Q. Thanks for taking a few minutes today to speak with us about your Foodie travels. As the Founder of Mr. & Mrs. Italy, you get to travel to some of the best places in Italy. First of all, tell us about your business and what you do.
A. We are Drs. David & Debra Levinson, but Italian hoteliers endearingly refer to us as Mr. & Mrs. Italy because they view us as true connoisseurs of eating, sleeping and loving all over Italy. We publish the definitive guide Italy Luxury Family Hotels & Resorts and speak at Italian conferences plus consultant soon-to-be travelers on the finest cuisine, wine and accommodations Italy has to offer.
Q. How did you start going to Italy and how did it become your lifestyle and business wrapped into one?
A. It was a shared dream of ours to someday visit Italy, fifteen years ago that wish came true; our bodies returned but our hearts remained. The first trip was without our three sons but from that point forth for over a decade, we continued to return at least twice a year as a family; skiing the Italian Alps for a few weeks in winter, spent summers soaking up the Tuscan sun while discovering the best places to eat, sleep and play with our kids all through the country. The boys, Jacob, Isaac and Ari are now men with their own lives and agendas, so family holidays in Italy aren’t as often, but the impact it’s had on each of them is enormous.
B. You ask how Italy became our lifestyle and business all wrapped into one. The marriage of Italy with our lifestyle and business was not a conscious decision; it just evolved as an extension of our passion.
Q. Can you recall a best or most memorable meal experience in Italy?
A. When you add up all the meals we have eaten in Italy in the course of fifteen years it’s over 3,000 and you want us to pick just one when we’ve experienced some of Italy’s top chefs, explored their kitchens and had personal meals prepared by the likes of Gualtiero Marchesi, universally regarded as the Maestro par excellence! We’ve combed Italy from the Boot to the Alps tasting the best of the best in luxury hotels dining rooms and charming out-of-the-way family run trattoria and pizzeria’s! But, hands down the most memorable was on our first Italy trip sitting on the rocks alongside a church overlooking the quaint fishing village of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre; sun setting, Sea view, bottle of white Ligurian wine, loaf of bread, Dolce Gorgonzola oozing with flavor and vine ripe tomatoes. It was this defining moment David and I knew Italy forevermore.
Q. I know it’s hard to play favorites, but what are the two most interesting hotels you have covered in your guidebooks in your opinion?
A. Many criterions go into choosing luxury hotels for the Mr. & Mrs. Italy collection; some standards are straightforward like location, cleanliness and onsite amenities. But what powers, shapes and often separates one luxury hotel from another are the General Managers. This is the primary reason we take the time to stay at each property; it’s not knowledge you can gather over the phone or through brief meetings at travel markets. Having said, there are a few hoteliers that stand out above the rest, going beyond to guarantee an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Villa Franceschi, located just outside Venice in Mira Porte, family run by brothers Alessandro and Dario Del Corso is the perfect mixture of five-star elegance and luxury combined with an enveloping hospitality. Albergo Pietrasanta, small boutique hotel minutes from Tuscany’s Seaside beaches, Barbara Pardini embraces every guest with genuine loving care and meticulous service.
But for luxury travelers looking for a place of distinction based on other criteria, here are more Mr. & Mrs. Italy standouts: Best Lake Region Resort — L’Albereta Relais & Chateaux, Erbusco; Best Mountain Getaway — Hotel Bellevue, Cogne; Best City Resort — Four Seasons Hotel Firenza, Florence; Best Beach Resort — Borgo Egnazia Hotel & Villas, Bari; Best Spa Resort — Terme di Saturnia, Saturnia; Best Family Resort — Forte Village Resort, Santa Margherita di Pula.
Q. Let’s shift back to the USA and specifically New York City. I know you come from that region — give us a couple of secret restaurants you might say are off the beaten path but “must finds” for a traveller heading to NYC. Know any great joints? I heard you might know about of couple of great NY Deli’s for example.
A. Our daughter-in-law is from Venezuela which has added so many flavors to our culinary world — our family loves to jam into a little hole-in-a-wall place called Caracas Arepa Bar on East 7th Street. Now a little secrete about me that only my closest of friends and family know — my all-time favorite comfort food is French Fries; Yerba Buena in the West Village serves up a bizarre yet extraordinary “Trio of Fries” Avocado, Watermelon and Hearts of Palm. And yes, I hail from this area, proud to be a “Jersey Girl” who loves her bagels, unquestionably, Pick-A-Bagel with several locations around the City.
Q. How about the Atlanta area where you’re based — what are your “go to” restaurants when you’re looking for a great foodie experience?
A. Hands down, our kitchen; we love to cook together as a family, each with our own specialties, but I challenge anyone to top David’s pizza’s. We shy away from Italian as it’s generally incomparable to the emotion of being in Italy. Top “go to” restaurants Nuevo Laredo Cantina on Chattahoochee Ave NW, Atlanta; from homemade Salsa to Lobster Taco’s it’s the real deal best Mexican. Gu’s Bistro on Buford Highway is a zest above the rest; 33 year veteran Chef Gu creates masterful dishes combining nutritious, tasty, and visually appealing fare like Tea Smoked Duck and Stuffed Tofu.
Q. What are you working on now? Any interesting new projects on your plate?
A. Always working on further developing Mr. & Mrs. Italy collection of luxury hotels; finding those once-in-a-lifetime spots that inspire and arouse even the most seasoned Italy aficionado. We are designing a few exclusive tours from a coffee lover’s journey to Biking with Mr. & Mrs. Italy as well as The Best Chefs of Italy. In October we will be touring with some select clients as well as inspecting forthcoming hotels in Northern and Southern Italy. We will tie up the year participating at the most remarkable International Luxury Travel Market taking place in Cannes, France.
Q. What’s your favorite off the beaten path place in Italy that is still pretty much a secret to most travelers to Italy?
A. Without hesitation, Punta Bianco Beach on the Eastern Gulf of Agrigento, Sicily. Made up of pebbly beaches and sandy coves difficult to reach by land, it requires navigating down a rutted road cut though untamed countryside to reach this magical natural paradise by the Sea.
Q. If someone or a family were interested in taking a vacation in Italy, what does your company do for them and how do they get in touch with you?
A. We have been described as the matchmakers of Italy holidays. Our recommendations are personal, based on the desires and interests of the travelers. We do all the consulting; it’s a position you can’t hire someone to do, but one that has taken years of experience to acquire. At times we find it necessary to speak with each perspective traveler on a one-to-one basis to assure everyone will have their needs met; a mediator of sorts. Our clientele are those planning an once-in-a-lifetime trip and other Italy lovers seeking the undiscovered. Once the trip is organized we can handle all of the bookings or can use your travel agent of choice.
Thanks Debra for spending a few minutes with us today for our Global Foodies interview series. Your travels and experience around Italy are phenomenal.
You can find Debra online at www.mrandmrsitaly.com
On a select basis Debra & David also accompany intimate groups to Italy. You can reach them by email or phone firstname.lastname@example.org and 001 (770) 851–0935
You can download the Mr. & Mrs. Italy Luxury guidebook Free!