Rediscovering Italy

Tours catering to women are a sure thing

By: Susan Van Allen

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Guests on a Gutsy Women tour
explore a side street in Cinque Terre.
I will treasure my visit here in memory as long as I live,” Audrey Hepburn said in “Roman Holiday,” after escaping her princess duties to have fun in La Citta Eterna. Inspired by Audrey and my immigrant grandmother who instilled in me a love of all things Italian, in 1976 I headed to Rome, checked into a hostel and had my own magical experience. It was a blur of racing through the Forum, standing awestruck in the Sistine Chapel and tasting my first gelato.

The spell was cast and years later my frequent visits back to Italy have put me among the ever-growing trend of women lured there. While both sexes enjoy the country’s artistic masterpieces, stunning landscapes, wine and fabulous food, the luxurious spas and wonderful shopping opportunities hold extra appeal as a girlfriend’s getaway. Additionally, the slowed down pace and welcoming natives make it a desired destination for women looking for a rejuvenating break from their busy lives.

Safety may be a concern for women clients. The fact is that crime has dropped, though special attention should still be paid on crowded city buses and in sections of Naples and Palermo. And while 30 years ago on that first trip I did get pinched, nowadays the Italian male’s flirting style is refined to an art form and many visitors (me included) appreciate the special attention. Visit Italy Tours provides excellent FIT assistance for single women or groups in every budget range.

“I’ve done everything from setting up an art group at a three-star villa in Tuscany with a minivan to take them to the countryside for landscape painting to arranging a Milan shopping extravaganza for a wealthy single woman,” said VIT’s Barbara Cartland.

Women Only group tours, which offer camaraderie and a chance to focus on a location or passion (such as cooking or cycling) are becoming increasingly popular. Below are samples of programs designed for women, which offer commissions and cater to a range of tastes.

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Enjoying cappuccino in Lucca.
Gusty Women Travel
Fully escorted vacations offered from this division of Gate 1 Travel take groups (with a maximum of 20 women) to experience the highlights of either Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily or north to experience Milan, Venice and the Lake Region. Nine-day itineraries appeal to women in the 40-70 age range.

“Sixty percent are repeats,” said president April Mendela. “They start with Tuscany, then do Amalfi, and come back for more.”

Convenient features include no early departures, a maximum of two hotels per trip (keeping unpacking to a minimum) and accommodations in comfortable four-star hotels located near cafes and shops, making pleasurable free time easily accessible. One cooking class is included in each trip, along with unique experiences such as a carriage ride in Florence or cocktails with a princess in Sicily.

Renaissance Women
Cooking Vacations International runs culinary programs for small groups (maximum of 12) in Positano, with accommodations at a private estate. Ages range from 19 to 85, according to president Lauren Birmingham, who lives in Positano, giving the program an insider’s expertise. Clients looking to immerse themselves in delicious and relaxing surroundings will be well served here.

Itineraries feature three hands-on cooking classes, lectures about Renaissance women, watercolor and journal writing instruction, as well as visits to markets, gardens and surrounding towns.

Girls Only: L’Avventura Italiana
Offered by La Dolce Via Travel, this nine-day tour is for clients seeking a luxurious experience in Venice, Florence and a Tuscan spa. The average age is 45 and every step of the way flexibility is provided to accommodate each client’s preferences, with the group kept to a maximum of 12.

The program includes accommodations in four- and five-star boutique hotels. A two-night stay at the Grotta Giusti Natural spa in the Tuscan countryside gives clients plenty of time to enjoy Italian-style pampering. Opportunities for perfume making, a cooking class and shopping with a native consultant are highlights of the Florence itinerary, while a visit to Perugia’s chocolate factory and Chiese delle Donne (Church of the Women) provides a perfect finale.

Women’s Quest
Targeting 30- to 60-year-olds, this cycling company runs bike tours along the Tuscan Riviera and inland Val D’Orcia, with a body-mind-spirit focus. It’s tailor made for those clients seeking a retreat-style vacation, with the added bonus of Tuscany as an inspiring backdrop.

President Colleen Cannon, a former triathlon world champion, leads the tours assisted by a staff of award-winning female athletes, a certified yoga instructor and life coach. The leader-client ratio is 3 to 1, providing individual attention to riders at all levels in groups of no more than 20.

Besides cycling, programs include morning yoga classes, journaling sessions, a cooking class and visits to ancient nearby villages. Accommodations are in three-star hotels, with a massage therapist always on-site to relax sore muscles.


Girls Only: L’Avventura Italiana
When: Spring
Price: $4,700 for nine days (land only)
Commission: 10 percent

Gutsy Women Travel
When: Spring and Fall
Price: $2,899-$3,499 for eight or nine days (air included)
Commission: 10 percent; 12 if booked online

Renaissance Women
When: Spring, summer and fall
Price: $2,695 double /$2,995 single for eight days(land only)
Commission: 10 percent

Visit Italy Tours
Commission: 10 percent

Women’s Quest
When: Spring and early fall
Price: $3,000 for eight days (land only)
Commission: 10 percent