Few decisions in life are bigger than the ones concerning who we love, where we live, and what we do for work. For John Voigtmann, a former VP of International Marketing at Sony, all three were ultimately entwined by a fate that drove him to Italy. The woman he fell in love with, Condé Nast Traveler contributor Ondine Cohane, lived in Italy as a child. Then, in 2001, while looking for their wedding location, he came upon a rundown villa near Pienza, a UNESCO Heritage village where, as he puts it, “you gaze down the medieval alleys, catch the distant sound of an Italian song playing, and smell the pasta sauce being readied for lunch.”
Abandoned for decades, it was owned by a sheep farmer who used it to house pigs. Voigtmann lasted four more years at Sony before that villa became his life’s cause, job, and affair of the heart. Not that his love was blind. “It was remarkable to me that in an area with all that beauty, those stunning villages, there were so few places to stay in the Tuscan countryside,” he explains. “One found either big resorts removed from the real Italy or musty old villas.” Flash-forward a few years, add great expense and a politician’s ability to handle “the million building laws in Italy,” and that fall-down villa was transformed into a mid-century modern boutique hotel that Tuscany sorely lacked.
Success came quickly because Voigtmann had followed his instincts. “My wife was in the travel industry and I traveled for a living and both of us knew that what we liked wasn’t here. So we simply created what we ourselves desired—something stylish but modern, luxurious but informal, relaxed but serious, with a sense of personality. I didn’t want anything too fancy. I wanted a place where my friends and friends of friends could relax in the area.” That place—La Bandita—has been so successful that Voigtmann dared to dream even bigger: This time he would create something directly inside the ancient village of Pienza.
He wanted to again provide a true Tuscan experience, explaining that “if you come to town to eat ice cream, see the church, and then go back to your resort, what have you seen? So I started La Bandita Townhouse in 2013. It was a gut renovation. They take historic preservation very seriously here, which is why the area remains so beautiful. I couldn’t add any square footage or enlarge any windows or doors. Meeting all the modern building requirements yet preserving the historic aspects of the structure was impossible. For example, if you have three floors you are required to have an elevator. But historic regulations say ‘No elevators!’ Also, the demo work was very challenging. In order to bring a crane into an old village, we had to lift it in with another crane!”
Now that La Bandita Townhouse is finished, the results reaffirm all of Voigtmann’s life choices. “One has a truly authentic village experience here,” he states proudly. “You can feel Italian life happening all around you.” Does the overwhelmingly positive response to his two properties mean a third is forthcoming? “I’m not a hotel mogul in the making,” Voigtmann demurs. “I want to be here on property so I can meet the guests and share their stories.”