Italy is a country made up of layers upon layers of history and culture that fuels the imagination and inspires a deep desire to understand it.
Ever since my first visit, I have returned time and again with a keen intent to probe its depths even further. In the process, I have never been tempted to take a standard bus tour. For me, I prefer to travel solo, with my husband, or with a small group of friends.
Last year I decided to sign up for Victoria De Maio’s boutique experience, Let’s Kick Up Our HeelZ in Puglia, and I’m so glad that I did. The memories we all made together will remain with me always. I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve had yet. I loved the itinerary, meeting the locals, and coming away with a feeling that I had really got up close and personal with Puglia.
Our masseria, or agriturismo, was lovely and very comfortable. Cooking classes were taught in the huge kitchen by Mamma Giulia using fresh local ingredients that we later enjoyed at the table with carafes of delicious wine. Daily excursions were exciting and adventurous as we drove to several of the villages and walked through winding streets between whitewashed buildings, taking in the sights and eating delicious food. The sun was warm and the ocean sparkled.
Winery visits, a picnic in an olive orchard, and visits with artisans made for a genuine, authentic cultural experience within a small intimate group. There was time to enjoy to ourselves as well, to relax around a large outdoor pool or wander the gorgeous bougainvillea-covered grounds of the masseria.
It is with great pleasure that I’ve had the opportunity to interview Victoria and give you an opportunity to know her better as she describes her heart and goals for her Puglia adventures. Victoria has a deep love and enthusiasm for Italy and a desire to help you have that same intimate experience.
Victoria, how did you become interested in organizing tours in Italy? Was it an “aha” moment or gradual?
It definitely evolved and like so many things in life, a series of events and experiences converge into a new path…Years ago, I took my first tour as a solo with a large group and I enjoyed the experience. Wanting to return to Italy, a few years later I collaborated on a “small” group tour to Tuscany. This was all before the internet and so forth so it was much more labor-intensive and it was a success but, with 23 guests, it was pretty exhausting. I pretty much decided that it wasn’t for me until…
A few years later I joined a group tour company to Italy and I just loved it. After some other travels, I felt the pull back to Italy. So, a few years later I planned a month long Italy trip which included two small group tours and independent travel.That’s also when I jumped into the blogosphere with both feet and my love for Italy and writing really unfolded and flourished.
Soon after I heard about Puglia via a fellow Italophile. I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of Puglia but after numerous online chats and lots of research, I connected with Ylenia Sambati of YLTOUR PR. We communicated and I decided that not only could I but I wanted to do a tour again…and the rest is history! Our first tour together was in spring of 2014. There have been three more since and the next is in fall 2016. I just love it and can’t wait to go back…
How are your tours unique from others? Why would someone want to take your tours over another one?
Unfortunately the word “tour” has negative connotations to many people. It conjures up images of huge busloads of tourists being herded from place to place, tour guides carrying umbrellas and the like. Yikes! Not at all what I wanted to do or offer…I also didn’t want a “cookie cutter” experience.
Having been on small group tours, I gleaned what I did and did not like and what I felt did and did not work well. In other words, I wanted to offer the kind of trip that I love which is a more intimate and local experience seeing and doing what most visitors never get to do or see. So, not just another “tour” but what I like to call a unique boutique experience.
Partnering and collaborating with local experts and having the benefit of their expertise and knowledge has been a key ingredient. Creating, planning and hosting our special itinerary, we strive to offer a fabulous immersion in all aspects of the local culture—the food, the wine, the traditions, the art and history, the people…
Since the groups are small (no more than 12), the experience is very personal. It’s perfect for the solo traveler and for experienced and novice travelers alike. We take care of every detail so there is no stress. And, since it is all-inclusive AND affordable, there are no surprises, $ or otherwise! (In other words, all the benefits of a group but not the downsides of a large group!) I realize that this could be someone’s only trip to Italy and I want to make it magical and memorable.
What do you offer that others don’t?
We offer us! Everything we do is infused with our love and passion for Italy and, of course, for Puglia! It’s also about relationships. My relationship with my partners is genuine, warm and far more than a business partnership. Guests not only benefit from our strong relationship but from their deep roots and connection with all of the locals that we visit. And now I feel that connection when I return and it’s priceless.
Incorporating their recommendations and suggestions, we always strive to offer a well-balanced, comfortably paced itinerary. Whether it’s a cooking class, wine tasting, walking tour, visiting local artisans or the olive oil farm visit, it’s always special and fun!
What do you want your guests to experience? Please share your philosophy, and your goal.
I want people to experience “la dolce vita”, the Italy that I love! Designed around what I enjoy and want to experience when I travel, we offer authentic cultural immersion, hands-on personal attention, and the opportunity to learn about and experience the local lifestyle, art/history, major sites, etc. based upon the guidance and recommendations of those who know it best, my local partners.
I also want to offer a “no fuss no muss” holiday where all of the nitty-gritty details that can spoil a trip are taken care of and guests can focus completely on enjoying and savoring every moment. (And by the way, we don’t pack and unpack more than once so all of our time is quality time!) Our time together is rich and enriching and aspires to evoke a true appreciation for the uniqueness of this region (as is true or every region of Italy).
Together we have created a warm and welcoming atmosphere comfortable for couples, friends and, in particular, solo travelers. In a small (no more than 10 or 12 guests) group, solos don’t get “lost” or feel like a third wheel. I like to say, “Come with friends or make new friends!”
For those who want to travel with friends or family, along with my Italy experts, we can help you ~Design YOUR Dream Trip to Italy! Choose Puglia, Tuscany, Liguria, Umbria or Sicily.
Andiamo, let’s go!