What price no guide?

Posted by Heather Jarman — Sapori e Saperi Adventures

You would think this question a no-brainer: no guide, no cost. Picking up Bill Steiner’s last blog on the theme of the paradoxes of slow travel, you can pay a high price if you travel without the guidance of people who know your chosen destination. Never having been on an organized tour before setting up my own company, I’m not a great advertisement for what I’m writing. However, now that I’ve lived in the area around Lucca for six years and guided many travellers around it, I realise what I was missing when I headed off on my own. There was of course the sense of being an explorer and the thrill of discovering something new for myself. But what if I had missed that amazing little restaurant that’s not even in Beth Elon’s inspiring A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany: Exploring & Eating off the Beaten Track? Or missed the spectacular scenery and artisanal food of the Garfagnana, which gets scant mention in guidebooks?

I frequently help travellers standing forlornly on a street corner staring at a map or looking around helplessly. There was the time in Castelnuovo Garfagnana when I overheard a group discussing where they could find a good restaurant, and I directed them to the best in the Garfagnana just 10 minutes’ walk from where they stood, but unnoticed by them.

What got me thinking about this was dinner last night with a couple of American WWOOFers (Workers on Organic Farms) who had taken time off the farm to stay in the Cinque Terre, one of the more visited spots in Italy and well-covered by guidebooks. No need to pay for a guide, you would have thought. They had a recommendation for a restaurant but arrived to find it closed. After their seafood dinner around the corner, the husband was violently ill and was still off fish three weeks later. Too late, I suggested they should have gone to the excellent restaurant just outside the village, where I had taken my group in October. ‘If only we had known you before we went’, they wailed. It seems a knowledgeable guide is even more necessary in places that attract many tourists, since restaurants soon learn that, not having to rely on repeat business, they can get away with serving sub-standard food, and shopkeepers profit more from selling portable mass-produced souvenirs than local goods.

Returning to Bill’s blog, he links the quality of experience to spending more time in one place, but I notice that the trips last just one week. This is much more than the usual few hours or even a couple of days allocated by many travellers, but I think he’s modestly left out an important element. Without Kristi and him to guide them, I suspect their guests would have missed some of the most exciting details of Orvieto.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a year to spend getting to know a place, slow travel deserves a guide whose local knowledge and enthusiasm can make every minute of your trip more enjoyable and valuable.

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Heather Jarman helps you discover the hidden culinary treasures of Lucca in northwest Tuscany. You can join me for a day, a week or as long as you like. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Heather’s own adventures on her blog.

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