Please sign in to post.

Tour Companies Other Than Rick Steves

I am looking to plan a trip to Provence in 2021. Does anyone know of tour companies that offer small group itineraries in Provence? I would like to do a Rick Steves tour, of course, but there are not any tours for just the South of France. I'm not interested in large group tours, I'd like something intimate and authentic, a la Rick Steves.
I also need the tour to be around 7 to 10 days, otherwise I would consider some of the Rick Steves tours that in include stops in the South of France. I cant do a 14 day tour with my employer's vacations policies.

I enjoy self-guided travel, but my husband would be more comfortable on a tour. So we are exploring put options. Any suggestions welcome!

Thanks!

Posted by
915 posts

My parents used Road Scholars and would recommend them. They went to Spain but there are some tours in France. While the tours used to run to an older crowd, nowadays there are people in their 30s&40s as well.

Posted by
488 posts

We've taken 4 river cruises (the first was actually Provence) and 2 land tours with Tauck with a third scheduled for Sep (we hope). They are a higher end tour company than RS (4 star hotels, more meals included, airport transfers, luggage handling, etc) but always deliver more than promised.

Their land tours include both larger group (44 max) and smaller (22-24). They have an 8 day small group tour of Provence. https://www.tauck.com/tours/provence-france-escorted-tour

Posted by
7680 posts

I've done 11 Rick Steves tour as well as 11 Road Scholar tours. Road Scholar is my go to company if Rick doesn't offer an itinerary in the area I'm interested in. I've done 6 of their European tours including one to Provence last October. It may be a few days longer than you want. I enjoyed it a lot. For tours covering a smaller area they tend to stay in one or two places and do day trips out from that location. The hotel in Arles is also the hotel where Rick's tours stay. I find the groups congenial and the guides/leaders are very good. They often have more meals included than Rick's tours. This particular program had a focus on the "Art of Living" so had wine included in every meal. I've not ever been a big rosé fan but I enjoyed trying it several times on this tour.

Here is my Trip Report if you are interested:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-9-25-10-26-19-paris-and-a-road-scholar-tour-in-provence

Here is the link to the program I did. Do note that they count "Day 1" as the day you leave the US. I always do my own airfare and do some touring before and after. For this tour I did a couple of weeks in Paris ahead and a few days in Paris afterward. I am comfortable taking the train in France so the TGV to Aix-en-Provence was no problem. I did go to Aix the day ahead - always give myself an extra night before the start of a program especially in France with their rail strikes.

https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/3729/provence-the-art-of-living

I'm happy to answer questions about this program or Road Scholar. I will say they are not being as gracious with cancellations during this pandemic as Rick is being. I would definitely investigate travel insurance and take a look at Cancel for Any Reason. This still would not keep me from booking with them again, though.

Posted by
1186 posts

I used Audley Travel to arrange my trip to Japan. I told them what I would like to do (with their feedback) and they planned all the logistics - hotels, rail passes, tour guides here and there, even baseball tickets. I would contact them if I wanted to do something similar for southern France.

Posted by
20624 posts

We have done a couple of tours with Odyssey Unlimited -- I think out of Boston. Twenty or less but tend to be high end with a high level of personal attention. Try -- odysseys-unlimited.com.

Posted by
2954 posts

Just a thought. I think we all have a new criteria when choosing travel companies going forward. How did they respond to customers during the current crisis? Rick Steves Tours has passed with flying colors. It may well be that the companies listed above also did the right thing by their customers. I would take a few moments to research this before committing to a tour.

Posted by
48 posts

I went to Provence a few years ago with Aroma Tours and it was a wonderful experience. The tours are led by a couple, Jim and Robbi, who are very gracious hosts. The number of participants is limited, although I can't remember the exact number; we traveled in two luxury vans.

Posted by
1092 posts

I had a great tour with Adventure Overseas Tours (OAT) last year (maximum 16 people). I had a tour scheduled to Sicily this spring and they canceled it (big surprise). However they are refusing to refund any money. Even though they had a great tour, never will I go with them again.

Posted by
954 posts

Bob,
Did Overseas Adventure Travel offer any type of consideration?

Posted by
1092 posts

They would give you credit for a future trip.

Posted by
7680 posts

"I think we all have a new criteria when choosing travel companies going forward. How did they respond to customers during the current crisis? Rick Steves Tours has passed with flying colors. It may well be that the companies listed above also did the right thing by their customers. I would take a few moments to research this before committing to a tour."

I think Carol's statement is very valid.

I did not have a trip planned for this year so have not had to cancel any arrangements.

Based on what I've been seeing on the very pathetic Road Scholar forums I'm not happy with their response. They were slow to cancel programs and slow to inform travelers. Some of the first people to post on that forum after they cancelled indicated Road Scholar staff was rude and uninformed. I DO realize companies were scrambling the first few days but under stress and with the total senior focus their employees should be better trained to respond in a crisis. At the very least the company should have let it's phone staff know they were in meetings trying to decide their course and to advise people to call back later for more information. There does not seem to be open communication between management, phone staff and customers.

They are a non-profit organization. In the midst of all the uproar about whether people were getting refunds or not, the president of the company sent out an email asking for donations. What? You want me to fund someone else's refund? I thought that was poor business.

Even with this, though, it would not keep me from booking another trip with Road Scholar. I would get travel insurance (carefully reading the post-COVID19 policies) and not spend more than I could afford to lose or have deferred to another trip.

Based on reading Trip Advisor forums regarding various companies, Rick Steves Europe is a stand-out in how they have responded.

Posted by
372 posts

we've done RS, Collette, Globus, Road Scholar, and Tauck - and Tauck is the BEST by far.

Posted by
1 posts

We have been very happy with Odysseys-Unlimited and have taken 8 trips with them. We had a trip scheduled for South America March 19th . They cancelled it and we got a full refund!! Very classy company with nice hotels, no optional tours, very nice meals and 24 people or less. We have been all over the world with them. Went to Egypt and Jordan in 2015 and felt safe. Wonderful guides always. Very highly recommend.

Posted by
1840 posts

I agree with the previous poster (two up on the thread) that Tauck is a superior provider. We have traveled with them several times, and would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone. In fact, repeat customers is their bread/butter, along with word-of-mouth recommendations. After traveling with them, I recommended them to my two sisters/husbands, and now they and friends have taken several Tauck trips, along with our adult niece and nephew and their friends. Everything is turn-key with Tauck: pick-up/drop-off at airport, fabulous hotels, majority of meals (combo of group meals and individual choices).......mostly, though, Tauck takes care of their guests and wants people to be come loyal customers.

Here is a small group Provence tour (pricing shown is for 2020, but they also have dates listed for 2021...call them for next year pricing).

https://www.tauck.com/tours/provence-france-escorted-tour?tcd=vf2020

They also offer many other tours in France that you may want to check out.

They have their cancellation and date change guidelines all on their web site (highlighted now due to these uncertain times). If you buy their Guest Protection plan (which can be surprisingly reasonable compared to traditional trip insurance), for most journeys (check to make sure this is still the case), you can cancel for any reason up until the day prior to the tour.

Posted by
20624 posts

.....RS, Collette, Globus, Road Scholar, and Tauck - and Tauck is the BEST by far. ...... And probably the most expensive of all of those companies. You pay for service.

Posted by
541 posts

We have done one tour with Odysseys Unlimited, this past January to South America, and it was great. We scheduled another with them when we returned. They have a trip to Provence that is 12 days, but that includes the departure and returns days. Their prices might seem high at first glance, but it includes round-trip airfare, breakfast each day, and many lunches and dinners.

The thing that was amazing to me on our tour was not the level of service (they carry your bags and all the hotels are superior rated, but hey, we're Rick Steves-types so we don't need that), but all the local cultural experiences they provided in each location. They were also very flexible; there were protests going on in some of the places we were supposed to visit, and they arranged alternative activities that were equally interesting and enjoyable.

Several on the tour were repeat Odysseys travelers and they said all the tours were just as amazing.

Posted by
8607 posts

I have taken three trips with Odysses Unlimited and have nothing but good things to say about them.

On my last trip, we weren't able to go to one place because it was closed--not the tours fault--and it was replaced with something similar. Still, Odysses issued everyone on the tour a $100 credit towards a future tour.

Don't let the listed price scare you. As stated earlier, it includes airfare. If you want to arrange your own air, call them for the land price. Excellent customer service. The maximum on their tours is 24. Full size bus.

https://odysseys-unlimited.com/tours/europe/discovering-provence/

Posted by
2811 posts

Rudy Maxa has a new tour line

Where have I heard that name before? I guess that's what Google is for.

Posted by
47 posts

Thank you for all the replies!

I am very interested in the Luberon Experience. That was the only one I had checked out prior to making this post. I'm somewhat weary of companies like Tauck. I feel like they cater to travelers who want the same luxuries that have at home and are just there to see the sights, not immerse themselves in the culture.

Can't wait to start exploring all these suggestions!

Posted by
86 posts

I have used Exodus before. They have some wonderful culturally immersive tours. They are small group and offer a number of centre based tours, meaning you stay in the same lodging the whole trip, but do day excursions.

I was supposed to do Egypt with them in March. They gave me a full refund.

https://www.exodustravels.com/

I have looked at Tauck, but they are very high end. I have also had a look at their travel forum. There are some members there that come off very snobbish and stuck up. Not saying that about everyone who takes a Tauck tour at all. It’s just an observation of a couple of members on their forum only.

Posted by
766 posts

Abby, I understand exploring alternate formats to the typical tour. At that Slow Travel website, is another opportunity I have been hankering after: Adventures in Italy which features a week in Orvieto.

However, I also want to share a tour group based in the UK: Blue Roads Touring. They used to be called Back Roads Touring UK, but I suspect the confusion with the Back Roads Bike Company made it finally necessary to change their name. I took a 4 day tour of the West of Ireland with them about 10 years ago. I liked the option for a shorter time which gave me some extra time on my own.

If you join the Luberon Experience or something similar, I would love to hear about it.

Debbie

Posted by
488 posts

Re Tauck:
While the tours and accommodations are fairly luxurious it certainly isn't our norm at home but instead a very special treat. We've stayed in fabulous historic hotels, eaten meals I'd never get at home, I don't have to drag my luggage around, etc. We enjoy that they've made all the arrangements, we've prepaid everything (except tips on land tours), and my husband isn't looking at the prices of anything. My only complaint is that often 4/5 star hotel restaurants are big on gourmet dining but often don't feature regional cuisine that ordinary people eat.

The company makes a point of including exclusive activities on top of the usual tourist sights. Example, on our England tour we had lunch at a private country house with the owner and his sister inlaw in a dining room steeped in family history for generations. In Ireland, we had lunch at a diary farm served at big tables in their living room after a tour of the farm and a talk with the farmer in the original tiny farm house about his family, Irish history, etc.

Are Tauck travelers snobs? I would say in general no. Especially on the land tours where you really get a chance to chat with a smaller group than river cruises ( though even here they have much fewer passengers than cos like Viking). Are there occasionally annoying travelers? Yes, just like any tour group.

Best advice is look at the detailed itineraries (both planned activities and free time), the price and the fine details of what is included. Then pick what's right for you.

Posted by
970 posts

Do not, repeat do not, book a tour with OATS. They are not refunding our deposit for our upcoming trip and only offering a voucher. I bought the cancel for any reason insurance from them and that is a misnomer. It is not cancel for any reason and get your money back in this case. We are out close to $3,000 with them if we don’t use that voucher and who knows when we will be able to travel again.

Posted by
2378 posts

Thanks to those who warned us about OATS. Definitely not the kind of company people should do business with. Losing a small deposit would be understandable but $3000 for a tour they cancelled!

Posted by
1079 posts

They are not refunding our deposit for our upcoming trip and only offering a voucher.

Perhaps OATS is following recent French law requiring that they issue vouchers, equal to your deposit, for your use during a period of 18 months after which time all unused money must be fully refunded.

Posted by
970 posts

Tocard,

OATS is in MA and no subject to French law.

Posted by
970 posts

John,

They have not canceled our tour but may postpone it. I will try threatening them with the demand letter for refund of my money and if they don’t comply I will follow through and also contact the BBB, etc.