My January ‘Woman of Substance’ is Rossella Beaugié, founder & director of The Thinking Traveller. Rossella, who is Sicilian, has a PhD in cell biology from the University of Paris. She has worked in Barcelona, San Francisco, Paris and now London and has travelled widely. Rossella set up her luxury villa business in 2002 with her husband, Huw, who is British. The company has won numerous awards for their quality of villas in Sicily, Puglia and the Ionian Islands, and their super customer service. The couple have three children and live in North London. I caught up with Rossella at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair…
Rossella, you and Huw gave up serious careers to set up The Thinking Traveller fourteen years ago. Was there a moment, a defining moment, when you both decided this was what you wanted to do?
Yes! November 2000: after the rainiest summer in Paris, we took a week off and went to the Aeolian Islands (off the North Coast of Sicily). One night we climbed Stromboli (an active volcano), slept far too close to the crater and woke up to admire the most amazing eruption and a wonderful dawn. In the morning we ran down to a deserted black sand cove and dived into the deep blue sea… 25 degrees, pure sunshine, total peace. It was the most perfect day – nature at its best – and we felt that life is too short to waste it commuting in a busy inner city. We decided that we wanted to share our love for Sicily and its islands with discerning travellers and put our knowledge and passion at other people’s service.
I know you have always focused on hunting out exclusive properties and then offering a depth of knowledge for the areas involved. Is this the differentiating aspect of your business compared to the competition, or is there more?
Huw and I still personally select all the properties in our portfolio and choose only the ones we find unique. It can be the views, the villa’s charm, its privacy. The enduring partnerships with the owners of the properties we represent also have a key role in the success of what we do. The fact that we manage the properties exclusively allows us to invest in the properties at many levels and to provide the best service to the guests. Our “young” team is actually ageing with us! We feel very lucky and proud to have such experienced and passionate people living in Sicily, Puglia and the Ionian Islands, who provide amazing support to our guests and who give privileged, personalised access to the best the Med has to offer.
I'm sure many of our Winser clients are like me and find our lifestyles today are so busy that our holidays have become even more precious. How do you and your team ensure we all come back saying “That was the best holiday we’ve ever had, we’ll definitely be back”? Do share with us a little of your secret formulae.
I feel it’s about dedicating time and attention to our clients, getting a good understanding of their needs and exceeding their expectations. Our scientific background has definitely had an influence on the rigorous way we approach every aspect of our work. Our team is naturally thoughtful and conscientious; they all take great pride in helping to organise the perfect holiday. Honeymoons, young families, wedding anniversaries, large, multi-generational groups gathering for a week from all over the world. Our clients all have different requirements and priorities, and all enjoy feeling supported at each stage of their relationship with us. From choosing the best destination for them and the right villa, to planning dinners, surprise parties, concerts, boat trips and cookery courses, to the on-the-ground support.
You have three young children whom you brought up in Sicily until a few years ago when you moved to England. How do they – and you – find living in London compared to Palermo, it must be so different?
It couldn’t be more different! I miss the warm Sicilian light, the scents of citrus, jasmine and grilled fish. Having dinner on our terrace (or barefoot on the beach) even in December, the long swims almost all year round… the lifestyle. My family and friends, of course. I love the dynamism of London. Its positive energy, the multiculturalism. I love listening to lots of different languages, the huge variety of exhibitions. I like challenges – and adapting to the rhythms of such a big city has definitely been one! I was a bit worried for the children, since they loved their lives in Palermo and their friends. But as long as the family is united and happy, the children are happy! They’ve found new friends, are trying new sports, activities and food, and have settled down wonderfully well.
Running your own company – one that involves a great deal of travel – must put pressure on some elements of your home life. How do you manage to juggle it all – your family, the household and the business?
It’s quite intense! As you say, it’s a constant juggle and requires lots of organisation and prioritising. I try to be at home every evening to read with the little ones and put them to bed, and be as close as possible to our teenage daughter who likes her independence! My husband is fantastic with the kids and I guess the fact that we work together helps in some way. We share the same worries and understand when the other needs more support. And whilst away for work or out for an awards event, we always manage to make time to be romantic as well! The kids are very much part of The Thinking Traveller Team. I didn’t take any maternity leave, but I used to take the kids with me (or rather on me in the papoose!) when visiting properties and meeting owners. They now come with us during their school holidays and like to do their own “Health and Safety checks” (which for Julia would mean doing cartwheels on the edge of an infinity pool or defying the no-diving sign!). If you run a family-owned company you rarely switch off, so we found that it’s actually better to involve the kids as much as possible in the fun and creative aspects of it. I keep dreaming about having some time to do yoga and swim every day… but at the moment rushing around seems to be my only possible exercise!
I have bumped into you whilst travelling and you always look very chic. What is your personal style and do you have any tips for clever packing?
Keep it simple. I usually go for neutral colours (always lots of black and white) and clean lines. I buy investment pieces as quality of fabric and great cut are really important to me. The Winser London fabrics are incredible for travel – whether I am wearing something or it’s packed in my bag, it always looks fantastic and crease-free when I arrive! When travelling it’s amazing how you can pack only a few key pieces and style them in different ways to maximise what’s in your suitcase – I enjoy alternating nice necklaces, earrings and scarves.
I know you have a passionate love of your Winser cashmere. Do share which are your favourite pieces.
Yes, I do find Winser cashmere a joy to wear – weightless, yet very warm. It makes you feel ‘dressed’ and at ease without having to put on much more… I adore my ivory Soft Roll Neck Jumper and matching wrap – perfect with black trousers or a dress for work and worn simply with jeans in the evening. The Audrey Cashmere Jumper fits wonderfully – I adore the neckline and I love the range of colours it comes in. The new Chambray Blue colour is top of my wish list….