Grand Hotel Billia today is now the property of the Autonomous Region of the Valle d'Aosta, therefore becoming, in fact and in law,part of the valley’s institutional heritage and therefore a resource belonging to the whole Valdostanacommunity. It sits beside and enhances many other architectural monuments that were created for other means and yet, over time, left to decay but now, at least in part,lovingly restored to their former glory!
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