Caroline feels that Riviera Travel really deserves its recent Sunday Times Travel Award.
Having read recently that Riviera Travel had won the Sunday Times Award for Best Escorted Tour Operator I wasn’t at all surprised. Granted we have only ever been on one holiday like this but it was with Riviera and I can’t imagine that the competition could have done half as well.
The holiday in question was a 7 night tour of Sicily and there were about fifty in our group, ranging in age from the two of us in our mid 50s to those in their 80s. Everyone seemed to have similar stamina levels and if I am as agile and willing to have a go in 30 years’ time as some of our fellow travellers, I’ll be happy!
The group used a hotel outside Agrigento for the first three nights and then a hotel in Giardini Naxos near Taormina for the next four. The ground covered was astonishing and far more than we would ever have packed in on our own, even if we had been willing to drive in some of the crazy traffic, particularly Palermo! There were occasions when the length of time spent on the coach seemed too long but then you would arrive at some of the most amazing places and you would realise how worthwhile the journey had been. The tour leader, Ruth, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sicily, old and current and so the time spent travelling passed quickly. The local guides at places like the Temples of Agrigento, Monreale and Villa del Casale were equally knowledgeable and fluent in English.
Now for the cons. To be honest the hotels, although 4 star and absolutely fine, would not have been our choice, had we been travelling on our own. Then again the sort of small hotels that we like would not have been able to cater for such a large group. Most of the days were so busy that you certainly didn’t spend much time in the hotel so it really didn’t matter, so long as you had a comfy bed to retire to! Secondly, whether you like dining with others is very much a personal preference but there was no hiding away for the shy! Tables for two were not an option and you had to be willing to practise your small talk whilst half asleep over breakfast (some days required a very early start) which again we could have done without. Dinner was provided at both hotels but we struck out in Giardini Naxos having discovered a lovely restaurant nearby, and with the tour leader’s blessing enjoyed a bit of time on our own.
The week’s tour was certainly worth doing and it was rather nice to let someone else sweat the detail for a change! It wouldn’t be the first time that we have turned up at one of the lesser known churches on a holiday to discover the door firmly shut and no indication as to when it will be open. This time we were happy for the tour leader to phone ahead and confirm the details. Similarly with parking, it was great to be able to hop out of the coach right outside the cathedral in Palermo and let the driver work out what to do with his vehicle!
It would have been great to have had longer in Palermo but we solved that problem by returning there earlier this year for a few days. Similarly we would have loved to visit Noto, famed for its Baroque architecture but that just gives us the ideal excuse for another holiday on the beautiful island of Sicily.
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