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Meet the Boss: Annie Long, founder of Long Travel

trullo-azzurro

Each week at 101 Holidays we meet one of the people behind the UK’s finest travel companies. This week we meet Annie Long who, with her husband Ray, founded and operates Long Travel, a small independent specialist to Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia.

The couple first met when they both worked together as teachers, and set up the company in 1988. They have blazed the trail in carrying out sensitive restorations of traditional trulli (stone buildings with conical roofs). They live and work in the Shropshire countryside with a team that includes Ray’s son Alex, and his wife Laura.

• Where did you go on holiday this year, and why?

Firstly we took a couple of trips to Southern Italy, including stays in Sicily and Puglia. Sicily is a great love of ours and we try to find at least one week every year, to completely get away from it all, in our favourite “hideaway”, right in the middle of Sicily, Il Glicine (pictured above right). There are two cottages, with a pool, in the most glorious natural setting, run by two of our dearest friends. Staying there puts the balance back into our lives, helping us to totally relax.

Then we went to our own home in Puglia, Trullo Azzurro (pictured above centre). Recognised as one of the best Trulli in the area, we are immensely proud of it and absolutely love being there.

Amazingly enough, after years of not having the time to go anywhere other than Italy, in November we set off for Sri Lanka (if the human rights issues are resolved), The Maldives and Dubai. We are so looking forward to it and have gone for pure luxury – the “trip of a lifetime” idea. Knowing us though, we’ll spend the whole time in the luxurious bits wanting to de-tassel and un-luxe everything. We’ll see!

• What is your favourite bolthole in the UK, and why?

Being Welsh, I look for any excuse to go back to Wales. Porthcawl, Laugharne, the stunning Gower Peninsula and anywhere in South Wales are great by me. I can’t understand why people struggle all the way to Cornwall, on blocked roads, to expensive, busy resorts, when they could reach The Gower easily from the M4, have beaches and cliff-top walks to rival Sardinia, to themselves at times, and have a really genuine Welsh welcome from some of the warmest and friendliest people on the planet.

Ray likes to get back to his roots in Yorkshire and is particularly fond of Harrogate, his hometown, but, having said that, we live in our favourite bolthole. Shropshire is beautiful and undiscovered and the food is fantastic.

• If you could spend a long weekend in any city abroad, which would you pick, and why?

Naples or Palermo. Both are the epitome of Italy’s north/south divide and are totally unlike other cities. We love the vibrancy, the decaying splendour, the food, the people, the sheer excitement of these very special cities.

• Please tell us three items that are always found in your luggage.

This depends on whether you’re talking outbound or homeward-bound flight, but coming home from Italy, we practically always have local cheese, nuts and “pasta secchi” cakes – oh, and my lipstick, of course.

• What one thing would most improve people’s overall holiday experience?

Liking the people they travel with – and a quicker acceptance and adaptability to the local way of life. We moan about our hectic pace of life, when in the UK, so, when faced with everything closed in the afternoon or restaurants that would simply never contemplate feeding the kids separately at 6pm, accept it – have a glass of wine and a snooze, to prepare for the late night eating out. You’d give anything to be able to do that at home, so enjoy it.

• What has been your worst holiday experience?

We haven’t really had one. Life is never perfect and we don’t expect it to be, so when things have been less than ideal, we look for the positives and enjoy those. We do our best to leave the “Grumpy Old Man and Woman” at home.

• Tell us your favourite hotel: in the UK; in mainland Europe; in the rest of the world.

Fairyhill Hotel, on the Gower, is a dream. A manor house, with only 8 bedrooms, it is luxurious, but unpretentious. The setting is lovely, with beautiful grounds. The food is absolutely delicious and the welcome is warm and genuine.

The Hotel Villa Cheta, in Maratea, Southern Italy, is an all-time favourite of ours. We love the location, food and wine, the ambience and the exceptional service. In fact, we love it so much that we would probably choose this for our favourite in the world too.

• What is the most exciting project your company is working on right now?

Two things – our new brochure and more renovation of trulli in Puglia.

We always get very intense and passionate about our brochure, but for 2010 we plan a complete change and are slightly nervous and extremely excited. We have a great website and even considered relying on that totally, but, we see our brochure as our real “shop window” too and many clients have told us that they keep all of our brochures, using them almost as “coffee table books”. So we will try to produce something even more worthy of that status.

Our trullo renovation adventures continue. This year, we have added another pool to our basket of properties to rent. As usual, this involved masses of dry stone walling, moving of mature and ancient olive trees and lots of landscaping. We still have three Trulli to renovate, too, and these could potentially be the best yet, as their location is a dream. Never short of ideas and design concepts, Ray and I will have plenty of time to refine these, as this year will see us embarking on the long and wonderful Italian process of planning permission. We enjoy every minute of it.

• Thank you, Annie.

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