“I slightly despise people who cry for the cameras,” says Alex Polizzi. Yet while reconnecting with her ancestral heritage in her new travel series, the usually formidable Hotel Inspector becomes surprisingly emotional.
“My grandmother died five years ago and I used to go back and see her three or four times a year, but I haven’t been back since she died. It was a case of ‘take a deep breath and go back and see how I feel about it.’ I rediscovered Italy.”
In her new show, Polizzi visits Monforte, the hillside village near Rome where her hotelier grandfather Charles Forte (creator of the luxury Forte Hotel Group) was born, and admits she struggled to hold back the tears. “I had no intention of crying for the cameras, but I had a tear in my eye.” Yet she didn’t want to end up blubbering away, in case she ended up like someone on Who Do You Think You Are?. “Tears are not something I like to share with people who don’t know me. It’s private. It makes me feel weak.”
Polizzi, 43, arrived for a procession in Monforte, where locals bless the village for the coming year. “It’s unbelievable that my grandfather came from this tiny village. I remember going there and it had just a bakery and a water fountain.” From those humble roots Charles Forte built a multi-million pound hotel empire.
“It was one of those moments where you feel such pride in your ancestors. I had this overwhelming gratitude at how fortunate my life has been. I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotional.”
Polizzi reveals her top five places in Italy to visit:
VENICE “Everybody should go to Venice. Yes, it is ridiculously expensive (and crowded), but even if you have to beg, borrow and steal to get there, you should go at least once. It is one of the wonders of the world and God knows how long it will be there, unless they manage to deal with the problem of flooding. Do two key things when you are there. First, get up very early in the morning and make sure you’re out of the hotel by 6am and see Venice without the hordes of tourists. It is completely magical. You just can’t believe that mankind created this city. Second, if you’ve got €80, go on a gondola, otherwise get the number one water bus, which takes you up the Grand Canal for far less and you’ll get the best view of the great houses.”
ROME “There is so much there, it’s breathtaking. People arrive in a city like this with a tick-box mentality: ‘I must see the Trevi fountain, I must see the Colosseum’. But just by wandering in the centre, you will come across everything. The Jewish Quarter is intact and still has all the Kosher restaurants and antiquities. You also get the best cake, ice cream and artichokes.”
AMALFI COAST “It’s amazing, but it can be a real tourist trap. I wouldn’t suggest staying there – just drive it. That coastal road is very windy, but it’s jaw- droppingly beautiful. There’s an incredibly blue mountain and sparkling blue sea underneath, it’s astonishing.”
NAPLES “Everyone’s scared of Naples, so I think that it gets less than its fair share of tourists. The city tends to get a bad rap – everyone seems worried about the Mafia and the fact that it appears to be dangerous and chaotic, but really, it’s just as conventionally pretty as Venice. And the food is un-be-lieveable! Naples feels like a real city – it’s very much got its own vibe. Neapolitans are among the strongest-willed, most bloody-minded people on this planet, and I really like that about them. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see five-year-old boys on mini-Vespas – I promise you, I saw it myself! It’s a bit of a ‘So what?’ city – Neopolitans do what they want, how they want to do it. “Neopolitans are very noisy and overt, it’s really fun. The slums of Naples are famous throughout the world.”
MATERA “Matera, in the south, is the city of stone. In the 1950s, by the order of the United Nations, local residents were forcibly removed from their homes, because there was no electricity and no running water. Before that, people there used to live like they would have done in medieval times, with their animals living under their bedrooms, to give them warmth. It was a ghost city for 30 years. Then, slowly, but surely, the Italian government has opened it up again. Now you can go and stay in incredibly luxurious cave rooms and eat in cave restaurants. It’s made out of the same white rock and carved into the hillside in the valley. Matera has come a long way in ten years is all I can say. It’s completely unspoiled, it’s simply amazing.”
Watch Alex Polizzi’s Secret Italy, 9pm, Fridays, on Channel 5, and watch repeats on Wednesdays from 12:15pm – 1:15pm on Channel 5