Toni grew up in southern England, and ever since she began school she wanted to be a teacher. She studied history and French, but as time for university approached she was disillusioned with the idea of teaching the inflexible English school curriculum. Much to the horror of her own teachers, Toni decided to forget about teacher training and go to hotel school instead.
Her passion for France began in her early teens, when she started learning the language, and continued as she spent vacations and college trips there.
In 1998 Toni started working for Rick Steves' tour program — a dream job that combines all of her favorite things: traveling and teaching others about the joys of France, the food and wine, and the history of the country. Toni enjoys visiting much of Europe, but France will always be her home.
How did you get involved in guiding?
I first started guiding in 1990, when I worked for a hotel barge company in Burgundy. My knowledge of French, wines, and the fact that I could drive a minibus were the most important criteria. I had to learn guiding "on the job." I spent every spare second frantically reading about and visiting the area and observing local guides. After leaving the barging business and spending a year living on a boat cruising the waterways of southern France, it was time to get back to reality and settle on terra firma. I wanted to get back into guiding — but not on boats — so I contacted a friend of my husband's, William Altman, a French guide for Rick Steves. He put me in contact with France expert Steve Smith, who gave me a trial run assisting a France tour he led in 1998. Since then, I've never looked back.
What do you enjoy about guiding Rick Steves' tours?
I guide only Rick Steves tours because I love the philosophy and the kind of clientele they attract. People on his tours have a real interest in the places they are visiting and the locals they are meeting, and are willing to share their own knowledge and experiences with others. There's a good balance between structured group time and free time, and I enjoy teaching people how to make their own discoveries, rather than leading by the hand every step of the way.
What is your favorite European country besides France?
My favorite country in Europe after France is Italy, though I have to admit that returning home to England gives me almost as much pleasure.
And a note on Paris: It's my favorite European city. Although I wouldn't want to live there full-time, I think I have the best of both worlds — living in the Burgundian countryside but spending more than two months a year guiding in Paris. I feel that makes me at least a part-time Parisian!