His own Marco Polo-like travels

A hotelier on seeing what you haven’t seen before.


INTERVIEW NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

Frank Reichenbach was only 16 when he booked his very first travel abroad, in Tunisia — a North African country that borders the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea — to learn the tricks of the trade in a kitchen. “I saved my own money. I was in apprenticeship, I took a flight and yeah, what I saw was a nice sea salt desert, the Mediterranean dries out and you see this desert for miles and miles,” he said as he recalled the sights of his first journey abroad. But he was not meant to be confined in a room of knives and plates and various ingredients, instead, he was set to see the rest of the world outside it.

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Frank Reichenbach

Eight years later, after getting a diploma as a chef and finishing his studies in a hotel school, the then 24-year-old Reichenbach saw himself packing his bag, and away he went from his hometown in Switzerland to travel to the other side of the globe: the Philippines, where he would take his first international stint in the hotel industry. Since then, Reichenbach has been in the industry for more than 40 years, and currently, he is the general manager of Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas. Reichenbach’s job has taken him to 60 locations and counting, very much in the spirit of Marco Polo, the first merchant traveler to detail his China chronicles. Aptly so, Reichenbach has also worked in China and Hong Kong, and has traveled vast and wide, including in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Bahrain, Brazil, Russia, Iceland, Peru, Norway, and Venezuela. In the Philippines, he has been everywhere, but he especially likes the Rice Terraces in the north and Coron and Oslob in the south.

For someone who has almost marked “x” all the nations in the world map, Reichenbach still perceives the rest of the remaining lands he has not traveled yet with the same giddiness as if he was only 16.

“I take leisure, short trips at least once a month, and longer trips for three times in a year,” said Reichenbach, who is also a wine enthusiast, adding that there is still so much to see (and taste while at it).

What’s the first thing you do when you set foot in a foreign place?

Go to the immigration? I think, settle in a nice hotel and then have a nice glass of local wine, if it is a nice country of wines. I have lived in Asia for many years, which is miles from the finest winemakers. But whenever I go back to my hometown in Switzerland, or when I’m traveling, I would always make it a point to visit the wine regions, which is always a treat for me. Then I dig into their local specialties. I am always on the lookout for some famous good restaurants. Usually, I visit some museums and art places.

How does your love for wine complement your travels?

When in the city, you go to places where there are crowds and see what is happening. The strategy is to pick the busy places, look at what the locals are eating, and get a taste of the local cuisine and culture. These are the signs I follow. Meanwhile, in the countryside, it’s more about the bonfire, and some home-cooked food. I always like trying the local specialties.

Where is your dream destination?

This is a tough question, but I want to go to South America. I think Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is special for its beaches (like the Copacabana and Ipanema). Then Argentina, Buenos Aires, and Colombia are interesting thanks to their nature. I like mountaineering so another dream destination would be Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

If you like mountaineering, then, you are more of a nature adventurer than an urban stroller?

The city is always part of the itinerary, but there is always the nature side to my travels because there are limits to what you can do in a city. I usually always work in capital cities, and to have a bit of atmosphere change and to relax, it is the opposite, which is the natural setting. There are many things to see: the mountains and the lakes and the seas. I like river rafting, flying small planes over different areas, and trekking for a week or for four to five days to some peaks.

What are your travel essentials?

I don’t bring too much but I bring shoes in which you can walk well. Most cities are walking-friendly so shoes are very important.

What pasalubong do you usually buy when you are in a foreign place?

Europe has some good aged cheeses, which you cannot find here in the Philippines because what they export is not the old cheese. I also bring in the air-dried meat, which are really special, and then some deer.

How do you appreciate a destination that you are already familiar with?

Most people return to the same place—same bar, same park—because it feels like going back home. About 60% of the people always go to what they already know and what they are comfortable with. But since most five-star hotels have a concierge, you can ask them their choice and follow what they advice. There are so many new buildings, new hotels, and new views. You should see what you haven’t seen before.