Don’t underestimate Maria Pasquale, the brains behind HeartRome, a polished lifestyle blog which pays homage to great gelato and fine dining in Rome and beyond, covering spa experiences, art history, Melbourne highlights, Abruzzo home-cooking and the odd Parisian macaron. HeartRome is a feel-good place to hang out, pick up gourmet dining tips for the capital and ride Maria’s coattails on her travels around the world, but is also a window onto a particular success story. Testaccina caught up with Maria – where else – in Trastevere, to find out how she’s navigating the writing life in Italy and beyond…
We are sitting at the edge of the sloping Piazza di San Cosimato in Trastevere, where the determined local kids are persisting in playing a game of football up-hill. It’s as good a metaphor as any for Maria Pasquale, who moved to Rome from Melbourne Australia in the summer of 2011, ready to take on the challenge of finding a job in Italy and carving out a life here.
‘I started sending out CVs straight away,’ she recalls, ‘and I received a load of knock-backs. But I was determined to make it. Like so many places, Italy is a country where you need contacts to get anywhere. I didn’t have contacts but I had a good resume and references, so I kept trying.’
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, to Italian migrants from Abruzzo, Maria had always flirted with the idea of moving to Italy but lacked the catalyst for making the final jump. That was until a teary encounter with a taxi-driver sealed her fate.
‘I was travelling back to Rome airport one day, after one of my trips over here, and I was upset. The taxi driver asked me why and I explained that I was really sad to be leaving Italy again. And he said, ‘Well, have you tried living here?’ It sounds weird but it was a kind of epiphany for me, from this perfect stranger, who put into words what I really wanted to do. I said, ‘I don’t really have an answer for you. No, I haven’t tried. Yet.’’ A few months later, Maria set in motion plans to finally make the move.
‘I was running my own corporate PR and events company at the time, after a spell of working as policy advisor for the Victoria State Government. I didn’t want to close down my business until I knew that the move would work out. So I kept the company running but stopping taking bookings. I finished the last client project and got on a plane to Rome.’
She didn’t find work immediately, but after a few months of living in the Eternal City, she met Kenny Dunn, the brains behind Eating Italy Food Tours. ‘His business was just starting out and he needed someone to write his blog and handle the social media side of things. That was four years ago, when we just ran a couple of food tours every other day. Now we offer around 15 tours and classes a day, 6 days a week and that’s just in Rome. We’ve added tours in London, Amsterdam and Prague in the meantime, as well as Florence and Venice for 2016.’ And while working as PR and Social Media Director for Eating Europe Food Tours has kept Maria’s hands full over the past few years, she’s also the editor and owner of HeartRome, her own lifestyle blog covering the Eternal City and beyond.
“Both roles have helped each other,” she explains. ‘When I first got to Rome, I’d always be looking out for great places to eat and keep up with the new openings in town, just as I had in Melbourne. At the same time, I was writing long emails to friends and family back in Australia to explain what I was up to. I decided to start a blog to combine the two.’
Meanwhile, as the Eating Europe Food Tours business grew, Maria was becoming more savvy on social media. Through her own social and industry connections she has been able to significantly boost the Eating Europe brands, blog and broader online presence.
‘For Eating Europe Food Tours, as social media director, I am responsible for the strategic direction of over 15 social accounts across various platforms. In just a couple of years we’ve been able to organically grow our followers there to about thirty thousand. So I have, in a sense, been able to use my own expertise and experience to also grow the followers for Heart Rome. When I have time, I do work on it. In the last couple of years, I started thinking about HeartRome as a brand a little bit more strategically, to give it more of a voice. I love social media, I love the engagement and I love its immediacy.’
Maria’s a talented social media user who finds readers everywhere, not least thanks to her 15,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. ‘Sometimes people come across me on Instagram and say, ‘I didn’t realise you had a blog’, then they go and visit the site. I launched my Facebook page maybe a year and a half ago, and in less than two years I’ve got nearly 5000 likes on that which is great. I was cautious about launching a Facebook page, as I think it’s something you have to curate – great content is essential. If you’ve got nothing to say on social media, then you’ve really got nothing. You’ve got to understand its impact, and be ready to deal with that.’
With a regular column for 10 Best, USA Today on the side, Maria’s pretty-much flat out. Not that she hasn’t got other plans in the works. ‘I’m interested in launching e-books for HeartRome, and developing other freelance journalism opportunities,’ she says. ‘I have a great community of fellow bloggers and supporters in Rome, Florence and beyond, even in the virtual world. That’s essential. It’s really important to be able to swap thoughts or run ideas past one another. But at the end of the day – for me, writing is all about discovering your own, authentic voice. Be true to your passions, be true to yourself, and you’ll find an audience.’