Who We Are: A Closer Look at a Bella Vita Travel Specialist

One of our favorite parts about a Mediterranean travel specialist and preparing a tailor-made itinerary for our clients is getting to know you. Understanding your travel dreams, preferences, and even more personal details as we work with families that grow, couples that marry, and all the changes that can happen in life. It’s a treat and a special part of our job to create your perfect vacation and we are fortunate to do it several times with repeat clients in different destinations.

This month, we are focusing on something a little more behind the scenes – us! Though we know so much about our clients, many of you are (rightfully so) curious about who we are. And here are our stories about how we became Mediterranean Travel Specialists.

We start off 2020 with Christine Mitchell-DeFina, our social media and marketing whiz, and Mediterranean travel specialist.Travel Specialist Christine in Bolgheri

HOMETOWN: I’m originally from northern New Jersey (30 mins outside of New York City), but for 10 years now my home is the tiny seaside village of Monterosso al Mare in the Cinque Terre.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO ITALY: My grandparents were Italian (born in Calabria). I had always wanted to live here, not just visit. When finishing my Master’s Degree in food studies and culture at New York University, I had the opportunity to study abroad as an MA student in Florence. After the program finished, I traveled extensively around Italy by myself. This is when I happened to meet a wonderful man who is now my husband. Manuel was born and raised in the town I now call home, Monterosso al Mare.

We went back and forth long-distance for a year then I finished my degree. I sublet my apartment, sold my furniture, and hopped on a plane! When I moved to Italy, we’d actually only seen each other 4 times. For someone who is as much of a planner as I am, it was a totally out of character, crazy thing to do. That was over 10 years ago, so I can happily say that following my heart was the right choice.

JOB DESCRIPTION: Travel specialist for the Mediterranean, social media and marketing.

Travel Specialist Christine in PugliaTRAVEL ESSENTIAL: A year ago, I would have said something terribly cool like my Bose noise-canceling headphones. Now, in my first year of being a mom to one very vivacious little baby girl, I’d say my favorite black silk scarf. It’s great for chilly train cars (for me or little baby Lilia). It’s an excellent way to block light out of her stroller when I’m trying to get her to nap. Last but not least, it’s a quick fix cover-up for a church, mosque or synagogue visit when you are on the go!

Travel Specialist Christine and her daughter Lilia in TuscanyBEST TRAVEL MEMORY: Years ago, before I spoke a word of Italian, I traveled through Southern Italy on my own for a month. It was challenging because, in small towns in the south, English is not frequently spoken. But the warm hospitality of Southern Italians needs no translation. It was a great time. Near strangers invited me to family dinners in the houses of complete strangers. I took strolls with old fishermen on sunny days. Basically, did what I wanted when I wanted. That’s the best part about traveling by yourself.

FABULOUS FOOD MOMENT: I’m very fortunate that my husband’s “family business” is food. So we always have the best and freshest primary ingredients, even at home. I’ve had some amazing dining experiences (the tasting menu at two Michelin star restaurants Chèvre d’Or in Eze, France comes to mind- I still dream about that cheese cart!). But perhaps my most memorable food experiences are the simplest ones. When the fisherman drops off locally caught fish at the restaurant. My husband throws it quickly on the grill with herbs from our garden. Drizzled with the grassy, aromatic olive oil his uncle makes. And then, served with good crusty bread from the bakery of another uncle. Married with a glass of crisp local white wine, and shared with friends and family. All served on a sunny spring day at the seaside in the village where I live.

Travel Specialist Christine in Portugal

WHERE I CAN GO BACK TO AGAIN AND AGAIN: The Bolgheri region of Italy. We go several times over the summer months, as it’s only a few hours from our home in the Cinque Terre. But it’s not just the fact that it’s close by that keeps Bolgheri close to my heart. It’s the perfect blend of my favorite things: the beach, the winding country roads that trace through vine-covered hills, the wine (Bolgheri has some of Italy’s- and the world’s most famous and prestigious wines), the cured meats, wild boar. I could go on and on. It also is home to one of my favorite small boutique hotels, which always feels like home when we go back again and again.

Christine and Lilia exploring Italy

TRUE CONFESSIONS: I have never been to the Croatian islands! We have always wanted to go, but my husband’s work schedule makes family trips over the summer months almost impossible. And it’s not an ideal winter destination. Now that we have little Lilia, he’s made some changes at the restaurant which should afford us a little more time to spend together in the summer. So, hopefully, we will get there soon!

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