The Launch of Smart Friends in Ischia, Italy
Thu 05 Jul 2018
In June 2017, Smart Group launched their agency incentive programme, Smart Friends, designed as not only a please but also a thank you to all agents who have worked with Smart over the past 25 years and supported their growth and success.
On Friday 8th June 2018, 35 agents arrived in the first Smart Friends destination, the Island of Ischia, Italy, ready for a trip of a lifetime. Accompanied by Angela Hartnett, the Smart Group Michelin Star Creative Ambassador, they ate and drank like kings and queens, and created a weekend of magical memories…one that will be hard to top next year.
A 6am flight is never easy, but arriving in time for lunch at the beautiful Giardino d’Eden restaurant via speed boat successfully lifted any fatigue… After touching down in Naples, we were whisked over to a private harbour to board three speed boats named after the drinks served on each: Aperol Spritz, Peach Bellini and Prosecco Royale. As we cruised over to our lunch spot, we sipped on our cocktails and enjoyed just a sample of the beautiful views we were to see throughout the weekend.
Giardino d’Eden set the precedent for the remainder of the trip: tasty, traditional food with the perfect drinks to match, enjoyed amidst a stunning setting with great company and a relaxed atmosphere. We were welcomed with a glass of prosecco before enjoying traditional breads, salads and barbequed mussels that were out of this world to start and a beautiful Gerardo di Nola spaghetti with anchovies, breadcrumbs, Pantelleria capers and lemon peel for our main. Delicious fruit platters were then served, rounding off a perfect meal as we relaxed on the jetty or took a refreshing dip in the sea.
After a long lunch, we cruised back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for the evening ahead, where we were to dine on the terrace of the beautiful San Montano restaurant. We were greeted at the hotel with a warm welcome and a glass of bubbly, followed by a few gifts in our room including one of Angela Hartnett’s books, Angela’s Kitchen.
After freshening up, we arrived at San Montano to a pretty windy drinks reception on the upper terrace, where a guitarist playing soothing music awaited us, before making our way through to the tranquil lower terrace via the picturesque lemon tree gardens.
We took our seats at 10 intimate tables of four, with crisp white table cloths dressed with fresh lemon table centres and individually named pizza cutters. Following a tuna niçoise salad to start, we were invited up to the pizzeria, an impressive outdoor pizza oven, to select our own toppings and watch the chefs create our pizzas from scratch. A jazz trio provided tranquil entertainment throughout the meal, which was rounded off with a selection of homemade Neapolitan patisseries and a shot of limoncello (the tradition for every meal). DJ Benny Blanco, who joined us on the trip, then took to the decks as we enjoyed cocktails and had a little boogie surrounded by the stunning sights of Ischia at night…
The next morning was naturally a slow and relaxed start with a traditional breakfast at the hotel. We then boarded the boats again, stopping at a secluded location to take a leisurely dip in the sea, before heading to our lunch spot for the day: Costa del Capitano. We arrived at the restaurant and our breaths were taken away as we admired the beautiful blue skies and sea; potentially the best view of the trip. After sipping on drinks in the sun, we took our seats and enjoyed yet another long and leisurely lunch, the highlight being some fresh grilled swordfish and crisp delicious white.
We then returned to the hotel for some down-time and to glam up ready for the gala dinner that evening, hosted by Angela Hartnett herself. Monte Corvo, a family-run restaurant and hidden gem which was exclusively ours for the night, was the perfect location for dinner, and quite literally blew all guests away. We arrived to a warm welcome from Greg, Smart Group’s CEO, whilst a talented pianist played in the background and delicious canapés and drinks were circulated.
Whilst Angela and the Monte Corvo family were cooking up a storm in the kitchen, we eagerly took our seats at a long, stunningly dressed table with gold sprayed stones in place of name cards and luxury, dark purple menus with intricate gold foiling. Then began the exquisite five-course meal, introduced to us by Angela herself, with a true highlight for many of us being the rabbit pappardelle, cooked to perfection.
Monte Corvo Menu
Roasted red pepper salad
Grilled red mullet, fennel and apple
Beef carpaccio, parmesan and rocket
Mozzarella pickled radicchio
Whole sea bass in garlic chilli oil
Green bean salad
Stuffed peaches with amaretti mascarpone
Per’è Palummo Tommasone
Forastera Casa d’Ambra
Whilst food was no doubt the main event for this night and indeed the whole trip, the local Ischian wine was beautiful and the setting was perfect. As we finished our desserts, Benny Blanco took to the decks and lured us inside to round off a perfect evening with cocktails and dancing. It is always a true testimony to a great evening when every single person in the restaurant is dancing, including the Monte Corvo family, the waiters, and even Angela Hartnett herself.
The final morning on the island was bittersweet; whilst we nursed our sore heads with Bloody Mary’s and a long delicious brunch of everything you could possibly imagine, we reflected on the weekend and felt sad to be returning home away from paradise. After two days of cruising around on yachts and eating and drinking our way through the very best of the island, we felt truly relaxed.
The stunning and untouched location of Ischia felt a fitting place to kick off the programme and successfully blew us all away, as the testimonials confirm:
“This was another event triumph with quite possibly the hardest audience ever! From the word go it was impressive, the communication and the little touches. The brochure, the luggage tags, the gorgeous menus and name cards and all the details such as the pizza cutters and the recipe book were so well thought through.”
“Everything was so seamless and nobody from Smart stopped smiling at any point – to me it seems a miracle.”
“How did you manage to pack so much in? Great venue, great food, great wine and great company. No stone was left unturned.”
Smart Friends is open to all event agencies, production agencies, venue bookers and venue finders across the globe who buy Smart Group products and services on behalf of their clients. Each year, agents will be taken on a trip of a lifetime to share Smart’s passion of trying the best food and wine around the world. Find out more, including how to qualify, at www.smartfriends.co.uk. Don’t be the one to miss out!!