The von Trapp family name is famous around the world thanks to iconic film The Sound of Music. However, as members of the second and third generation said in an exclusive interview, today the family is committed to building a legacy through a luxury resort in the American wilderness.
While the film ended with the fictional family hurriedly fleeing Austria for Switzerland when Captain von Trapp was summoned to serve in the navy, the real-life family landed in Vermont after fleeing Salzburg's Nazi powers in the autumn of 1938. It now intends to stay there.
“When I was a kid, dad used to tell me that we could build up another inch of topsoil in 1,000 years and that we could build up one sixteenth of an inch in his lifetime. I didn't really understand that way of thinking then, but it makes a lot of sense to me now,” said 37-year-old co-owner Sam von Trapp.
Sam is the grandson of Maria, who authored the now infamous memoir about the family of Austrian singers that inspired the film and whose name was given to its protagonist. However, she spent most of her life dedicated to a resort, the Trapp Family Lodge, which she managed until she passed away in 1987.
The earliest incarnation of the lodge, which sits high on a ridge amid the Green Mountains surrounded by several thousand acres of meadow and forest, opened in 1950. It is now owned and managed by Sam and his father Johannes.
Although he only joined the family business a couple of years ago, Sam says he had been preparing to get involved in one form or another since he was a child. “I started hourly jobs here when I was just eight years old,” he explained.
Sam believes he and his father bring different but complementary qualities to the role: “My father and I share the role of running the lodge in a way that sees me as the eyes, ears and boots on the ground, while he provides wisdom, guidance and experience with the business. He's got decades of knowledge and an institutional memory that's invaluable.”
Johannes, 71, embodies the family’s commitment to “getting it right” and is famous for having a perspective that's always pragmatic and long-term. “I tend to have a 50 to 100 year outlook on things – my bankers think it's nuts. Perhaps it is, but we pride ourselves on taking a very long-term look at what we're doing here,” said Johannes.
What they do is provide luxury villas, top-quality restaurants, cross-country skiing in the winter and spectacular walking scenery in the summer. Their latest project is a microbrewery and Johannes and Sam are busy refining their first edition of Trapp lager.
"A lot of what we do really wouldn't make sense unless the property was going to stay in the family for a very long time," said Johannes.
Certainly, guests shouldn't expect to find an altar that pays homage to The Sound of Music. “We very consciously avoid being a museum for fans of the film,” Johannes says. “What I've tried to emphasise is the family's real story, which of course includes the fact that a film was made based on my mother's book.”
Click here to read the full exclusive interview with Campden FB, the magazine for ultra high net worth business-owning families.
Marc Smith is the editor of Campden Wealth.