As a global tour operator, we are committed to operating every one of our trips in a way that respects and benefits local people, their culture and economy, while minimising our impact on the natural environment.
We travel in small groups Ė on this trip the maximum group size is 12 passengers Ė which means we can stay in small, locally-owned or family-run hotels and when we visit the Cinque Terre area we will stay in a small guesthouse. Wherever possible we use public transport, and on this journey you will travel almost entirely by train as you make your way southbound from Venice to Rome. If you want to take an optional day trip from Florence to Siena, you can take a local bus and the rest of the time we will be exploring on foot.
For maximum flexibility, there are no meals included on this tour so you can choose where to eat. Your leader will suggest authentic, local restaurants, bars, markets and other eating places where you can dine on locally-sourced Mediterranean produce and regional specialities. For example, pesto is a speciality in the Ligurian region, where it is often served with pasta, green beans and potato. There is an optional pesto-making class in Levanto for those who want to try making it for themselves and eating it in the way that locals would, on bread like an antipasto.
Wherever possible, we encourage passengers to support traditional artisans and small-scale businesses, for example hand-painted ceramics and glassware in Venice. There is also a wine shop where the owner will fill your empty plastic bottles with local Veneto wine from his demijohns. Fake designer bags are a particular problem in Venice, as well as other major cities in Italy, and we advise travellers not to purchase them both for ethical reasons and because you can be fined for purchasing fake goods.
On this trip, we spend a full day walking in the UNESCO protected area of Cinque Terre ('Five Lands') along the Ligurian Coast, an area famed for the beauty of its coastline and picturesque villages. The national park is funded in part by charging walkers for an entry ticket, which is included in the tour price, so by visiting the area you are also able to contribute to its preservation. The area was hit by record flooding in 2011, and a number of coastal paths were closed due to rockslides. Repair work should be completed and all paths reopened by summer 2013, but we ask all passengers to respect any areas that are deemed off-limits so that we can preserve the area for future walkers to enjoy. If you donít feel able to walk the entire path (which is 12km in total), there is an option to take a train between any of the villages and your day pass also allows you to take electric buses within the park.
We operate this trip on a carbon neutral basis, by offsetting 293kg of C02 emissions for each passenger. After a three-year process, we were proud to become a carbon neutral company in 2010 and we have an ongoing programme to measure, reduce and offset the carbon emissions from our offices, stores and trips. We also offer passengers who book their flight through us the option to offset those emissions. To date, we have offset more than 45,000 tonnes of carbon emissions by investing in a range of internationally accredited renewable energy projects in destinations where we travel.
As well as a Responsible Travel Code of Conduct which we adhere to as a company, we expect our staff and travellers to demonstrate the principles of responsible travel and provide a number of responsible travel tips to facilitate this, for example advice on what clothing is appropriate and respectful. While there are few dress restrictions in Europe we request that our passengers dress modestly and cover their shoulders when visiting churches or religious sites.
As a tour company, our responsibilities donít stop when our tours end. In 2002, we established a charitable foundation so that our passengers and staff could support grassroots community projects around the world. To date, it has raised over £2million for over 75 projects involved with health care, education, human rights, child welfare, sustainable development, and environmental and wildlife protection. We match every donation made by passengers and pay the administration costs, so every penny that is donated goes to a good cause.