Selling the Italian Experience

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

Europe Italy
For today’s traveler, it’s all about experiences - more what they do than what they see. No longer content with tour-bus overviews of a city, they want to feel its pulse, eat its food, dance to its beat. A museum now and then is fine, but it’s the experiences they’ll post on Instagram.

It’s not a generational thing - travelers of all ages are looking for experiences that enrich their lives, provide them insights into a different culture, even challenge them. That doesn’t mean they shun tours. But it often means they are looking for custom or small-group tours that explore a smaller area more thoroughly, or that center around their own special interests. The perfect tour gives them an insider’s view and takes them places they’d never have found on their own.
Because Italy is so filled with iconic landmarks and “must see” attractions, it’s easy to forget that it also has plenty of one-off experiences. There’s a lot to do besides ride in a gondola and tour the Colosseum. Your clients can hike a dizzying via feratta in the Dolomites, learn windsurfing on Lake Garda, master the art of lace-making or wood marquetry, cycle through the Tuscan hills, follow a pilgrimage route, even test drive a super car on a race track.
And eat some of the world’s favorite food. Many of the most popular small group tours center around food, and you can book your clients on a week-long culinary odyssey or an afternoon exploring the food traditions of a Roman neighborhood. 

Active Tours in Italy
Boundless Journeys (www.boundlessjourneys.com) tours go off the beaten path for immersive and authentic experiences that include hiking the Cinque Terre and along scenic pilgrimage routes between walled hill towns, exploring ancient abbeys in the mountains that inspired Michelangelo. The hiking tour of ancient Sicily follows beautiful coastal paths through ruins of early civilizations, with stops at vineyards and to savor local foods.
The Wayfarers’ (www.thewayfarers.com) walking tours explore medieval Umbria, follow the Via del Sale from the Piemonte hills to the Italian Riviera, and hike in the UNESCO World Heritage region of northern Italy’s towering Dolomites. Or your clients can discover the unusual truilli of Puglia, a little-explored region that’s emerging as Italy’s newest hot destination.
Vermont Bicycling Tours (www.vbt.com) offer electric bikes to explore the scenic hilltop villages set among the fabled vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco in Italy’s Piemonte. Lodging is at agriturism farms, where cyclists enjoy the culinary specialties of the region where the slow food movement began.
Concentrating on regional foods, the Tuscany Active Culinary Walking Tour with Backroads (www.backroads.com) follows the strade bianche (white roads) of southern Tuscany’s Val d’Or through vineyards and forests between Renaissance hill towns, stopping to savor local farm-to-table meals and
Chianti Classico.
Your clients who prefer traveling independently can enrich their trip with prearranged tours and local experiences. Food lovers are especially lucky in Italy. Eating Italy Food Tours (www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com) specializes in sharing the best food experiences in Rome and Florence. Local insiders take small groups away from the tourist crowds and into the neighborhoods of Trastevere and Testaccio to experience authentic Roman food and wines with the people who live there. In Testaccio, the city’s foodie neighborhood where the traditional cucina romana (roman cuisine) was born, they visit markets to meet the vendors, sample tiramisu at a café, and taste everything from classic Italian dishes to typical street food, laced generously with insights into Rome’s culture. At the Cooking with Nonna class, an Italian grandmother teaches guests to prepare a traditional 4-course meal of local ingredients. A four-hour walking tour through Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood includes at least eight tasting stops (these are usually hearty servings, so advise clients to plan meal times accordingly) and a chance to learn how to make miniature biscotti, called cantucci.
In Venice, Walks of Italy (www.walksofitaly.com) explores food and wine traditions in Rialto Market and the less-visited quarter of Cannaregio, with special attention to the unique Venetian aperitif customs and foods. Clients will visit hidden wine bars and restaurants they would never find on their own to try snacks found only in Venice. Walks of Italy can also give your clients the unforgettable experience of visiting Venice’s most iconic landmark after the tourists have left, on their exclusive Alone in St. Mark’s Basilica After Hours tour. Or reserve them a tour into parts of the Doge’s Palace that public tours can’t access - the dark secret passages, prison cells, judgment chambers, and Casanova’s cell.
More in-depth than a tour is the chance to step inside the artistic heritage by learning a traditional skill. With Italian Stories (www.italianstories.it) you can reserve clients hands-on lessons with skilled local artisans to create their own handmade book in Turin, a pipe in Bologna, or learn lacemaking, weaving with wool, felt hat making, stone carving, stucco work, engraving, pottery, paper-making or even spend a week in Florence mastering fine wood inlay. These experiences give back to the local communities by helping preserve traditional crafts and family workshops.
With Perillo (www.italyvacations.com) you can book entire Italian vacations or single experiences, such as riding lesson and leisurely horseback ride through the Chianti countryside, stopping at a 14th-century villa for a Tuscan meal and a tour of the wine cellars. Clients who prefer cars to horses can test-drive a super car for four laps on a race track near Bologna. Suggest to golfers a 9-day package in the scenic lakes district that includes some of Italy’s finest courses, with private transfers.

Italy for First-timers
Several agent-friendly operators offer tours of Italy’s highlights. IBMT Tours
(www.ibmttours.com) has an 8-day trip with 4-star hotels, full days in Rome, Florence and Venice, and visits to Siena, Assisi, Bologna, Padua and Montepulciano. Land only prices begin at about $1,100. The Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com) 8-day Affordable Italy tour spends two days each in Venice, Florence, and Rome at rates from $999, with air $1,549. Tours For The World  (www.toursfortheworld.com)  escorts groups of no more than 14 guests with two nights each in Rome, Florence and Venice and one in Milan, starting $2,099 land only. Those who want to see a smaller area in more detail might like the 8-day Classic Sicily, which spends two days in Palermo, one in Agrigento and three in Taormina, beginning at $1,099 land only. For clients with limited time in Italy, suggest the 4-day Crossroads Tours International (www.crossroad
stoursintl.com) Italy Short Tour Package, visiting Rome, Assisi, Siena, Florence, Padua and Venice beginning at $950.

Hotel News
In April 2017, Toscana Resort Castelfalfi (www.castelfalfi.com) will open the 5-star hotel Il Castelfalfi on a 2,700-acre Tuscan estate about 40 minutes from Pisa. The resort and its new hotel are in an 800-year-old medieval hamlet that has been restored from a near ghost town. The first hotel, a four-star boutique, opened there in 2013 and the former Medici castle houses a cooking school run by a Michelin-starred chef.
Set on 18 waterfront acres overlooking Lake Como, Villa Pliniana (www.villaplin
iana.com) opened in 2016 in a stunning 16th-century palazzo, featuring 19 luxury bedrooms, lush gardens and facilities for weddings and groups. Nearby and under the same management, Il Sereno Lago di Como also opened last year. You can arrange for clients to arrive at the private dock on one of the hotel’s custom-built boats.
Recently debuting in Rome and convenient to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, Palazzo Scanderbeg (www.palazzoscanderbeg.com) offers 11 townhouse rooms and several suites in a restored palace dating from 1466. Many of the rooms have terraces, and one of the many luxuries your clients can enjoy there is 24-hour concierge service.
www.italiantourism.com

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