The world is as big as you make it. A Frenchman, raised in Brittany with family in Evian, works for an American company inside the Swiss/Italy border, lives in Milan, and has a fervent thirst for global travel. His experiences in this European triangle and beyond make him an immensely interesting conversationalist, not only in regards to travel (which sounds even more charming and fanciful in his thick French accent), but in topics of lifestyle and values between the three similar but unmistakably divergent cultures. Surprisingly, the only language that he does not speak is Italian. “My wife has had more opportunity than I have; if I were in Milan to pick up the fruits and vegetables every day, I would be a lot farther along.”
While language is a skill that must be learned, human interaction does not require a grammar textbook. “It is true that Italy has its issues with administration and government. Every day you discover a new tax that you never knew existed. In a humane sense, however, we all have the same problems, from France to Switzerland to Italy. I find that the Italians seem to carry on more easily than others. People are generally happiest in Italy. The Italians and the French have always been brothers,” says Jean Christophe in his quiet, thoughtful tone, “but one is smiling and the other is not.”
Jean Christophe, CMO of Tiffany’s watch division at the Chiasso, Switzerland office, is on a cross-continental flight at least twice a month. After living in Switzerland for a number of years, and having a weekend house in exquisite Evian, he can certainly speak towards the positives of a Swiss address. Beyond the obvious financial ‘gains’ of a Swiss paycheck, there is that widely recognized high quality of life. Whether your city is Geneva or Zurich, nature is just outside the city confines, gifting residents with an enviable work/life balance. Even if you are not a skier, a sailor, a hiker, or a biker, the desirability of a Swiss zip code is easily understood if you appreciate fresh alpine air and cinematic scenery.
Positive aspect number two: proximity to international airports, fantastic jumping off points to any destination. Surprising positive aspect three: Switzerland has culture to write home about. Indeed, Jean Christophe, a global traveler and someone who has doubtlessly participated in some of the world’s most fabulous openings, concerts, events, and cultural excitement, is equally impressed by Switzerland’s art scene, from Art Basel to the Montreaux Jazz Festival and more. To make life even more stress-free, the Swiss enjoy some of the most efficient government structures in the world. “The Swiss are very pragmatic,” Jean Christophe professes. “If there is something to be done, they make it happen.”
So where does this worldly timepiece expert pass his time when not on his way to a business lunch at Lake Como’s Villa D’Este or a hamburger at Hillstone in New York? (“I cannot go to New York and not have a hamburger. I am very impressed by the New York burger.”) Jean Christophe cannot possibly be called a creature of habit; his sense of adventure and novelty knows no bounds.
An ideal ‘easy’ long weekend?
“We have a house in Evian-les-Bains, where I have a lot of family and have been going since always. We go every two or three weeks, and it is where I re-charge my batteries. It is magnificent, facing Lausanne, and surrounded by hiking trails and infinite outdoor activities. It is really beautiful in the winter, because you can wake up in the morning and drive 25 minutes to ski, and then come home for lunch. It also has really beautiful hotels. One of them is the Hôtel Royal, where you have exquisite scenery from the mountains to the sea. It is one of those historically beloved properties, where you might have seen the queen or members of the royal family from time to time, much like the Raffles in Singapore.
Another place I like to go when I can is Lyon in France, where you eat exceptionally well. Food is really important to me. I used to go quite often to Forte dei Marmi and Pietrasanta. Forte dei Marmi has changed a bit; now it has a sort of Russian boardwalk feel to it. Pietrasanta is still very authentic, where many artists live and have their studios. The true artists’ lifestyle remains, and it is a departure from the more ‘sceney’ beach towns.
Other beautiful weekends from Milan are Portofino and Bergamo. In Bergamo there is a modern hotel I really like, the Relais San Lorenzo. I like to sail in Positano or the Cinque Terre, which are just incredible.”
What is one destination that has given you great inspiration lately?
“I recently did a backpacking trip north of Thailand, in the golden triangle around the Macon, after a “road trip” through Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney. I seek destinations where I can be outside in the nature. The Pontine Islands are magnificent. I love to sail, and with the tiny islands and the ancient Roman harbour carved in stone, it is one of the most physically beautiful places I have ever been. I gravitate towards islands, towards the remote, where I can choose to explore and be adventuresome or otherwise calm and passive; depending on the wind coming off the sea I suppose.”
On the topic of remote, where else are you falling off the grid?
“Le Palais in Belle-île. There is the Vauban Citadel, a castle overlooking the sea with massive 3 meter walls built in a starfish shape, and there is incredible fresh seafood right outside. As a sailor, it is perfect. Matisse and Monet used to go there to paint nautical scenes, and Flaubert and Dumas also took inspiration from Belle ile. The island is at the tip of the country with more flora and fauna than other areas of Bretagne. So you really feel worlds away.
The ile des Porquerolles in the Îles d’Hyènes is a paradise island off the Côte d’Azur, It’s remarkable how distant it feels from the nearby beaches. Cars are not allowed, many of the beaches are somewhat empty, and there are not many hotels to choose from. I suppose that explains its ‘remoteness.’ If you manage to find a place to sleep on the island (we like Le Mas du Langostier,) night is magnificent. You feel like the island is yours. In the day we usually go to La Plage d’Argent for both the beach and restaurant, go wine tasting, and take beautiful walks, both along the sea and along the craggy sea cliffs, where you can still see forts where the French would take cover when defending the island from pirates.
There’s also Verbier and Chapel ski resorts, where I often go when I am in Evian.”
Where are you checking in around the world?
“In New York, I like the Nomad Hotel and the Edition. I tend to seek out places that are very authentic, that effuse their location in their design, energy, food, and people. In London, I prefer Brown’s Hotel, where Churchill stayed during the war. To me, it is classic London.”
Milan is not exactly an island on the Med, but it has some of the best seafood in Europe with its famous fish market nearby. Where are you finding the freshest catch?
“I love Langosteria. I think they are the best for fish in the city.”
And for cocktails?
“I prefer a rooftop. I like Ceresio 7 and also Terrazza 12.”
On a Saturday or Sunday, when you’re not sipping a sbagliato on the roof of Ceresio 7 but you’ve decided to be one of the few Milanese to stay in the city, where might we find you?
“Navigli is an interesting neighbourhood for a walk, or I like to visit a little of the city’s ‘nature’” (insert gentle laugh) “in Parco Sempione. Actually there is a long bike ride from Sempione all the way down to Abbiategrasso, where you really do feel like you’re in nature. It’s quite exotic for Milan.”
Your go-to designers?
“Berluti and Brunello Cucinelli. They both create a relaxed, casual elegance in their pieces. When I was living in California I discovered Patagonia. I look for modern brands with a strong mission statement, and I appreciate how they give 1% of profits to Save the Planet.”
What do you think is one of the most unfair assumptions about Milan?
“Perhaps that the Milanese aren’t friendly or forthcoming. Italians as a people deserve their reputation for being warm, vigorous, vivacious… They are a passionate group of people, and they value the human touch. Relationships in Italy are much more honest and true, while in the states you might have a higher quantity of ‘friends,’ far fewer of them are actual, meaningful relationships. It is a lot more chit-chat, where as life is more intense in Italy.“
If you could bring one foreign cultural practice to Milan what would it be?