The connoisseur: Olga Polizzi
The British hotelier, known for her elegant signature style, has spent a lifetime designing some of the most striking hotels around the world, helping shape the renowned Rocco Forte family empire since 1983. She talks travel with High Life…
The destination I can’t wait to go back to is Palermo in Sicily (especially in the winter). I’ve spent a lot of time there since we opened Villa Igiea in June. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the time to really take in the grand sights properly as I tend to be working, but I love the city. The people are charming, and it has a deep history of cultures and architecture, from centuries-old crumbling façades to wild baroque extravagance and magnificent churches.
The key to switching off on holiday is ignoring your phone and not having too much of a plan. Eating delicious food regularly is key, as is simply letting the days go by as they will. I also treat myself to a glass of Marceau, a massage every day and, of course, I soak up as much sun as I can!
The best souvenir I’ve ever brought home is a solid wooden putto angel from Rome. While I was driving to the airport, I passed a ghoulish shop full of lots of icons and saints, when this wonderful cherub in the window caught my eye. I asked the taxi to wait, rushed in and bought it. Of course, I didn’t want to send it with the luggage into the hold, but it would not fit in the overhead locker on board the plane. Eventually, the cabin crew said they’d ask the captain, and he flew back in the cockpit! Now it’s hanging at Tresanton, my hotel in Cornwall, and is the image on all of my Christmas cards.
The best hotel I’ve stayed at is Hotel de Russie in Rome. Of all the Rocco Forte hotels, it’s my favourite (I rarely have time to go to other hotels). Despite the hotel being in the centre of town, when you open your window in the morning, there’s nothing better than hearing the beautiful bird song. I love Rome and it’s very special.
My most memorable meal was at Maison François in London. It’s my new favourite place. Conveniently, it’s located just around the corner from our Rocco Forte Hotels offices on Jermyn Street, so I took our team out for a Christmas lunch there. It’s fantastic – the people there are lovely, and I just love the delicious food!
My greatest travel companion is a toss-up between my husband William and audiobooks! To relax, I love listening to something like Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. I have also been listening to Churchill by Andrew Roberts.
My most underrated destination is Transylvania. It’s absolutely stunning, and visiting the country is like going back in time 100 years. We stayed in a traditional manor house in a village, which was recently restored by the Mihai Eminescu Trust (the trust does great work to support villages and Transylvania's cultural heritage). Where we stayed at was magnificent and every morning at dawn we would see herds of horses galloping out to the hills, and then by dusk, they’d return to the villages. We would walk for three or four hours across flower-strewn meadows with a guide and then, after few hours, we would stop at a villager’s house for a hearty lunch, and we’d enjoy it out on their wooden terrace.
My favourite place to appreciate art is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. It’s small with beautiful architecture, filled with many of the historic artefacts from the Duomo. Here, you can come to admire some great artistic masterpieces, such as Donatello and Brunelleschi statues, and countless other wonderful things. If you ever go to Florence, it is such a special place to visit.
The things I miss the most when I’m away are family time and walking in Sussex. It’s where I’ve lived for more than 30 years, and exploring the countryside gives me lots of time to think. My favourite places to visit are the Seven Sisters cliffs and South Downs.
If I could live in any city it would be Milan. Rome has long been my favourite Italian city, but recently I’ve been spending more time in Milan, due to the opening of The Carlton hotel in 2023, and as a result I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s vibrant, there are lots of new things happening and it’s become a revitalised, re-energised city. If I were to live there, I’d very much enjoy getting to know the wonderful sights of the city better and maybe even take some art classes.
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