Here is a sampling of escorted tour packages to Italy in various niches. Other operators have programs in the same markets, and all operators mentioned here run trips to Italy besides these. Prices quoted are per person, double, and do not include transatlantic airfare.
"Bridges" is the division of Tauck World Discovery (www.tauckbridges.com, 800-468-2825) with trips tailored to families. Its "Italia Bella" tour has weekly departures throughout the summer and two at Christmastime, with rates starting at $3,350. Clients spend two nights in Rome, three nights in Florence and two in Venice, with travel between the cities via high-speed Eurostar trains. There's a walking tour and free time in each city, as well as a gondola ride in Venice and pizza-making session in Florence. Price is discounted for children under 12.
Gutsy Women Travel ( www.gutsywomentravel.com, 866-464-8879) operates five different itineraries in Italy. The "Amalfi Coast Discovery" stays all seven nights at the same Sorrento hotel, while the "Super Tuscany" trip does the same at a Montecatini property. That tour includes a day trip by ferry to Cinque Terre (in Liguria) for $2,349. Gutsy Women has a program based in Florence for four nights and Siena for three, featuring a cooking class, Brunello wine tasting and a lecture on women in Tuscan art. Price starts at $2,999. Activities on the "Tastes of Sicily" itinerary, priced from $2,939, include a pizza-making lesson, wine tasting and visit to an olive oil estate. There is also an "Enchanting Venice and Lake Como" tour ($3,159), which includes a concert and reception in Parma, where the group spends one night, as well as excursions by boat to islands around Venice and on Lake Como.
FOOD AND WINE
Tuscan Way (www.tuscanway.com 800-766-2390) has packages based at eight different villas, farmhouses and inns. Cooking classes, which usually take place at the property where guests are staying and are conducted by the homeowners, are held several times during each stay. Tuscan Way vacations also include winery visits and sight-seeing outings to such famous Tuscan cities as Siena, Pisa and Florence, as well as smaller towns and villages and wine-famous spots such as Montepulciano, Chianti and Montalcino. Some excursions are food-related—to markets or culinary festivals, for example—and spa add-ons are available for certain packages. Trips range from three to six nights and cost from $1,295 to $4,160.
A western Sicily tour with Country Walkers (www.countrywalkers.com, 800-464-9255) involves three to eight miles a day of easy to moderate walking. On the first day, visitors stroll through a medieval town that ends at a short but steep hike up a rocky cliff to a maritime panorama. The second day has the trip's only hike categorized as challenging: the Madonie nature reserve has Sicily's second highest peak after Mount Etna. Three of the six nights are spent in the hill town of Erice, and the tour concludes in Palermo. Most meals are included, as are water and trail snacks while walking. Truly hardy clients can take additional optional hikes each day, and there are opportunities for other sports such as kayaking. Transport between Sicily destinations is included in the $3,298 price tag.
Collette Vacations (www.collettevacations.com, 800-340-5158) launched a small-group product earlier this year, Explorations by Collette. The escorted "Italy's Treasures"—traversing the lakes region, the Riviera and Tuscany—is limited to 24 passengers per departure and features such activities as a cooking class in a Florence restaurant, a walk through the Chianti countryside to a winery and a boat ride on Lake Orta to San Giulio island. The tour includes a ride aboard the Centovalli express train into Switzerland for sightseeing in Locarno and a welcome dinner on one of the Borromean islands. Rates run from $2,799 to $2,999.
Travcoa's (www.travcoa.com, 866-591-0070) "Umbria & Puglia: The Heart & Soul of the Italian Peninsula" is an ultra-deluxe journey from Rome to Bari priced from $10,795 that visits such spots as Castel del Monte, an octagonal castle erected in the 1240s; the caves of Castellana; Alberobello, celebrated for its trulli, white stone houses with conical roofs; and Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage town located within a mountain. The tour features three meals daily with dine-around privileges and five-star accommodations, including a converted 17th-century manor in Torgiano, a hilltop town overlooking the confluence of the Tiber and Chiascio rivers; a beach resort on the grotto-studded south Adriatic coast; and a Relais & Chateaux member property.
Other tour operators with programs In Italy include Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com, 800-554-7016); Backroads (www.backroads.com, 800-462-2848); Central Holidays (http://agents.centralholidays.com, 888-482-5887); Cosmos (http://agents.globusandcosmos.com, 800-221-0090); Doorways (www.villavacations.com, 800-261-4460); Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com, 800-682-3333); go-today.com (www.go-today.com, 800-227-3235); Insight Vacations (www.insightvacations.com, 888-680-1241); Trafalgar Tours (www.trafalgartours.com, 800-854-0103); Travel Bound (www.booktravelbound.com, 800-808-9541). —AO