BlackBerry-less in the land of grapevines and olive trees -- that's wine connoisseur Peter S. Izzo's idea of a dream vacation. And this July he'll be living it when the Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor flies to Italy's Tuscany region to refresh, relax and recharge. He'll kick back in a 500-year-old vineyard castle atop a hill blanketed with grapes ripe for the picking and olives poised for first pressing.
"It's just absolutely stunning," says Izzo, 31, a self-described "wine guy," who chilled out last year in another oenophile paradise, California's Napa Valley.
This summer he'll stay within a 90-minute drive of hundreds of Italian vineyards.
Vacation time means cutting loose from the fast-paced world of Wall Street, says Izzo, whose office is in Merrill headquarters in New York City. "I definitely won't have access to e-mail. My job is great, but it requires a lot of time thinking about the lives of 50 or 60 families other than my own. That's fine and part of the responsibility. But there's also something to be said for turning everything off and allowing yourself to recharge."
Whether sticking close to home or hop-scotching the globe, financial advisors this season are looking for big changes of scene -- spots of extraordinary natural beauty, in particular. Enough already with computer screens and PDAs! It's time to revel in the sunshine.
Come July, Bill Mason, an Edward Jones FA based in Olney, Md., will be savoring the breathtaking views, and vibrantly colored birds and flowers of Costa Rica. So in love is he with the Central American country -- his favorite getaway place since 1998 -- that he's bought his own mountain there. Biggest attraction: an outrageous view of the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua. The latter has two big volcanoes in the middle, one active and puffing smoke; the other, inactive for half-a-million years.
"Everything is beautiful in Costa Rica: the climate; the flowers -- exotic and brilliant pinks, purples, oranges, yellows; and the colorful birds -- peacocks, toucans. It just blows your mind. I go to escape. You completely leave Wall Street and Main Street when you go to another culture," says Mason, 43. He calls his Costa Rican trips "learning vacations" because he studies Spanish and stays with a host family "who has pretty much adopted me as a third son."
The advisor owns another parcel of land, as well, on a peninsula overlooking the coastline with a spectacular panoramic view of the ocean and frolicking whales. Eventually, he plans to build a home on one property; the other he might sell to a friend. "I'm sure it will turn out to be a good investment, but that's not my motive," he says. "My motive is to have something beautiful that I enjoy."
Robert Mauterstock, a Farmington, Conn.-based independent affiliated with LPL Financial Services, has found his beautiful something just one state away, in Massachusetts. The FA's Cape Cod vacation home, in Brewster, is on picturesque Elbow Pond. When he's not kayaking amidst playful, speedy seals on the Chatham coast, the principal of KR Wealth Management, 60, can be seen slope-soaring off a cliff. In winters, Mauterstock, a former Navy helicopter pilot, builds balsa, plywood and foam gliders with six-foot wing spans; in summer, he flies them as high as 1,000 feet in the sky.
"It's relaxing, like hang-gliding, but you're not in the plane, just flying it around. It's a lot of fun," says the advisor. The gliders, totally wind driven and controlled by radio transmitter, can go up to 100 miles an hour.
The Himalayas are where Holly Hunter -- not the Oscar-winning actress but the Commonwealth Financial Network-affiliated FA and Red Cross disaster-relief volunteer -- will find nirvana. Hunter and three others in her women's travel group are booked to trek the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, south of Nepal. Telephone service started there as late as the 1960s, and the country has been open to tourists only since '74. Hunter wants to get to the peaceful place before any further big cultural changes take place -- TV transmission began two or three years ago, she says.
Her trip coincides with a Bhutan religious festival highlighted by exquisite ancient costumes and masks. "It will be incredibly beautiful and colorful. It's a gorgeous country. I find Buddhism to be very fascinating -- I'm a part-time Buddhist, a fallen one," jokes Hunter, 51, whose Hunter Advisor practice is in Portsmouth, N.H.
From Bhutan, she'll segue to India: Delhi and Rajasthan. It's a first, and she expects it to be "awesome." Last year she vacationed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. "These trips are culturally educational. I come back full of gratitude for the life I'm fortunate enough to be living. I feel more open-minded and more of a global citizen," she says.
If there's one thing these advisors have in common, it's a penchant not to veg out while on holiday. In Costa Rica, Edward Jones' Mason will study Spanish literature. After taking years of classes there, he now speaks the language fluently. Mauterstock hopes to take time out from the cavorting seals and soaring gliders to start converting the barn on his acre-and-a-half into an office. "I'd like to spend more time on the Cape and do more business there. It's a great natural market," he says. "A lot of boomers like me are moving there as they retire."
Apart from journeying to Italy for wine tasting, with a group of life-long friends, Peter Izzo will be on a special quest: to find an official copy of his Italian-born grandfather's birth certificate. It will entitle him to become an Italian citizen, says the FA, whose dad, Peter J. Izzo, going along on the adventure, is seeking Italian citizenship too. It will allow both to obtain EU passports.
"There's a certain cachet to that," says the advisor. "Also, when you're in Europe, you can travel on your European passport. That's neat and interesting to have as part of your life. The other thing is that getting my Italian citizenship brings me back to my family and ancestors."
Izzo will forsake the vineyards for three days to make a side-trip to his deceased granddad's birthplace, San Giorgio, near Naples, six hours away. "We'll try to find the main municipal government building and then, hopefully, locate my grandfather's birth certificate. Everything rests on that," he says. While he's at it, Izzo will check out any relatives still living in San Giorgio.
International ancestry is also a theme for the Mauterstock clan. In July, the advisor is throwing an 80th-birthday bash for his Chinese, Vietnam-born mother-in-law. Daughter Mary -- Mauterstock's wife -- and her four other children were born in Vietnam too; now they all live in different parts of the world. The five, plus grandkids, will converge on Cape Cod for a huge celebration. Guess who's cooking?
Birthday gal herself, Helen Loh, flying in from home in Torrance, Calif. "She loves to cook for her family -- French food, Chinese, Vietnamese. She's incredible. My 27-year-old daughter Stephanie is trying to learn how to cook Chinese food from her grandmother," enthuses Mauterstock.
Great meals can surely be a delicious piece of the vacation pie. Breakfast in Costa Rica, for example, sends Mason into raptures. The ritual starts every morning at six with beans and rice, a dish accompanying every meal. ("If you're not used to that, it can be a shock.") Then there's "wonderful white cheese," with fruit and eggs -- "organic from the shed, not pasteurized. They taste 10 times better. And the coffee is the best I've ever had in my life," raves Mason. The FA's real treat, though, is Costa Rica's fruit.
In addition to "wonderful" mangos, papayas, pineapples and watermelon, "they have a large number of tropical fruits we don't have here -- like cass, yellow and exotic with a big pit in the middle. They make juice out of it," he says.
Last year Holly Hunter feasted on flavorful Southeast Asian cuisine; but, she fears, "the food in Bhutan is not going to be so good." Yak is a staple -- and, uh-oh, she's a vegetarian. So "I'll probably be living on potatoes for a couple of weeks and the weird bread they make."
Time to Decompress
Summer is the ideal time for a needed getaway rest, but some FAs manage to take more than one vacation a year. Last April Merrill's Izzo enjoyed eight days surfing in Costa Rica. "Everything slows way down there. It's the polar opposite of what we do here," he says. "It's just about the best vacation you can ask for. The surfing is amazing. I just relax on my board."
Bill Mason was set for an art exhibition opening in Costa Rica, at the invitation of the foreign minister of culture, at about the same time. And this month, he'll spend nine days in Malaga, Spain, attending a friend's wedding and related festivities. Then it's back to Costa Rica in July or August to stay part-time in a 100-year-old hacienda on the side of a volcano.
"You sit on the porch having morning coffee -- with the toucans flying around -- looking at this extinct volcano. It's gorgeous. If you sleep on the second floor," he says, "you wake up to see a dozen peacocks strutting around on the roof."
Holly Hunter will visit London this year -- but only for 38 hours. That's the layover time on her trip home from India. But not to waste the evening, she plans to attend the theatre. London's West End is "where all the great shows are before they hit Broadway," notes Hunter.
Summertime is notorious for romance, and Bill Mason seems to be right on track. He's got a lady-friend in Costa Rica -- and her cooking may be one reason he's hooked on breakfast. "She makes these thick, country-style cornmeal tortillas," he says. "So one day I was looking up at her and I said, 'By chance, are there any tortillas?' And she's looking at me and smiling because directly under my nose, she's holding a plateful that she already made for me. I didn't see those things right in front of me!"
Sometimes breakfast can wait.
Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.