Our review of Go Ahead Tour’s Puglia and Southern Italy itinerary
This was our second trip in less than a year with Go Ahead Tours and we thoroughly enjoyed each trip (last year’s was to Croatia and Slovenia). The vast majority of the travel we have done over the years has been independent – we’ve planned it all, arranged our own transportation and figured out everything else. So when we initially tried group travel we were skeptical. This was our first time in Italy with a group so it was an interesting experiment as we had each been there 5 times previously. So what did we like and were there things we didn’t like?
Ease of planning
Maybe we’re just getting lazy (there’s some supporting evidence for this possibility) but we were perfectly happy to have someone else figure out the schedule, where to stay and what to see. When we went over the itinerary before finalizing the trip we saw that it hit on all of the places on our “must see” list except for one (more on that later). We decided to add the extension to Rome as Brunette had never been there.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of planning a trip is selecting hotels. We spend hours pouring over reviews, making sure the locations are convenient and trying to make cancellable reservations as much as possible. We were very pleased with all (but one) of the hotels on the Puglia and Southern Italy itinerary. They were clean, comfortable, had wi-fi and a/c that worked (no small feat in Italy), good breakfast buffets and locations that were convenient for walking to town in our free time. Our luggage was always delivered to our rooms soon after our arrival and we always got the two beds we requested (we were keeping a spare in case George Clooney showed up).
But not over-planned
We don’t like to have all day every day planned and one of our favorite things about the Go Ahead Tour of Puglia was that they gave us free time at every destination. In some small towns it might only be half an hour but you can have a good chunk of the afternoon and evenings in many places. When there is free time, if you aren’t sure what to do, the guides always have plenty of suggestions. Our guide, Linda, grew up in the region and was very knowledgeable about what there was to do and was very frank in her opinions which we liked.
Having free time let us select restaurants that appealed to our tastes (we can’t eat seafood) and get in some shopping. One time we just took the afternoon to hang around and read our books. Another time we had a swim in a hotel’s rooftop pool. We would like to say we used the time to go to museums, but we didn’t. Oh, and sometimes we wasted our time (mostly because George Clooney didn’t show up).
Well-selected optional activities
We did them all – literally. And we truly enjoyed them all. But when we made ourselves decide which were the top two that really made our trip memorable we agreed that they were the day trip to Capri and the cooking class. Capri’s charms are self-evident but if you aren’t a cook, why the cooking class?
Because the cooking class is just part of the experience on that outing. First you walk around a beautiful masseria where the owner is welcoming, speaks good English and has an interesting story to tell about the place. The cooking class itself is very non-threatening even for people who can barely make a cup of coffee. Several men who may have been there semi-involuntarily ended up having a great time. There was lots of humor, fabulous food (not the stuff we made) and if you screwed up enough the adorable chef would put his arms around you to show you proper technique (wink wink). The few people who didn’t go really wished they had so if you suffer from FOMO don’t miss it!
And, if you do the Rome extension, the Vatican tour was excellent. We had a very small group and the guide was able to make some changes to show us a few lesser known galleries that were of interest to us and where the larger groups were not going.
If your budget can handle it, do all of the excursions because they’re interesting and add to your overall enjoyment and memories.
Go Ahead Tours deservedly gets lots of kudos from their travelers for the quality of the guides. Our guide was the person who developed the itinerary in the first place. She has a lot of pride in the region and a sense of ownership to make sure we all had a great experience. A few things she did really stood out to us.
One person had a strong sensitivity to gluten. Linda not only made sure she always had a gluten-free meal but also several times bought gluten-free snacks for the person. (Remember, this was Italy!)
And remember how one place we really wanted to see wasn’t on the itinerary? Brunette asked about it on the first night of the trip and the next day it had been added. It was a beautiful, seaside town everyone enjoyed. Linda’s flexibility and desire to give us a special experience made it happen.
What impressed us the most was an incident where someone lost her wallet. The traveler thought she’d dropped it at the gift shop in Herculaneum (of course the rest of us thought she’d been robbed). Linda got hold of the gift-shop manager (after-hours) and found out the wallet was indeed there. We were all on the way to our next destination already so there was no turning back.
The bus driver’s brother went to the shop and retrieved the wallet which had all of the cash and cards still in it. He somehow got it to his brother-in-law who, several days later, jumped out of a car at an intersection and ran over and handed the wallet to Linda in our bus. The whole thing was so above and beyond the call of duty that the group was astounded. If the wallet-loser had been traveling on her own or with a guide who didn’t have a feeling of personal responsibility she probably would never have seen her wallet again.
There are also local guides at each destination and they were all people with strong personal ties to the places. In Matera the guide’s family had lived in the caves. That kind of local perspective makes a guide more than just someone who gives you factual information.
And we have to mention our bus driver who was friendly, kept an immaculate bus, didn’t smoke and, most importantly of all, was a very safe and skillful driver.
Our advice if you go to Puglia and Southern Italy with Go Ahead Tours
Select the time of year thoughtfully
We went in late May, early June and had very good weather overall. It was cooler than we expected by the sea and at night (duh) so we each wished we had taken a couple sweaters.
You may read that Puglia is undiscovered, and compared to the Vatican that’s true, but it has been discovered. In general we avoid travel in Europe in August because of the sheer numbers of “regular” tourists plus all of the Europeans who are also on vacation. Go Ahead gives you helpful trip planning information in their FAQs for each trip.
Download the Go Ahead app before you go
Their app can be used offline which is a huge plus for seeing what you’re doing the next (or same) day and seeing a lot of other information. Yes, the guide will give you the same info but we found the app to be handy several times.
Follow their packing guidelines
But throw in a sweater, rain jacket and at least two outfits you would like to wear to a nice dinner or entertainment. Take to heart the recommendation to only bring comfortable footwear. Also, believe them that there is a lot of walking and some of it is on moderately challenging terrain.
Consider doing some of your own research ahead of time
Whatever you do don’t tell Go Ahead Tours, but we tended to like the restaurants we found on our own more than the ones recommended by hotel concierges or even our guide (shhh…) Although it’s important to note that Go Ahead Tours did a very good job of selecting restaurants for our group dinners.
And if you are hoping to see something very specific – wine drinking dolls made of olive trees, for example- find out where that might be possible. The guides are smart but they can’t know every specific interest anyone might have and be able to address it on the fly.
Follow Go Ahead Tours on Facebook
They often have good promotions you might not know about otherwise and they actually publish interesting stuff.
Feel free to ask us questions
Our first piece of advice will be to do this itinerary. We are always happy to provide additional opinions and the occasional fact!
Disclosure: Our trips were provided for free by Go Ahead Tours which is why we occasionally behaved better than we might have otherwise. Occasionally.