Even now, at 93 years of age, she still embodies everything that makes a quintessential hotelier: the love of the people, the passion for aesthetics and perfection, and the willingness to work hard for it.
Sunday, late morning. Day of departure. People, bags, suitcases. A tight crowd in front of the reception desk. A quick look over the bill. One last question about the traffic. Traffic jam on the highway? Will we make our flight? And somewhere amidst it all, there she is. Full of energy, grace, and warmth, she makes the rounds. It matters not to whom she turns, or to whom she carefully listens, or warmly shakes hands with; where she stands or walks the Grand Dame of the ADLER is always center stage.
A little later Elfriede Sanoner, who everyone calls Elly, sits in the winter garden. She wears a blue dress jacket. Discreet jewellery, subtle makeup, raspberry-coloured lipstick. The silver hair is perfectly coiffed. Someone who doesn’t know her would guess she is much younger than she is. Those who meet her for the first time are almost overwhelmed by her charm and the passion with which she tells her stories. About Andreas and Klaus, her sons, and their wives. About daughter Annemarie. She praises all of them. Emphasizes their commitment and their entrepreneurial skill. And conveys pleasure that her four grandsons have already expressed interest in being part of the operation. She appears relaxed and happy. She gazes over the terrace into the valley and smiles.
But that is a little misleading. They say Elly Sanoner has an unerring eye for excellence and perfection. That she misses no flaw, however small. No fold in the carpet, no uneven table decoration. Every guest request and constructive suggestion from any employee is taken seriously. For over sixty years, she has thus characterized the history and the values of the ADLER. Hardly an arrival or departure day passes when Mrs. Elly is not taking the honours of meeting the guests. The guests have always been her life. Besides the family, of course. She always asks whether everything is all right. ... and you should try the cookies that the barista brought with the Cappuccino.
She had a humble upbringing in Laces in the Val Venosta. Her mother had to raise five children alone after the death of her father. Elly became an Education Secretary and learned English at the Berlitz school. She was working for the local government when a handsome hotelier son from the Dolomites made a request for her. Josef Anton Sanoner, known by everyone as Pepi, is a friend of the friend of her sister. In 1955, Elly marries Pepi, and what comes next is by no means easy for the young woman. “I did not come from that industry,” she says, “everything was a new experience for me.” Her in-laws offer support: “If you do it wrong”, say Sepl and Fanny Sanoner, “then you will learn from the mistakes.” Also, she, Elly, says “I did not have much time to think with all of the work.”
South Tyrol hotels are almost always family businesses, where men usually organize and plan the future and the women manage the operation. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Interior. And so, it was for the young Sanoner couple. Pepi has held numerous offices. Tourist Board, tourist and political state bodies, and so on. In Val Gardena, he fought the Organizing Committee to host the World Ski Championships in 1970. As Mayor of Ortisei for 16 years, he was committed to the development of infrastructure and thus significantly influenced the expansion and progression of the village. Elly acted as boss, good spirit, regulating and helping hand while at the ADLER. 15-16 hours a day. Tirelessly. Always striving to provide the best possible service. “If you have to do something you like,” she says, “then you do it gladly. I always already enjoyed dealing with people, and anyone in this profession has to love people.”
Elly Sanoner anticipates and knows the smallest wishes and the greatest desires of the guests. Gallantly, she walks the fine line between warm hospitality and professional detachment. With her employees, she preserves the balance between trust, tolerance and authority. But most impressive is her incredible ability to remember the idiosyncrasies and personal stories of her guests over the years. Elly knows what they do professionally, what the daughter is studying, how many grandchildren they have. “Once”, she reflects, “I asked a couple I was greeting, who had not been with us in a long time, whether Waldi was still around.” This was in reference to the Dachshund that belonged to the couple. “You still know him!” exclaimed the guests, moved to tears. Of course, Mrs. Elly had not forgotten the dog. He had chewed through the duvet in one of the hotel rooms. So many stories. Decades fly by when the Grand Dame of the ADLER speaks. The fifties, “where it all went bad and no one had money.” The sixties, when all of the Italian guests stayed away due to the bombings in South Tyrol. The seventies, remembers Mrs. Elly, “were particularly hard”. Oil crises. Inflation. Lending rates up to 30 percent. “We went to bed with worries and woke up with worries.” Not least of which was the fact that a Hotel is a place of permanent change. A place of constant renovation and innovation. A construction site that is never finished. Especially if you write hotelier history like the ADLER does in South Tyrol.
After 1910, Pepi Sanoner’s parents were advertising bathtubs, electric lights, flush toilets, billiards and French beds. Under the leadership of Pepi and Elly, the ADLER set the standards in South Tyrol for quality, comfort and service, including the first hotel indoor swimming pool and the first Spa in the Dolomites. Without this groundwork, the development toward today’s wellness and sport resort with water world, fitness facility and panoramic organic hay sauna would not have been possible. “She worked a tremendous amount,” remarks her son Klaus, “father was often not at home, he was more the designer and developer.” A passion which his sons, Andreas Sanoner confesses with a grin, “apparently have inherited.” One hour, then two hours pass while Elly Sanoner reminisces. Naturally, her narrative is about painting, her great passion, which she discovered in 1985 when Pepi and she passed the management to their sons. “Mama stay home,” said my boys, “and have a good time.” Even when she had been in school, she had liked to draw in her workbooks. As a child, she used to lay down in meadows, look up at the clouds, and see in them faces and figures. Why not take painting lessons? One lesson became several. And today, many of her fascinating, sometimes highly experimental and abstract images decorate the ADLER in the Dolomites. For the ADLER in Tuscany she produced 100 large-format watercolors in a very short time.
One would like to ask for more and continue listening to her fascinating tales, but Elly Sanoner interrupts her story. A young couple strolls somewhat uncertainly through the winter garden. They look hesitantly to the left, then to the right. Mrs. Elly asks: “Can I help you; find you a table?” This is how it is when you genuinely like people and are perpetually observant. Others may see her at center stage. But when it comes to guests, Elly Sanoner always thinks of herself last.