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Guided tours - good, mixed or banal?


10+ Posts
Ian, you have been so helpful. I have looked for the more esoteric tours you listed, can you tell me where to find them?

Ian Sutton

500+ Posts
Hi Phyllis
You're welcome.
In general it's doing websearches for:
- local tourist offices. Some such as LangheRoero and turismotorino websites in Piemonte are more active than others, but overall the city based ones have more esoteric options. I think the Bologna tourist office try such stuff.
- Web searches for specific interests e.g. walking groups, truffle hunting, and others here seem to find esoteric guided walks that way e.g. tour the markets of Bologna. There are also self-guided ideas e.g. again in Bologna we had a relaxing time hunting down the hidden waterways of the city. It wasn't big-ticket awe-inspiring stuff, but interesting and relaxing, taking us to lesser seen parts of the city and in general away from the main tourist sites.
- Another thought, not tours as such, but searching for city + festa often brings up different listings of local festivals and these can be a joy. From late night white/blue nights where there is street music and late night opening, to historic car rallies / rally's, truffle and other food festivals, to more historic costume / processions. It can be pot luck as to whether you time to be near one of these, but they are often really interesting / enjoyable, and it's not unusual to be entirely amongst Italians rather than tourists.



500+ Posts
Another angle is what AirBnB is offering as an addition to their accommodation platform : "experiences" of various types, which can be anything from small tours with a local guide, concerts, courses, and what they call "social impact" experiences. Check out their home page.
Never tried any of this but certainly looks promising. The advantage is having all this variety on one site - which is AirBnB's strength in the accommodation business as well.


10+ Posts
My husband and I are usually independent travelers, but we have done a few tours. Like Gail, we spent a delightful time with Luisella Romeo [http://www.seevenice.it/en] in Venice. She is knowledgeable and fun to be with. Well worth the expense. ...
Another enthusiastic recommendation for Luisella. One of the very best tour guides we have ever used - and we have used quite a few. She really has a gift!
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100+ Posts
Whether or not something like an AirB&B would work depends on what you want from the experience, I think. A casual type of tour, like cooking or wine-bar hopping would seem to be a good fit. On the other hand, if I want reliable information I think I'd prefer a licensed professional vs. an amateur.

Of course, I may just be hopelessly old fashioned on these matters. While I understand the convenience of the Uber and Lyft systems, I'm just not comfortable jumping in a car with an amateur driver. I like knowing that professional drivers are held to a higher standard, even if I'm kidding myself about how carefully those standards are checked by authorities.

Similarly, with tours I'd like to know I'm with someone who is educated on the subject matter at hand. As I said, some subject require less of that ... certainly cooking is something I can judge by the outcome, while if someone is giving me bad historical information I won't know unless I do some follow up work later.


100+ Posts
I reread the thread title to make certain I have understood it. The question is so broad it's like asking whether I prefer to wear clothes or take the bus.

What a good guide should be
Last time wevisited the Palazzo Farnese, we were obliged to have a guided visit. The Group was French-speaking. We lucked into a fantastic guide who was not only erudite about history and art history but was engaging at all times. Although we had been to the Farnese before for social functions and loved it, being guided by diplomat friends who made certain we see certain artistic, historical and architectural details, it was nothing like the wealth of information and the enjoyment of this guide offered.
I assumed the guide was part of the embassy staff, otherwise I would haveasked to join her other art tours.
A few days later we ran into the guide who was leading a group at the Villa Borghese. I wanted to approach her and ask to use her as a guide, but she was very busy.
That is an ideal example of a guided tour experience.

Now The Guide From Hell
Once in Versaille, we were stuck in a tour with a guide who spoke a very strange English, like the kind of English you hear on a flight, spoken by someone very bored with that speech but who had to make it every working day, and he or she has long given up trying to speak in any semblance of an acceptable accent and just wanted to rush through it. To this day, David and I still imitate her way of saying "this Rococo style". People in the tour were all trying not to laugh, and the guide didn't care. (She was imposed on us by the Versailles admin.) I noticed every time we went from one room to another, people were going AWOL. At one point another guide made a scene about her tour swelling out of proportion because she was getting all these deserters from our group. So we didn't even dare melt away. Finally we couldn't stand it and fled to another room to laugh hysterically while Madame Rococo Style droned on.

In conlcusion…
Do I "believe in" a guided tour? Theoretically yes, but it is not an ideology.
In reality we rarely join one. I know, from my experience, a good guide transform's one's experience. But unless a guide is imposed on me, I will - gladly - use only guides who are highly recommended by trusted friends.


New Member
I stay with the hostels and going with the travel flow. In every hostel, I am fresh inspired. You can start anywhere, and soon you will get tips on where to go next. For example, if you pick Croatia in every hostel, you will meet the same travelers again and again.


10+ Posts
We now always hire a private tour guide for all of our trips. It costs a little more but is well worth it. The experience and knowledge of a good tour guide is excellent. Make sure you find a highly rated and experienced tour guide.


New Member
Hi, everyone. I love traveling, and I've already visited many countries and cities. Personally, I like planing trips by myself, but it always depends on which city u want to visit. Last month my friends I visited Norway. It was our first time there, we knew nothing about that country, so we decided to book a guided tour. I was totally satisfied because we had a local guide, who showed us really cool places. In Norway, we visited Oslo and Bergen. Sometimes, it's an excellent idea to have your trip planned by professionals. It was not my first guided tour, but undoubtedly the best. If someone will be interested in visiting Norway, u can look for tours here {link removed}
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10+ Posts
On the few times that I went alone, I've done away with the tours. I have always gone on one though when there is company, takes away the pressure of planning.

italian excursion

100+ Posts
I am so happy to see such a discussion! I've just returned from another wonderful trip to Italy. In order to do the European travel I enjoy, two or three times a year I began offering small group tours (average-8 guests) over 20 years ago. (To some of you who know me, this is quite redundant, I know). It's been a great learning experience about people, places and whatever else you might imagine! It's not my career or full-time gig so I can spend the amount of time I want on each tour to craft it the way it's most enjoyable for me and for each group.

Groups are interesting in that each one, whether the guests know each other beforehand or not, seem to create its own personality. And depending on how I "craft" the week the group responds in many different ways just as the responses in this discussion have been presented.

One thing I try to do is learn about the guests ahead of time, to make sure their expectations will mostly be met. (It helps that I'm a retired social worker/counselor so I can sometimes read between the lines). I've found that more seasoned travelers have a much more relaxed attitude about being with a group and usually enjoy the tour differently than new travelers who might have "pictures in their minds" about how things ought to be.

I am very satisfied and excited about the last tour I co-lead with Erica Jarman of Saport-e-Saperi. Erica asked me to assist her on her 10 day Tastes & Textiles tour: Woad & Wool. Because Erica lives in the Garfagnana area of Tuscany she has a deep knowledge through many years of networking, of the less traveled, lesser known artisan hamlets tucked away in Tuscany, Le Marche and Umbria. We had authentic events and adventures every day with a group of very seasoned travelers, some weavers and knitters, with great knowledge of textiles and the history. But each one of our guests ended every day with compliments of the day's activities. We traveled into remote villages and hamlets where not a word of English was spoken and Erica was able to convey with expert translation how to do the activities and the interesting historical background accompanying them. The Italian artisans were excited to share their own knowledge and generous with their time and talents because of our group's genuine interest.

To her credit Erica spends an enormous amount of time and energy creating each day of each tour on a full-time basis with great care to each detail. She also, like any good guide would do, spends time before each tour researching and experiencing the activities before choosing what will be included on a tour. In fact, two years before this latest tour she invited me on a week-long "research" trip so we could test out where to stay, eat and what activities we liked. Quite a few did not make the cut!

So, in my own estimation it is, as always, just a reflection of one's own projected interest in something that makes it deep or valuable. If you are moved to try a guided tour that piques your interest I only suggest you do so with an expert, such as Erica and you will hardly be disappointed.


BarbaraM 48

New Member
I love to plan things when I travel but I realize that I do not have the knowledge that someone that lives in the area does. They know which winery is more fun and which restaurant is better and open in the Spring. I am more than adequate at planning but I don't live there nor do I know anyone that does. So I guess it is a tradeoff. I don't think it is a badge of merit to plan your own tour and many times I prefer it. However, I am aware that I may miss some really interesting things.


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