Tour Guide: Learning from Locals

In Italy, it’s easy to marvel at frescoes painted by the masters. But while gaping at the Sistine Chapel ceiling is nice enough, tour company Context would prefer you try your hand at a more authentic experience: slathering wet plaster with your own artistic finesse during a three-hour fresco workshop in Florence. In addition to scoring a sweet handmade souvenir, participants leave Florence with a greater understanding of why the Renaissance artists preferred fresco best.

A network of architects and historians who lead walking seminars for “intellectually adventurous travelers,” Context offers similarly unique tours and seminars in Paris, Rome, Florence, Naples, and Venice, with New York and London tours soon to debut.

Each tour is centered on a theme, and tour groups are limited to just six people—allowing the groups to tread lightly and support local businesses over tourist traps. Among the highlights: indulging in Parisian chocolate,  studying the ecology of the Venetian lagoon, and diving into Christmas traditions in Naples.

Context founder Paul Bennett, who served as a panelist for October’s “Places Rated: Islands” issue, explains:

The people who lead the walks are not tour guides per se, but are rather scholars in their field who know these cities inside and out. Most hold Ph.D.s or an equivalent terminal degree and teach on the college level, so it’s like going on a walk with a professor who lives and breathes his topic. Many are native or long-time residents…[who] imbue their walks with a deep sense of place and a respect for their environment.

…One of our goals is to fire up our clients about these places, make them fall in love with them in an intellectual sense, and return home to defend and support their patrimony.

Sounds like a tour company after IT’s own authentic-travel-craving heart. Check out more local walking tours and other Tour Guide picks from IT.