When it comes to experiencing Italy through the eyes of a local, Insight Vacations could not have chosen a more apt name for “Country Roads of Italy,” a 17-day journey around Italy’s top cities and stunning countryside. My Insight Vacations trip began with a five-star hotel on Rome’s famous Via Veneto and ended on a sunny November afternoon in Venice, where the world’s best airport transfer takes place by chartered water taxi.
Behind the scenes
The insights on vacation on a country roads itinerary come about through authentic interactive experiences with charming and industrious locals. For example, tour participants may learn about Chianti Classico from a personable 24th generation Mazzei winemaker in Castello di Fonterutoli, make pasta dough with Chef Lorenzo, at his own international cooking school and restaurant in the Umbrian hilltop town of Orvieto, take a look at the process of making Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at one of Parma’s local producers or the creation of Modena’s traditional balsamic vinegar.
Skilled tour directors
The art of sharing authentic and special moments grew out of years and years of experiencing these places in the company of highly knowledgeable local guides escorting smaller size groups with no more than 40 people. It’s made possible in part because “the small group is a big message for us,” according to John Boulding, President/CEO of Insight Vacations. “If you really want to experience Italy,” he adds, “make sure you travel with someone who knows the back roads, the local people and stories, as well as the important cultural sites and cities.” Our tour director ushered us into the Vatican Museums with Insight Vacations’ VIP entry. We not only avoided a line that can eat up several hours, we also walked upon the step-less hidden staircase designed by Renaissance architect Bramante.
Deluxe coach comfort
Stretch out on an Insight Vacation deluxe Mercedes Benz coach, where rows of seats have been eliminated in order to gain double the legroom for everybody. All 161 coaches in Europe are due for complimentary Wi-Fi fitting as of 2014. Everyone is automatically enrolled in Club Bon Voyage after just one trip in order to benefit from discounts of five percent for future bookings from Insight Vacations and their sister companies, such as Uniworld for luxury river cruises.
Flavors of Italy
No discussion of Italy is complete without a discussion of food. Authentic local cuisine served fresh from farm to table is a highlight of touring Italy. Intensely aromatic bright green cold press extra virgin olive oil, fragrant espresso, handmade gelato from Sergio in the medieval town square of San Gimignano with locally inspired flavors such as rosemary and pistachio, plenty of indulgent tiramisu and pappardelle with wild boar ragu are just a few of the treats you’ll encounter. Insight Vacations, which run about $290 per person per day include breakfasts in top hotels, many lunches and dinners, dine-arounds, drinks and gratuities in some of the most picturesque locations imaginable. In the ancient town of Spello, dinner in the medieval cavernous Il Molino left me doubting if I will ever find a better dark warm chocolate fondente pudding.
Baby boomer territory
Tour participants, known as guests, are generally aged between 48 and 68, with a further 28 percent over age 68. Multi-generational family groups are popular, too. From airport meet-and-greet on arrival to the final “Ciao!” on departure, the entire tour is particularly well-suited for mature travelers, whether singles or couples. Luggage is handled, the pace is neither fast nor slow, time is allocated for leisure, strolling and shopping, and our wonderfully informed tour director, Belinda, was as much a resource as a delight.