We met Cecilia on our honeymoon through Italy, Greece and Turkey. I was taken with her nomadic lifestyle and ability to look fabulous whilst living out of a small backpack. To wrap up our wanderlust month I got in touch with Cecilia…
AMICA: You are originally from Spain. How did you end up working for intrepid and living in Italy?
Cecilia: I was born in Extremadura, in the Central West Spain, where the main industry is agriculture, so at the time, there wasn’t much work opportunities there. (By the way, it’s extremely beautiful, with UNESCO heritage sites, important Roman archeological sites, amazing nature parks and delicious food).
I moved to London for my 18th Birthday willing to stay for one year while learning English (Spanish schools teach you everything about grammar but nothing else, so you know your present perfect tense but that is all). The year became 6 years and after finishing University and having one year backpacking around the World, I realised the UK was not for me. It was time for a change!
I decided to apply for Intrepid Travel as a good friend of mine had been leading for a similar tour operator in Latin America for many years and it looked like fun!
Intrepid gave me the chance to lead in Italy and I just felt in love with the country. It was similar to Spain but more in everything! The food was amazing (always fresh and seasonal, also really cheap compared to the English prices), the places were unreal (try to wake up to the sunrise in Cinque Terre or wander around Rome without having a wow moment every so often), and the people were really welcoming. I learnt Italian in the first few months there and decided to give it a go.
My first choice was Florence but in the last week with Intrepid, I met a handsome Venetian who made me change my mind!
AMICA: You now own and run Venice Urban Adventures. Why Venice?
Cecilia: I have been running Venice Urban Adventures for four years, it has been an amazing path.
Starting your own company is always a challenge and there has been lots of tears but also great moments. When you read the amazing feedbacks or listen to travellers experiences in your tours, it the most rewarding thing that can happen about your work!
I got the chance to discover the real Venice as I was introduced into the city by Venetians, people who love their city and wanted to show me the real side of it. Not the touristy but the local one.
After having all this knowledge, I started to love Venice as my own city and I thought it was unfair for people see it as only a touristy place, so I really wanted to show them that there is more to it!
The four years have been amazing and now there is a team of 5 lovely Venetian gals who want to show the real side of their city to our travellers.
I still manage Venice but in the last 6 months I moved to Madrid, where I’ve started Madrid Urban Adventures, a dream come true, as I always wanted to live there and I consider Madrid as one of the hidden European gems. It has so much to offer and I am going to prove it in the following seasons!
AMICA: Most people know the main tourist attractions in Venice. Can you share some local secrets of what not to miss?
Cecilia: Venice is a really small island and difficult to navigate, but when you are here, please do not hurry. I always recommend to “close the map and get lost”.
Is a city to wonder, to explore. It has lots of hidden treasures you need to discover just wondering it.
My big recommendation, visit the main icons: Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and Rialto early in the morning, before the masses arrive! Then, leave the main area and get lost around the less known neighborhoods like Cannaregio or Castello, residential areas with small local cafes, historical sites and still a strong feeling of ‘real Venice’.
Venice is a safe place and the best times to explore it are either early in the morning or late in the night-time, when all the annoying groups leave and the city is for you!
Watching the sunrise in San Marco is an experience. Getting to the rooftop of the San Giorgio Bell Tower and having the view of the city is a memory. Only listening to Venetian dialect while walking the streets of Castello is fun, and having a prosecco in Zattere while watching the sunset goes down surrounded by locals is a must.
AMICA: What are the biggest pros and cons of running your own business?
Cecilia: Running your own company is tiresome but at the same time extremely rewarding.
I started from scratch without a background in running a business but with tons of energy. After endless sleepless nights, tears and fears, everything worked! Although still lots to do!
The best thing about it are the results, every happy traveller is a reason to keep going. When you see people who come to the same tour year after year, when you hear amazing words about the experience they had in Venice with your tour or when you see people writing incredible thoughts about what they learnt on it… That’s worth the World!
The worst part? You are NEVER on holiday. A day off is never possible and forget about not having to deal at least one or two hours per day with emails etc… but you are your own boss, so you decide on your working times which is freedom in a sense.
AMICA: What are your top three tips for people visiting Italy?
1. Take it easy: Do not pretend you are going to visit everything in one trip. Cities such as Florence, Rome, Venice or Milan take years to discover. Yes, you can do the main icons but if you want to discover the real side of it, choose the main places you want to see (Vatican for example takes almost the entire day) and then, explore the city at your own peace.
2. Forget about the diet: Italy is for foodies, the Italian food you have back home is not entirely Italian. Every region in Italy has their own local dishes, so many recipes to discover and to try! Also, Italians eat seasonal, so get ready to eat fresh dishes every day!
3. Learn a few words of Italian: “Buongiorno” ” Grazie” “Arrivederci” are the doors for you to enter an experience. Almost everyone speaks English in the country but if you want to show respect and get a proper welcoming in the country, try your Italian skills! Do not be embarrassed, making mistakes is only a way of laughing together!