The Roberta affair

The Roberta affair

Professional guides

1 May 2015

My Italian fling

She was half my age; Italian, beautiful, clever, and funny. And for a week we explored the Italian Lakes together, having the time of our lives.

The Roberta affairJust Roberta and me. And a dozen other tourists. And my wife.

Yes, despite all my self-booked travels, many of them on my own, sometimes I prefer a tour group.

Roberta led us on a “walking tour” of Northern Italy, with a peek over the border to Switzerland, where we had lunch in the shadow of a glacier and returned on the legendary Bernina Express. A professional guide, Roberta had done this itinerary and similar many times before, so she had the local knowledge, she knew the timetables, she spoke the language, she was an expert on the hiking trails, and she knew the best restaurants.

If I had tried to organise my own trip, it would have been a hopeless muddle, with every chance of an expensive disaster, and the certainty of stress every time I had to break out the phrasebook to buy a ticket. 

Byway of example

There was one bad moment at Lake Garda when we discovered too late that the public bus timetable had changed, and we had missed the bus by five minutes with a two-hour wait for the next one.

The Roberta AffairThis could have been a black hole in the day, but instead, Roberta strolled us along the lake shore – a feast of scenery, activities, and gelati – and we caught the bus when it came by on the next run. She dealt with the difficulty, made a plan that worked, and we had a grand time.

If it had been me struggling with the local geography, the bus route, and the timing, I probably would have chosen a safe course and sat around drinking bus terminal coffee for two hours.

It’s all too hard

I’m pretty good at being my own travel agent nowadays. But every now and then, there’s a challenge I don’t want to face by myself.

The Roberta AffairIran, for example. We stuck with a professional tour company and everything went smoothly. I could have easily made a total hash out of it all by myself.

Or the Italian Lakes. I looked at the complexities of public transport – the buses, ferries, and trains I’d have to work out to get around – and the multitude of hotels, all promising marvellous views and superb cuisine. It all looked daunting, and my Italian language skills were minimal.

The Roberta AffairSo I booked a tour. It was worth it. It was perfect.

The best part was that all the friction of travel was handled by others. We tourists just stood around and gawped and took pictures of everything and chatted while Roberta scurried about and took care of the details.

Thank you, Roberta!

If the destination warrants, yes, I’ll happily take a tour again. There are some cheap Europe deals around, often including flights there and back.

Have you ever taken a tour? What were the high points?

The Roberta affair



  1. We went to Rome this summer and booked a vatican museum/gardens and a trip to the Pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo by train. It was great and so mich easier than if we had organised it ourselves

    1. A good guide – one who knows their stuff and is engaged with the tour members – can make a tour. Did your guide stand out at all?

      And have you written about your visit? Everyone goes to St Peters. Castel Gandolfo, not so much!

  2. We don’t do tours very often either. I am trying to remember the last one we were on! Actually, we did a haunted history tour in Savannah. That was pretty neat! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and a lot of fun! She was able to give us a history of the city that we never would have heard on our own.

    1. I did something similar in Charleston. Our guide really enjoyed her job. Get an extroverted guide who can tell stories, and these historic places really come alive! Or dead, if it’s the haunting your hearing. Could be creepy; was it an evening tour?

  3. Roberta sounds like such a superstar. I’ve never been on a full-on organized tour, but have been on a few walking food tours and the guides have always been incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Many of them are happy to give restaurant recommendations for the rest of the trip!

    1. Roberta was good, and I’ve met many like her around the world. In hindsight, one might say, well, I didn’t need to pay for the guide, I could have looked it up on Yelp or something. And a lot of times I do.

      It’s the local knowledge right there n the moment, coupled with a genuine desire to fit the tourist to the place that counts with me. Spare me those who lead the party here and there to deliver the same practised speech once again.

  4. Yes, I have taken many tours, initially when I started traveling. But now more and more I travel slow and plan my own travel as that gives me so much more flexibility

    1. Oh, I used to be big on travel agents when I first started. But they could never give me exactly what I wanted, and sometimes the exact reverse! So I do my own bookings now. Unless there’s a “tuff” trip with lots of research needed, and a tour will work out less stressful.

      My intention is to return to Varenna one day under my own steam, to spend more time looking at things that we only touched on the tour.

  5. Great story! The tour sounds so lovely. We enjoy walking tours too. One of the most memorable was in New Orleans – we went on a Cocktail History Tour which brought us to several historic bars in the French Quarter. We learned all about the origins of some famous drinks and of course got to try them 🙂 It was so much fun!

    1. Cocktail History tour! Sounds like a blast. I had a bourbon on Bourbon Street a few years back. They served it in little test tubes, and the experiment was successful.

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