When it comes to Italy, the classics remain in top demand. But tour operators and travel specialists continue to expand their ideas of Italy with new programs and properties.
Beth Rubin has built her reputation by introducing clients to the lesser-known Italy. She’s manager of custom travel planning and sales for Select Italy and one of Travel and Leisure’s 2015 A-List Travel Advisors.
“I highly recommend Piedmont in the northwest of Italy. I’m planning multiple trips in October to Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera. Late October to early November happens to be white truffle season. You have events such as the Alba Truffle Fair, and opportunities to go on truffle hunts at that time,” said Rubin.
Though the fall definitely has its charms, Rubin recommends Piedmont year-round.
Rubin describes other regions, such as Puglia (the “heel” of the boot), as “up-and-coming ones to watch.”
“Puglia is definitely more popular than in the past. Accommodations have started to catch up with the rest of country. It’s not overwhelmed like Tuscany is. They have great food; young but really good wines and the best olive oil in the country,” said Rubin.
In contrast, Calabria (the “toe” of the boot) still has a bit to go, in Rubin’s opinion.
“Accommodations haven’t caught up there yet, though they have one or two nice properties and some great little towns. My goal is to book a lot more in southern Italy. I’d like to go beyond those looking to do heritage tours,” said Rubin.
In November, Rubin is taking a small group of agents on a fam to Tuscany and Rome. On tap are site inspections of a few noteworthy new properties. They include the Rome outpost of Tuscany’s Casa Fabbrini.
"It’s five rooms in the heart of the city by the Spanish Steps. They have communal tables for breakfast. It’s a charming boutique atmosphere,” said Rubin.
The goal of the fam is to do Rome beyond simply the Vatican and the Coliseum.
“My guides always tell me they’re tired of going to the same destinations every day. But it’s a fine line. Those are the places people want to see,” said Rubin.
At the Vatican, at least, visitors can look forward to seeing something new.
A new weekly train service has just launched between the Vatican and Castel Gondolfo. That’s the Alban hills setting fifteen miles away that’s home to the Papal summer palace. For the first time in history, the secluded Papal getaway is opening its doors to the public. Pope Francis has already opened the palace gardens to visitors. A newly-created museum inside the historic structure will display priceless artifacts, vestments and other symbols of the once-great Papal States. Visitors can also take in a terrace view that stretches all the way to Rome.
Rome, Florence, Verona and the Cinque Terre are prominently in “Italy: Rome & the North,” new for 2016 from Abercrombie & Kent. The tour includes a visit to a family-owned balsamic vinegar factory. And in Venice, guests will enjoy special access to a workshop renowned for its famous carnival masks.
“We’re expanding our Connections Journeys for 2016 with the new Italy program. We also have a new Italy program as part of our Connections Family Journeys. The interest in Italy doesn’t seem to waiver,” Richard Harris, senior vice president of product content and operations for Abercrombie & Kent tells Travel Agent.
Harry Dalgaard, president and founder of Avanti Destinations, has a similar observation.
“Italy continually keeps on growing. It represents the lifestyle that we strive to have here,” Dalgaard tells Travel Agent.
“There’s a warmth to Italy that you don’t get in other European countries. They want you there. That’s the difference. Tourism is the number one moneymaker in Italy. They need us and they’re happy to have us,” said Rubin.