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Meet the Boss: Xavier Schouller, Peak Retreats

xavierBoathouse at Steephill Cove

Each week at 101 Holidays we interview one of the people behind the UK’s finest travel companies. This week we meet up with Xavier Schouller, the managing director of Peak Retreats, a specialist in unspoilt Alpine resorts.

After working at the French Embassy in London and for Brittany Ferries, Xavier set up Peak Retreats with his partner Nathalie in 2002. The couple live in Southsea with their two young children.

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

My twin passions are skiing and sailing. I’ve been doing both since the age of five and although I’ve given up the offshore racing, I still need my dose of sailing every year. So we spent a week on the water in the South of France between the Bay of St Tropez and the beautiful unspoilt islands south of Hyeres (Ile du Levan, Port Cros, Porquerolles). I then stayed with my partner’s family and enjoyed a bit of beach and a dose of the French things we miss by living in the UK.

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

The Isle of Wight ,where I first came as teenager on several sailing holidays. I love going back there – it just feels like you are stepping back in time. The pace of life seems so much slower than on the mainland. Ventnor is my favourite place and particularly the Boathouse at Steephill Cove (pictured above). It feels like a little bit of the Caribbean but with UK weather.

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

I love the mountains and I love the idea of Kathmandu, a city in the heart of the Himalayas with history and breathtaking scenery . It’s also the ideal base to start some great mountain itineraries. One day I will find the time…

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

A Blackberry charger, a plastic carrier bag (in many countries like France you don’t get these any longer in supermarkets whilst in the UK some 13bn are handed to shoppers every year and then take a reputed 1,000 years to decay), and a handheld trekking GPS as I like to know where I am, where I am going and where I have been.

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

To ignore price for a short moment. These days too many people start their holiday search by focussing on price or a special offer and forget all the important elements that they should be looking for instead. Who remembers how much they paid for a holiday a few years down the line? Experiences make holiday memories, not cost.

* What has been your worst holiday experience?

I have never had a bad holiday as such but my worst holiday memory was getting a phone call from the office whilst on holiday in Northern Spain to tell me that my house had been burgled. We decided to stay on as there was not much to be done but it clearly spoilt the rest of the holiday. In the end it was a happy ending in that there wasn’t that much stolen (apart from all my best bottles of fine French wine). The burglars were caught and most items were recovered – except the wine which they had drunk!

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

I haven’t had a hotel break in the UK for a while as I prefer to stay with friends. Le Normandy in Deauville, Normandy, which is managed by the well-respected Lucien Barrière chain. La Mamounia in Marrakesh, which has just been totally refurbished. The last time I was there a guy called Sarkozy was staying in one of the suites. He has now changed jobs, I believe.

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

We are working on a new summer holiday programme to France to complement our Ski Collection winter ski programme. It will be under a new brand but I just can’t say any more right now. Watch this space, as they say.

* Thank you, Xavier.

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