From building sand castles on the beaches of Italy as a 2-year-old to seeking out off-the-beaten path destinations and experiences as an adult, Ulla Hefel Bohler, Global CEO of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, has a long history of making the most of her travels. A self-confessed bookworm and a fan of hitting the slopes on the Swiss Alps near her home in Zurich, Hefel Bohler has travel memories she can go on about for hours, and a bucket list that is just as long. We’ll let her explain more in this installment of Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.
Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
I was about 2 years old when my parents took me on a beach holiday to Italy, which is an easy drive from Austria where I grew up. Obviously, my only memories are from pictures in my photo album…Building sand castles on the beach, paddling in the Mediterranean, eating ice cream and pasta.
What is your most vivid travel memory?
It’s impossible to distill it to just one. There are so many that come to mind. Seeing a springbok being born when driving through the Kalahari Desert; diving the Great Barrier Reef; standing in the Sistine Chapel with only a handful of other people during a private visit; being on top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka at sunset; driving the entire Croatian coastline all the way to Dubrovnik long before Croatia was a trending destination…I could go on for hours!
What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
While on a gap year in London before going to university, taking in all that cosmopolitan London had to offer and making friends with many different people from all over the world, I realized that there was a very big and exciting world out there that I was dying to explore. So, I thought, “Why not turn this into a career?”
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
My husband and I spent three weeks traveling around South Africa and had the most incredible time. We, of course, did all the must-sees and must-dos in and around Cape Town and the Winelands, drove the Garden Route and went on a safari, but we also went off-the-beaten track and drove through the Kalahari Desert, which was an unbelievable experience.
What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
A trip to Crete with my family and my best friend and her family. I had been to Greece before but never to Crete. I loved the diversity and being able to admire the remnants of brilliant civilizations; explore glorious beaches, impressive mountains and steep gorges; and to become part of the island’s rich gastronomic culture, all in the company of my family and good friends.
Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
My bucket list is still very long! My top three would be Japan, Costa Rica and Namibia.
Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
I am certainly not a big souvenir hunter but would occasionally bring something home from my travels, which often isn’t your typical souvenir. It could be a piece of art or jewelry or some local delicacy. I definitely prefer immersing myself in the destination and collecting memories rather than souvenirs.
You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
Honestly, I don’t.
What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
Plane rides are the perfect time to clear your inbox and cross things off your to do list that normally don’t quite make it to the top. If I travel with my family, keeping my 4-year-old happy and entertained usually keeps me busy.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My husband. We actually met when both working (and traveling) on an ocean liner and have done a lot of traveling together, from backpacking to top-end luxury trips.
If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
At Ashford Castle in Ireland, without a shadow of a doubt. The rooms are filled with exquisite artwork and antique furniture, the fabrics and linens are truly sumptuous, and the service is impeccable. I feel like royalty when I stay there.
What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
Food is such an important part of every trip—don’t we all live to eat? Some of the best food I’ve had was definitely in Piedmont in Italy, at a small local restaurant in one of the picturesque hill top towns that we stumbled across. There was no printed menu. The chef and owner would simply cook away and keep bringing out course after course—local, authentic and simply delicious. Ironically, the strangest dish was at that same restaurant and consisted of a ‘thrush risotto’ (yes, they do eat songbirds in Piedmont).
What can’t you travel without?
My passport, my phone and my credit card. Anything else is easily replaceable.
Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
I love both, but given that I grew up in Austria and currently live in Switzerland (with snowy mountains readily accessible), the tropical beach has more appeal right now.
City or countryside?
Countryside gets my vote.