For over 30 years, Back-Roads has been offering experiential travel. Long before it became an industry buzzword. Their belief? The backroads reveal a destination more intimately. And this September, they invited Karryon to experience Italy the Back-Roads way. Join Zoe Macfarlane as she discovers their six key points of difference on tour in glorious Southern Italy.
It’s a Very Good Day when you get a call asking if you’d like to head to Southern Italy next month. And when you learn it’s with Back-Roads, a company you consider in alignment with your travel style, it becomes an exceptional one.
Consideration is one thing though, experience another. So, how did Back-Roads travel values align with mine on their Enchanting Southern Italy tour? Read on to find out.
#1 Enjoy the company of a small group
While the shift from checking destinations off a list to more experiential travel has gained momentum over the last few years, it’s always been my thing. Back-Roads, too; they’ve been touring this way for more than 30 years.
One way Back-Roads ensures they can offer more personalised, intimate travel is by capping their tours to a maximum of 18 travellers.
On my Enchanting Southern Italy tour, our 13-strong group was a mix of Australians, New Zealanders, and one Brit. Our group size meant we had ample time to explore, uncover, and engage with the locals whose paths we crossed with. Imagine a tour of 50 cramming into an Italian farmhouse for a cooking lesson: impossible!
#2 Feed your curiosity
The Back-Roads traveller has often been on many adventures before. They have an independent streak, and a curiosity for life and the world. My new tour buddies had travelled far and wide, with tales shared of trips to every continent.
When hitting a new destination, I like seeing the most famous sites; they’re popular for a reason. But I also want to know the hidden side to a place, too. The stuff the audio guides never reveal, and the Lonely Planet can’t fit in its hefty travel bibles.
It’s a core tenet of Back-Roads to feed that curiosity. To recruit tour leaders and guides that deliver insights beyond the norm for a richer perspective of a landmark or destination.
At Pompeii, our guide, Roxanna, did just this. A former archaeologist, she shared stories beyond the facts, absorbing us into what life was like in this devastated Roman city. At times, the sounds of mules, traders, and Pompeii locals seemed to echo in her wake.
#3 Embrace the view
Another Back-Roads mission is to embrace the view – not hard when you’re on the stunning Amalfi Coast. It’s a region filled with picturesque small mountain towns and villages, verdant lemon groves, and views on views on views!
Embracing the view isn’t only about the scenery, but the perspective of a place, too. Absorbing everything is only doable when you have time to soak it in, something our itinerary factored in perfectly.
Multiple vantage points help, too. By bus, we marvelled at the mountain roads (and our epic driver, Carmine’s outstanding navigation of it). By boat, we telescoped in and out of the Amalfi Coast’s picturesque towns, noticing details we hadn’t caught on shore. And on foot, we captured the essence of each place, from the stunning villa views of Ravello, while zig-zagging side streets in Positano, and on paths passing cliff-hugging Amalfi Coast homes.
#4 Savour each moment
You can enjoy the sights on a jam-packed itinerary, but do you really get to connect with what makes a place special if it’s all go-go-go from dawn to dusk? Back-Roads believes a slower pace allows travellers to savour the experiences that make a destination special. And there are no early starts!
Our tour leader, Nicho, had a relaxed attitude that meant we felt no pressure at any destination. Behind the scenes, though, he was juggling arrival, departure, and booking times, ferry schedules, local guides meet-ups, and liaising with driver, Carmine.
It’s a skill to do that in a way that everyone feels they have time to savour the moment. Truly.
#5 Guided by the best
Every Back-Roads trip has a tour leader like Nicho. They’re recruited for being attentive, insightful, and passionate. Local guides accompany tour leaders at sites of interest. Think of Nicho as the flour, water, and yeast that make a pizza base, and the local guides the toppings that add the flavour.
Our Paestum local guide, Maria, was a tour favourite. She offered a lilting delivery (and fab catchphrase “Nothing new under the sun”) as she revealed how this former coastal Greek city was built, abandoned, and rediscovered.
I had wandered around Paestum the night before. The ruins are visible from the street, so you could get away with skipping the entrance fee to see the majestic temples that have been standing tall for over 2,000 years. However, Maria proved how valuable it is to have local intel delivered passionately to bring a place to life. It was a markedly difference experience!
#6 Discover a local way of life
Back-Roads feel there is no better way to tap into the essence of a place than by learning the recipes, crafts, or stories that make it unique. Well, our day three Italian cooking class was a tour highlight!
Held at the Bellini family’s mid-19th-century farmhouse, we made ravioli, pizza, and baked a cake. Our group was surprised at how much we learnt (and later ate!) and enjoyed how unhurried the experience was.
I’ve been in cooking classes before, but none were as soul-enriching as this one. It perfectly summed up the Back-Roads way of going off the beaten track to better understand the essence of a destination.
I consider their ability to find experiences like this one of the prime reasons I recommend travelling with them!
To discover more
To learn more about award-winning Back-Roads, their touring style, and wide-ranging European tours, visit backroadstouring.com.
Agents, want to get in touch with Back-Roads? Contact your local BDM at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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