Five Perfect Days in Tuscany, Italy

by Hanya Yanagihara

There are some places you can’t help but fall in love with at first sight and return to year after year. We’ve chosen some of the world’s most beloved (and touristed) destinations and, with the help of the best travel specialists in the business, have ferreted out their secrets, their treasures, their unmissable experiences. The result is a series of step-by-step trips that will surprise and delight those who’ve never been to the destination before … or who have been a dozen times. Each of our highly detailed itineraries has been vetted and perfected by a Conde Nast Traveler editor, and each can be bought as is with just one phone call. Let the romance begin.

The Challenge
Trying to describe all the pleasures and prides of Tuscany—that fecund, almost ridiculously picturesque region of central Italy—would take more pages than a single issue of this magazine, and even then, we’d just scratch the surface. So visiting the area, whose capital is Florence and which contains a dazzling number of the world’s iconic masterworks, as well as some of its most luscious wines and scrumptious foods, presents two unconquerable problems. The first is a surfeit of affection. Everyone loves Tuscany, so you will never be alone. But take heart: Do you think Goethe, Twain, and Stendhal (enthusiasts all) had those narrow streets to themselves? Going to Italy means joining a centuries-long roster of tourists. The second difficulty is one of time and endurance there is no way to see all of the region s sights, no way to linger over every masterpiece, no way to stroll every beautifully preserved hilltop town. Attempting to do so would take several lifetimes, and most of us have only a week or so.

The Solution
There are many ways to discover Tuscany, of course, but the most efficient, intimate, and unexpected is to use a travel specialist such as Maria Teresa Berdondini of Tuscany by Tuscans. She was skilled at negotiating the realities of visiting Italy and at arranging special experiences that are the stuff of every tourist s fantasy. Together, we worked out an itinerary that shows off an essential Tuscany, one that reveals the best of the region’s tastes, smells, and sights and will appeal to both the first- and fifteenth-time visitor. And while the latter may cry foul over what’s not in the trip (no extended tour of the Duomo? No visit to the area’s Etruscan ruins?), they’ll also make discoveries about an area that, even after a thousand years and countless visitors, still has its secrets.

Sadly, Maria Teresa Berdondini died shortly after I finished writing this piece. She was a wonderful resource and generous travel guide, and I know that the many people she helped to see the best of her beloved Italy felt the same sorrow I did upon learning of her death. I hope that Berdondini would feel some comfort in knowing that another of our top travel specialists, Maria Gabriella Landers of Concierge in Umbria, is carrying on her legacy and will handle all bookings that result from this trip—one Maria’s gift to the world, fulfilled by another Maria. For the Italians, who find poetry in the everyday, it seems an appropriate tribute.

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How Do I Find a Reliable Travel Agency or Tour Operator?

AskEd & AnswerEd
by Ed Perkins – August 4, 2008

No matter where you look, travel suppliers tout the great wonders of their destinations and “savings” of their prices. Although big airlines and hotel chains are familiar household names, many tour operators and retail travel agencies carry names you’ve never heard before. And you can be understandably concerned about paying a lot of money to one of these unknowns. I frequently get questions about choosing an agency or operator. Here’s an example:

“I found a tour to China that seemed very attractive, but I’m not sure the tour operator is reputable. How can I protect myself against possible loss or disappointment?”

The short answer is, “If it’s an obscure supplier, you’ll have a tough time finding out much about it.” But the question raises several fundamental issues about buying from unfamiliar sources.

Travel agents
Presumably, you use a travel agent rather than booking yourself because you value the counsel and assistance a good agent can provide. Customer service therefore becomes the dominant basis for choice.

Recommendations from friends and relatives are clearly the best option.
Most travel agents post a laundry list of accreditations and trade memberships. Some, such as CLIA, are strictly marketing and lobbying operations; others, such as IATA and IATAN are part of a network selling air tickets and other travel services.

ASTA (the American Society of Travel Agents) is the only trade association that has an active consumer office. If you have a problem with an ASTA member agency that you can’t resolve locally, ASTA will help mediate the dispute. That’s a good reason for selecting an ASTA agency.

One important caveat: You don’t want an agency that sells only the travel products carried by one of the GDS (Global Distribution System, one of the industry’s computer-based selling systems) networks it uses. These days, too many good deals are available only directly or through the Internet; a GDS-only agency can’t get at them.

My take
Neither nor I can go out on a limb and recommend any individual agencies or operators as “reliable” or “reputable.” I’ve been following this business for more than 40 years, and some of the biggest failures I’ve seen have been of companies that were widely regarded as “reliable” right up to the day they folded. And we obviously don’t want to be on the hook because a site we recommended failed to deliver a promised ticket.

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You aren’t a travel agent

by Lisa Kadane, Calgary Herald

So, you think you’re a travel agent? You’ve got a computer, high-speed Internet and a burgeoning library of websites that promise the best deals on airfares and accommodations, from to Plus, you googled “African safari” and found a slick site selling off Big 5 tours for next to nothing. Now, all you need is seven hours on a Saturday to research and book your trip.

If that sounds about as much fun as a day spent pulling weeds, you’re not alone. Some trips are easy to book on the web — a round-trip flight from Calgary to Vancouver to visit a friend, for example. Others are more complicated affairs — Galapagos Islands, anyone? — that illustrate the need for travel counsellors in an electronic age.

“The myth is that everything is cheaper on the Internet,” says Steve Gillick, president and COO of the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors.

In reality, Gillick says travellers often don’t understand the time it takes to DIY their trip, nor do they realize the invaluable insider information to be garnered from travel agents. Forget to factor in crucial details, from visas to travel insurance, and being your own agent could become one big mistake.

The Herald talked to travel counsellors across the country and rounded up four scenarios where it pays to use an expert.

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