The Colosseum in Rome // © 2011 janeen christoff
Bicycles, Beer and Belgium
The 10-day Rome and Tuscan Highlights tour starts at $2,025.
Our 10-day Rome and Tuscan highlights tour began in Rome on a rainy day. I thought that this was going to put the brakes on our journey through the city's streets, but a light sprinkle wasn't going to slow down our guide, Roberto, who handed everyone an umbrella and escorted us on foot for a short 10-minute walk to dinner.
While a little rain didn't slow down the group, the At Leisure journey, a new style of travel offered by Trafalgar, was anything but fast-paced. We spent our first night at a leisurely welcome dinner and, afterward, we began a slow stroll back to the hotel, although with a slight detour. Here, we encountered our first "hidden treasure," another one of Trafalgar's signature tour features. In every destination, guides share with clients unique details about a particular attraction. Our first was Rome's Angel Bridge which stretches over the Tiber River and leads to St. Angel Castle. While not hidden by any means, the bridge -- and the palace -- lit up at night are truly exquisite.
Without rushing on to our main destination of Tuscany, we stayed one more day in Rome to sightsee, taking in the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain.
The following day, we were headed to Montecatini in the Tuscan hills and checked into the Grand Hotel Tamerici & Principe. While the hotel is four-star, its features were a bit dated. However, it is quite conveniently located and offers everything that the modern traveler would need in a clean environment. And the nightly live piano music in the lounge, where there was Wi-Fi access, was an added pleasantry.
Montecatini would serve as our jumping-off point for the remainder of our Tuscan tour. The idea of staying in one destination and using it as a base is a key feature of Trafalgar's new At Leisure tours. This eliminated a lot of packing and unpacking, and we became familiar with the ins and outs of the city -- almost feeling as though we were locals ourselves. We first learned where to go out at night. We also had time to find favorite shops and local eateries on our own for breakfast and snacks.
From Montecatini, we explored the medieval cities of San Gimignano and Siena. The next day, there was an excursion to Pisa and Forte Di Marmi and, the following day, was at leisure. However, on any of these days, if there was something we weren't keen on doing, there was always an open invitation to opt-out. If guests chose to skip an excursion, such as Florence, because they had already been there, Roberto was always on hand to give suggestions of places they might explore on their own and instruct guests on how to get there. This was also applicable on days at leisure.
In Florence, on day seven, we took a walking tour to the Duomo and the Piazza Signoria, visited the "David" during a tour of the Accademia (here, our hidden treasure was learning about the butterfly on David's buttocks) and then had the afternoon to ourselves. Trafalgar's At Leisure tours also provide guests with hop-on-hop-off bus tour passes in cities where they are available to make self-exploration easier for guests.
After a second day on our own, we headed to Assisi, for a guided walking tour and, then, on to Rome. It was arrivaderci on Day 10 and, hopefully, clients left relaxed from their experience and didn't feel the need to take a vacation from their vacation -- I know I've felt that way -- but I didn't even have jet lag when I got home.