Florence is home to many expats: those who have longed to live here, those who have found love and moved here, and those who have come to Florence and felt immediately at home here. Many people arrive here at a point in their lives when they seek to redefine themselves: whether they were not completely happy, were searching for something new, or were looking for love, it seems that those who come to Florence are reborn. Florence will always be the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ for the art world, but it also welcomes people of all walks of life who are seeking to follow their hearts.
Annette Bontke was destined to be an expat. Born and raised in Tenerife in the Canary Islands by her German mother and American father, she later moved to the UK, where she was schooled. Before deciding on a course of study at university, Annette became a flight attendant for Virgin Airlines so she could explore more of the world. Three years later, she attended university to become an interpreter of English, German and Spanish. Upon graduation and before starting her career, Annette decided to teach English in Kyoto for a year. Familiar with Japan from her numerous trips there for the airlines, she was attracted to its traditions and culture. Japan was different from the other places where she had lived, and she craved an experience living in another part of the world.
Upon returning to the UK, Annette decided to use her language skills in a commercial sphere instead of interpreting or translating. She discovered that public relations (PR) and marketing were the aspects of business that interested her most. During the big Internet boom, she was hired at an international PR company in London, where she advanced her career, taking on ever-greater responsibilities.
After almost 10 years, she decided to jump out of the ‘live to work’ lifestyle. Annette felt that it was time to ‘take a breather and let her creative juices out.’ She considered moving to Spain because of her affinity with southern Europe, but on a whim she decided to travel around Italy by car. She started her trip in Milan and drove south. When she arrived in Umbria, Annette says, she ‘fell in love’ with it because it felt like home to her. She quickly found and purchased a home in Perugia and began to build a new life for herself.
She soon opened up a business, Host Italy, a boutique event- management company that organizes and manages corporate events, meetings, and conferences. The idea for her business came to her while on vacation in Brazil. She wanted to create a career in which she could mix her fluency in three languages and her passion for organizing events. She knew she had made the right decision when she realized that Italy would be fairly easy to market: people generally feel good when they think of Italy’s delicious food, great wine, picturesque countryside, quaint towns and lively cities.
In 2007, Annette decided to move to Florence so that she could better network for her business. She didn’t know what to expect: she had visited it only a few times as a tourist. But when things fell into place so easily, she knew it was the perfect home for her. Annette says that Florence is ‘at her measure’ because it’s a moderately sized international city with a Mediterranean flair. In Florence, her business is thriving and so is she. She revels each day in the city and its beauty: ‘Florence,’ she declares, ‘is a jewel.’