My new favorite way to travel: Italy
As a frequent, and, yes, curious traveller, I have wandered through Europe many ways... from tour groups to striking out on my own with a map and a prayer. This is it- the best way to go- the best of both worlds.
Imagine a travel company where the owner takes you to Italy himself... shows you all the major sites and little-known treasures, personally designing your itinerary and adapting it daily to suit the group consciousness. Now imagine that your "group" is an intimate party of 12, your host speaks fluent Italian and English and you are suddenly feeling as if you have dropped into the most beautiful country on earth to visit a friend who is now devoting his undivided attention to showing you the very best of the country he loves. Heaven! I realized halfway through the trip that all my travel worries were completely taken care of by Paul, and my full time job was simply to absorb the magic. Interestingly, I have many more memories from this trip over all others... my imagination was freed to be in the present with no thought of logistics.
Our group itinerary included Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi coast. It was a great way to travel with my sweetheart, as we had plenty of personal time for a quiet walk or dinner, happily balanced with the company of new friends. But I could well imagine going this route when I used to travel alone; travelling with a small group like this means an instant circle of fast friends and safe travel.
The director, Paul, lived in Rome; he knew all the charming, back-alley, family-run restaurants and cafes... the tiny neighborhood churches where a Michelangelo statue stands quietly in the corner (I touched it!) ... the best gelato in town. Sure, we went to the Coliseum, but we still felt like locals when we sat down to lunch afterward in a neighborhood restaurant where our group filled the entire place and we were treated like family (homemade carrot cream ravioli... spectacular).
We stayed in small family-run hotels in historic neighborhoods- by far my preference over "luxury" chain hotels that all look and feel alike. It was great to be a stone's throw from the Piazza Navona for a late-night stroll instead of needing to taxi in to the heart of the city.
In Florence we stayed in a former palace furnished with antiques overlooking the Ponte Vecchio... and yet the owners greated us by name and the friendliest of welcomes. I remember their names, too. Imagine that. It was all the same in Assisi and Venice... hotels, restaurants and sites hand-picked by Paul (not his "staff") to be the best, the places he would (and does) go when he is on vacation himself.
Paul is also an extremely knowledgeable guide, with a thorough understanding of the history, art, architecture, culture, religion and agriculture of the country he loves. He arranged surprises often, veering a little from the itinerary to show us something special and spontaneous. He even arranged a private tour of an archeological dig underneath the Vatican itself, an exciting adventure right out of "Angels and Demons"... and not open to the public. As we waited for security clearance by the Swiss Guard, with thousands of people looking on and wondering, "Who are they??", I experienced the absolute thrill of a lifetime.
Venice is pure magic, like no other place on earth. Paul's choice of hotel was spot-on, with fabulous canal-side dining; the best food we had in Venice.
Do not miss Positano with Keyrow Tours. It is the most charming cliffside village on the Medditerranean Sea, a film site for the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun", it is just that beautiful. As usual, Paul has carefully chosen a village that is not accessible by cruise ship, so even in the high season, we did not feel crowded or jostled about. The hotel was located sea side, with a private beach in a lemon grove... the lemons in Positano grow to the size of footballs! A small restaurant built into a cliff overlooking the sea served us lemon pasta that I will never forget.
Assisi was a historic treasure, a medieval walled city in Umbria. A mystical place to unwind a savor the food and the peace. Paul's intineraries are uncannily planned to somehow pack in an amazing number of sites (you can travel so quickly and easily in a group of 12!) with time to relax and savor the extraordinary experience of just being there, in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The light is different. The tomatoes taste different. It smells different. Just go.
Look at the website: www.keyrowtours.com. It seems that the others have had a similar experience. This was the best travel experience I have had. Whether you have been to Italy before or this is your first time, I recommend it from my heart.
Share your thoughts about this item in Peterman’s Eye; if you’re not a member yet (you need to be), use the Sign Up.