Columnist Marya Valli:
In Deep and Up Close
For most of us, immersing ourselves in a region means staying for a week or two while we sample the food and wine, find a few off-the-beaten path sights or restaurants, and stay at a locally owned B&B instead of the local branch of a hotel chain.
For Marya Valli (née Dumont), all of that serves merely as introduction.
Not content to simply visit a region, for Marya the best way to get in deep and up close is to pick up and move there. Originally from Seattle, Marya says she’s felt a European longing since her youth, a natural draw that beckoned her to the continent.
“My mother used little French phrases and played up our French heritage, and when I discovered in sixth grade how much I loved speaking the language, my room was soon covered in posters of Paris: the distant dream,” she recalls.
What started as a distant dream became a reality when she moved to Europe, living in both France and Italy before settling in Corsica. The two countries—and the island situated perfectly between the two— are natural fits for Marya. Not only is she fluent in both languages, she’s an avid cyclist and wine lover. In short, she’s in her element in Europe.
When asked what she loves most about the continent, she cites its many aesthetic draws: the rolling hills topped with castles, the mountains, the vineyards, and admits that she still pinches herself and asks, “I actually live in a place this fantastic?”
But while its natural wonders provide ample reason to visit, she says it’s the personality of the place that convinced her to truly become a local.
“The authenticity and warmth of the people is what kept me.”
Years in Travel Business: 14
Years with B&R: 14
Countries/Regions of Expertise:
Italy (Piemonte, Sicilia, the Dolomites, Liguria/Cinque Terre), France (a bit of everywhere, Corsica above all), Holland, some Belgium, Spain (Coming soon: Ireland, Stockholm/Copenhagen, Rioja, Andalucia)
UK, Brazil, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia
Countries lived in:
US, Canada, France, Italy
Trips planned (estimate):
Wow. Perhaps 60 different itineraries.
Trips guided: 137
Q&A with Marya
Favourite trip you’ve ever taken?
Cycle-touring through Thailand and Laos. Fabulous physical activity, friendly and genuine people, great conversations, fresh and delicious food, beautiful old teak buildings, slim gracious Buddhas, Beer Lao to rehydrate and deep-tissue stretching massages along the way.
Favourite hotel in the world?
I have two:
La Villa in Piemonte for its enveloping sense of light, airiness and peace, its comfortably chic décor and Nicola’s extraordinary sommelier abilities. Gazing over vineyards at sunset with a local bubbly in hand: utter bliss.
And L’Hôtel des Berges in Alsace for its relaxed, warm welcome and colourful intimacy, though its raison d’être is the world-class restaurant next door. Sipping a Reisling and watching the willow trail its branches in the slow-flowing Ill: harmony.
Favourite restaurant in the world?
I think it’s the restaurant at the Villa Tiboldi in Piemonte. Chef Alberto’s dishes have their roots in tradition but are innovative, varied and ALWAYS delicious. Never a false note, and the Malvirà wines and warm, speedy service crown the feast.
Favourite bar/wine bar/watering hole in the world?
It might be a little wine shop in Siracusa with great chunks of aged cheeses, vats of huge green olives and super spicy salami to go with those Nero d’Avola and Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Or the bar at the Cala di Volpe in Sardinia, where you can’t help feeling glamorous with a fresh Bellini in hand, watching the sun set on the mountains over the bay.
Or the plastic-tabled bar in the old whitewashed market in Florianòpolis, Brazil, where I had the most interesting political conversation in (my rudimentary) Portuguese over a cold beer, complete with plastic bottle cooler.
What’s the top destination you haven’t been to, but want to visit?
Tahiti: I wouldn’t enjoy a recumbent beach vacation, but exploring their vibrant culture, tasting as many different kinds of seafood as there are hours in the day, sea-kayaking and taking a break from winter sound like the perfect honeymoon. Visiting my fiancé’s cousin and friend there and having an insider’s view of Tahitian life will make it even better.
What’s your preferred method for immersing yourself in a country or region?
I always love to eat & drink as locally as I can, and when I travel I spend a lot of time looking, listening, smiling and asking. It’s made me a more curious, empathetic person, even at home.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? (And where was it?)
On a Bespoke B&R trip, in Brittany at the Maisons Bricourt. Twelve courses of seafood, each made with a different spice, playing on the region’s trading history. Light and flavourful—a culinary journey.
Favourite bottle of wine?
A 1966 Gaja Barbaresco. When I tasted it, I finally understood those aromas and flavours everyone kept talking about: tobacco, chocolate, leather. I think that bottle made me love wine.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or done while on a trip?
“The Brotherhood of the Grape!” Canadian buddies who re-enacted what one of their fathers had done during WWII: posing naked in the vines with only a (long) bunch of grapes. Their wives and I loved it.