Italy is an idyllic setting for leisure activities. // © 2010 Country Walkers
I’m convinced that Mother Nature poured a heaping helping of beauty onto Italy and then spread glorious days of sunshine on top of it. In Italy, there are constant opportunities for travelers to sit and simply admire the views alone. However, growing numbers of travelers want to do more than just “ooh” and “ahh.” They want to explore Italy’s natural treasures actively.
Active vacation experiences in Italy come in many forms. For the most relaxing kind, there’s the sublime ancient Roman spa tradition but, for a bigger endorphin rush, there’s also walking, hiking, boating, biking, golfing and skiing. Getting active goes hand-in-hand with interacting more closely with locals rather than just focusing on museums and restaurants.
“I always tell my clients with school-age children to pack a deflated soccer ball,” said Kit Burns, president of Doorways, a villa rental company based in Bryn Mawr, Penn. “That soccer ball automatically unites the children and then, naturally, the parents, and that’s how treasured vacation memories are made.”
Many Doorways villas come with tennis courts, ping pong tables, billiard rooms or home movie theaters, places where leisure activities can happen conveniently and spontaneously. Once an agent books a villa through Doorways, the company provides them with local contacts who will constantly be on hand to assist with arranging activities.
“For example,” said Burns, “our local support can get a client the best tee times at golf courses in the chic Tuscan village of Forte dei Marmi or outside the medieval walls of Lucca or take them on a vintage boat ride around Lake Como.”
Here are a few more companies that can help you incorporate active adventures into your clients’ Italian itineraries.
The European Connection
The scene that Sandy Cutrone — president of tour operator European Connection, described to me sounded idyllic.
“Sometimes a family may want to spend a day biking in Tuscany,” Cutrone said. “We make all of the arrangements with a local guide who knows the best route, a van follows along with a picnic and, come lunchtime, everything gets set up in a spot with a beautiful view.”
This is typical of the high-end, imaginative, customized service European Connection delivers.
“We’re on a first name basis with the general managers of the major four- and five-star hotels in Italy,” said Cutrone, “so we tend to get special rates and perks for our clients — including vouchers for free spa treatments.”
According to Cutrone, more people are requesting accommodations with spas and more hotels are adding spa facilities.
“An outstanding spa is at the Villa e Palazzo Aminta, on the shores of Lake Maggiore,” she said. “It is a 45 minute-drive from the Milan airport, so it’s a perfect place to begin a vacation to get over jet lag or to relax at the end before the plane ride home.”
Tour outfitter Country Walkers is proud of its reliable reputation among agents, something it has strived for in its 31 years of operation.
“One of the reasons travel agents love us is because we are the ones they call when another adventure company cancels their trip and they’re in a panic to book something for their client,” said Claire Truso of Country Walkers. “Unlike some other companies, all of our
departures are guaranteed, regardless of group size.”
Currently, it offers 17 Italian itineraries, including a tour in the northern region of Piemonte that is premiering this year. It also customizes group tours and offers a few self-guided walks, including one along the Sentieri degli Dei (also known as the Walk of the Gods), an amazing footpath above the Amalfi Coast.
The Country Walkers credo is always to promote local interaction, so travelers are walking the trails the natives walk, eating the foods they eat and being lead by top-notch local guides.
“It’s as if the guides are introducing travelers to their home,” Truso explained. “This would be impossible for the average visitor to replicate on his or her own.”
Country Walkers’ week-long programs seamlessly incorporate highlights such as visits to wineries, craft workshops and ancient ruins, making them a great option for families.
The Italian Concierge
Created by Joyce Falcone, Italian Concierge has gained special recognition from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure for its personal, knowledgeable, and passionate approach to Italian travel. Falcone is an Italian-American who majored in Italian in college, lived in
Siena and worked for companies such as Smithsonian Journeys and Country Walkers before opening her own business in 1997.
“She watched over us like a mother hen all through our trip” said Loretta Hamilton, a client of Italian Concierge.
Italian Concierge’s primary focus is on customized tours. Falcone also escorts a few group trips in the spring and fall, which emphasize walking, culinary or artistic adventures. She also offers travel consultation, giving expert advice and guidance for very reasonable fees.
“A great spot for spas and golfing is the Maremma, in western Tuscany,” she said.
This region is home to Saturnia, Italy’s most famous free spa. Here, travelers simply drive up and join the pleasure seekers beneath a bubbling waterfall.
Although Falcone does book many clients in spa hotels, she also encourages travelers to visit some of the free spas that she has discovered during her travels, particularly in Sicily, Friuli-Venezia and Tuscany. It’s all in keeping with the company’s distinctly adventurous, in-depth approach to explore the country’s many natural wonders.