The Travel Detective

How One Guided Tour Company Provides Immersive Experiences

Locations in this article:  Florence, Italy

When you hear the words escorted tour or guided tour, what comes to mind? I’ll tell you what comes to my mind. Four words: trapped on a bus. I envision being taken to iconic statues for 20 minutes, then being whisked away to a store to buy things I never wanted in the first place. Is there a better way to do a guided tour and still stay on the bus? Believe it or not, there is.

Guided tours have always been popular, but not all are created equal. Some tour operators have started offering travelers much more than just seeing the expected sites—or being trapped on a bus. Some take them off the beaten path and give travelers actual immersive experiences. One such company is Trafalgar Tours.

We met with a tour group in Florence, Italy. In the morning, they were at a museum. A few hours later, they were living the Italian lifestyle. After all, nothing says Italy more than cooking an Italian feast. Italy lends itself to participatory travel in a local culture.

For the past few years, Trafalgar has sought out and hired some pretty exceptional locals. One is Chef Libero, who gives travelers a memorable outing in Florence. When Chef Libero agreed to work with Trafalgar, he also insisted on crafting the excursion—including taking travelers to a local market.

The market he prefers is not on a tourist map. Instead of the usual souvenirs and refrigerator magnets, this one is filled with fresh produce. Sant’Ambrogio is one of the oldest in Florence, and it’s where the locals go. So once a week, this is where Chef Libero has Trafalgar guests meet him. The Chef hands out money and shopping lists—in Italian, of course. Then it’s a bit of an adventure for the travelers, who get to find and purchase what they need for their cooking class.

Of course, this work has its predictable rewards. As a tour company, Trafalgar is banking on being memorable. For the travelers, the payoff is a great time. But for the tour companies offering experiences along with sightseeing, the real reward is repeat business.

Here’s another example: it’s called be my guest. The tour company takes you onto the personal property of locals. When visiting Florence, it’s Fattoria di Petroio, a stunning homestead that also operates as a winery. Guests can tour the property and meet with the owner—who also happens to be a chef who prepares dinner for the group.

By Peter Greenberg for