Some of you may wonder what’s involved in planning one of our STT trips. I’m sure each member of Slow Travel Tours has their own story, but I believe I can safely say that what we all have in common is careful, first-hand vetting of our locations, accommodations and vendors. At Arts Sojourn our planning usually begins two years or more before we actually offer a new location to our clients.
Barbara and I have been to Venice three or four times on our own and have long felt a Venetian Sojourn coinciding with The Biennale, arguably the most significant contemporary art fair in the world, would be a very popular offering. But we’ve always hesitated. Venice is no ordinary Italian city – the logistics are daunting!. The closest we came to a Venetian Sojourn was in 2001 when we based our group in Padova and were able to facilitate day trips into Venice from there. Barbara and I finally got up the courage (or lost our collective minds) to begin seriously planning a Venice Sojourn to correspond with the 2015 Biennale. Let me give you an idea of what planning for this Sojourn has entailed so far.
First, there were months of internet and guidebook research on the Biennale and all things related to the practicalities of navigating Venice with a small group, including airport comings and goings, vaporetto (water bus) routes, and countless other logistic issues.
Most importantly there was the task of selecting a potential host hotel. With about eight hundred hotels spread throughout the city this would not be easy. We narrowed our choices and made email contact with a few select four star hotels. What I found most interesting about this process was how important the tone and temperament of these initial emails were, for both myself and the manager of the hotel we finally decided on. One manager seemed particularly kind and I was surprised when she did not ask me for a credit card to secure the five night reservation we made for our exploratory visit.
After a pleasant stay in the beginning of June, Barbara and I had a long meeting with the manager about the specifics of a possible group booking and we inspected rooms of every category in the hotel. The manager then explained why she did not take our credit card information prior to our arrival. She said she has been in the business a long time, “and sometimes she just knows.” She has a feeling about someone. I took this as the highest of compliments, and I explained how important her demeanor was to us as well. This was Italian deal making at its finest. Trust and character. Everything face to face. It’s one of the things I love about planning a Slow Travel Tour and what I believe makes them so different from many others.
During our exploratory trip to Venice we also sampled and took notes on restaurants and cafes around our hotel and beyond in order to have first-hand recommendations at various price points for our clients. We took notes at the Santa Lucia train station on things such as where to find the least crowded automatic ticket kiosks. By the way, the kiosks nearest to the entrance have long lines, but you’ll find empty ones if you follow the corridor inside just a few more yards. It’s little bits of information like this that our clients truly appreciate.
We also spent two full days at the Biennale, taking notes, not only on the art, but on things like different types of tickets and the specifics of purchasing them. For example, we learned that a multi-day pass requires your passport for documentation, something we did not discover until our visit. This blog is not the venue for art criticism, so I will only say the Biennale was spectacular and it fired up our enthusiasm for bringing our 2015 Venetian Sojourn to fruition. What remains now is to agree with our hotel on prices and dates, various odds and ends, and writing all of our web copy. After that we can rest – at least until confirmation and orientation packages need to be prepared, airport and water taxi logistics coordinated for our clients, and a group welcome dinner organized at the trattoria we’ve already selected.
So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to put together a Slow Travel Tour, at least the Arts Sojourn variety, now you know. A lot of work, but a labor of love! When it all comes together a couple of years from now we’ll have that wonderful feeling of satisfaction seeing all our careful planning pay off. One of the highest compliments we’ve ever received from a client was from one gentleman who said, “I know how hard you must have worked to make this look so easy.” He totally got it.
Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.