Tauck Culturious Does Tuscany

By David Cogswell

After 14 hours confined to airplanes and airports, I felt like I exploded out of the Florence airport and onto the sunny, festive streets of the city that gave birth to the Renaissance. The weather was perfect -- sunny and warm. Though it was early October, I couldn’t imagine better weather at any other time of year. The street was crackling with energy. Florentine youth filled the streets, overflowing with joyous energy and renewing the character of the ancient city. I was in Florence to join the Tauck Culturious Tuscany and Cinque Terre trip. It was one of the first departures of Tauck World Discovery’s new series, introduced to the public last fall and just starting its departures this fall. Culturious is designed to appeal to baby boomers, the “culturally curious,” a younger demographic than Tauck’s core clientele. Culturious was designed to respond to preferences Tauck found in potential clients in its market research. It differs from Tauck’s traditional tours in several fundamental ways. It’s more active, with short itineraries, more independence and free time, concentrated on smaller regions with longer hotel stays and with more immersion in the culture. It didn’t take long to perceive the difference. After landing at the Amerigo Vespucci airport at 1:10 p.m., I arrived at the Gallery Hotel Art at the heart of the old city near the Arno River after 2 p.m. and a walking tour of Florence was scheduled to leave from the hotel at 3 p.m. There was none of that typical “arrive at the destination, the rest of the day is at leisure.” We were out on the streets, exploring Florence on foot within an hour of the time I reached the hotel. Though it seemed more challenging to dive right into action than to have a day at leisure, it was probably easier to make the six-hour time zone adjustment that way than to have rested. If we had taken a motorcoach tour of the city, it would have been too easy to fall asleep, but walking kept you moving and kept the tiredness away. It stamped the character of Culturious on the experience at the very beginning of what continued to be a very lively, stimulating experience until the conclusion of the trip a week later. By the time we finished we had hiked at Fiesole in the outskirts of Florence by the sandstone quarries where Leonardo Da Vinci is said to have conducted his flying experiments, and also hiked along Italy’s western coastline at Cinque Terre, We had learned how to make our own pasta; ridden in 4X4 vehicles to the mountaintop quarries of Carrera where most of the world’s marble comes from; visited an art restoration shop and seen how centuries-old art pieces are saved from deterioration; listened to a lecture on Michelangelo from an art history professor at Syracuse University’s Florence campus; taken a private tour through the restricted Vasari corridor of the Uffizi Gallery; eaten countless good meals and drunk many glasses of delicious wine; taken a lesson in conversational Italian; listened to a vocal performance of arias in a church in Lucca and ridden bikes around the ancient city walls. Though the Culturious program is pointedly more active and immersive than traditional tours, one could make the case that it is not more strenuous. Because the itinerary focuses on a small radius within Tuscany, one of 20 official regions of Italy, there were few hours spent driving from place to place. The standard introductory tour of Italy used to be some variation of the Rome-Florence-Venice itinerary. Tour operators find different ways to design the route, but any itinerary encompassing all three cities entails many hours on the road. Culturious Tuscany only covered the small area from Florence to the west coast maybe a third of the distance from Florence to either Venice in the north of Rome in the south. The only time I boarded a full-size motorcoach was on the very last night of the trip when we rode to a restaurant in the country for the farewell dinner. One other time we rode on a 20-seat coach for about 20 minutes when we rode from Florence to Fiesole, and other times we split into vans or 4X4s when we drove at all. We traveled by boat to Cinque Terre and by train between its villages of Monterosso and Vernazza. We didn’t have to spend much energy unpacking, re-packing and moving from place to place. We stayed in three hotels total: three nights in Florence, two in Monterosso (Cinque Terre) and two in Lucca. In spite of all the activities, there was still quite a bit of free time. It wasn’t a relentless schedule. There were plenty of opportunities to rest or go your own way. And you could always opt out of any activity, except the few times we actually moved from city to city. An escorted tour is a programmed activity. It’s a little bit of a party, a little bit like a class field trip. In fact Arthur Tauck Sr. wrote in his first newspaper ads back in the ‘20s that he was looking for a party. When done well, it is richly educational, but it’s active and lively education, and rarely feels boring or confined, as school often did. There are many particular aspects of this trip that worth looking further into, including the obvious components, such as the itinerary and inclusions, the hotels, the destinations and activities, as well as the less obvious components: the quality of the guides and tour directors and the hidden bonus, the quality of the clientele with whom one travels with on such a tour. For those who have not experienced a tour, many of these aspects are still unknown. I hope to talk some more about these aspects in columns in the coming days. -- David Cogswell

Back to Home Page