I met Forrest Spears many many years ago. We were both starting our careers, he in fashion and I in visual merchandising, and we became fast friends. About 2 years into our friendship, he told me he was moving to Italy. I said, “Do you speak Italian?” and he replied, “No.” Then I asked, “Do you have a job there?” To which he again replied “No.” “Oh,” I said, “That’s crazy.”
Fast forward 30 years later, and Forrest has been living in Italy and thriving. He managed to learn perfect Italian, and land some amazing jobs in fashion along the way. CRAZY, indeed. Our friendship has had its ebb and flows, but mainly we still have tons in common, most of all, our love of all things Italian.
Forrest helped me with the design and renovation of our wonderful flat here on the Riviera. He’s a genius with interiors, and I am proud and blessed to call him my friend. Recently, he opened a Custom Travel Service in Italy. He’s truly the best person to travel with; I can attest to this, as I have had the great privilege of experiencing Italy through his eyes.
I wanted to introduce you to him. So many of you email me with questions about where to travel in Italy, hotels, day trips etc. I have referred Forrest to many of you, but I wanted you to hear about him in his own words. It’s my pleasure to share a little Q&A with my favorite Italian Concierge.
I sat down with Forrest and asked him some burning questions about his life in Italy and his new baby, Your Italian Concierge.
Q: How long have you lived in Italy?
A: I have lived in Italy for 30 years.
Q: Where have you lived in Italy?
A: I first came to Florence to learn Italian, switching to a language school in Verona for the following 4 months. After a 4 year stint of living & working in Switzerland, I returned to Florence for 2 marvelous years before moving to Genoa where I now live with my boyfriend, Roberto… a Genoese through and through… and our 2 Weimaraners, Moses & Nina.
Q: Tell us about some of the interesting jobs you’ve held in Italy?
A: Fashion is an obviously exciting business, especially so in Italy. Though fashion is mainly located in Milan, many top fashion companies are located elsewhere, for example in Florence where the fashion house of Salvatore Ferragamo is based. I was the assistant to the fashion co-ordinator for this family owned company for 3 years. An amazing experience… a privilege too… to work so closely with the members of the Ferragamo family, each responsible for some aspect of the company’s business, and with the talented designers & technicians for footwear, accessories and pret-a-porter, plus the professional staff in PR, advertising & stores. I learned so much which I then carried forward as the Head Design Co-ordinator in Mens for Bally of Switzerland: a dream of a job. 70% of my time was dedicated to the footwear collections. I spent 4 years catching trains & planes to go to Italy to visit mom & pop shoe factories in Le Marche or to larger ones in Tuscany and the Veneto to follow the creation & production of the Bally Mens Footwear Collections. Once the Italians get to know and trust you, there is very little they will not do for you. Their energy, creativity and adaptability made me a success. I am forever indebted.
Q: Why did you decide to start a Travel Business?
A: When an American cousin called me to help help with her travel plans for a complicated trip to Italy 2 years ago. While putting together her trip, I thought to myself: this could be business; I’ve been all over Italy from work and touring with my boyfriend; I am passionate about all that Italy has to offer, from its art & architecture, its cities & countryside to its food & wine ad infinitum; I speak Italian very well… the Italians love my American accent and my vocabulary too, which is a trick my father taught me = he said to occasionally use big words and people will be impressed; I know how Italy and Italian works, and this from those 30 years of living here; and finally, I have superb contacts. It opens doors which others could only dream of entering through! I know so many secrets that the average traveler to Italy would never find, never ever. So it seemed like the perfect business at the perfect time.
Q: You have an amazing country house. Tell us about your house, and why you decided to rent the property?
A: I have always hankered for a house in the Italian country-side. I like the life-style, the quiet and the people too. I was not familiar with the Lunigiana, the area of Northwestern Tuscany, where we bought an abandoned 800 year old farm-house in the village of Codiponte 7 years ago. The house is its own village, surrounded by a once-upon-a-time vineyard and now a terraced garden, and Il Poggiolo (my house) is large enough to actually be 3 separate houses… La Casetta built in the Medici-style in the late 1600s, La Casa Padronale, the heart of the farm-house and L’Appartamento Azzurro, the apartment where the tenants of the farm lived. I know many who were born in its bedroom! The idea of renting for vacations came automatically.
Q: Why should someone rent from you? ( Full disclosure I have stayed in Forrest’s rentals many times and cannot get enough. A little piece of heaven!)
A: Let’s start with the adventure of discovering a new area of Italy the Lunigiana, convenient to the sea, Le Cinque Terre or Forte dei Marmi, to Genoa’s enormous centro storico of alleys and palazzi, to Lucca’s pedestrian streets and its country villas outside, and to the peaks and trails of the Apuane mountains; everyone knows me and I am around to explain how best to get around and that includes trying the wonderful local “cucina della Lunigiana” of panigacci, testaroli, lasagna bianca; and the 3 houses of Il Poggiolo are so charming to stay in, filled with period antiques, flea-market treasures and contemporary art, lovely views and the quiet of the garden under the shade of a persimmon tree!
Q: Name 3 of your favorite places to visit in Italy, and why you love them.
A: 1.Anywhere and everywhere in & around Rome. The city is like an onion: peel a layer and there is another even more interesting one underneath and where else can you see vestiges of 2,000+ years of history, art & culture?
2. Apulia… Puglia... the long heel of the peninsula and it is the perfect Italian combination of mixing sight-seeing and the sea: a morning touring the magnificent Baroque of Lecce, and then, with a short drive sunbathing at the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean Sea lapping at your feet.
3. Not always a pick on everyone’s list but, I love Milan it is a city in its prime with the EXPO 2015. Milan is a big, bustling city full of fantastic shopping, interesting nooks & crannies, super places to eat & drink AND tons of museums of all sorts. I’m there at least 5 or 6 times a year. Most fly into Milan Malpensa so, why not take in the city before heading out to see the rest of the country? (and I know all the secret spots)
Q: Tell us about your Travel business including some of the custom elements of your services.
A: Your Italian Concierge is a custom travel & event planning service. 80% of our business is travel but, we can organize reunions, business conferences, lectures series, etc. For travel, there are 2 routes to go: we can devise a custom tour as per your wishes or dreams of Italy, no matter if it is a first time trip to Rome or a desire to explore some special aspect of the country… Sicily, or wines & food of the Veneto, a tour of gardens or castles… or, for a more cost effective set fee we can advice and recommend whatever a client wants or needs to know and they do the booking. We love to show the Italy we know best!
Q: What is the best season to visit Italy?
A: The best seasons for Italy are Spring and Fall, April/May and September/October being the best months. And other moments in the year to come are at special holidays on the calendar, Easter and Christmas. One of our best Christmases was in spent in Florence with snow!
Q: How far in advance should people be planning a trip to Italy and contacting you?
A: The more time you allow the better: 6 to 8 months is good from the word Go! Planning a custom trip requires lots of conversations, the back ’n forth of emails and telephone calls. And, often the best places to stay or special visits, such as to visit the Lamborghini factory or a 12th Century castle in the Val d’Orcia closed to the public requires advanced arrangements. The early bird catches the worm.
Grazie Mille Forrest; you’re the best. I am so happy I got to share my “secret weapon” with everyone here on my blog. Every girl living in Italy or traveling here needs a “Forrest,” and I am willing to share him. It’s your lucky day. xx
Make sure to contact Forrest at Your Italian Concierge for the best travel assistance in Italy.
Photo Credit : Me and Forrest
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