About Us

About Us 2014

Well, a lot has changed over the last 10 years.  Destination Lucca has grown and evolved and survived more than 10 years in business.  It has been an exciting time and we would like to express our thanks and heartfelt gratitude to our clients who have been the reason for our continued growth and success.  The following photo was taken in 2013 at the ceremony for awarding Angelica her Italian Citizenship.

 

Family photo October 2013

Family photo October 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Us 2011

The family celebrating 8 years in Lucca

family photo December 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Us 2008

 

 

 

About Us 2004

In March 2003, Andrew Hourigan and Bernadette Willaton were a typical Australian couple. They were both mid 30’s. Andrew had a good job, Bernadette was a full time mother and their three children were aged six, four and nine months. They lived in a comfortable suburban Melbourne home, and had a fairly standard mortgage. So what makes a couple like this sell their house, quit their job, pull the children out of school and kindergarten to scurry off to Italy for a six month holiday in Tuscany? Isn’t this exactly what we’d all like to do but really lack the courage? More incredible is the fact that their holiday extended from six to nine months and by then, they had decided that Italy was the place that they wanted to make their home. Since then, they have started Destination Lucca, an Italian company specialising in tourism in Tuscany, and now make Lucca, Tuscany their permanent home.

 

Andrew’s job involved a huge amount of travel and at the end of 2002, during the Christmas break, he and Bernadette worked out that he had been away from Melbourne for more than 22 weeks. Given that their third child had been born in May, it meant that Andrew had been away for more than half of William’s life. This was a real sticking point for the couple because all of Andrew’s jobs had involved travel and when his two daughters were young, he missed a great deal of their early lives as well.

 

This brought about a lot of questions. Why do we work so hard and struggle for so long when life is so short? Bernadette and Andrew started questioning what their life was all about. What were the priorities? Andrew recently made the comment: “Sure, the pay was great with work, but at the end of the day, when did we spend time on the things that matter? We realised that the last proper holiday we had taken was our honeymoon twelve years before. There was so much that I was missing on a daily basis, that it just wasn’t right.”

 

So with their minds full of discontent, they were having dinner with friends one evening. Over a few glasses of red wine, they were regaling their woes when one of the group suggested in a rather sarcastic manner. “Stop complaining. Sell the house and go off to Tuscany for six months”.

“Yeah, yeah, wouldn’t that be great. But I don’t think so.” from both Bernadette and Andrew, was the response. But that evening an idea had been born that started to take shape.

 

Bernadette was a full time mum looking after three children, involved in the kindergarten committee, school community and a million other activities. One afternoon, she mentioned to one of the kinder mums that they were thinking of selling their home. This friend had a friend who was desperate for a home just like Bernadette and Andrew’s and after two inspections, the deal was done. The house was sold and they felt there was no going back now. Tuscany look out! The Hourigans were coming!!!   It was all too frightening. How could they quit Andrew’s job? What about the lack of income for so long? Sure, they would have some money in the bank, but…… It still left so many questions.

 

They did many internet searches. In fact, they felt that they lived on the internet wading through all of the search engines results only to meet many dead ends. Where would they stay? Andrew decided that if they were going to go and live somewhere for six months, then he wanted to see it for himself before he actually paid a cent. Maybe this is a cynical approach but after many years of travelling for work, he knew how easy it is to be disappointed upon your arrival. He did a five day reconnaissance trip based in Florence where he inspected many villas and felt that the trip was well worth while.

 

The villa that they decided upon was a dream. Situated 25km east of Florence in the Arno valley, the views were amazing. It was a monastery from the 15th century that had been badly damaged during the war, but renovated extensively in the 1950s and recently refurbished. It was situated on quite a steep hill had spectacular views: hills rolling away into the distance, covered in olive groves and vineyards. The weather was incredible. It was the hottest summer on record and the family found respite from the heat in the swimming pool where both Genevieve (by now aged 7) and Isabella (now aged 5) learned to swim. William was content with sleeping for most afternoons. The family also learned to live with each other. It was quite a culture shock for them all and Andrew states: “I went from being away all the time and working long hours, to all of a sudden being with the family 24/7. It took a little bit of adjusting for us all, but soon we all loved it and this is one of the main reasons we decided to stay in Italy long term. We love our life. We love living this way. It’s not just the place and the people and the food and wine (which are all brilliant), it is mainly that we all get to spend time together and live like a family.”

 

At the start of November, as the winter weather started to take hold, the family moved to the small city of Lucca. It is one of the few cities in Europe to have its original mediaeval city walls intact. These walls, by their sheer presence, have managed to keep the modernisation and urbanisation of the city outside of the “centro storico” (which translates to historic centre). What is left inside is a charming and authentic Italian city. The family stayed in a large apartment adjoining one of the prominent piazzas where there is a Roman column which used to mark the winning post for the jousting competitions many centuries ago. It is slightly crumbled and as a result, the column and the entire piazza have been referred to as “colonna mozza” by the locals (translating to cut off column). The family fell in love with Lucca and felt that here lay a future for them all. The girls started school and met the challenge of knowing no one and not even speaking the language (apart from a few well used phrases and the basics of please and thankyou).

 

The business idea started to form slowly, as there were all of the hurdles of Italian law and visas and permits to stay. “We were uncertain for many weeks if we could even extend our stay let alone start the business that we wanted.” commented Bernadette. The pair felt that so many Australians and tourists visit Tuscany, and yet many of the options for accommodation were lacking in one way or another. They felt an opportunity was waiting for someone to provide decent holiday accommodation at a reasonable price. The result is Destination Lucca. Andrew states: “A year ago we were the customer, so we have a pretty good idea what the customer wants. If you’re going to come all the way to Italy and not enjoy where you stay, then you may as well not come. It doesn’t mean that you have to pay more to get better accommodation, you just need to know where to get it.

 

Another important factor in their business is the personal approach. Because the company is only relatively small, the pair have a hands on approach with every detail. Andrew comments: “The knowledge that we are on hand most of the year in Lucca is very comforting. It provides enormous reassurance for travellers, especially those who don’t speak the language. Our guests have found it very welcoming to be met and greeted by the person with whom they have made their booking. Most of our guests also ask for some recommendations on where to go and what to see. We love doing this and know of some fabulous places that only the locals generally know of.”

 

Originally, the pair intended to keep things small. They wanted one or two apartments that they would manage of their own. However, soon, they were approached by several owners of apartments and several villas in the hills overlooking Lucca. They have a large contact base with the Lucchese community which gives them access to a number of other properties. “Having some of our own apartments and access to others is a great mix of business” states Andrew, “we have our properties on our website, and yet if someone is looking for something different or bigger or smaller, we can probably find it for them.”

 

The last eighteen months have been an exciting roller coaster ride for this Melbourne couple and their three children. Bernadette says: “It all happened in a blur. I merely mentioned to a friend that we were thinking of selling the house, and suddenly the deal was done. Everyone kept telling us how brave we were, but the hardest decision of all was to sell our house; the home that we’d put our heart and soul into for three years. After that everything was easy. And everything fell into place so easily for us, it just seemed that it was ‘meant to be’. I did have concerns about taking the children out of school and kinder, away from their friends, family and out of their comfort zone. I consoled myself with the fact that I was giving them the opportunity of a lifetime. Little did I know what a great opportunity it would be. The girls now speak, read and write in both Italian and English. And they have seen places that, at their age, I thought I would only ever see in pictures.” William is attending the local Asilo (crèche) and is learning both Italian and English words. He will grow up truly bi-lingual.

 

Andrew and Bernadette welcome you to Destination Lucca and look forward to hosting you in one of the company’s apartment or villas in the near future.