By Susan Van Allen
“I will treasure my visit here in memory as long as I live,” Audrey Hepburn said in Roman Holiday, after escaping her princess duties to have fun in La Citta Eterna. Inspired by Audrey and my immigrant grandmother who instilled in me a love of all things Italian, in 1976 I headed to Rome, checked into a hostel, and had my own magical time. It was a blur of racing through the Forum, standing awestruck in the Sistine Chapel, and tasting my first gelato.
The spell was cast and years later, my frequent visits back to Italy have put me among the ever-growing trend of women lured there. While both sexes enjoy the country’s masterpieces, stunning landscapes, wine, and fabulous food, Italy holds extra appeal for females. There are luxurious spas, shopping to-die-for, and of course handsome men whose flirting styles have been perfected to one of the country’s most entertaining art forms. All that combined with Italy’s slower pace make it a dream destination for women looking for a rejuvenating break from their busy lives.
Lots of single women, girlfriends traveling together, and mother-daughter teams are signing up for Women Only Tours to Italy. Though I’ve always been an independent traveler, I’ve recently jumped on this bandwagon, discovering that group travel has loads of advantages—the expert planners who’ve established relationships with the locals, so I’m taken in as part of la famiglia upon arrival; the long-lasting friendships that I’ve gained by meeting other like-minded gals along the way; the fact that I don’t have to worry about logistical details that are flawlessly taken care of by pros. And in these days of the ever-rising euro, group tours (at least the ones I recommend below) are priced lower than what I’d pay if I was going it solo.
Women’s Travel Club
Whether you want to do All Italy (an eleven-day tour that covers the major cities), explore the Amalfi Coast, or spend Thanksgiving cooking in a Tuscan Villa, this company provides a variety of scheduled tours throughout the year for groups of no more than twenty.
Female-friendly perks include accommodations at four-star boutique hotels that are conveniently located for shopping and a welcoming cocktail party to start the all-gal party flowing.
“We have lots of repeat customers,” says Club president, Allison O’Sullivan. “They’re women who want to give themselves the gift of travel, who want to get to know Italy on a deeper emotional level than they would on other tours, and who keep in touch for years with new friends they’ve made along the way.”
“It was great to have so many sisters to help decide which leather coat to buy,” said Kathy, a repeat visitor, about her trip to Florence.
Cooking Vacations International runs this week-long culinary program for small groups (maximum of twelve) in Positano. “Ages range from nineteen to eighty-five—no kidding!,” says President Lauren Birmingham, who lives in Positano, giving the program an insider’s expertise.
The relaxed tone of the program is set immediately by the accommodations, which are in a private estate, surrounded by manicured gardens, a lemon grove, and breathtaking views of the coast. Itineraries include three hands-on cooking classes, lectures about Renaissance women, watercolor and journal writing instruction, as well as visits to markets, gardens, and surrounding spots such as Amalfi and Capri. In addition, there’s flexible free time to simply chill-out on your terrace, take a swim at the nearby private beach, or a hike on The Walk of the Gods in the hills above Positano.