Give us a little backstory…
Bellini happened by mistake. The combination of a wild, brilliant and completely unorthodox grandmother from Naples who bought the very best of Italy with her when she moved to Scotland to marry my grandfather and my Professor at the University of East Anglia whose obsession with Tintoretto led our class to move to Venice where we lived very uncomfortably but very happily in the Ghetto. Both these people made me realise that Italy was where I would be happiest in life.
Bellini started as an online travel guide to hidden Italy. I spent a year earnestly researching the opening hours to every church, museum and gallery in Italy before we launched in 2000 only to realise that what people really wanted was for us to send them to these magical places we had written about in our guide. There was never a plan, just a love of sharing the exceptional experiences I had been lucky enough to enjoy. And then by hook or by crook I became an accidental party planner which is another story altogether.
What does ISSIMO mean to you?
I have a friend in Naples who after a big lunch, will sit back, sigh as he pats his tummy, closes his eyes and say “now I am truly happyissimo”. Issimo is just being that little bit better than it really ought to be – Chicissimo, bellissimo, felicissimo, fortissimo, dolcissimo and so on. As my family will testify, I am one of life’s greatest exaggerators and I genuinely feel Issimo was invented just for me.
What is it about Italy that inspires you?
Stepping off a plane at the tiny airport in Perugia in Umbria, we (the passengers) were greeted on the tarmac by a Claudia Cardinale lookalike, albeit in a high vis jacket but topped off with perfectly coiffed jet black curls, designer sunglasses and a slash of red lipstick – the way she was laughing with the luggage handlers and directing us to the terminal with such humour summed up for me in one brief moment why I love this country so much. Italians are proud. Italians are warm hearted. Italians want you to enjoy life, especially the simple things as much as they do. This lady was just SplendISSIMO.
What is Italianissimo?
I find Italianissimo in the verb asolare – which basically means ‘to sit in the sun and pass the time in an agreeable, purposeless way.’ These are the most Italianissimo places I can think of when I close my eyes:
- Sitting in the Hemingway director’s chair outside the Café Centrale in the market square in Asolo when dusk is falling and the swallows and swifts are in full flight above the roof tops.
- The water dock at Venice airport when you step into your boat and roar off towards the city, knowing that the spider crab linguine at Antiche Carampane awaits.
- Bagging the lone chair at the Pinocateca Brera in Milan to contemplate the genius of Piero della Francesca’s painting of the Madonna del’Uovo.
- Driving down pine tree-lined autostrada from Rome to Grosseto and taking the exit off the autostrada following the green sign to Orbetello/Porto Ercole knowing that the Pellicano is only a few minutes away.
- Walking barefoot along the hot road that leads down to the tiny fishing village of Pecorini a Mare on the island of Filicudi where I will find my girls ordering their strawberry gelato from Sergio. By the time I arrive, Sergio will have popped one of them up to sit on the bar, and secretly fed them some ciambelle.
Where do you want to go to next?
There are a handful of 20th Century art foundations in Northern Italy like the Fondazione Cirulli near Bologna that I’ve had my eye on for years and gives me a good reason to spend a long weekend in Reggio Emilia, preferably when the opera season has opened.
I feel the way we travel in the future is going to be slower, more considered and with a much greater appreciation of how precious time is. I want to help make decisions for clients so they don’t have to waste a single second deciding what’s best to eat, where to sit, which painting or sculpture shouldn’t be missed in a vast museum (Naples’ Capodimonte springs to mind) and where to find the best presents to bring home.