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(2020 - Winter/Spring Issue)


It seems fitting the year Italian director Federico Fellini’s classic film, La Dolce Vita, was released in 1960 was the same year television personality and designer Debbie Travis was born. Fast forward 60 years and Travis is fulfilling her dream living and operating a boutique hotel and retreat in the idyllic Tuscan countryside. Getting to this point though has been far from idyllic.

Born in Blackburn, an old industrial town in Northern England, there were no silver spoons, designer threads or furnishings. Her father passed away when Travis was 12, which had a big effect but instilled a belief, “I can do anything, just keep going.” London calling, Travis left home at 16 and went to art college and began modelling before eventually going into television as an intern at BBC. In the mid-’80s at a television convention in Cannes, Travis met her future husband Hans Rosenstein, a television distributor. They married, moved to Montreal and started a lifelong work partnership in interior decorating.

Travis’ first TV series, Debbie Travis’ Painted House, aired from 1995 to 2002. Oprah Winfrey commented, “Travis is the master of paint and plaster.” Travis is a master of many roles—mother of two sons, wife, entrepreneur, TV host, syndicated newspaper columnist, TV producer, and a bestselling author including her latest book, Design Your Next Chapter: How to Realize Your Dreams and Reinvent your Life. Her newest role is as a proud owner of the Villa Reniella, a revived 13th-century farmhouse in Tuscany. It took Travis, her husband Hans and many local contractors almost five years of painstaking work for the Tuscan estate to be transformed from a dilapidated farmhouse to a luxury boutique hotel. Opened in 2015, Travis offers one-week luxury retreats for women as well as gourmet retreats for couples. The weeklong experiences are heavy on nature, village life, tranquility, gourmet food, laughter and even a few tears. All enjoyed with copious amounts of Prosecco.

Travis has realized her dream and discovered her peace and purpose under the Tuscan sun.


Any weird things happen when shooting home decorating shows?

For the first house in the Facelift TV series, we ripped out the wrong house; that was a disaster. The second one we had a crazy plumber who turned out not to be a plumber but just wanted to be on television and the bathtub fell through the floor about six months after we had finished.

How did you meet Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes?

I see her all the time; she was my first friend here in Tuscany. I didn’t know a single person in this valley and I ended up ringing her up. I got her number through her olive oil consortium. I basically spoke to her husband and he said, “Yeah, come on over.”

What’s special about Tuscany?

The light here is extraordinary—that’s why Tuscany is famous for artists. I never tire of the view. The valleys are all covered in this mist so as the temperature goes up, all these hilltop towns and cathedrals and monasteries all start poking through. It’s like a sea of clouds that starts to dissolve and it’s really amazing.

Have you changed how you are as a hotel guest since you are now a hotel owner?

First of all, I will never leave a mess in a hotel room again. I am so sorry to all the hotels I’ve stayed in where I’ve left a mess. I do clean up after myself and I am very aware.

What’s your favourite destination besides Tuscany?

Bed! I love travelling. I never do “normal” holidays. We never really had normal holidays, even when the kids were small because we were always filming. I love India; I’ve been there a few times. I’d love to go back to South Africa. I like holidays that are kind of exotic, shocking and cultural that just inspire you.

Any travel pet peeves?

I think the way people travel on airplanes and the clothes that they wear. In England it’s become very trendy to have bachelor parties, so you’ll see adults walking through the airport in grown-up diapers, men in tutus, at 5 o’clock in the morning! Seriously? And they’re already into two bottles of crème de menthe.

What’s important to you?

The most important thing for me is having a role in life. There has to be a purpose. My role right now I think is to inspire people through what I have done. You can make anything happen as long as you’re healthy and look after yourself.

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