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Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:00

Walking Tours Through Italy

Written by  Maria Lisella

Europe-ITALY
Americans are fast becoming aware and choosy about wellness. They practice some “good habits” at home and try now, more than ever, to infuse their vacations with some of the same. According to SpaFinders’ latest surveys, an overwhelming majority of respondents indicated they would choose vacations in which they could at least follow a healthy regimen, although not necessarily a hard adventure or extreme sport, but to try not to undo all of their at-home routines. They are looking for balance and enjoyment, but not necessarily excess.

To best assist clients in their selection of walking tours, ask when and where they want to go, how long they are planning for a vacation, and what portion of that time they want to devote to a walking tour. Also, what level of accommodation they prefer, and whether they can physically match the categories of activity. Moderate walking tours usually cover about 10 miles a day, and more relaxed walking tours cover five to seven miles a day.

CW Adventures (www.cwadventure.com) schedules walking tours In Europe, as well as Latin America, North America, Africa and Asia - as far as China and Bhutan. Two programs visit Italy in 2014 - one to Umbria and one to Campania which begins in Naples.  Help assess clients’ walking styles to better match them with the right choice, advises the company.

Self-guided tours are completely arranged or packaged and all the components -- route notes, accommodations, luggage transfers - are in place, so walkers can explore on their own. These trips are more personal, are often used to celebrate milestones with family, friends, or make it a special adventure for two - an active honeymoon couple, for instance. 

Guided small-group walking trips are a traditional favorite, with what CW calls their “best in the business” guides, scheduled departures, and all essentials included. 

Umbria

The trip to Umbria, the region known as the green heart of Italy, is characterized as moderate, with walks of nine to 10 miles daily. Umbria, fast gaining traction among the most desirable places to vacation in Italy, is bordered by the Marches and Tuscan regions. Besides being known for the trials and tribulations of St. Francis of Assisi, it is also known for the international cultural festival held at Spoleto (a U.S. version took place in North Carolina for many years), and medieval hill towns like Todi, which is peopled with expat artists and musicians. The University for Foreigners is also in the picturesque town of Perugia. 

Umbria’s Sagrantino wine is made from grapes that lay dormant for many years, only to be rediscovered and newly harvested about 10 years ago. Ceramics from the region are also notable.

Walkers, however, will be face to face with olive groves and vineyards not yet overrun by billboards and visitors. Participants will learn about the Etruscan and Roman foundations of the region, visit the St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, the impressive Minerva Temple in the town’s classic Piazza del Comune and follow the Franciscan trail to Monte Subasio National Park, and the town of Satriano where the footpaths take participants through pasturelands, oak forests, deep gorges, and villages that may not even appear on maps.

This eight-night program is priced from $1,789. Accommodations each night are at family-run hotels where, in season, people can sample black truffles, fresh olive oils and vintages like the region’s famous Orvieto white wines. 

Venice and More

Walks of Italy (www.walksofItaly.com) is fairly new on the American market, though founder Jason Spiehler has been living in Italy since 2000, and started leading walking tours in Rome in 2001. As a young company with a young pioneer, it measures its popularity not only in bottom-line sales, which are essential of course, but in less than a year, Spiehler reports the company has 29,000 Twitter followers, 25,000 likes on Facebook, 70,000 views on YouTube and over a million visitors to their blog. The company will soon release its New York walking programs.

Prices are all-inclusive, and walks are limited to 12 participants, and for now, focus on a handful of cities: Rome, Vatican City, Venice, Florence/Pisa, Pompeii/Amalfi, Siena, Milan and the regions of Umbria and Puglia. Agent commissions begin at 10 percent; there is a special portal on the site for Agents-Only regarding booking the programs.

There is just no other way to see Venice except by foot, but it may be one of the most complicated cities in Italy to follow - a guide is always worth the price. There are several walking tours in their portfolio, all of which include entrance fees in the price, including a gondola ride on several options. Depending on whether it is a client’s first trip to Venice or their 12th, choices include Legendary Venice - one program includes a gondola ride, the other does not; a food tour that features the Rialto Bridge market and Cicchetti Tastings (meat, fish, wines such as prosecco and grappa), and a city boat tour.

Spiehler is profoundly aware of the aspect of sustainability in tourism and his site addresses it. For one thing, the company emphasizes walking and public transportation in cities, and the members of the company try to instill and inspire participants to adopt such practices in their own travels. By example, the company patronizes small, family-run restaurants that take pride in the produce they place on the table, and Spiehler says, “We educate tourists about how they can ‘act like locals,’ making their presence less invasive.” The company participates in a number of activities to stave off the negative impact of mass tourism to small places, and shares that information with travelers and agents. 

Colorado-based Girosole Walking Tours (www.girosole.com) takes its name from the Italian word for sunflower, that literally means turning toward the sun. They are entering their 16th year of operations. What distinguishes this company is the focus on customizing each program to your clients’ preferences, guaranteed departures no matter what size the group may be, and multi-tiered pricing based on group size. Two categories of products are available here too – guided and self-guided walks. 

While the company visits a long list of known destinations in Italy, it also walks along the same coastlines and land Ulysses once roamed along the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts of Calabria, which was part of the Magna Grecia, and where Greek is still spoken in some remote villages. This five-night program is priced range from $1,990 for upwards of six participants, to $2,390 for two to three participants. The Calabrian trip begins in Reggio, the capital and explores the towns of Locria and Gerace.

For more information about Italy, go to www.italia.it

 

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