Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande, originally from Italy, moved to London in 2000, after working in Belgium and Germany. After 13 years as Direct Marketing Manager for international publishing and news companies, most recently for Bloomberg LP, Paola decided to launch Passepartout Homes in 2011. This is her first experience as an entrepreneur.
Paola graduated from the Catholic University of Milan with a Degree in Russian and German and a specialisation in Social Sciences. Paola also holds a Diploma in Direct Marketing from the British Institute of Direct Marketing.
Passepartout Homes is a boutique property and concierge club where membership is strictly by referral or invitation only. Since the website’s launch at the end of December 2012, the portfolio of luxury rental accommodation has grown from just 6 properties to 50, stretching across the globe.
What is it that you do exactly?
I came up with the idea of launching an exclusive club in 2011, on a flight back from our holiday home in Italy. Our masseria had just been completed. Lots of love and care had gone into this project. Conscious of the fact we would soon incur several thousand Euros of maintenance costs per year, we were still reluctant to rent out our beautiful new home to a stream of strangers sourced by various rental agencies, albeit reputable.
My husband and I thought that the only viable way for us to rent out our villa and cover some of the running costs was to create a network of trusted guests, who would take care of the property as if it was their own, with respect and care. Talking to friends, we realised other people were in our same situation.
So Passepartout Homes was born at the end of 2011 and the website was launched at the end of 2012 with just 6 properties. To date we offer over 50 luxury properties, spanning the globe, to a selected network of guests.
I am responsible for sourcing the properties and liaising directly with the owners, to ensure they meet our strict criteria and meet our demanding guests’ requests. My direct marketing skills are also put to the test when recruiting new members.
My days are also busy with keeping the website running smoothly, engaging with our social media followers; liaising with the press; writing for our blog and guest posting on other blogs, such as Project Eve and The Next Women.
What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?
This is a very easy question to answer.
The best place I have ever visited is the Maldives, where my husband and I stayed at the Banyan Tree Hotel, in a garden villa with its own Jacuzzi. This was two days after 9/11 so, mood wise, perhaps not at its best. This barefoot chic hotel sums up what the Maldives are all about: a warm welcome, attentive service, incomparable clear waters and eco-living.
I also have fond memories of our stay at Parrot Cay, in the Turks and Caicos, our first long haul trip with both my girls who, two years later, are still asking to go back there. The private and secluded beach, combined with turquoise waters, friendly service, excellent food and probably the best Spa in the world, made it the most relaxing holiday we have had to date.
Last but not least, it has to be our masseria in Puglia, Masseria Il Trullino, surrounded by 200 ancient olive trees and nothing else but silence and peace. The only place in the world where my family and I truly relax and bond.
What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?
Coming from Italy, eating is probably the most important experience in the daily lives of most Italians. Meals don’t have to be grand or experimental to impress. Handmade pasta with fresh tomato sauce, basil picked from the garden and a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil will do the trick.
However, my favourite place to eat is L’Altro Baffo in Otranto (Apulia), where every dish is poetry. Try freshly prepared pasta with sea urchins!
I also love Alain Ducasse’s Le Jules Verne, on top of the Tour Eiffel for its great view (and no queuing up at the bottom of the Tower) and of course for Monsieur Ducasse’s ‘incontournable’ dishes.
When in London, my favourite is Indian restaurant Rasoi, not just for the excellent Indian delicacies, but also the caring service and very romantic atmosphere. I cannot resist their Chocolate Cravings dessert (chocolate samosas, chocolate-menthol milkshake, dark chocolate-cumin fondant & white chocolate-avocado kulfi capsule, chocolate panna cotta… and more chocolate).
Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?
I work in a complex in London Canary Wharf where various personalities have come and gone, like Robert De Niro, who owned an apartment here, or footballers from West Ham. Most memorably, a scene from the latest James Bond movie was filmed here and for 3 days I could spy on Daniel Craig in his swimming trunks.
At Parrot Cay I sunbathed next to Kate Moss (not that she would remember!), a few weeks before she got married. My daughter even had a 5-minute playdate with her daughter (not that Lila would remember!).
What currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I am trying to slowly work through visiting all of our properties. Our portfolio is growing so rapidly, I am not sure I’ll be able to manage it, in this lifetime at least! But I’ll try. It’s difficult to choose as I love all of the properties we offer. Top of my list are our villa in Mykonos Drakothea, Villa Belle in Koh-Samui and a chalet in Austria.
Thank you for taking part in our interview, Paola. As a holiday property owner myself, I fully understand and appreciate the ethos of your venture. I would be interested to learn more about you go about ‘selecting’ your guests and how this method works in so far as ensuring good levels of occupancy for all your properties. Good luck with it all!