Avanti Destinations has launched some notable new tours for Europe this year, including several that focus on local food and wine. We touched base with president Harry Dalgaard to get the inside scoop on the new tours and where people are going in Europe on independent tours.
“The American traveler is more savvy in terms of Europe,” Dalgaard said, “but more particular in getting what they want…We’re used to modifying what we get because we have choice. That translates into the way people travel. In terms of accommodation, they might want to stay in a three- or four-star hotel, then splurge at the end on a five-star or a castle or manor house. Diversity and flexibility addresses the needs of the traveler.”
As well as history-based tourism, Dalgaard said, gastronomy is a top motivation for travel. “Many trips are focused on cuisine or wine--or, in Germany, on beer.” The culinary add-ons don’t need to be elaborate or fancy, he added. “They can be very basic. Just get a backpack and go from brewery to brewery by foot.” (A driver can be provided for longer excursions, he added.) “Do it on your own and at your own pace.” In Germany, the six-day “Taste of Bavaria: Munich & Nuremburg” tour includes three-course dinners in both cities. Day trips to neighboring towns (Regensburg, Bamberg and Bayreuth) are also available.
Italy, Dalgaard said, is Avanti’s most popular destination, so the company has added new sightseeing opportunities in the major cities as well as boosting its options in off-the-beaten-track regions like Piedmont and Puglia. “We’re addressing the need for travelers to see new regions,” Dalgaard said. Avanti is offering a new “Piedmont: Langhe Wine Country” three-day option that focuses on Italian wines like Barolo and Barbaresco.
In France, oenophiles can try the “Bordeaux Wine Experience,” a three-day excursion in Bordeaux that includes accommodations in Bordeaux along with five Cru Classé chateaux visits, a tutored tasting session, plus tours of St. Emilion and Polmerol wine producing areas.
“Andalucia’s White Villages” includes overnights in Seville, Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda, Granada and Córdoba. Private walking tours are included in most cities. Excursions include a Flamenco show with dinner in Seville, and in Jerez visits to a local winery and Andalusian horse school. The eight-day tour includes a compact manual car rental.
Avanti also brought back Turkey into its product line with a three-day pre- or post-cruise extension in Istanbul that includes four-star accommodations plus a private arrival transfer.
Europe Travel Trends
Since many American travelers have already been to Europe and seen the major cities, Dalgaard said that they are eager to explore regions more in-depth and personalized. “In some cases, there’s a much stronger emphasis on private services--a driver and a guide around Tuscany, or a transfer from Rome to Sorrento with a guide who can stop along the way. It’s not just a transfer, but sightseeing as well.”
Other exclusive add-ons might include walking with a guide or going on a private tapas tour in Barcelona, or a private wine tasting at a boutique in Rome. “These are individual things that give people the experience of having been created especially for them,” Dalgaard said. Creating these experiences is a challenge, he acknowledged, but added that these are often what makes the travel experience—”The people they meet and the experiences they have with local people.”
These kinds of experiences are easier to arrange for groups, he added, and there are certain challenges involved in organizing private experiences for couples. “For us, the issue is whether the winemaker will be able to take just two or four people around the vineyard,” he said. “It’s the same with the cooking programs. You need to find a provider that’s willing to do it for a small number of people rather than a minimum of 10.” Still, he added, many local suppliers are eager to show off their wares for visitors—”handcrafted cheeses or different meats or farm-to-table ingredients.”
To find the right balance for different kinds of travelers, Dalgaard said that Avanti has expanded into semi-private tours, which he says are popular in Italy, particularly in Rome and Pompeii. “They don’t have the higher cost of a private program, but they don’t have 50 people in a bus, either,” he said. The tours are never for more than eight people, and might consist of walking tours, a high speed train between Rome and Naples, and then a small van tour of Pompeii with four to eight people. “It’s all focused on offering a more intimate experience,” he said.