Saying Trip Designer Anne Zakula knows France would be roughly akin to saying Bill Gates knows computers. Having lived in both the Provencal countryside and the 15th arrondisement of Paris, she considers herself an “almost-local” in the French capital.
“I’ve had twinges over the years wondering what life might have been like had I stayed in a place I felt so at home and comfortable,” she admits.
Anne’s love affair with France dates back to her teens. She first moved to Apt-en-Luberon in Provence as part of an exchange program that saw her rise at 5:30 a.m. to catch a bus to Avignon—a trek of an hour and a half—where she took French classes at Centre d’Etudes Linguistiques (CELA).
“What a way to welcome a day,” she recalls, “a serene walk in the pre-dawn air with magic and unobstructed views of the stars. Then I’d bear witness to the sun rising as I traversed the countryside—this dance of light across crops of lavender and classic Provencal villages perched on rocky outcrops—before finally walking the ramparts into the ancient town of Avignon and tucking through winding cobblestoned roads to meet up with classmates for a café before heading to class.”
A strong first impression, to say the least.
Now based in Butterfield & Robinson’s Toronto office, today Anne’s areas of expertise extend across Europe and into Asia, Africa and South America. But having seriously flirted with the idea of becoming a French citizen, France is never far from her heart.
“I am always going home whenever I head there,” she says.
Years in Travel Business: 13
Years with B&R: 8
Countries/Regions of Expertise: France, Italy, Scotland, Peru, Sweden, Ireland, Vietnam, Namibia
Countries visited: 22
Countries lived in: 3—Canada, France, Sweden
Trips planned: More than 100 (“Good God!”)
Trips guided: 6
Q&A with Anne
What’s your favourite trip you’ve planned?
That’s an impossible question, it’s like picking your favourite child! But of course I’m partial to my France trips: Burgundy, Loire Valley, Normandy, Provence and Southwest France.
What’s your favourite trip you’ve taken?
My favourite B&R trip is still Vietnam Biking. It’s an incredible combination of mountains, small, tiny, tiny villages, a lot of access to the locals and some very off-the-beaten-path places that still covers the must-sees. Great city experiences and of course beach time at an incredible boat-access-only resort. Everywhere we go we are welcome and the locals joined us—cycled beside us on their own bikes as we went through their town. I’m still searching for lemongrass tofu that could match what I had there. I made two good friends on that trip six years agowho I still treasure to this day, so for me it’s very special. I was very fortunate to have two great guides: Chris from Canada and B&R’s deeply missed colleague and Vietnamese emissary, the local host with the most, Anh.
What’s your preferred method for immersing yourself in a country or region?
Heading out on foot (even before grabbing a bike). I’ll have read a little something before arriving, but I try not to make bee lines for known sites. Instead I stop a lot—I mean a lot—for coffees, beers and glasses of wine, so as to meet as many interesting locals as possible. My favourite places are family-run and I love to chat away with the staff and owners—even if we don’t share a good command of each other’s language, magically it all sorts out and I get a few great tidbits that lead to an adventure.
My favourite is still El Fort in Ullastret Catalonia, Spain, circa June 2008. Gracias H(J)amie!
Favourite wine bar?
L’Avant Comptoir in Paris – not exclusive or chic, but who knew so much fun could be had in such a tiny place? Whenever I’ve been, on my own or with others, it’s always been super social with locals, visitors and almost-locals like myself.
Favourite bottle of wine?
Just one, really?! I cannot answer this question without mentioning producers from right here in Ontario (where we have a few young Burgundian winemakers present) and one from Bordeaux. Daniel Lenko’s Viognier, an Ontario white. This producer came into my home with dinner guests in 2008 or 2009 and I will forever be grateful. And Chateau Margaux: as cliché as it may be, the wine was the most delicious I have ever tasted.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? (And where was it?)
I remember exactly: Sienna, August, 1992. Veal a limone and rigatoni in a homemade tomato sauce and a caprese salad. It was at a true mom-and-pop place off the main square, with one daily three-course menu available. We closed the place down.
What destination that you haven’t been to is at the top of your list?
Japan, ever since I was a little girl. I have a strong affinity for Japanese art and design, the food and the art of food! My first true friend—when I was just three-and-a-half and had just moved to a new neighbourhood—was a Japanese girl named Jane Yamamoto. She was one year older than me and her grandparents lived on our street. I’ve a deep appreciation for the aesthetic, work ethic, environment and incredible sense of family and respect that runs deep through Japanese society.