Travel can be tricky. But a handful of savvy East Bay residents have mastered making those vacation days count by leading overseas tours that help guests explore their passions, from food, to wine, to art, to gardens. Most excursions require early booking—so what are you waiting for?
Enchanting English Gardens
Rose and Heather Tours
"I specialize in taking people off the beaten path, so I focus entirely on the English countryside," says native Brit turned Moraga resident Gillian Gray. Tour highlights might include Hever Castle and Gardens (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn) and Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Groups range from 10 to 15 people.
Upcoming trip dates: May 11–19. (A summer tour is also a possibility.)
Cost: $4,350 per person includes lodging in historic hotels with breakfast, some dinners, airport transfers from London Gatwick Airport, and all entry fees. rose-and-heather-tours.com.
Art Education in Cultural Capitals
Sistine Chapel Art and Art History
Being a working artist allows Oakland’s Michael Stehr—who often exhibits and lectures at the Piedmont Center for the Arts—to bring special insights to his art-focused tours. "My trips are very intimate encounters with some of our culture’s greatest artistic achievements," Stehr says. His Rome itinerary includes a day trip to Tivoli and a day focused on Caravaggio. Groups include six to eight travelers.
Upcoming trip dates: Rome: March 31–April 8; October 28–November 4. Paris and Chartres: September 30–October 7.
Cost: $4,300 per person (for the spring Rome tour) includes lodging with breakfast, all admissions, and guiding. mstehr.com.
A French Wine Cruise
Several local vintners serve as wine hosts aboard AmaWaterways river cruises. Jeff, Diane, and Collin Cranor, of Livermore’s Nottingham Cellars, will be on April’s Colors of Provence sailing from Lyon to Arles, France. "We hope our guests get a better understanding of the Rhône region and what inspires Nottingham Cellars to produce Rhône-style wines," Diane says. Other itineraries include Bordeaux, Austria’s Wachau Valley, and the Douro wine region in Portugal.
Upcoming trip dates: April 2–9, with many additional wine sailings throughout the year.
Cost: $3,588 per person includes lodging aboard the 144-passenger AmaCello, tours, port fees, and all meals. amawaterways.com.
An Indulgent Italian Feast
The Daily Cornetto
A Danville resident with dual Italian citizenship, Lisa Cecconi says folks on her tours "can expect to see the real Italy." She’s leading her first trip to Umbria and Tuscany this spring; along with wine and olive oil tastings, truffle hunting, and cheese-making, travelers will watch Italian artisans at work. Groups are limited to 10 people.
Upcoming trip dates: Umbria and Tuscany: April 17–23. Amalfi Coast: September 26–October 2.
Cost: $3,995 per person includes lodging at a private villa in Umbria, all breakfasts and dinners, most lunches, all excursions, and entrance fees. thedailycornetto.com/tours.