Guided tours are a good option when you don't want to do it all yourself. You travel along with a group (sometimes large, sometimes small), stay in prebooked hotels, eat with your fellow travelers (the cost of meals may or may not be included in the price of your tour), and follow a schedule. Not all guided tours are an if-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium experience, however. A knowledgeable guide can take you places that you might never discover on your own, and you may be pushed to see more than you would have otherwise. Tours aren't for everyone, but they can be just the thing for trips to places where making travel arrangements is difficult or time-consuming, particularly when you don't speak the language.
Whenever you book a guided tour, find out what's included and what isn't. A "land-only" tour includes all your travel (by bus, in most cases) in the destination, but not necessarily your flights to and from or even within it. Also, in most cases prices in tour brochures don't include fees and taxes. You'll also want to review how much free as opposed to organized time you'll have, and see if that meets with your personal preferences. Remember, too, that you'll be expected to tip your guide (in cash) at the end of the tour.
Even when planning independent travel, keep in mind that every province and city in Italy has tour guides licensed by the government. Some are eminently qualified in relevant fields such as architecture and art history and are a pleasure to spend time with; others have simply managed to pass the test and have weaker interpersonal skills. Lots of private guides have Web sites: check online and in travel forums for recommendations. Best to book before you leave home, especially for major destinations, as popular guides and tours are in demand. Tourist offices and hotel concierges can also provide the names of knowledgeable local guides and the rates for certain services. When hiring on the spot, ask about their background and qualifications and make sure you can understand each other. Tipping is always appreciated, but never obligatory, for local guides.
Abercrombie & Kent (800/554-7016. www.abercrombiekent.com.)
Maupin Tour (800/255-4266 or 954/653-3820. www.maupintour.com.)
Perillo Tours (800/431-1515. www.perillotours.com.)
Travcoa (800/992-2003 or 310/649-7104. www.travcoa.com.)
Biking and Hiking Tour Contacts
Backroads (800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555. www.backroads.com.)
Butterfield & Robinson (866/551-9090 or 416/864-1354. www.butterfield.com.)
Ciclismo Classico (800/866-7314 or 781/646-3377. www.ciclismoclassico.com.)
Genius Loci Travel (089/791896. www.genius-loci.it.)
Italian Connection (800/462-7911 or 780/438-5712. www.italian-connection.com.)
Culinary Tour Contact
Epiculinary (707/815-1415. www.epiculinary.com.)
Road Scholar (800/454-5768 or 978/323-4141. www.roadscholar.org.)
Wine Tour Contacts
Cellar Tours (310/496-8061. www.cellartours.com.)
Food and Wine Trails (800/367-5348. www.foodandwinetrails.com.)
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