Name: Debbie Travis
Occupation: TV Host, author, columnist, designer, and now olive oil & lavender farmer & organizer of retreats in Tuscany
Where were you born?: Lancashire, England
Where do you live?: Between Tuscany, London, and Montreal.
Debbie began her working life in London as a model and soon after began working in television behind the scenes. She met a Canadian at the Cannes Television Festival and moved to Canada, where she began to paint houses with what was then the biggest trend in the UK – paint finishes. Travis’s décor business immediately became a success and was soon followed by a collection of how-to videos that showed homeowners how to create these looks in their own homes. A million copies were sold and the idea was turned into her first TV series, Debbie Travis’ Painted House.
The show was an overnight hit worldwide and ran for seven years. It was followed by three more international TV series. Soon after came nine best-selling books, a weekly syndicated newspaper column about style and design, plus a highly successful product line.
Debbie is a sought-after public speaker inspiring women in both their home and work lives. Now, at her 13th century villa and 100 acre olive farm, she holds unique weeks for women of all ages and backgrounds. These weeks include Gourmet Adventures, Olive Picking, and her Tuscan Girls’ Getaways. Through these Tuscan Getaways, Debbie has blended her two passions – inspiring like-minded women and sharing life in Tuscany, Italy.
Debbie has homes in England, Italy, and Canada which she shares with her husband of 29 years, Hans, and her two beloved sons, Josh and Max.
How would you describe your travel style?
I would say my travel style is truly mixed. I usually fly business but I am writing this in a second class train carriage in Kerala, India, which is roughing it. I love adventure but I also adore luxury. I am a big fan of unique, boutique hotels. I crave chill time – lounging on the beach with friends, hiking in far off lands – I have walked across Vietnam to raise money for colon cancer and climbed Machu Picchu for the charity Children With Arthritis.
What’s your earliest travel memory?
When I was a child we had an old converted cow barn that was literally in a field – there was no road or indoor loo. I remember driving there with my family – the car jam-packed with kids, no seat belts, and a precariously stacked roof rack. It took us two days to get from our home in Lancashire, England to Angelsey (made famous recently as the home to Kate and Will), an island off the north coast of Wales. It would take about three hours to drive today.
When researching travel destinations, how important are food/drink choices and experiences to your overall decision-making process?
Super important. Traditional, local food and wine is to me the ultimate experience. This is why I have added a Gourmet Week to my Tuscan Getaways. The food in Tuscany is incredibly inspiring for its freshness – always seasonal and always bought locally. I wanted to create a week where guests can immerse themselves in the food culture of Italy and take home new ideas for their own kitchens. The wines surrounding our estate are world-class, from the Montepulciano Nobile to the Brunello di Montalcino – Italy’s finest.
Culinary traveler or food explorer? Which do you identify more closely with?
I would say both. To me it’s a heady mix of the best cuisine of the country I am visiting and the experience of being in that particular region. It could be a street vendor offering a slice of local food or a home cooked meal off the beaten track. I love a lively bistro-style place as much as a romantic meal in the fanciest restaurant. At our Tuscan Gourmet Week we offer a taste of the full range of what our area has to offer to the world.
If we ask your best friends if you’re a foodie, what would they say?
I think my friends say I just love my food and I’m pretty adventurous. I am with six girlfriends now in India and we have eaten some interesting meals to say the least. Yesterday was a vegetarian curry created from pine nuts and mangos served on large banana leaves. We used only our fingers and followed the other diners as they rolled their food into small balls before washing it down with ginger and lemon water – delicious.
What’s in your carry-on? Any essential food or kitchen tools you won’t leave home without?
I usually have several organic Nakd Bars (raw, organic bars I buy in bulk in London made from mostly dates) for wandering through airports. Mind you I have to say that some of the Business Class lounges are serving raw vegetables, hummus, and even Kale salads – thank you, Air Canada, you listened to us constant travelers! I always have my camera to take a picture of some of my unique meals. I love to post on Twitter and Instagram. My followers seem to love food shots.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?
In Vietnam I ate grilled sparrow. It was horrific as they were the entire little bird. Needless to say I didn’t eat much, just enough so that I did not offend my hosts. At the little restaurant in my village in Tuscany, the unusual vegetables they serve and the chef’s ingenious ways of cooking them always impress me. My favourite has to be steamed then sautéed beetroot tops. We would normally throw the leaves away but they are so delicious.
If we handed you a ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would head to wherever in the world my boys are. Presently one is working in Africa and the other in Canada.
What’s the best culinary travel experience you’ve ever had?
I have travelled the world but I have to say that I never tire of Italian cuisine. At The Gourmet Week at my Tuscan villa we invite people to come and celebrate the simplicity of Tuscan cooking with purely local, fresh ingredients, and stupendous Tuscan wines.
Any great travel tips to share?
Do as much planning as possible and talk to anyone who has visited the area you are going to for the best restaurants and places to stay. Be very open about the guides on the Internet – they are not always the best. To me, real word of mouth is the best.
Debbie’s New Venture
You have mentioned your new project in Italy. What made you venture into the world of Women’s Retreats and Gourmet Weeks?
I have been a public speaker for many years now. I talk mostly to large auditoriums of working women of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds. I try to make my speeches not only inspirational but also helpful to all those hard-working women out there. Women are juggling families, work, school, and often caring for elderly parents.
Most of the venues I speak at are designed for large numbers but they are not particularly warm and inviting. When I fell in love with a magical valley in the heart of Tuscany I felt instantly rejuvenated just from being there. I decided to buy a property large enough that I could not only enjoy it with my family, but could also share it with others. There is something special here. Yes, there is incredible food and wine, magnificent views, and many, many hilltops, medieval towns, and back roads to explore – but there is more. It is the Tuscan people and their way of life that can teach us so much.
I began the Girls’ Getaways in 2009 holding just one each year in a rental property. They were an instant hit with the guests and my life changed. These women come from all walks of life and they all have a story. As a group, we share in the camaraderie of women and inspire each other – but instead of doing this in a clinical conference centre, we are in a stunning villa enjoying life under the Tuscan sun.
Our Tuscan Getaways are now held in this restored 13th century villa. The estate has a hundred acres of olive groves, lavender fields, two vineyards and ancient chestnut woods, and with the converted farm buildings we can accommodate 17 wonderful women. They can come alone or with a friend, a sister – even mother and daughters are popular. They take part in everything that Tuscany is famous for. We have incredible chefs who prepare delicious local meals, and we enjoy bike rides, hiking, yoga, a life coach, massage, and of course copious amounts of wine. It’s an all-inclusive week so the idea is you don’t worry about anything. I am kind of your mom for the week, my team and me. You don’t need to book or organize a thing. It is all done for you. No driving, school runs, supermarkets – you can just be you.
The week has been so popular that we are now holding gourmet weeks for men and women. Here we immerse ourselves in the food and all the different Italian wines, even biodynamic organic wines that have become part of the ‘Super Tuscans.’
The food in Tuscany is incredible, whether cooked by a neighbouring “nonna” or a renowned restaurant. We are lucky to be in the region of some first class restaurants. Not only do we enjoy meals in these restaurants, but also the chefs come to our place and divulge their secrets as we take part in their cooking classes. This venture in Italy so far has been life changing and will soon be featured in a documentary series called Dolce Debbie.
Favorite Culinary Destination: Impossible to choose one.
Favorite Cuisine: It’s crazy, but when I am in Italy I crave a good Southern Indian curry, when I am in London I would kill for my favourite Toronto sushi restaurant, and when I am in Canada I just want the warmth of the restaurants in my little Italian village.
Favorite Restaurant: Restaurants to me are about memorable times. I have to choose three.
- I had a world-class meal at Raymond Blanc’s, Le Manoir aux Quat’Season in England where we celebrated my husband’s birthday with my family this year – one of the best meals I have ever had.
- The East Hill Pub in London with my best friend tucking into Rosé wine and English fish and chips.
- La Bandita in Pienza, Tuscany, where we have enjoyed new friends on our Italian adventure – the chef, David, is Scottish and is a shining star in the culinary world.
Favorite Street Food: I salivate at the thought of street food in Jamaica especially around Treasure Beach… Jerk chicken and spicy Jamaican patties!!! mmmm
Favorite Food Market: It has to be the farmers’ market in Bermondsy under London Bridge – truly inspiring to see the incredible foods from across the UK and around the world.
Favorite Gourmet Shop: I always visit Eataly in Florence to discover some of the best Italian food products.
Favorite Winery: This is difficult because my villa in Tuscany is surrounded by vineyards and wineries – I love them all. I will soon be launching a Debbie Travis white wine from the Pillitteri Estates Winery in Niagara – I have such fond memories of developing this smooth, dry, white wine.
Favorite Brewery: I was brought up in the North of England and went to school in Blackburn, a working class Northern town. Here there were many breweries and I will always have a fond memory of smelling the hops coming from the Thwaites brewery on the way to school.
Favorite Cooking Class: I have to say the cooking class that takes place at our Girls’ Getaway is the most fun. It may be the charm of our chef or the large amounts of Prosecco consumed but it really is a lot of fun.
Favorite Food: Anything I pick from my “orto” – my vegetable garden here in Tuscany.
To learn more about Debbie Travis’ Tuscan Getaways including her Tuscan Gourmet Week, visit www.tuscangetaway.com or email Tuscany@debbietravis.com for more details.
Follow Debbie on Twitter @Debbie_Travis and Instagram @debbie_travis
Debbie Travis on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheDebbieTravis
Debbie Travis’ Tuscan Getaway on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/DebbieTravisTuscanGetaway
Debbie Travis on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/thedebbietravis