Travel writer and author Francisca Mattéoli has created a world of her own, a world at the confluence of luxury, humanity, travel and the environment. Her fascinating work celebrates life, authenticity and nature. Francisca writes travel books and travel stories published by National Geographic France and Condé Nast Traveler and on her personal blog. Her latest publications are the books World Tour: Vintage Hotel Labels from the Collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton that I wrote about last October and Escape Hotel Stories: Retreat and Refuge in Nature. The latter explores the world’s most stunning hotels, each possessing a unique relationship with its surroundings, advocating environmental awareness. What makes it even more captivating is that the narrative is accompanied with references to inspirational writers and artists who have once found inspiration in those places. I could barely contain my enthusiasm when Francisca accepted to grant me the honour of an interview. I hope you enjoy.
1. You are Chilean, with a Scottish mother, you’ve lived in Brazil and now you reside in Paris. Do you feel Chilean, Scottish, Brazilian or French at heart? Or do you feel you are a citizen of the world? Has your multicultural background and heritage influenced you in becoming a travel writer? When did you know that this is what you wanted to do in your life? I feel part of all the continents you mentioned, but it depends of the moment of the day and on the circumstances. I have, nonetheless, a deep love for Chile and Scotland, the countries of my family and of my roots because it’s in these roots that I find my strength. My heritage has been determinant in my life choices and in my writing. Writing was always a refuge for me, especially when we left Chile. I felt very isolated and wanted to write about the world I knew especially since I found people were completely misinformed about it. This is how I became a travel writer and understood that it was something I wanted to do in my life.
2. What do you think it’s good travel writing? I think good travel writing must be entertaining for the reader, evoke emotions, get the reader involved. It cannot just be a documentary with facts. It is important to tell a good story. I always remember a good story.
3. For your book “World Tour” you were inspired by a collection of hotel labels gathered by Gaston-Louis Vuitton, grandson of Louis Vuitton, throughout his life and you retraced the travellers of early 20th century, the great era of travelling, opening the doors of the hotels they stayed in and discovering their unique stories. How challenging was this experience? In my book I developed all these aspects in 21 different travel stories. It was exciting and fun and I had to do a lot of research, which I adore. I wrote on my great-grandfather and on my family which also lived in hotels, imagined how their life was and the one of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, that was inspired by anecdotes, emotions and memories I had in a corner of my mind. The challenge was to write a book that had never been done before because so much has already been said about hotels, but so little about personal and human experiences of that golden age of travel. Gaston Louis Vuitton reminded me of members of my family, such as a distant uncle or cousin. I found inspiration in a million details and really wanted to share all of the fantastic memories I had, and the spirit of adventure that existed at another time. I enjoyed every minute of it.
4. You’ve written 7 more books. You’ve written about the most luxurious hotels in the world marked by their famous guests and you’ve also written about environment-friendly destinations, giving voice to the necessity of preserving nature. Can we connect luxurious travelling with nature? Absolutely. The important word is respect: to respect our world, the people and nature. And that has nothing to do with beeing rich or poor.
5. You also write for National Geographic France, having covered important subjects like the humanitarian plastic surgery mission to Rwanda or the land of the huasos, Chilean cowboys. Is there a part of your work that you feel is more important, more impactful than the rest? To write about Rwanda and the genocide is a totally different experience of course than to write about hotels, and I know that it will have a deeper impact. Still, I try to keep an open mind and I think that the entertainment which a lighter book can bring also has an influence that can be as strong on somebody as the description of a more sensitive issue. Our world is complex and I like the idea that people who read my work are also complex and can be touched by any kind of subject. I learned a lot by working for National Geographic and going on humanitarian missions, but also by trying to be lighter and enjoy life.
6. Your favourite destination in the whole world. Chile, Scotland, Brazil and France.
7. What makes a great trip? Mystery, challenge and luck.
8. Do people make the place? Not always, but often.
9. What was the most rewarding trip you’ve ever taken? When I returned to Chile for the first time after years in France. But also my meeting with French Doctors, and everytime I learned something new, no matter where it was…
10. What is the most fulfilling thing about your work? Being able to change the false impression that somebody has on a country and people.
11. A destination you’ve never been to and where you’re longing to go. In fact I would like to travel on a flying carpet!
12. The best 5 travel destinations in the world. There is so much more than 5! In my book Adventure Hotel Stories, I wrote about 30 destinations and experiences I believe to be the most fascinating in the world.
13. For someone who hasn’t been to Paris yet, what would you recommend on their first trip there? What is the best time to visit Paris? I love Paris in Spring because the Parisians are happier, not grumpy like they usually are! I would recommend to seat in a real Parisian café, such as “Les Deux Magots”, order a “cafe crème” or a glass of French wine (my favorite now is Sarus 2012!), watch the people (and the waiters!). That would be my first suggestion.
14. Why did you choose to live in Paris? What’s your favourite thing to do in Paris? I came to Paris because I had to leave my country. On my blog, Blog de Francisca Mattéoli, I explain more about why I ended up here. And my favorite thing to do in Paris is to walk in the Marais and go to Place des Vosges. You see beautiful people mixed with everyday locals, ancient mixed with modern… It’s one of the few places in Paris where everything is open on Sunday. It’s the perfect spot to go for a walk and truly see Paris.
15. Where do you feel at home? Do you think it’s important to feel that you belong to one particular place? My home is in my head. I understand that a lot of people need to feel that they belong in one particular place, but I have been used to think that I belong in many places so that feeling is natural to me. I do not take time to think about that really. It’s just a normal thing for me. That is why in all my books I always write about a lot of different places and not just one. I feel blessed being able to mentally adapt from one side of the planet to another. I am not attached to one single place, I can move when I want. It’s important to be able to move and not to stick to only one culture or one mentality.
16. If you didn’t live in Paris, where would you live? In a place where I could be in contact with nature. Wild nature. It’s what I like, maybe because my parents both coming from very wild countries. It’s in my DNA and it makes me feel good. So it would definitely be a place like California, or Brasil maybe.
17. What is the perfect travel attire for you? Casually chic + a bright smile!
18. You are a very stylish person, exuding grace and elegance. I’ve seen many photos of you wearing a white shirt, a timeless piece I would wear every single day. Is it a signature item in your wardrobe? What does style mean to you? Living in Paris, “The Fashion Mecca”, is hard to ignore fashion! My style hasn’t changed much over the years. I love timeliess and effortless items of clothing. A classical look, but with personnal details. An elegant fabric, classic colors, beautiful and authentic silver jewelry I brought back from Chile or vintage jewels that have been in my family. I love silver jewelry and bought some fantastic pieces in Santa Fe Indian Market. I like stylish elements. I suppose that my style is as direct and frank as my writing, and in a way, if I like white shirts it’s certainly because it summarizes all that.
19. How do you like to relax at the end of the day? I swim. A lot.
Thank you, Francisca, for this truly wonderful interview. It was an honour and an enriching experience.
You can visit Francisca’s official website, www.franciscamatteoli.com, to learn more about her and her work.
photos: 1,4: by Julio Piatti, courtesy of Francisca Mattéoli / 2: Escape Hotel Stories: Retreat and Refuge in Nature, published by Assouline, 3: World Tour: Vintage Hotel Labels from the Collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, published by Abrams