Andrea Oschetti is an oddity in Hong Kong. As a chef, award-winning photographer and travel writer, he defies categorisation. When we meet, he’s parking his scooter, sporting a full beard and white-framed glasses.
“Do you know what Vespa means in Italian?” he asks me, outside the front door of his Wong Chuk Hang office. “It means wasp, because like the insect, I can dart in and out of traffic easily with my scooter. I don’t like being stuck in traffic, and this Vespa gets me to Kwun Tong or Central in 15 minutes,” he says.
The room we enter is what Oschetti calls his travel salon – an open space, filled with cultural curios and travel books that might induce a severe case of wanderlust. They are testament to his many journeys. Although he can’t remember exactly how many countries he’s visited, he estimates about 90. Also in the space are a few bicycles – his preferred mode of transport when travelling.
“I like to do a bicycle journey that is several thousand kilometres long at least once a year. It’s a fantastic way to connect to a place – people who you meet this way see not you not as a tourist, but someone interesting,” he says.
“One of my most recent trips was cycling from Italy to China. During this time, I stopped over in villages where people really have nothing at all, but who took me in anyway and hosted me. With one family, they only had eggs. So they gave me seven eggs to eat as part of the feast. Travelling this way, you really get to know people,” he says.
While this experience is rewarding and transformative, Oschetti realises that it may be too rough for the average traveller. That’s why he created Blueflower Travel Company: a bespoke travel service that crafts meaningful experiences with an element of comfort.
This is the key point of differentiation that Blueflower hopes to push – the combination of a personally fulfilling travel with the luxuries of home.
“Mass tourism often does not add meaning to a trip,” Oschetti says. “Most of the time, you are brought to see an orgy of things without understanding anything. It’s like having 25 different courses in a meal, one next to each other, without understanding what you are putting into your mouth. It’s a sensory overload, which three days later you don’t even remember.
“For example, if you go to Milan, tour guides may show you the Milan cathedral, which is an example of high Gothic architecture. Next, you see a neoclassical building, and then after you go to a restaurant that is modern. But most of the time when you see all these things, they don’t speak to you because you might not care about architecture that much, and that is perfectly fine.”
The result of this tourist model is that travellers often feel bored and inadequate – they don’t understand the historical significance of what they are seeing. Oschetti says it is because travellers are not given activities that suit their personal interests.
Blueflower hopes to offer trips that satisfy a customer’s emotional needs. For those wanting luxury, there is the Doge masquerade ball in Venice. Looking for a spiritual pilgrimage? Try a journey through Bhutan. For a true expedition, there is a trip to Shangri-La county in China’s Yunnan province by traditional caravan.
While Oschetti heads the company and is its the main curator, he works with seven others he calls dream makers. Their aim is to ensure that the programmes they create allow people to feel connected to the space and those around them.
“We hope to create connections with our team. I am a chef and a journalist, so my experience is with food, but we also have an architect, a designer, a historian, an anthropologist and so on. Our team consists of specialists who are knowledgeable about their own specific fields, and are therefore the kind of people who have the professional capability to inspire you according to your interests,” he says.
“For instance, if you like Japanese woodblock carving, we can take you to the artists who still continue this ancient craft. Or we can take you to a museum that has a comprehensive collection of woodblocks to see.”
A visit to Oschetti’s travel salon often serves as an inspirational starting point where maps and books are brought out. A bottle of wine is also opened and discussions flow.
“Planning for a trip is as exciting as going on a holiday. The preparation, dreaming about the destination, the months of development … they make you very excited. And I see my role as a travel coach and mentor, helping to do some research with each person and connecting them to their interests and passions.”