Gary Portuesi Founder

Gary Portuesi is the founder of Authentic Italy, which provides upscale, regional-specific, and custom-made travel programs.




New York, NY






In 1977, when Gary Portuesi was 13, he made the first of many summer visits to his parents’ birth country. Stepping out of the airport in Rome, Portuesi smelled the cappuccino wafting over from a coffee stand. He noticed palm trees overlooking the taxi stand. “I didn’t realize Italy had palm trees. I thought only Florida did.” Arriving in Sicily at nighttime, he was treated to a huge dinner party by the family he’d always heard about in stories: aunts, uncles, great-grandmothers and grandfathers. There were funny stories that captured the idiosyncrasies of a close-knit family. There were sad stories about struggling through poverty after the war. But it wasn’t until the next morning, when Portuesi opened the shutters of his dark room, that he experienced the bustling world beyond these stories. “We were on top of a town on the mountainside, and I saw the brilliant blue sea, the activity of people on the street. It was like the scene in Wizard of Oz when she lands in Munchkinland and opens the doors to a whole new world. Sensory overload. I didn’t know how beautiful and lively it all could be.”

After that year, Portuesi spent nearly every childhood summer in Sicily. He studied International Relations in Bologna, Italy. He explored northern, central, and southern Italy. After graduate school, he worked for American Express for over 20 years, creating travel benefits and services for premium card members. “While I’d never directly worked for a travel company, my whole life was spent in the travel industry.” Realizing that nobody was offering immersive, high-end travel in Sicily, Portuesi founded Authentic Sicily in 2002. “I thought people would love the experience of seeing my Sicily, not the Sicily of Hollywood.” He kept this small business as a side job until 2014, when he left American Express and transformed Authentic Sicily into Authentic Italy.

“Italians think of themselves as from their region first, and Italy second. We present Italy through experiences that are local in nature.” One customer might go truffle hunting in Umbria, while another might go on a wine tour in Sicily. “I’m also a wine expert that has passed the Level 3 exam in the International Wine Center. My husband and I co-own De Gustibus, a cooking school in NYC.” For all that he knows about food, drink, and the land, Portuesi knows even more about connecting to people. Vendors and suppliers take care of customers, even while Portuesi runs operations in New York. He seeks out the recommendations of Gambero Rosso, Italy’s premier food and wine magazine, when forming his tours. And customers sure can’t complain: Portuesi’s partnerships allow him to provide private drivers and guides, to take people to chapels and landmarks off the beaten path and to see the David in in Florence with no one else in the room.

Still, running a travel company isn’t like running any other small business. “With International travel, you think of terrorism, foreign exchange, the economy, the weather, politics. It’s not a business for the faint hearted, for those who can’t handle risk taking.” These days, Portuesi would rather not call Authentic Italy a small business at all. “I’ve taken calculated risks and been smart up to a certain point, but now I want to go big. That’s why I decided to go for a loan and start hiring people. I’m riding this wave, and I can’t continue until I’ve got enough manpower.”

This was where Bond Street stepped in. “The process was effortless. The loan process took ten minutes, I couldn’t believe it. I had two follow-up conversations with them. A travel company is risky business, but Bond Street was willing to look at me as a person rather than numbers on a paper.” With the loan, Portuesi was able to hire his first employee outside of his existing partnerships in Italy, and now he hopes to hire more. The goal is to become the go-to upscale travel company in Italy. “I want the right people to find me, and I need to find them. I’m hitching my wagon onto other players and partners by working with food companies and established Italian brands. It’s time to stand out.”

Quick Fire:

What’s one book every entrepreneur should read?

True Prosperity, by Michael Berg.

Three places to visit in Italy:

  1.  Mt. Edna in Sicily: “For the diversity of experience from climbing, to craters, to the amazing culinary and winery experiences.”
  2.     Truffle hunting in Piedmont near Alba and Umbria.
  3.     Olive oil tasting in Puglia: “As a Sicilian who was so sure that olive oil is best in Sicily, I was humbled. Olive oil trees here are enormous, and have been around since Roman times. It’s an archaeological park that’s still alive.”

Favorite Italian dish:

“The unofficial national pasta dish of Sicily: pasta with sardines and fennel. It sounds bizarre, but I guarantee it’s extraordinary.”

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