After travelling the world for more than 30 years hosting luxury tours and retreats, travel concierge and yoga teacher Marieke Brugman has discovered being grounded at home on the Mornington Peninsula due to the pandemic has allowed her to appreciate her coastal backyard in deeper ways and reflect on what’s important.
By her own admission, Marieke’s work has given her the best years of freedom and adventure, from dining with royalty to walking the laneways of ancient forts at dawn, scaling mountains, and riding camels. It hasn’t been dull. Her working life began with an academic career in fine arts. Then at 24 Marieke started her first business in rural Victoria, a pioneering gourmet retreat and cooking school. After three memorable decades of cooking and teaching, a new adventure called and her travel business The Art of Living was born. Nikki Fisher spoke to Marieke about her travelling life coming to a standstill and what the art of living in uncertain times looks like.
How did you get started as a travel concierge?
I first left home for Europe at the age of 17, stayed away three years, and became an inveterate traveller. The original tour company I co-founded in the early ‘90s was an offshoot and expansion of the gourmet retreat and cooking school. It started with highly curated and technically supported gourmet cycling tours of Australia’s wine regions. From Mornington Peninsula to Yarra Valley, Margaret River, the Barossa, Hunter Valley, we covered every region, meeting the wonderful characters in the wine and hospitality industries. Memorable highlights include several tours of the Flinders Ranges with a 4WD mobile kitchen, white clothed tables under the stars, and a different chef cooking each night. Internationally I’ve arranged private tours to Africa, Turkey, Paris, India, Sri Lanka and Mexico. These bespoke services are based on my deep connections in these countries and take detailed account of travellers’ interests and aspirations for meaningful experiences.
What do you love about living on the Mornington Peninsula?
The bay and the ocean – their accessibility, negative ions, sweet air, ‘always the same walk, never the same beach’, the sound of the ocean at night, and the solitude and general peacefulness. I swim daily, sometimes up to six months of the year. Greens Bush, Bushrangers Bay, there are so many wonderful bush walks. I love that we still have cinemas, and visiting Antipodes bookshop in Sorrento is a joy, not only because it is a fabulous independent bookseller, but also curator of inspiring exhibitions and meetings with writers. We are also lucky to have Transition Farm who are exceptional biodynamic farmers and have just launched their new organic seed production, seeds I’ll be adding to my food garden.
What does the art of living during the pandemic look like for you?
The first adjustment was overcoming any idea that enduring winter would be difficult. By nature, I’m a warm-weather summer person and had not done a southern winter in many years. As things eventuated, it was a mild winter. While my travel business was decimated, there was much to be grateful for. Daily beach walks became longer and longer. I took to looking up and capturing the ever-changing moody cloudscapes and looking down to appreciate the minutiae of coastal plants and the changing of the seasons. I took my yoga classes to Zoom – where they still are – five times a week for my small, cherished group of students. And I immersed myself in a number of creative projects, including outlining a book and participating in a podcast training program with view to release The Art of Living podcast.
When the world opens up to travel again, where are you heading first and why?
Speaking from the heart and without knowing what the future holds and what countries might be open: India, Cuba and Mexico. India has been a quarter-century deep love affair for me that would take not one but many lifetimes to come to know. So many friends I’ve now not seen for a long time, so many heartbreaking challenges she has been going through. Cuba is exploding with youthful creativity in dance, music and art. Grand colonial buildings undergoing restoration sit alongside still-crumbling mansions and Soviet-era ‘brutalist’ high-rise. Car journeys on good roads are like travelling in a surreal Hollywood movie. They are so quiet; almost empty of traffic. Modern-day Mexico surprises at every turn with wonderful museums, a thriving contemporary art scene, flourishing traditional crafts, warm and welcoming people, surprisingly good wines and fascinating cuisine.