Active tours to Europe
Adventurous and sporty tours of Europe, from bike tours and countryside walks to mountain treks and horseback trips
Whether its a bike tour of Sicily or a walk along the Cinque Terre, a horseback ride through Tuscany or a hike through the Italian Alps or Dolomites, there are plenty of opportunities to have an active vacation in Italy.
Active tour operators
Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) - This fantastic Australian company marries an independent travel style (staying in cheap guesthouses, traveling by public transport) with the expertise of truly knowledgeable guides.
It has a larger than usual commitment to sustainable tourism, and tiny groups, often limited to 8-12. When my (anti–group tour) parents found themselves with airfare to Japan and no time to plan, this is where I sent them.
A bit less about the physical activities and more about the cultural experiences. One drawback: no airfare.
G Adventures (www.gadventures.com) - G Adventures boasts 1,000 trips in 100 countries, from the more tour-like Comfort and Original trips to the gnarlier Active and Overland ones. G Adventures also believes in smaller group sizes.
Drawbacks: no airfare (yet), and quoted prices are not as inclusive as some others (read the fine print to find out about lots of on-the-ground costs, often including most meals).
REI Adventures (www.reiadventures.com) - America's greatest co-op chain of outdoors gear stores also offers active vacations. Though their real strong suit is domestic adventures, they hit all seven continents. REI tends to be pricier than most, but with impeccable credentials, and is ideal for those for whom being active is as important as the destination.
Djoser (www.djoserusa.com) - Perhaps since they're Dutch (and Europeans get longer vacations), Djoser offers longer trips and looser schedules, admirably not trying to pack too much into too short a time. You get to pick your group style: travel with other North Americans or with an international group (some conducted in English, others in Dutch and English).
InfoHub (www.infohub.com) - Not a tour company, rather a kind of aggregator of trips offered by tour companies. it casts one of the largest nets over the industry, listing some 14,000 tours offered by 4,000 operators in more than 100 categories—everything from artists' workshop to llama trekking, nudist resorts to biblical tours, language schools to personal guide services.
InfoHub's search engine returns results listed by trip rather than by company (for example, it lists nearly 100 bike tours in Italy, but those are offered by just 15 companies). Still, I guess if you could care less the name of the outfitter and are just looking for a selection of 10-day bike tours across Tuscany and Umbria, this is the best way to do it.
You don't book trips directly. You are essentially sending away for a brochure (or a contact) from the actual tour companies.
Explore (www.exploreworldwide.com) - A U.K.-based small-group adventure tour company, a wee bit pricer than some of the others above, but with an excellent catalog of interesting trips (and a U.S. sales office).
On Foot Holdiays (www.onfootholidays.co.uk) - British outfit that offers self-guided walking itineraries throughout Europe. They provide the maps, B&B reservations, luggage transport, sometimes meals, and often transfers to and from the starting and ending points; you do the walking on your own. Decent prices for the service: £750 for a week walking the Amalfi Coast, £805 for Catalonia in Spain (including most meals: dinners and picnic lunches), £550 for trhe Istrian Peninsula of Croatia (again with some meals), of £950 for Côtes du Rhône in France's Northern Provence (including most meals).
Active Gourmet Holidays (www.activegourmetholidays.com) - Mixing active pursuits—walking and biking, mostly, with some golf and yoga—with one-day cooking classes, longer cooking courses, wine tasting, and other culinary adventures. Nifty idea.