I just spent a week in Venice, staying in a great apartment that I rented through Airbnb. I was in town as part of an MBA course that I am currently studying for - we headed to one of the most beautiful and luxurious cities in the world to hopefully learn a thing or two about Italian style, luxury brand marketing and the artisan production techniques of the region.
I've been told there's no evidence of me being any more stylish after the trip - if anything, less so after a few 3 hour Italian lunches, some great pizzas and plenty of Prosecco, as well as my now heightened appreciation for Cannoli (pastry filled with flavoured cream, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with icing sugar). We drank some great booze, such as the delicious bottles produced by a friend of mine, Claudia; at 22, the youngest Prosecco producer in Italy.
Sadly, I enjoyed the local 'produce' a bit too much one evening and managed to misplace my camera (otherwise I would be able to show you some great shots of St Mark's Sq and the canals and bridges of the city). Although, I don't think anyone in the world needs my terrible photography to convince them that Venice is beautiful - there's a reason it's full to the brim with so many thousands of tourists scuttling around buying face masks and ice cream in their wellies.
On the first day, we visited the fabric producer Roubelli. This upstart has been supplying kings, queens, oil billionaires and oligarchs with exquisite tapestries, woven wallpapers and upholstery since the 14th century. The sofa in the picture belonged to Ralph Lauren - I couldn't help but doubt that me sitting on it was the most exciting thing that sofa had been witness to.
I'm not sure the whole place had much reason to be excited by us being there - regular visitors over the years included Mr. Armani, Mr. Gucci and the like.
We took a trip to the Ferrari factory - which unfortunately was a bit of a disappointment, basically just a run down of the various engine capacities of the cars they've made over the years. Great for a 7-year old car obsessive and otherwise just a good case study in how not to build a brand experience. If anything, the visit confirmed to me that I will never aspire to buying a Ferrari.
After that, we had the most authentic Italian lunch - aside from the amazing homestyle food, my favourite thing was that the Papi of the family spoke to us at length in Italian about every dish, knowing fine well that we had no idea what he was saying but that we were definitely still up for listening to him.
Probably the highlight of the trip (apart from a great talk by Robert Polet, the ex-CEO of Gucci Group), was a tour of a balsamic vinegar villa in Modena, Villa San Donnino. The family we met had been producing balsamic vinegar here for hundreds of years and were chucked out when the Nazis needed a beautiful villa to live in, later to reclaim their property after the war. With some luxury goods (like fashion and Swiss watches), the more you learn about the 'secrets' behind them, the less likely you are to want to fork out for them. However, with others, especially food and drink, the more you appreciate the story and craft behind them, the more you understand why they are so expensive.
We tried some vinegars that had been matured in casks for longer than I have been alive and you could really tell the difference between a 12 year old and a 26 year old bottle. The most mature ones were retailing at best part of £100.
All round, a delightful place to visit (although I should probably warn you that it is an expensive city - a water taxi from the airport is 120EUR, for example).