I grew up in Rome, but because my dad’s side of the family is originally from the Cote D’ Azur, from my early years I have been able to learn and live both the Italian and French cultures. I have always loved travelling, and lived for some time in Denmark, Sweden, the UK and the US. I believe travelling helps to open your mind, enriches you immensely from a cultural point of view and makes you better equipped to understand people from different places. Rome is my home and after all the travelling I have done, is still the place that makes me shiver when I come back after missing it for a few weeks.
Q&A with Mario our European Specialist
What is your favourite travel memory?
Swimming with the sting rays in the Maldives; in 2018 I have spent 10 days in the atoll of the Maldives and with my partner we went on a boat trip where we had the chance to see some amazing sea life, with lots of colourful fish and we swam while surrounded by sting rays. It was such a unique experience to feel immersed in nature and encounter such mysterious creatures in their natural habitat.
Your most annoying travelling habit?
I am often comfortable to cut it fine with timings for my own trips, which makes my partner pretty stressed; I believe I have taken the plane over 500 times in my life, and I have only missed one flight, due to incredible traffic, so I still believe my relaxing attitude towards travelling time is not so bad as she says!
What 5 things do you always travel with?
My 2 mobiles and laptop, my gym clothes, and some decent walking shoes.
What is on your bucket list?
The Orient Express Train and a cruise in the Norwegian fiords!
You are stranded on a desert island with 2 famous people, who are they?
Michael Jordan as I would love to meet him and I know I could benefit from his motivation to overcome any adverse situation, at all costs. Rick Stein (a British chef with a passion for travel) as we both love fish and cooking, so whilst learning from him, I am sure we would have a lot to talk about.
My Favourite Destination
It has to be Sicily! I have been 19 times but there is so much of this incredible region that I am yet to explore: beautiful beaches, clear seas, diverse landscapes, volcanos, mountains and countryside, and of course all the historic sites and architecture. Sicily is a melting pot of cultures, with incredible art and passion for foods and wines, it really is my favourite destination and a personal haven. Sicily is ideal for a short break in any month of the year, or as a destination for two or three week escapade!
Throughout my travels there are some experiences and memories which stand out. I would like to share these recommendations with you for some travel inspiration..
Favourite Hotel – Gran Paradiso Hotel in the Dolomites
I spend two weeks every summer in San Cassiano, a small village in the Alta Badia, located at 1700m above sea level and I love to stay at this hotel. The location is perfect, close to hiking paths and walking distance to the village. The hotel has a incredible spa, including an outdoor terrace jacuzzi overlooking high mountains. The restaurant of the hotel is for my money, the best I have been in my life and every meal is a feast, featuring tradition local Ladin cuisine!
Favourite destination - Barcelona
One of my favourite places for a city break is Barcelona. It has everything: unique architecture, galleries, a beach and port-side bars and restaurants. Personally for me, I loved the entwining narrow streets in the old town (Ciutat Vella), filled with boutique shops and small galleries. If you find something you want to buy, be sure to buy it right away (or note the address), or you honestly may never happen upon it again in this medieval maze! Here you’ll find the Barri Gòtic (cathedral) with its gaggle of geese in the courtyard.
Barcelona is one of the best cities for food: the tapas bars, wine cellars, typical Mediterranean restaurants, specialist pintxos bars and other Basque cuisine (from the north Basque Country), and of course the paella and seafood of the Catalan region. There are of course many other stunning, unmissable attractions such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, Museu Picasso and Montjuïc Castle.
Short Break – Bordeaux
Any wine lover should have this on their bucket list but for me this city gives so much more than the wine. It has the chic grandeur of a French city, with iconic sites like the Place de la Bourse overlooking the Garonne river. It boasts UNESCO designated churches, including Bordeaux’s 11th century cathedral. We love to stay among the winding streets of the old town, featuring its medieval city gate (Port Cailhau) and filled with hidden family-run, cafes and wine bars. The food is incredible with hundreds of incredible bistros to choose from.
For me, a wine tour is always a highlight. Maybe you are a connoisseur, seeking to visit a favourite vineyard. You may be like me, and wanting to increase your knowledge in the difference styles of right bank and left bank wines and how to select Bordeaux wines that suite your own tastes. Or maybe you just want to soak in the atmosphere, enjoy the stunning countryside and châteaux, and enjoy the tasting!
Favourite Experience - Swiss Castle
I am totally in love with the Middle Age Era and I swear that I have never experienced elsewhere in the world such a magical setting as at the Chateau Chillon, the best preserved Castle in all of Europe!
Walking through the ancient cellar, prison, great halls, the Bernese chamber, the duke’s chamber, the chapel or even the sentry walks was a proper immersive multisensory experience to the Middle Age World! A fantastic journey through time and space at Chillon, uncovering the mysteries behind hidden passageways, the underground Gothic vaulted ceilings and the prison where the famous Bonivard was kept.
My recommended trips
Rome, Palermo, Taormina, Syracuse9 NightsFrom £1,995 PPDiscover the best of Rome and Sicily on this nine-night tour that covers everything from the Sistine Chapel to Mount Etna.
Madrid, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Barcelona11 NightsFrom £2,750 PPThe ultimate foodie trip, enjoy a food- and wine-focused adventure while discovering Spain’s top sights from Madrid to Barcelona.
Paris, Bordeaux7 NightsFrom £5,650 PPDiscover the best of food, wine, culture, and more in Paris and Bordeaux.
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