Travel Well Carli Ratcliff Scandinavia bespoke tours

The good oil on Molise | Foraging in Sweden | Hats off to Paris

Charisma and character - and just a little bit game-changing. Action!

As Sydney travel and food writer Carli Ratcliff reflects, researching bespoke travel experiences is full of unexpected finds – from olive-oil obsessed princesses to epic Scandinavian landscapes, gourmet ingredients … and a milliner’s mile of ribbon!

Seeking out behind-the-scenes experiences is all in a day’s work when foraging for travel articles or putting together itineraries for Sydney boutique travel curators like Travel Well. These are some of the people and places that have left an indelible impression this year.

The Molise Region, Italy

I met Principessa Marina Colonna through Australian providore Simon Johnson, who describes her simply as “the very best, in every sense of the word!”

A papal princess by birth, a journalist by trade and a leading olive oil farmer by choice (she has 20 varietals of olive trees), I was invited to Marina’s farm and villa in the Molise Hills, three-hours east of Rome where I spent a week with her on the grove. We harvested tomatoes, cooked, explored rarely-visited seaside hamlets, and talked long into the night about food and life.

A week with Marina Colonna opened my eyes to a lesser known region of southern Italy (it’s neighbour is Abruzzo and its north-east coast abuts the Adriatic Sea) – dishes that I had never tasted, recipes I’d never cooked and a landscape markedly different from neighbouring Tuscany and Campagna.

While the Molise has been known for its olive oil since Roman times, the region is also known for its cheeses – especially pecorino and scamorza. Pasta is a staple, often served with a rich tomato ragu of lamb or pork and fiery diavolino peppers. Popular seafood includes fresh anchovies, swordfish, mussels and clams. And local red mullet turns up in the regional fish soup, broddetto.

The hub of New Nordic Cuisine

As a food writer, I have been spoilt with numerous trips to Scandinavia in recent years, editors keen for me to cover what has become known as New Nordic Cuisine, a food movement largely born of René Redzepi’s chart-topping restaurant Noma in Copenhagen.

What I have discovered is that many of the ingredients used at leading restaurants across Scandinavia, including Sweden’s Fäviken and the rustic Jazzköket – ingredients like reindeer lichen, cloudberries, flower petals, grouse – are sourced from the farms and forests across central Sweden and Norway.

Local gastronomy expert Manne Mosten has guided me to many of these farms to meet the producers, and to sample their wares. I’ve been able to incorporate his knowledge in our tours.

Travel Well Carli Ratcliff Sweden

Fruits of the fields, petit fours at Sweden’s Faviken restaurant.

Hats off to Paris

My trips to Paris are generally focused on food – from Michelin-starred restaurants, to markets and cooking classes; so travelling there with a milliner is an utterly different experience!

Neil Grigg milliner Travel Well Paris bespoke tours

Neil Grigg, the cat with the hats

Once upon a time, Neil Grigg was a dancer with Graeme Murphy’s Sydney Dance Company. Since hanging up his ballet shoes he has made a career as one of Australia’s foremost milliners, turning out bespoke hats for racing royalty, and bonafide royalty alike, for brides, celebrities and good time gals. And he’s happy to share his skills.

Spending time in Paris with Neil (it’s one of the unique Travel Well itineraries) is to experience the City of Light through his eyes – excursions to boutiques that sell kilometres of ribbon, others that house kilos of feathers, and secret doors behind which scores of vintage buttons and embellishments are piled high. A milliner’s dream.

Photography: Carli Ratcliff and Carol Crennan

For 2016 itineraries visit


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.