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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

When guided tours are close to spiritual experiences: I've been converted

I'm converted. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. I can now reveal I'm addicted to cool guided tours. My definition? Enriching, focused, well thought-out, specialized tours to compelling places with small groups (so miniscule you can remember everyone's names), led by super qualified and highly specialized guides who are as fascinating as the places you're visiting. (Read this post for my criteria for selecting guides.) I am now so hooked on these things that we've not long finished a series of walking tours in Rome with Context that I'm already begging them for more and finding out where I can score my next walk - Venice next month! But can I make it until then?! The cause of this change in heart, taste and opinion? Two superb organizations, Context and Viator, with whom we did a series of exceptional walking tours, private visits and bespoke tours in Rome recently. Now, because you know how much I've disliked my experience of guided tours in the past (read my post: Good guides, bad guides: the bad guides), you're probably thinking these must have been rather extraordinary experiences to change my mind. They were. But I'm in Milan now, and it's aperitivi hour and time for pre-dinner drinks so I'll get back to you tomorrow to tell you more about the walks, and Calabria, and Milan. Ciao!

Pictured? The Vatican Museums after hours. Yes, that's right - when everyone else has gone home. There were just eight of us on Viator's private tour and everyone agreed it was worth every cent for the sublime experience of enjoying the Sistine Chapel in silence.


Monna said...

Hi Lara!
I am going to say, "I told you so!"... not in that accusatory way that some people say it... but on my way to "Yeah! Hurrah!"

The good folks at Context have got it right and I have taken Context Tours in both Rome and Venice. Next up... London in late June!

It's great that you can admit your recent conversion :-)

Lara Dunston said...

Totally agree with you that they've succeeded where very few have before. I'm about to post on their wonderful walks we did!

I must admit though that I'm only converted to the small highly specialized walks of the like that Context and Viator do. I overheard some truly dreadful commentaries from guides to their bored-looking groups that reaffirmed everything I've ever thought about tour groups. Eek!