The members of Slow Travel Tours are looking forward to welcoming travelers back to Europe this year. The history, natural beauty, art and architecture, music, markets, people, culture, cuisine, wine…. so much we’ve missed! It’s all there waiting for us to return.
It’s been almost two years exactly since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Tragically, almost six million people worldwide have died of COVID. Many others were hospitalized for an extended time and may still be suffering the impact of this disease.
Whether or not you or a loved one was directly impacted by COVID, everyone’s life was changed in a major way.
For those of us in the travel industry and those who love to travel, there was an abrupt and shocking halt as international tourism came to a complete standstill for more than a year.
Fortunately, the availability of a vaccine in early 2021, a decline in cases, and a lessening of travel restrictions for vaccinated travelers opened the door for some international travelers to visit Europe in the last half of 2021. Several of our Slow Travel Tours members were able to host groups and individual visitors in the latter part of 2021. I can personally attest to the joy of once again welcoming travelers back to Europe, as I hosted European Experiences groups in Provence and Puglia.
With our businesses on hold, the Slow Travel Tours members tried to use this unexpected time at home productively. We all worked on special projects, including developing new tours or updating our websites. We participated in online training programs. Some members offered webinars, involving partners in Europe. Finally, in the late summer and fall of 2021, as lockdowns were lifted and travel became possible, several of us were able to work on on-site research for new trips.
But now we’re looking ahead to 2022 and the beginning of our tour seasons. I recently reached out to all the members of Slow Travel Tours to get an update on their plans for this year and their suggestions for those who are planning or considering travel in 2022.
I’m delighted to report that all our members are planning tours for this year, and we’re excited about welcoming travelers back to Europe. Visit each company’s website to learn about their offerings in 2022. See the contact links on this page.
Slow Travel Tours – Plans for 2022
We’re all busy making plans for our upcoming 2022 trips… getting ready to welcome travelers back to Europe this year! Many travelers re-booked trips originally planned for 2020 or 2021 and are looking forward to joining us this year. And although some travelers still want to wait to make an international trip, others are eager to get back to Europe. Here’s what I learned from each of our Slow Travel Tours members:
Jim and Magrit Nilsen of Photography Travel Tours have eight photo tours planned for spring and summer of 2022… all are a go. Magrit reports that they have openings in most trips.
Andrew Guppy of Cotswold Walks told me that 2022 is already looking very busy. He believes that this year being a specialist on the ground is more important than ever to provide travelers with the best experience possible, and they’re redoubling their efforts to provide the best holidays in the Cotswolds. (My company European Experiences is looking forward to partnering with Andrew on our Cotswolds Walking Week in July 2022.)
New member Regina Bryan-Winke of Bold Spirit Travel has several adventures planned for this year, including an April trip to Rome, Florence, and Tuscany as well as a sold-out tour to the Amalfi Coast. She has two Camino trips coming up in June. In the fall Bold Spirit Travel will head to Barcelona, a special destination for Regina since she lived there for so many years.
Michelle Logue of Adventures in Italy is gearing up for tours in May and in the fall.
Sarna Rose of Poland Culinary Vacations is looking forward to hosting groups in Poland this year, since it is now open to fully vaccinated leisure travelers from around the world. She is planning a private group in May, a Polish Pottery Tour in August, a September cooking tour in Krakow and Zakopane and the “Magic of Christmas Markets in Poland” tour in December.
Nedra Botteri of Village Vacations in Italy is moving ahead as planned with her tours in Umbria and Tuscany.
Anne and Kirk Woodyard of Music and Markets Tours are looking forward to welcoming travelers on tours later in the year.
Sue Aran of French Country Adventures will begin her 2022 tours on May 14 and run through the end of October. Most of her tours are already sold out, but there are still some openings.
New member Gloria Frank of Her Irish Road Trip is planning 10-day tours for women in May and July.
After hosting several guests on his barge, the Randle, in the fall of 2021, Tim Harrold of Edge Charter is looking forward to barge cruising returning to normal this year. Tim says that “tiny ship cruising offers a unique and exclusive view of France from those who know all its secrets, in a secure, safe and charming environment.”
Tess Baker of Paint Provence with Tess is offering painting holidays in two locations in Provence and also in the Cinque Terre.
And at European Experiences, we’re busy getting ready to launch our first trips next month, beginning with the Cornwall Experience on April 19. This was the first tour we cancelled in 2020, just a month before the group was to begin. We’ll host 28 trips this year, including several new trips and some all-Women’s trips. Some trips are full—especially in the later part of the year—but we do have openings on most trips this spring and summer.
Coming Back to Europe – Our Suggestions
I asked our Slow Travel Tours members for their advice for international travelers this year. I got a variety of suggestions, some very practical and others more personal.
Several members encouraged travelers to purchase travel insurance this year. “In 2022 I would recommend that international travelers get good travel insurance that covers COVID for medical care, cancellation, interruption and repatriation,” Gloria Frank of Her Irish Road Trip told me. Gloria also suggested that “It would be prudent for travelers to bring a couple rapid ‘at-home’ COVID tests in case they don’t feel well. I’ll be bringing some tests with me as the tour operator, but not possible for me to carry over multiple tests for each client.”
Jim and Magrit Nilsen of Photography Travel Tours had this advice: “We recommend to our clients to purchase international flight tickets that can be fully refunded in case of unforeseeable COVID development. This will increase the cost of each ticket by roughly $200, but it’s worth it. We had to cancel our first two photo tours in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic earlier this year due to Omicron and got the full refund for our tickets.”
Several members emphasized the need for travelers to be aware of travel restrictions, which vary by country and have been changing recently. One excellent resource to check for up-to-date travel requirements and restrictions is the Sherpa website, a website used by airlines and other travel companies. Your airline should also keep you fully informed about requirements, since they are responsible for ensuring you’re in compliance before you board the plane.
You should also be aware of any requirements to return to your home country. For example, a negative COVID test is currently required the day before a flight to the USA. You definitely want to minimize any possibility that you would test positive, so be especially sensitive to your exposure to strangers, especially in crowded places and wear a mask if there’s any doubt—even if it’s not required. Then, be sure you have a plan for where you’ll get this test. For our European Experiences travelers, we’ll arrange this COVID test if they’re flying home the day after our trip ends. If you must make your own arrangements, a self-test online with a tele-medicine monitor may be the best option for many people. If you prefer to go to a testing center, your hotel should be able to direct you to a testing location, or there may be a testing center at your departure airport. Research this well in advance and be aware that tests may need to be pre-booked.
Now some more personal advice:
Sarna Rose of Poland Culinary Vacations was enthusiastic about the possibilities. “GO! and ENJOY! your time in Europe. The unforgettable attractions are still there, and Europeans are eagerly waiting to welcome back travelers from the US and Canada. The hassle of wearing masks and testing will hopefully go away by the summer 2022 in Poland.” (Note: This is already happening in some European countries.)
Andrew Guppy of Cotswold Walks offered this excellent suggestion: “Most importantly, try not to do too much. Instead of trying to tick things off a list, live for the moment. Give yourself more time and focus on one country whilst travelling at a slower pace in order to be able to appreciate every experience and engage with the locals and your environment. Savour your holiday like a fine glass of wine.”
And here’s some thoughtful advice from Michelle Logue of Adventures in Italy: “I think with travel it’s always important to be patient and flexible, but I think that’s even MORE true now. Lines can be long as documents are checked. Flights can be delayed or cancelled with little notice. COVID testing can take a minute. If we can all take a deep breath and offer each other a little grace we can have an amazing experience!”
The Value of Small Group, Slow Travel
As Europe welcomes travelers back and tourism is ramping up again, small group, slow tours are more desirable than ever.
Again, our Slow Travel Tours members had a mix of practical and more personal thoughts about this.
Most of our members require travelers on their tours be fully vaccinated, which is also a requirement to enter most European countries.
“Safety has of course been a huge concern for all of us and our clients’ safety is of paramount importance to us,” Jim and Magrit of Photography Travel Tours told me. “We require full vaccination and boosters from our participants which means that we’ll be traveling as a safe bubble. The safety precautions we take with our groups combined with rigorous safety measures hotels, restaurants, and transportation in Europe are providing, make it possible for all of us to finally enjoy safe adventures in Europe again.”
Anne Woodyard of Music and Markets Tours stressed that “traveling with a knowledgeable and experienced tour leader is more important than ever since they will keep up with the latest travel requirements and information.”
Gloria Frank of Her Irish Road Trip added, “A small group tour provides extra ‘insurance’ that you will be up-to-date on entry rules and COVID restrictions during the vacation. Also, the tour operator will take away most of the stress of foreign travel during the pandemic by taking care of the arrangements for you and communicating with vendors in the country who have first-hand knowledge of conditions.”
Several members emphasized the value of “slowness” after the stress of the past two years.
Michelle Logue of Adventures in Italy had this thought: “All of us affiliated with Slow Travel Tours travel with our groups or have a facilitator on the ground with each group. You’re not on a tour bus in a different hotel each night. The hallmark of Slow Travel is staying in only one or two places for your entire trip. Think of it as your “travel bubble.”
Nedra Botteri’s Village Vacations in Italy groups stay in one place for a full week. “With small groups, you truly enjoy a more personalized and relaxed tour,” she told me.
Sue Aran of French Country Adventures emphasized the importance of relationships. “Since the pandemic began we’ve all rediscovered the necessity of relationships. Small group tours provide fertile ground for real connections between people from different backgrounds.”
Tim Harrold of Edge Charter reflected on his cruises this past fall. “We cruised for eight weeks in the Autumn of 2021. Our guests really appreciated the security of being in their own group. It was a really a wonderful time to be cruising through the French countryside, far away from the pressures of day-to-day urban life during a pandemic.”
From the beautiful Cotswolds, Andrew Guppy of Cotswold Walks shared this reflection: “As we emerge from the pandemic, some things may have changed but the countryside is as beautiful as ever. The last two years have taught us that we should savour every moment, and to really connect with those around us. Small group tours allow you to enjoy more time and connection with your guide and experience the area as a local would.”
Like several of my fellow Slow Travel Tours members, I’ve especially valued the beauty of the countryside and the simpler, quieter way of life in the smaller European villages and towns on my recent travels. It’s always been an important part of our European Experiences trips and even more so now. I’ve also appreciated that most Europeans followed COVID restrictions respectfully, particularly out of concern for others in their communities. This year it’s even more important to treasure simplicity and look for the road less-traveled.
I’ve traveled to Europe twice since the middle of last August, spending about three months in France and Italy. I’m headed back to France in less than a week. It’s been wonderful to travel again, and my husband Charley and I felt extremely safe in our travels. Over the past several weeks I’ve talked with many of our European Experiences travelers about their travel plans and answered their questions. Although I know there’s still some apprehension, I also know people are eager to travel in Europe again soon… and that those who have visited have been renewed and refreshed by the experience.
The members of Slow Travel Tours look forward to welcoming you back to Europe this year— or whenever you’re ready to travel again. In addition to providing amazing experiences in beautiful places, please be assured that we’ll keep you well-informed and make your safety a top priority.
Read posts from Slow Travel Tours members about their experiences in Europe during this time of COVID:
Kathy Wood is the co-founder and owner of European Experiences, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their top 50 tours in the world in 2012.
Kathy and her husband Charley launched European Experiences in 2006; Charley retired (mostly) at the end of 2019. Kathy now hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. She continues to work with Charley to host two longer tours: The European Christmas Experience (12 days) and The Cornwall Experience in southwest England (10 days). Over the past year Kathy has been working closely with our new France-based partner, Jennifer Dugdale, who will be leading several new European Experiences trips beginning in 2022.
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30 years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. She has hosted 120 Experience groups since they launched in 2006. Kathy and Charley have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.