“Few places allow me to appreciate just ‘being’ – Portugal is one of them.”
Explore. Learn. Challenge yourself. That’s Rachel’s motto and one that has driven the Newcastle-born Brit to live in Milan, Marrakech, and now Lisbon as Epic’s head of Portugal.
Since Rach had her first solo adventure in Morocco as a teenager, she’s been hooked on travel and exploring other cultures. Along the way, she’s got lost in a Malaysian jungle, climbed the Atlas Mountains, learnt Italian, become a ‘foodie’ and wine buff, and made life-long friends.
“There’s always discovery if you put yourself out there,” says Rach. “I used to think exploring meant going as far away as possible, but you don’t have to – just get off the beaten track.”
“Portugal is the perfect example – I’ve been blown away by the diversity of this small country. An hour south of Lisbon you’ll find Arrabida’s lush green mountains followed by Alentejo’s baked cork fields and olive groves.”
“The coastline is breathtaking, but the remote interior is where the culture is richest – you can drive for an hour and not see a soul, and time feels like it’s standing still. Portuguese culture is about finding the beauty in simplicity.”
Rach’s first taste of a totally different culture came at 17, while working on a community project in a tiny village in Morocco’s Rif Mountains.
“I was touched by the hospitality of the people.” she says. “The experience opened my eyes to what was out there and from then on I wanted to keep exploring.”
Thirsty for more, she picked a university course with a year abroad and soon found herself studying in Milan and developing a love of gelato.
“Italy was where I really came into my own,” she says. “I became a massive foodie – how could you not – I fell in love with southern Europe’s approach to food.”
Fast forward to graduation in the UK, and Rach found herself wondering why she was applying for corporate office jobs in London, when all she wanted was to keep exploring.
Fate then stepped in with a call from Charlie, Epic’s founder. The summer before, Rach had spent three months in Marrakesh interning with Epic, and impressed Charlie with her go-getting attitude and adventurous spirit.
He was looking to expand into Portugal – did Rach fancy driving around the country on a fact-finding mission for him?
“At the time, Portugal just meant the Algarve and Lisbon to me,” remembers Rach. “But Portugal turned out to be unlike anything I’d anticipated.”
Charlie wasted no time in asking her if she would move to Lisbon to develop the destination.
“I always saw myself moving places after a couple of years, but I’ve been here three years now and I’m far from tired of it, there’s always something new to discover,” says Rach.
“There’s a special light in Lisbon, even when it’s cloudy it’s colourful, and there’s a unique mix of old and new. At least one day a week I’m out in nature surfing or hiking, which is very accessible.”
“Portuguese people are kind, humble and welcoming, and many are passionate about their craft, whether it’s winemaking, cork growing, or tile painting. People have a lot of drive and this means there’s always lots of cool and quirky happening.”
“The country attracts a certain type of person too – those who are into nature, with an adventurous and spontaneous spirit. But Portugal also allows you to sit back and appreciate simply ‘being’ – there are few places that do that for me.”