While mass tourism seems to be wreaking havoc on the world’s most beautiful destinations, others lay untouched just off the tourist radar. Even Italy, which attracts 60 million visitors a year, is filled with regions and territories that are virtually unknown and spared the crowds. All you need to do is get off-the-beaten-path and travel like a local. Sounds easy enough, right?
The truth is, traveling like a local is appealing but it’s not always straight-forward. This type of experience usually necessitates that there is someone on the inside who can guide you on your trip – and that’s precisely where The Italian On Tour steps in. Founded by Giovanni Dagostino, a Marchigiano from Ascoli Piceno, and his wife Chantelle Kern, a Canadian transplant in Italy, the boutique travel company offers immersive journeys in one of Italy’s most authentic regions: Le Marche.
With its medieval hilltop towns, lush countryside, hearty cuisine and longstanding traditions, Le Marche may draw similarities to Umbria or Tuscany but it’s a region that deserves to be recognized for its own history and cultural identity. Some of its highlights include the UNESCO-listed Renaissance town of Urbino, the pristine coastline of the Conero Natural Park, the beautiful Travertine piazzas of Ascoli Piceno and the Grotte di Frasassi, Europe’s largest underground cave system. Le Marche is also home to the largest Roman cisterns in Italy. It’s a region that blends culture – like the highest concentration of historic theaters in the world – with natural scenery, great food and a relaxed vibe.
“The reason I love Le Marche so much is that it’s all of Italy wrapped up into one region. In the same day you can go from visiting the Sibillini Mountains and truffle country to being in a beautiful medieval city – and then driving through wine country to the Adriatic Sea,” say Chantelle. “It offers something for everyone.”
“And Le Marche is the underdog,” Giovanni adds. “That’s part of the beauty of visiting this region. It’s still relatively unknown so there is a lot to discover.”
The Italian On Tour itineraries run 5, 7 or 9 days and longer tours include a few day trips into nearby Abruzzo. Guests will wander through Italy’s most beautiful hilltop villages, learn how to make fresh pasta in a 17th century villa, taste local wines at an award-winning family-run winery, dine at Italy’s top Slow Food restaurant, soak in some sunshine by the coast and more.
Food, of course, is an integral focus of any Italian vacation and the company stands out for its ability to accommodate diets of all kinds. Celiacs, vegetarians and anyone with dietary restrictions will feel comfortable traveling with Giovanni and Chantelle. A celiac herself, Chantelle has selected restaurants that cater to gluten-free travelers and diverse palates so guests can rest assured they’ll be tasting the best of Italy – without any unwanted side effects.
Giovanni and Chantelle are dynamic and charming and have tapped into their network to provide exclusive experiences for their guests. Travel experts with a passion for the food, wine and art, they are the perfect guides to translate the Italian experiences for their guests and help introduce them to this corner of Italy.
“We understand both sides so you get the best of both worlds. We speak Italian and we understand the local nuance, but we’ve also lived and traveled abroad so we can anticipate the needs of our guests. Our experiences give them the opportunity to go beneath the surface and really connect the people and the country, something they wouldn’t be able to do on their own,” says Chantelle.
The company’s mission is two-fold: one, to introduce travelers to locals and bring them face-to-face with the people behind each establishment. And two, to support the families and entrepreneurs in Italy by bringing them business.
“Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Italy and we want to help create jobs in Le Marche. It’s important for us to collaborate with – and support – passionate people,” says Chantelle. “Each and every one of our partners represents an important part of Italy and brings value to the region by honoring local traditions or reinterpreting them in an innovative way.”
“One of the wineries we visit on our tours was founded by young, 30-year-old Italians who moved back to Le Marche after living abroad, just like I did,” says Giovanni. “The economic conditions in Italy are difficult but they inherited land here and wanted to do something unique – and the end result is amazing. We love their wines and so do our guests.”
Slow tourism and responsible travel can create a virtuous cycle for travelers and locals alike. “So many people try to see everything in the shortest amount of time, but we’re on the opposite end of the spectrum,” says Chantelle. “We have people stay in Ascoli Piceno for up to 9 days. This way, you get to experience what it would actually be like to live in an Italian city and have enough time to see all of the highlights in the surrounding territory.”
And when you travel with The Italian On Tour, you also get to relax. You only have to unpack your suitcase once, and evenings are free to explore the town of Ascoli on your own time. Famous for its olive ascolane, stuffed with minced meat and fried to perfection, historic Meletti café and numerous eateries (including Gambero Rosso award-winning pizzerias) Ascoli is a delightful city to enjoy at your own pace and well worth a visit whether it’s your first time in Italy or your tenth.