• Renata Haidle

How a Study Exchange on the French Riviera Turned into a Career in Luxury Hospitality

- Guest post by Anina Belle Giannini

I met Anina Belle Gianini on Instagram a few months back, and we immediately connected over our mutual love for the French Riviera. I was, and still am, captivated by her solar presence and her seemingly boundless energy. She is an accomplished marketing executive, a talented cook and baker, a busy mom to an adorable toddler, and the wife of an acclaimed executive chef. She runs the popular blog Le Chef’s Wife, where she shares snippets of her everyday life, recipes, travel, and more. I am honored and delighted to have her as my first guest here on the blog, sharing her story. Merci, Anina Belle!

I was 23 years-old when I arrived in Nice for my university study exchange. My expat   experience began as most study abroad experiences do. I made a great group of friends (Swedes, English, Dutch and a few French) and we spent every possible moment in the Old Town of Nice, going to the beach during the day then drinking Rosé on the Cours Saleya and dancing at expat bars at night.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini

The first photo taken of Le Chef and I at La Vignette Haute, Auribeau sur Siagne, 2005
The first photo taken of Le Chef and I at La Vignette Haute, Auribeau sur Siagne, 2005. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini

Two months into my exchange, I met "Le Chef", now my husband. We met in the most extraordinary of circumstances. I came to interview him for a school project at the 5-star hotel where he was Executive Chef.

We sat on the vine-covered terrace of a medieval chateau overlooking the hills of Cannes and I knew, from our first meeting that this was different, he was different.

Within one week I was back at the hotel enjoying a 12-course gourmet meal that he cooked for my mom, who was visiting at the time, and I. He swept me off my feet, and I suppose I swept him off his.

Auberge de la Vignette Haute.
Auberge de la Vignette Haute. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini

(More details of our romantic encounter are described here in my blog).

I changed my routine, spent less time going out in the old town of Nice and more time waiting up for Le Chef to get off work and drive 1 hour to come see me after his shifts at the hotel.

Only a few months later we were engaged and began to build a life together. What was I going to do for work? I was young and ambitious and dreamed of using my marketing degree to work in Luxury brand marketing. I grew up in the wine country of British Columbia and my eyes sparkled at the idea of working with brands like Dom Perignon or Louis Vuitton.

Our engagement party at Auberge de La Vignette Haute, Auribeau-sur-Siagne, 2006
Our engagement party at Auberge de La Vignette Haute, Auribeau-sur-Siagne, 2006. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini

Through the connections of the school I was offered a 3-month internship (paid 300 euros a month…) at Le Palais de la Méditerranée, a 5-star hotel in Nice. The internship turned into a short term contract and then, the big prize, a permanent contract! Like all expats I suffered the trials and tribulations of obtaining working papers in France, but once it is over you truly don’t think about it anymore.

At work on La Côte D’Azur
At work on La Côte D’Azur. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini

My North American ambition plus my go-getter attitude and ability to speak English fluently gave me a leg up in the hospitality industry. Back in 2005, before the introduction of social media, French college graduates were not that strong in English so my ability to communicate clearly and professionally with English-speaking guests from all over the world helped me to stand out.

Representing Monaco in Barcelona.
Representing Monaco in Barcelona. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini
A client event in San Francisco
A client event in San Francisco. Photo © Anina Belle Giannini

I spent eight years saying yes to every opportunity. I worked as a revenue manager for two boutique hotels on the Cap D’Antibes (The Belles Rives and the Hotel Juana) and then as a Sales Manager for Le Meridien Monte Carlo before becoming Director of Sales of Le Meridien Nice.

The more I said yes, the more opportunities came my way. While many were heading home for dinner, I would say yes to an additional client event where I could network, or a sales trip that would take me on a multi-city tour of the US.

Cultural lore has it that the French work much less than North Americans and have a more relaxed attitude towards their careers. My experience in the hospitality industry was just the opposite. There was a true sense of respect and value towards each person’s “métier”. Servers were not students trying to work their way through university, they were career service professionals that knew exactly how to orchestrate the French Fine Dining experience. In the sales and marketing team, it would not have been acceptable to leave the office before 6:30 in the evening and there was no question of earning overtime pay even if you were at a client dinner that lasted until 11pm (dinners don’t start until 8pm anyways so you know it will be a late night). What I did appreciate however was the attitude towards vacation. If you were on vacation, you were on vacation. And you could be on vacation for weeks at a time with no interruptions from work and still have a job when you came back. Bliss.

Seafood at Café de Turin, close to our apartment in Nice