Nicky, welcome to Luxury Travel Beat’s Tripping with segment. What are you up to at the moment?
I’ve been busy travelling round New Zealand talking to readers about my new book When In Rome. It’s tiring going on tour but gives me an opportunity to visit parts of the beautiful country I live in that I might not get to see much of otherwise – in particular the South Island where the landscapes are stunning and they make a fine pinot noir.
You’ve written six books, both of which are based in Italy. How did Italy become such a focal locale for your writing?
My father comes from Naples and, while I grew up on Merseyside (Liverpool), we spent summers staying with family in Italy. When I started writing it was those memories that flooded back to me. Now I’m up to book number six and still fascinated by Italy – the food, the culture, the people. Plus setting my novels there gives me an excuse to return on research trips, visit my family and eat carbohydrates with wild abandon.
Since you know Italy so well I’m going to ask you for travel tips. What would you advise a visitor to put on their Not to Miss list in:
a) Rome: Aside from all the obvious landmarks it’s great to get off the beaten track. I did a fantastic food walking tour in the Testaccio area last time I visited. As well as getting lots of samples to taste I learnt heaps of useful stuff about Italian food including how to tell the fake gelato from the real thing. Check it out at www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com
b) Venice: This is a city to wander in as there are so many little back alleys and canals. You can get yourself lost then find yourself again. Because I’m obsessed by food I especially like the market at the Rialto Bridge.
c) Milan: I tend to head South these days so I’m not an expert on Milan. My favourite spot is Maratea on the rocky coastline of Basilicata. It’s dominated by a massive statue of Christ on the mountain – like the one in Rio only smaller – and there’s a pretty port and a historic town. Some of my books are set there although I’ve changed a few details about the town and rechristened it Triento.
4. How about New Zealand?
I would urge anyone who visits New Zealand to do the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown and then round the West Coast, over Arthur’s Pass and back to Christchurch. Stay in Queenstown for a while as there is heaps to do there. On the North Island the beaches of the Coromandel, Northland and the East Cape are stunning, the sea is incredibly clear and you’re likely to see dolphins and other wildlife. There are some amazing guided walks to do and if you’re a horse rider I recommend trekking in the high country of the South island.
Auckland, where I live, is pretty cool too. You can take a day trip to climb an island volcano, go dolphin watching, wine tasting, sailing in an America’s Cup yacht and there are some fantastic restaurants especially in the newly restored Britomart area of the city.
5. What would you say is the best travel experience you have ever had?
When I first met my husband I lived in London and he was based in New Zealand so we met halfway in San Francisco and drove down the Pacific Coast Highway together in a convertible car. By the time we reached Los Angeles we were in love!
6. How about worst?
I was in a small plane that was struck by lightening whilst trying to land at Wellington airport. The instruments were knocked out and we were in dense cloud. That was terrifying. The man beside me had to hold my hand! Fortunately they managed to get us back to the airport we’d taken off from and everyone was fine.
7. Apart from your own books, do you have any recommendations on books to read while travelling or on vacation?
I’d advise taking a food book about the area you’re holidaying in. I took Giorgio Locatelli’s Made In Sicily on a recent trip to Sicily and it was a wonderful way to learn more about the dishes and ingredients I was tasting. Now, of course, I have the book with me at home and I’m trying recreate them.
8. How would you describe your travelling style?
I am an over-packer so there is always a giant suitcase involved! I like to walk a lot when I visit places so comfy shoes are a necessity. I also like to clothes shop when I’m on holiday far more than I do at home. It’s more relaxing and fun plus clothes are the best sort of souvenir I think. I bought a fantastic neon orange cashmere coat in Shanghai last year that’s been much admired all winter.
9. Is there a hotel you’ve stayed at that just completely blew your mind?
When I was in my 20s I stayed at the Oriental in Bangkok in a suite that was considerably bigger than the poky London flat I was living in. Every now and then a man would appear with little snacks of spring rolls. There was a gorgeous pool where you could eat the best Thai food while sprawled on a lounger. I didn’t really see much of Bangkok because I couldn’t bear to leave the hotel. Usually I stay in far more modest places. Recently in Rome I stayed in convent guest houses. These are central, well-priced, clean and ideal for women travelling alone.
10. Dream trip?
Six months in Italy visiting all the bits I’ve missed so far....
Nicky Pellegrino’s book When in Rome is out in stores now.