Posting His Passions
The scene was Beaune, the city at the heart of France’s Burgundy region, where Butterfield & Robinson was born and maintains its headquarters. The year was 1994. Olivier Maillard spoke not a word of English, and was working (rather unhappily) as a salesman until his girlfriend introduced him to a few of her colleagues at a certain travel company.
“It was one of those nights where wine is going a little too far,” Olivier says today, recalling the sort of introduction that more than one Slow Road columnist has had with the company. “So I talked to the head mechanic (for B&R) at the time, and he hired me as a bike mech.”
As is so often the case, Olivier’s passion—for Burgundy, for wine, for B&R—served him well. After starting as a bike mechanic in 1995, he became a full-time guide in 2002, and has guided more than 140 trips since. Though his feet have taken him across the world, his heart has never left his home.
I always say:
Burgundy is my home and Morocco is my passion.
“For me, it’s very personal,” he says of his relationship to Burgundy. “I’ve always stayed in the city of Beaune, which is the core of the wine business in Burgundy,” he says.
In addition to an enduring love of his native Burgundy, Olivier’s travels have exposed him to the splendour of discovery that comes from exposure to other regions and cultures. And while he’s guided in nearly every corner of the world, no place has had quite as strong an impact on him as Morocco.
“I was sent down to Morocco in February 1998 to work as a bike mechanic, and I’ve been back every single year since then,” he says. “I always say: Burgundy is my home and Morocco is my passion, it’s my baby,” he says.
Drawing from his experience as a trip designer, a guide, a bike mechanic and, of course, a father of three, oenophile Olivier distills his passions into columns for The Slow Road.
Years with B&R: 18
Countries/Regions of Expertise: France and Morocco
Countries visited: I’ve lost count! Over 40?
Countries lived in: Two—France and Morocco
Trips planned: I don’t know. 200+
Q&A with Oliv
Favourite hotel in the world?
Dar Ahlam, La Maison des Rêves in Skoura, Morocco.
Michel Bras in Laguiole, France.
Favourite bar/wine bar/watering hole in the world?
Bistrot Bourguignon in Beaune, France.
Favourite bottle of wine?
The best wine for me was a Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux 2003 from Domaine Denis Mortet.
What’s the top destination you haven’t been to, but would like to visit?
Kamchatka, Russia. Why? Because I have no idea about what it is!
How did you get started with the company?
I was hired as a bike mechanic—without knowing how to change a flat tire! (Ed. Note: Trust us, after 18 years, he’s gotten the hang of it.)
Everyone at B&R has their fair share of wanderlust. When/how did you first get bit with the travel bug? My first bike ride through the Jma El Fna square in Marrakech, Morocco. I thought there was nothing better in the world.
Do you have a favourite George Butterfield story?
In 2005 the guide gathering was in Italy, in the Lakes Region. It was my first one and after only two months as a guide I was shy of course. After a bet, I forget over what, George and the sales manager at the time (who was quite a character!) decided to dive in the lake at two in the morning—naked! Even the carabinieri tried to stop but couldn’t… But more than the act, what I remember clearly was the thought, “Well if the founder of the company can do this, that’s the company I want to work for!”
What’s your worse flight experience?
My first one! I was in a small aircraft from Dijon to Lille (in the north of France) and we had the worst turbulence. I thought the plane was falling! I almost stopped travelling after Day 1 of being in a plane.