Before she became a guide for Rick Steves, Sarah had already traveled to 50 countries around the world. Now that she lives in Italy and guides our Best of Italy, Best of South Italy, Heart of Italy, Village Italy, Venice-Florence-Rome, and Best of Tuscany tours, she finds herself staying closer to home for work and her travels. Her favorite trips combine spectacular landscapes, vibrant cities, and something new to learn about a place's history and culture. That sounds a lot like what a Rick Steves tour has to offer!
What brought you to Italy?
My love for Italy has developed over the years. I came to teach middle school math and science at the American school in Milan in 2005, intending to stay just three years. I didn't speak a word of Italian and really, I didn't know very much about Italy. Now, all these years later, I live in Verona, and my passion for all things Italian continues to grow every day. Aside from the obvious natural and architectural beauty surrounding me every day (and the food!), I love how much diversity is packed into this one country, culturally, and geographically.
When did you start guiding?
After teaching for 15 years, I found myself looking for a new job in my adopted home of Verona. Several friends and family members suggested that I could build a new career around all my travel experience. I only applied to one tour company: Rick Steves' Europe. I now have my dream job working with Americans and sharing my appreciation of Italy — and I still get to teach! It's true, Rick Steves tour members are a bit different than middle-schoolers (who are wonderful in their own way). Guiding constantly motivates me to continue learning, whether it's from interesting questions from tour members or my own quest to delve deeper into the history and culture of Italy.
Do you have any favorite memories from your tours?
One year, my tour was in Assisi during Calendimaggio, a medieval festival in May. Schools close down and all residents join their side of town, the upper or the lower, and compete in friendly contests such as tug-of-war, archery, and drumming. My tour members and I were so close to the action, we really felt like we had traveled back in time to the Middle Ages. And we enjoyed the food and drink at the makeshift taverns set up all over town, too!
Another "wow" moment is perfect weather in the Dolomites, the kind that leaves everyone speechless from the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. And there was nothing like the day in October one year when the locals brought their cows ceremoniously down from the high meadow, right into the town of Castelrotto. It was a unique event with alpenhorns being played below as cows decked out in flower headdresses and massive cowbells were herded down the mountain. Young people dressed in traditional costumes followed in wagons, handing out pancakes to onlookers, and some older guys had bottles of schnapps to share!
You lead several of Rick's Italy tour itineraries. What sets them apart and what do you like about each of them?
I love all my tours equally! But they are different. The Best of Italy tour gives the perfect overview of the geographical and cultural diversity of Italy's north and central areas. We cover eight of Italy's 20 regions, with the grand finale in Rome. It would be hard to pack more quality destinations in 17 days. The Village Italy tour has a slower pace and a bit more eating. While we only visit one museum in 14 days, this tour allows you to get really close to Italian culture with visits to an olive oil press, the workshops of local artisans, and a truffle farm. Each of these visits is a chance to connect personally with our hosts. After 14 days, tour members are surprised at how many places we visited without the tour feeling rushed! There's never a dull moment on the Heart of Italy tour. In just nine days it's amazing how much variety we pack in, starting in Rome, staying in a Tuscan hill town, lounging (or hiking!) in the Italian Riviera, and finishing in Renaissance Florence. Rick's Venice-Florence-Rome tour combines the most visited cities in Italy. Many people come on this tour because of the chance to see in person the great sights of the canals of Venice and the Colosseum, not to mention the Renaissance art, including Michelangelo's David. But because we stay in each city for three nights, there's also time for some extra activities, like a lagoon tour in Venice, a cooking class in Florence, and wine tasting on the way to Rome.
I'm also glad that Rick added the Best of Tuscany tour in 2020. I've lived in Italy for many years now, and I still find new areas to explore, often returning to favorite locations. As a Rick Steves' Europe guide, I still love showing off my adopted country to tour members and sharing my passion for this country.
Which stop on the Best of Tuscany tour do you look forward to most?
It's always hard for me to choose a favorite out of so many outstanding spots, so I'm going to have to pick three. First is Pitigliano, a small town that was built on the top of a tuff butte. The view from its dramatic position overlooking a gorge is stunning. Pitigliano's unique Jewish history and the buildings in the Jewish quarter make the town a highlight for me. Second, I'm thrilled that we visit the island of Elba on this tour. It is logistically very challenging to get there using public transportation; it took me over 10 years to finally make a personal visit there despite having always heard Italians speak so highly of it. I discovered that Elba is truly captivating, with a combination of thousands of years of history, fine vistas, great food, and lovely beaches. Finally, I love that we start the tour in Florence. No matter how many times I visit, there is always more to explore!
Can you tell us more about what people can expect on the Tuscany tour?
There's no doubt that this is a special tour. It goes without saying (like on any Rick Steves tour) that you'll have many great experiences that you probably wouldn't have traveling on your own. Tour members will get a chance to discover the Tuscan countryside and tiny Tuscan hill towns that I've been lucky enough to stumble on through my own travels in Italy — like the Val d'Orcia and the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. We get to visit the main cities of Tuscany (Florence and Siena) and enjoy stays at some of the most picturesque villas in the Tuscan countryside. Our experiences range from checking out spectacular art and architecture to culinary pleasures (like wine tasting at a meal you've helped prepare), with plenty of time to relax and appreciate the beautiful landscape of Tuscany. There will be fewer museums on the itinerary, but you will have many opportunities to see art in situ. I don't think you can ever have too much Tuscany, especially when you realize that Tuscany has some beautiful coastline, including the amazing island of Elba.
Here's what Sarah won't tell you…but her tour members will:
"After each trip we marvel as to how Rick can find such exceptional guides — and Sarah tops them all. Sarah is organized, thoughtful and hard-working (and she provides the best treats of any guide). Under Sarah's leadership, our group developed a family feeling. People are still emailing and sending photos two weeks after the tour!"
— Linda in Renton, WA