The connoisseur: Marc Topiol
From Abu Dhabi to Andermatt, businessman Marc Topiol shares his travel stories and dreams for the future
The most inspiring places I’ve visited are Bangkok and Hong Kong. I’m so impressed by the density, pluriculture and amazing things that are being done with so little space. People enjoying life in such small quarters – the street food and the sophistication of the culture. For me, places such as Monaco, Hong Kong and Singapore, which have very little land but manage to create something so powerful are inspiring.
The best souvenir I’ve ever brought home is a frame with 30 different fly-fishing hooks, each handmade and unique. I was in Balmoral 30 years ago and bought it from an old fishing shop. It still hangs in my office. I’ve never fished in my life, but what caught my eye was the attention to detail and the uniqueness and intricacy of each hook – also thinking about someone taking the time to do something for me that’s extraordinary and creative to try and attract fish.
A great hotel should have great quality towels. You don’t want to scrimp on replacing towels – that feeling of freshness is important. Something I learned from my friend Tim Kemp (managing director of Firmdale Hotels) is that when a carpet loses its spring, you have to change it. There’s a firmness and spring to a new carpet, and you can tell if it’s been eroded by the walking path. Fine details and anything that creates a sensation of freshness send a sort of positive energy through the body.
To destress on holiday, I read and I cook. I’m lucky to have friends who are significant in the culinary world, so I try to replicate things that they teach me, mostly French cuisine. I’ve also recently discovered cooking with fire, which I’ve tried to master. In terms of reading, I enjoy books that can give me insight into how to manage the ups and downs of life. I’m currently reading a French book called How to Negotiate Every Day, and it tells you that negotiations are not just a business transaction – they happen in every movement and thought that you make.
I had a memorable meal at Le Grand Chalet in Gstaad. It was excellent, we had typical German appetisers from the mountains, but the most memorable portion was a surf and turf dish with a melt-in-the-mouth double-cut veal chop, alongside some very well-executed perch from the lakes in Switzerland. It was such an unexpected meal in a chalet on the hill, where you might expect fondue or raclette, but it was just excellent.
The destination I can’t wait to go back to is Abu Dhabi. I enjoy the culture there, the new Louvre there is one-of-a-kind. It has so much local flavour, and they’re conscious of maintaining their traditions while still being modern. The different Anantara properties there allow you to connect with nature but are also close to Abu Dhabi, so you can get back to the buzz of the city centre easily.
The best way to get a feel for a new city is to slide on your sneakers and walk around. Places such as Bangkok or the Medina in Marrakech or Downtown New York are great for this, where you can just get lost in the newness of it and not feel as if you’ve been walking all day.
The most underrated destination is Andermatt. I used to live there and it really allows you to get back to nature. It’s a completely different experience to the more popular Swiss mountain destinations such as Zermatt or St Moritz and it allows you to go back to the fundamentals. You can’t buy a designer bag, for instance, and the focus is on nature and having a good time in it.
My greatest travel companion is my wife. In the last ten years I’ve travelled predominantly on my own, living in the US, and having to work around the world, and making the commitment to my family to be home every Friday. Since our children have left home, however, my wife has come with me on every trip. We love travelling through Europe and have enjoyed being able to take our time and stop in places around France, Switzerland, Austria and Spain.
When I visit a new place, I splurge on food and local clothes. Every place I travel to, I try to find a piece of clothing that encapsulates that country. A Filipino shirt or a Moroccan belt, for instance, or getting my favourite suit replicated in Bangkok, or accessories in Bavaria or the French Alps. I try to find special things and bring them home as mementos. Food is important, too. Some people eat to live, but I really live to eat. I don’t usually go to sophisticated restaurants. I prefer authentic culinary experiences, such as a market where I can pick fresh ingredients and see a dish being created out of them.
If time was no object, I’d visit Australia and New Zealand. They give me goose bumps. They’re so far away and have been unattainable to me as of yet. Short of going to the North and South poles, it feels like an expedition for people who live in Europe or the US. It’s like the Wild West of our time.
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