We have taken a number of custom tours through Zicasso, including India, Southeast Asia, and Portugal. In each of these, our travel company was based in the area we were touring, and every detail of the trip was coordinated by that company. When we selected this travel company (from among several very fine companies proposed by Zicasso) to organize our tour of Northern Italy, our chief concern was that the company is based in the United States, far from where we would be should problems arise. We soon learned that our travel planner continually monitors her clients’ tours to ensure that all proceeds according to plan. A native Italian, she has comprehensive and intimate knowledge of every region of Italy, including areas quite off the beaten track where we intended to go. She has a vivacious personality and a genuine interest in getting to know her clients and understanding their travel styles and preferences. While she was charting out our itinerary, we stayed in touch by phone or email, working out all of the details. The trip she planned for us involved stays in seven cities, starting in Genoa, looping south through Cinque Terre and Florence, turning westward through Bologna and Parma, and finishing in Torino (all cities besides Florence were new to us). She booked all transfers and hotels, working with several local travel companies. The entire tour was indeed fantastic in every way, and went without a hitch. We had contact information for the local companies, and on the few occasions when we needed to be in touch with them (for example, when our boat tour of Cinque Terre had to be postponed because of bad weather), they were absolutely responsive and reliable. All of the drivers were punctual and personable, and even those who professed not to speak English spoke quite a bit and were eager to point out sites and provide interesting background information. Hotels were all first-rate and very well located (always an important criterion for us).
Our planner booked walking tours in each of the cities we visited, and all of these tours were wonderful and essential to our experience. Otherwise, we were on our own in each of the cities to explore as we saw fit. Since we know Europe quite well and are comfortable with European languages, this worked out very well. (It’s less likely that we’d try this approach in other parts of the world.) We took a fabulous day trip from Genoa exploring the western Italian Riviera and Monaco without a guide but only a driver, who took us from place to place and even to some places that he didn’t know but that we had read about. On days when we were transferring from one city to another we tried to stop at points of interest along the way. For example, on our way from Bologna to Parma we stopped in Modena to tour the Casa Pavarotti, the Ferrari Museum, and the medieval city center. It’s important to note that we could not have done such a tour on our own with a rental car. Parking would have been next to impossible in many of the places we visited. We were able to get out and explore while the driver waited and picked us up at a pre-appointed spot. our travel planner also booked several excellent specialty tours, including an unforgettable private sunset boat tour of Cinque Terre and a small-group tour outside Parma (just four people) featuring locations where Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, and prosciutto are produced.
Our planner was very helpful and patient with us as our plans developed. When we found out that tickets were available for a performance of Aida at the Teatro Verdi in Busseto (outside Parma) on a certain date, she reworked the schedule to make sure we would be there. This was not a trivial matter, since the timeframe was narrow and hotel reservations for the hotels we wanted were not readily available. We appreciated the way she willingly took on the challenge and got back to us quickly with a revised schedule that worked out perfectly. She is truly a gem.
The cost for this trip, not inexpensive, was nevertheless a very good value. The planner worked with us to tweak the program so as to keep it reasonably on budget. Our tour of Northern Italy was truly a dream vacation. Having been to Italy a number of times, there are still areas that we have not explored. If and when we plan another trip, we hope to do it through the travel company.
Aida at the tiny Teatro Verdi in Busseto
Incredible food nearly everywhere
Cathedrals in Lucca and Modena
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence
We traveled in the first three weeks in October, and the third week the weather began to change, becoming cloudy and rainy some of the days. It might have been better to book the tour a week earlier.
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