A New Adventure: Walking From Piemonte to Portofino
Last week, my friend Sande and I went on a five day Butterfield and Robinson walking tour from Piemonte to Portofino. Sande is a pro, having taken almost a dozen B&R trips around the world. I, on the other hand, am/was a total newbie. I had never done, or had any interest in doing, anything like it.
But I now say yes to almost everything and have a new knee which can do all sorts of things. So, I was in—even though I was not exactly sure what I was letting myself in for--or, perhaps more importantly, whether I could meet the “enthusiastic” hiking/walking requirements. I am enthusiastic about the flat plains of New York City—but this?
As I expressed my excitement tinged with fear to my daughter, she (who hikes Kilimanjaro, white water rafts at level 5 and jumps out of planes), knew exactly what I was getting into and was proud and encouraging of her new adventurous Mom—though I did detect trepidation in her voice when she heard about my hiking “sneakers”.
As it turns out, Sande and I had the most amazing, stress-free time. I loved everything about it. Sure, there were some minor things like hikes that I wish were a little easier, a meal that was a bit too long and heavy, but all in all it was pretty perfect. My thoughts on what made it so:
Butterfield and Robinson is a first class operation. They don’t skimp. The hotels, food, planning, guides---all reflect knowledge and caring that you are well taken care of. It’s not inexpensive, but when you think about all you get, it’s a pretty good deal.
The people on our trip—from engineers to executives, bankers to surgeons, designers to teachers, entertainment to advertising mavens and from all over the world—were wonderful travel colleagues. Nice, interesting, adventurous, gracious, generous, flexible—and fun. As you choose a tour operator, think about what level of service you will be getting and whether they are likely to attract people you want to spend time with.
Our group was 12, excluding our two guides. That was just right. I can’t imagine spending that much time with more than 20 fellow travelers. There were three couples, two sets of friends, and two women travelling by themselves. Sande and I found our travel rhythms easily, and made sure we had our time for ourselves. Butterfield accommodated us all.
We toured the vineyards of Piemonte and then were transported to the entirely different scenery of Portofino along the coast. Doing only one or the other would not have held my interest in the same way. Five days of vineyards would have been too much for me.
We had two guides, Marella and Francesco. Marella is more experienced and set the tone. She is smart, punctilious in following through on everyone’s special requests and personal needs (from less strenuous walks, to massages, to food requirements) with grace and a can- do attitude. She really made the trip. Francesco was more junior but was equally accommodating and fun. They both cared passionately that everyone had a good time—in just the way each of us wanted to have it.
For us, having lovely hotels at the end of long, sometimes dirty, sweaty and muddy, walks, was a key part of making this a wonderful vacation. Our favorite, of course, was the magnificent Splendido in Portofino. No wonder it has such a storied movie star history. It is hotel perfection, with extraordinary views and service. But our other two hotels were very good too, with a specific shout out to the Arborina Relais hotel, with beautifully designed suites and lovely private outdoor space among the vineyards. It has a formal restaurant too. Check it out if you are in the area.
Lastly, we spent a couple of days in Milan before we met our group in Turin. And then an extra day in Portofino after the tour ended to wind down, do just what we wanted. If you can, having some time in the beginning to adjust to any time zone changes, and at the end to relax, do it.
Bottom line. I would do it again. We are already talking about where. Sande, of course, is trying to convince me that the next hiking level up—“Avid”—is doable for me. Remembering some of the steeper hills, I am not so sure. We will see. Erica