Sandro Morelli, owner of Villa Tiberio restaurant in Marbella, takes great pride not just in the food that comes out of his kitchen but also in the flowers that adorn his diners’ surroundings. Sitting in the courtyard as I wait to meet him it is not difficult to see why; the setting is breathtakingly beautiful.
Sandro bought Villa Tiberio in the late 1980s when it
was a small, neglected house with a lot of grounds. “It took about two years to change everything,” explains Sandro, “but I had a lot of help from the local authorities.” Opened in 1989 it has become more than a restaurant: a meeting place for royalty and celebrities; a tranquil serenity under the glorious Marbella sunshine; a welcoming backdrop for hosting charity events - something that Sandro is extremely passionate about.
There is no denying the owner’s love affair with nature and architecture as you meander through the grounds; the mesmerising water features, intricately placed statues and stunning flowers make a visit to the restaurant an unforgettable experience before even setting eyes on the menu.
When talking to Sandro his love of Marbella - and the lifestyle it offers - is irrefutable. “I don’t know any other place that I would say to you right now that could compare better than Marbella.” It is all about “quality of life” for the restaurateur and, from his point of view, Marbella excels in that respect: “To get up in the morning and be able to swim in my pool, walk to the beach and have coffee, spend time with family - this is what life is all about.”
Despite his success, he is humble and respectful with a passion for helping others. Reminiscing about his childhood he reveals that his sole aim was to help his parents because “they were so poor”.
Sandro remembers begging for cigarettes on the streets of Naples at just seven years old: “If I could get four packs of cigarettes I used to run to the bus stop, sell them and run home to my mother and give her the money.”
At the age of 18, he went to London with five shillings in his pocket and got a job as a washer-upper. Earning £8 a week, he would spend his weekends working as a waiter in Leicester Square and send the extra £2 wage to his mother.
Sandro recalls a memory from when he was 18 years old, working as a washer-upper in London: “I have never forgotten; it was Christmas time and snowing; I was going to meet a girl and I saw a poor man, cold and sitting on the floor. I couldn’t believe it so I invited him upstairs and gave him a cup of tea. I had a coat - a beautiful coat that my uncle sent to me from the United States, we were always very poor - and I gave it to him. He couldn’t believe it, he was crying. I said ‘don’t cry’ and he said ‘but you’re giving me this coat’ and I said ‘yes, you keep yourself warm!’ I never forgot that. I will always remember his face - he had tears in his eyes. I was so happy because I felt I was in a position to give someone something they needed. It’s a great joy to give.”
Having experienced life from different extremes, the Italian-born restaurant owner is disgusted by the “untouchable disparity” in the world today. “No man or woman should be a billionaire - for me, it is immoral. How can you explain a child dying because they don’t have any food and others have more money in the bank than they know what to do with?”
His desire to help people has led Sandro to raise thousands of euros for charities over the years, including Cudeca, Unicef and Children with Cancer UK, and fundraisers continue to be a fundamental part of his work.
Sandro’s aim is to invest money in the future generations and help children grow up in a world away from war, poverty and starvation.
He is particularly passionate about raising money to help children as he believes their innocence is one of the pure beauties of the world. “To me they give me the stamina to get on in life and be successful.”
“What we need to do to create a better world is to invest money not in nuclear warheads but invest money to ensure that every child that is born has food to eat, a home to live in and an education.”
The interview draws to a close as Sandro receives a phone call and excuses himself to say goodnight to his seven-year-old grandson.