A self-described power duo, Agnese is the “digital guru” with an eye for photography and a discerning taste in food (she was born in Rome, after all), while Paola is the “events maven” who believes in living la dolce vita and knows exactly what modern, sophisticated travellers desire. They’re opposites when it comes to packing, too – Agnese never travels without her camera or Kindle, whereas Paola prioritises ultra comfy sneakers to cycle, walk or explore in and her signature red lipstick.
While it’s not too often that we can thank our former flames for our success stories, the two met through Agnese’s best friend that was Paola’s ex boyfriend and soon began grabbing lunches together since their offices weren’t all that far apart. As it transpired, they shared both backgrounds in fashion and a perpetual love of travel. Frequently tasked with requests for guidance from friends and co-workers with wanderlust, the two decided to start a travel blog together, “everyone was always asking us where we were going and they always wanted tips from us – so it made sense,” explains the duo. Discovering that they were onto a good thing, the pair decided to take the plunge and turn that hobby into a business. Their new bespoke platform, The Maptique, launched in July 2018 and they haven’t looked back since.
Today, The Maptique creates localised B2B and B2C experiences, along with engaging Insider Guides and a curation of Hidden Gems for its growing readership. As talk naturally turns to the pandemic during the interview, Paola and Agnese reveal that they designed virtual experiences for The Maptique Lab, with the hope of keeping their community’s spirits up during the tough time through digital experiences combining online and offline activities like yoga, painting and nail art.
The impacts of the current crisis have also highlighted to many how we can all learn to live – and travel – more mindfully. “We really care about the environment and sustainability issues. To us, sustainability is a way of living,” they say, as I’m poised ready to jot down their tips for travelling more consciously. They point out that “small tricks” can make a big difference: ditch cars and taxi rides for bicycles where you can, keep your tickets digital rather than printing them, travel off-season, pack only what you need, cut down on plastic waste by always carrying a reusable water bottle, eat less meat and more fish, choose organic, natural and plant-based beauty products – most importantly find a sunscreen that’s free from toxic chemicals, so it’s not polluting out beautiful waters or harming marine life and coral reefs.
Finally, I spy my chance to ask for their recommendations of some gorgeous mindful Hidden Gems and eco-resorts to visit in 2021. Here are their five choices, with some quick snippets of research about each destination underneath.
A taste of luxury in the wild, the Coucoo Grands Chênes eco-domain is a unique retreat located just 45 minutes north of Paris in the woody heart of Raray. Designed with ropes to hike up your (hopefully lightly packed) luggage, the cabins and terraces offer panoramic views of starry skies and treetops, working in harmony with the calm and natural environment surrounding them. The construction of each one respects the trees that welcome them, too. In fact, the health of the trees is monitored by a forest expert so that the huts can be adapted as they grow. Ran by a team conscious of waste, hourglasses are placed in the showers to boost awareness of water consumption. A natural water purification system is used for the treatment of the heated Nordic baths, allowing them to function without the use of harmful chemicals. Local produce is favored for food, just as ecological products are favoured for maintenance and cleaning. Take a book and your walking shoes because you won’t find any Wi-Fi access. Here, it’s time to truly disconnect, log off and unwind – though you’d be forgiven for taking photos of the stunning setting for Instagram.
Foodies, this one’s for you. “Things began with a love story,” says the married couple behind Rantan Farmhouse, Francesco Scarrone and Carol Choi – this heartfelt sense of unity and togetherness is beautifully captured through the way everyone sits and eats together at a communal table in the home setting on the duo’s plot of land in the mountains of Valchiusella. They met and learned what they know about collaborating closely with local producers and organic farmers while working at some of the world’s most innovative restaurants in Copenhagen. Biodiversity, environmentally responsible farming practices and sustainable habits in the kitchen are ingrained for these two chefs-turned-farmers. Creating menus that respect the needs and limits of their land, they use the best products from their fields and work with a natural cycle when cooking with fresh produce, preserving the ingredients at the height of harvest to prepare for leaner seasons. If you choose to stay over, there’s hemp sheets, linen towels and organic soaps.
SAN LUIS LODGES
The San Luis is a private retreat at an exclusive chalet village in Hafling/Avelengo where you can feel at one with nature – it expresses a simplicity of style through the use of wood, glass and clay. Nestled deep in the forest, you can choose from spending the night in a wooden chalet by the lake or among the branches in treehouses. The considered side of things comes into play with the materials and ingredients – specifically ancient timber treated in accordance with the Mondholz (moon wood) tradition, which observes lunar cycles to maintain its resilience and energy. Special textiles and naturally-treated linens are placed in the lodges, while the kitchen makes use of the orchards, berries and rare spices found nearby.
A rural escape in Marrakech, the Berber Lodge retreat is a love letter from the owner, Roman Michel Meniere – a French-Swiss interior designer who’s lived in Morocco since 2002 – and the inhabitants of Oumnass. Inspired by traditional Berber architecture, the lodge was built on an old Olive garden using local resources and by local craftsmen. All of the old olive trees have been preserved, while local trees (like Eucalyptus and Wild Bamboo) are used to create a ceiling. The terracotta tiles were locally custom made and the interior design celebrates the best of local furniture and pottery.
Located on Colombia’s Pacific coast where you’ll find beaches, untouched rainforest and waterfalls that flow from the jungle out to sea, Morromico is a family-owned eco-hotel. With a limit of ten guests at a time to ensure a warm and personal experience, the semi-open rooms are powered by a small hydroelectric plan.