His father founded the family construction business but also passed on a love of boats and water. Cecile Gauert meets the Luxembourger-Italian now building his very own super-stylish sailing yachts
Marc “Gio” Giorgetti grew up in landlocked Luxembourg, but the Mediterranean is never far from his mind. For a long time now, summer sailing has been a family tradition. He has just taken delivery of his largest sailing yacht to date, an exquisite balance of performance and comfort. The 33.8-metre Solaris CeFeA, named after his three children, is a carbon-hull beauty that has reached 16 knots in 15 knots of wind.
When we speak, over Zoom, he’s just had a few days on board and he can’t wait to get back on the water. “It is absolutely fantastic and very balanced. I can hold it with just two fingers,” he says.
Giorgetti is CEO of the Felix Giorgetti construction and property company, and also the majority shareholder of Solaris Yachts, so with this new yacht his passion has become a fast-growing business.
He traces his taste for boats to family holidays on the shores of Lake Maggiore, which straddles Italy and Switzerland in the foothills of the Alps. His late father, Felix Giorgetti, had a family home in this Alpine riviera and a wooden Riva Junior with a tow line. “I spent my summers on the water,” he says. “I was in the water all the time, from morning to night, swimming, sailing, rowing and waterskiing.”
Although his ancestry is Italian, his grandfather and grand-uncle moved from Lombardy to Luxembourg in the late 19th century, seeking better opportunities for their families. The family did not speak Italian at home but as a gregarious, carefree and curious kid known as Gio – “Everyone calls me Gio,” he says – he soaked up the language during his summers on the lake and made friends with locals and tourists alike.
“We had a lot of German neighbours who came with their boats and they did not speak Italian,” he says. Whenever they had a problem of any kind, they knew who to call. He interpreted for them as they sorted out any number of issues that came between them and a sunny day on the lake. “I learned all about the problems they had with their different boats. That’s what got me interested in them.”
And then, of course, there was his father’s boat – the Riva Junior. He remembers the thrill of holding that beautifully crafted wheel, his father looking on. “I took turns with my dad in the evening after waterskiing and I learned to drive it.”
He got to know Riva pretty well too. Felix Giorgetti loved boats and he developed a close relationship with the shipyard. He even became a Riva dealer in Luxembourg, selling a few Rivas in this small but affluent market. When he had to go to Riva’s headquarters in Sarnico, Lombardy, occasionally his children went along. Gio remembers standing in the shop watching the boats come together. “It was so impressive as a child. It was more than a boat, it was exquisite furniture. It was all in mahogany wood, just fantastic.”
His appreciation for the work of the craftspeople left a lasting impression, especially since the family seems to have a knack for building things. Three generations of the Giorgetti family are behind several of the Grand Duchy’s notable buildings. Take, for example, the national theatre and concert venue, Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg. Felix Giorgetti’s construction company won the bid to build the project that had been drawn by a young and fiery French architect named Alain Bourbonnais. It turned out to be quite complex due, in part, to the personality of the architect and his choice of raw materials. The deep grey stone with white veins selected for the façade was found only in northern Italy in two quarries in an area that Felix knew well. He decided to work with the smaller and more competitive quarry on top of the hill, but it meant he had to cross the competitor’s land to reach the road. When they refused to grant him the right of way, Giorgetti built a cable car to gain access.
Gio was all of three years old when the theatre was finished in 1964 but this project left quite an impression. Every day, Felix walked his children to school past the construction site, an episode that Gio recounted with emotion in 2016 during his speech when accepting an award as one of Luxembourg’s leading business leaders from magazine Paperjam. The event was held in the very same theatre.
Construction remains the family business. Gio and his brother, Paul, joined their father in 1986 after completing their studies and today are at the helm of Luxembourg’s largest construction company. As Luxembourg grew, so did Felix Giorgetti, which today is a diversified group of 16 businesses across several economic sectors. One of the most recent areas of expansion is the hospitality business, with the construction of around 800 hotel rooms. In all, the company directly employs 1,800 people and, counting subcontractors and families, is responsible for the well-being of some 10,000 people in a country with a population of 626,000 – so it’s a very big fish in a relatively small pond.
Diversification has been a key strategy and the company is also invested in the marine sector. Gio did not set out to own a shipyard or a boat dealership but perhaps his history predestined him to do so.
He bought his first boat, an Amel Super Maramu, in 2002, following it up three years later with an Amel 54. In 2008, he was ready to trade up again and was attracted to the Italian shipyard that built the Solaris sailing boats. The yard, which started in the early 1970s, is based in Aquileia, near Trieste in Northeast Italy. He says his ancestry was not really a factor in the decision, although understanding the language and culture made it easier for him to enjoy the experience. “In my heart, Italian and boats go together,” he says.
The yard at the time worked with a free-thinking American naval architect who knew all about designing fast hulls and winning regattas, but could also design comfortable cruising boats – the late Doug Peterson. It was with Peterson that Gio built the first of three Solaris 72s. Having cruised extensively with his family, he knew exactly how he wanted to use the boat. “I think sailing people are more passionate about boats,” he says. “They are more aware of everything. They ask more questions. They go into every detail. In summary, they are more involved in the process.” That is certainly true in his case.
“I asked the shipyard to send me the digital files and worked on the interior design with one of my company’s architects,” he says. “I had all these ideas from living on my previous boats with my family and the yard liked them. After four months, the boss of Solaris [at the time, Alessandro Puntin] asked me if I would be interested in becoming a partner and so I bought a third of the company.”
After doing an Atlantic crossing from Tenerife to St Martin on his first 72, Gio went on to build two more Solaris 72s with naval architecture by Javier Soto Acebal. Last year, he became even more involved with Solaris Yachts, as the company’s majority shareholder. It was last year also that the company started a new power division in consultancy with Norberto Ferretti, the founder of Ferretti Group. Solaris Power has already launched the first few of the delightful lobster boats built in its Performance Boats yard in Forlì.
Gio is very much in favour of diversification but he remains committed to sailing yachts. For a time, he had his eye on Wally. “I was interested in having two brands. If you draw a parallel with the car industry, Solaris was Porsche and Wally was Ferrari,” he says.
The two companies already had a relationship since Solaris Yachts built two boats for Wally (Barong D and Nahita) and it seemed like a great fit. Although they came “very close” to a deal, in the end they could not reach an agreement.
Gio then resolved to do the next best thing and that was to build a yacht that would have the kind of allure and performance that Wally offered, only with more elaborate and comfortable interiors to appeal to a wider segment of the sailing market.
He decided to undertake the construction of a new flagship for Solaris’s superyacht division. For this project, he worked with Monaco Yacht Temptation (MYT) Design, whose owner, Carlo Torre, has a long history with Wally, and again with Soto Acebal as naval architect.
Gio was quite involved and visited the yard in Forlì frequently during the construction of CeFeA, the first Solaris 111. Implementing many of his ideas and some features reminiscent of his previous boat, Solaris Yachts built the new flagship in pre-peg carbon and foam, with titanium fittings, a 46-metre carbon mast and a 6.05-metre lifting keel that reduces to 3.9 metres. The sailplan, including a self-tacking jib, is easily managed by a small crew. “I did not want to compromise. I said: ‘This has to be the best boat to ever come out so far’, and I know we succeeded,” he says.
While the boat is light – 75 tonnes with 22 tonnes of ballast included – and fast, racing is not the point. “I am not a regatta guy. I prefer to have fun with friends and family on the boat. If I do a regatta, it’s for the pure pleasure of sailing.” But why not enjoy both performance and comfort? That’s the idea with this new yacht, with an owner’s cabin that is nearly 40 square metres in area, and a wide hull – 7.9 metres at its widest – for less heeling, and a large and private cockpit accessible from the owner’s cabin, allowing the owner, when not at the wheel, to have total privacy. “Now we have a performance-oriented boat with a large owner’s cabin with two bathrooms, four bedrooms and a crew area for five with generous volume. Happy crew, happy owner,” he says. “Competitors have to go to 40 metres to get the same comfort inside space-wise.”
This being the new flagship, Gio went for all the bells and whistles to set new standards but in the end it will be up to each owner to decide on the degree of comfort; it’s all bespoke.
What of the future? He’s been able to pass on his love of sailing to his children, who are on their way to joining the family business. “I am very happy and proud about that.” He hopes that he’ll be able to sail CeFeA to some of his favourite Mediterranean destinations soon before another interesting new challenge starts. As we part company, he drops a hint about a new venture. “Yes, it’s about boats again,” he says with a smile. “It’s very exciting, but more on this later.”