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«Grand Hotel Helvetia»: a story of one family

Inheriting the first mountain hotel in Cyprus, Nicos Mattheou and his family continue the traditions started by his great grandfather. The hotel has a remarkable history and guests to be spoken about and that makes the unique spirit of this place alive.

Nicos, how did the story of your family hotel started?

My great grandfather, Nicolas  first built a hotel in Limassol, his native town. The hotel’s name was Troodos hotel as he adored the mountains. Then he sold it and bought a piece of this land here, in Platres. 

In the beginning of 1900s Cyprus became an interest for Egyptians and Israelis. First tourists visited Cyprus mostly because of the mountains and the climate we have here. There was no air condition at that time and they came on the island and stayed for 1 or 2 months to enjoy chill summer days in Troodos. So, Nicolas built his first hotel in Platres in 1906 and named it Helvetia. It was the first mountain hotel in Cyprus.

Why did Nicolas choose this name?

He and my great grandmother used to go to Switzerland and Austria for holidays and when she was standing on the balcony of a newly built hotel here and saw this beautiful forest it reminded her of Switzerland. (Helvetia is a female personification of Switzerland, – AP). 

What about the second building.

It was built in 1929 and it was an expansion of the hotel. Until 1947 it was one hotel and it was the biggest hotel in Cyprus. Nicolas had two children — my grandmother and her sister. When the time came to marriage he divided the hotel into two parts and gave his daughters as a wedding gift. That is when my grandfather decided to change the name of New Helvetia as there was a lot of misunderstanding — people booked a room in Helvetia but at that time there were two separate managements and two different hotels. They came to the newest building and there was no room for them and visa versa. 

Then the next generation, my uncle, decided to change the first building name to Mount Royal. Unfortunately, that one closed. But now the fourth generation of our family — me and my brother are in charge of our hotel heritage. 

Do you attract any investors in order to maintain the hotels life?

We continue our family’s legacy by ourselves. If you want to keep the hotel alive, you have to invest. We had some property in Limassol, we sold it and invested in the hotel. Now we have a big upcoming renovation project. Any way we will keep the character of the hotel adding only wood and stones, without any aluminum and metal decorations as modern hotels do. We participate in the European program and we hope to get necessary fundings for upgrades: to install an outside glass lift, to make a spa, conference room and renovate all the bathrooms inside the rooms. We are also planning to open a restaurant with a wine cellar. 

What about your children — are they going to continue your family tradition of keeping the hotel?

Yes, totally. I studied the Hotel and Tourism management in Austria, my son finished the same school last year. Our fifth generation is proud we have such a property in Cyprus and are very interested in this family business. 

Nowadays my son is taking culinary courses in Switzerland and the son of my brother is also going to the same austrian hotel management school starting this autumn. Speaking about Europe, I think the education in hospitality is more professional in Austria and Switzerland.

Is New Helvetia hotel your main business?

No, I’m also working for the Grecian group of hotels in Agya Napa. I’m in charge of the business developments, sales and marketing. That is the reason I’m travelling a lot around the island.

Did you have any hard times and think of selling it?

Never. Even if we were offered a huge amount, we could not let it go, It is a part of our family. It’s better if we even close it and just see its outside beauty rather than giving it to someone else. 

This hotel is something different comparing it with the hotels on the beach. New Helvetia has other beauties and it always finds it guests. The times change. Now those who travel all over the world want more attractions at the hotels, they want modern facilities and .. chefs at the restaurants. Of course, it’s not our job to compete with luxury and 5-star hotels. 

Why don’t you hire a general manager for the hotel and prefer to do all the development and marketing yourself?

First of all, it’s a question of cost. Also if we have somebody in charge, then me and my brother will step aside and when you come here again, you won’t see the same attitude. It will be just another tourist hotel as a new staff won’t have all those stories and family values. A family hotel has to be a family hotel as this is one of the reasons why people are visiting us.    

When do you recommend to visit the New Helvetia hotel?

Let’s say this year is an exception (laughs) as just few days ago we had snow in Troodos. I think the best time of the year to enjoy the nature around and night gaze is March, April and May, September, October until mid of November. However, if you want to escape the coast heat, the summer temperature here, in the mountains, is more chill. You can seat on the veranda in August wishing to put something warm on.

Tell me more about your guests. Which countries are they from?

The majority of our guests lives in Cyprus. Nowadays we rarely have tourists from abroad. During this year we started to have a lot of guests, Russian guests, who live in Cyprus and come to our hotel to chill in the mountains, to show their kids the atmosphere and enjoy a weekend away from the coastal life. Our reputation spreads with a word of mouth and that is a great thing. Nothing compares with the honest review of the person who have been here.

Name was the most famous person who visited the hotel.

There were many (smiles). For example, King Farouk I of the Egypt used to come to the hotel in the first part of the XX century. He was a well-known playboy and liked to stay in the mountains with many of his girlfriends. The king was not allowed to drink any alcohol at all and he asked a barmen to make a cocktail that will not smell, taste and look like an alcohol. The barmen mixed brandy, bitter, lemon squash and soda and called in Brandy sour. That is how the famous cocktail was invented. 

We also had the parents of the previous Israel president as our guests. They spent the holidays here in 1932. And their son, Chaim Weizmann, came with the official visit to Cyprus and asked the government to find that hotel where his parents stayed before. He only had a photo of them in the hotel’s interior. Later on, his granddaughter came to see the hotel her grandparents visited. So, you see, our hotel is always about the families. 

Another famous person — our President, Nicos Anastasiades, spent his honeymoon here and he still remembers us. 

Nicos, that is just a huge memory lane! You should definitely write a book about the hotel’s history.

So true. We have amazing stories around the hotel. For example, last year we had a US couple as our guests. It appeared that they had been to the New Helvetia hotel 60 years ago for holidays. They came to Cyprus to find the exact hotel where they were together several decades ago. For us, such stories are the proof that the hotel’s spirit is alive and it’s story has to be continued.