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Tour pace and downtime - Village Italy versus Heart of Greece versus... something else?

Question: I appreciate that Rick Steves tours are not at slow pace, and are planned with the intention of maximizing the traveler's experiences. But between Village Italy and Greece, which was would have MORE downtime/free time and less information overload?

More info: I have done two RS tours in the past (Adriatic and Scandinavian). Adriatic was definitely my favourite of the two - the cultural experiences, the food, and a good balance of high-quality guided sightseeing alongside adequate downtime to putter around at my own pace (or get a little extra sleep).

I'm in my mid-30s and physically fit/active at home, so I anticipate no difficulties with large amounts of walking and hills on a daily basis. But as a pandemic-era healthcare worker with only two precious weeks of vacation, I do want to be able to have a little bit of downtime between the organized/group activities to slow down and breathe, people watch, sip coffee (or wine), and take in my surroundings.

The tour descriptions suggest to me these two itineraries may offer the best of both worlds (sight seeing + downtime)! Village Italy spends two nights in every hotel, whereas Greece has TWO "vacation from your vacation" days interspersed.

So for those who have taken one or both or these... how did you find the daily pace? Lots of very early mornings and extremely long days? Did you feel like you needed a holiday to recover after your trip or did it nourish your soul?

And particularly for Greece -- was the sightseeing mostly all ancient Greek ruins or is there more? Do you have to be a total history buff to appreciate it? I'm a bit worried about ancient Greek history overload (I have also enjoyed my visits to Roman ruins but they were usually interspersed with other things).

If there is another tour I should consider let me know! My time off is end of May into the first few days of June, and I am hoping for a location with good weather at that time too (I know, i know... so picky!). And I know doing it on my own would allow me so much more flexibility (I'm an experienced solo traveler too) but I'm just finding I don't have time to plan and organize this time around.

Any thoughts and suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Edit to add: I did look at the My Way options but unfortunately the available options don't work with my time off.

Posted by
42 posts

I actually can't offer any help since our first RS tour will be Village Italy in May. However, before booking this tour we seriously considered doing one of the RS My Way tours for some of the reasons you stated. Seems like a good compromise in that all the planning for travel between cites and hotels are all taken care of, thus reduces the amount of pre-trip planning required, and lets you set your own pace for what to do/see. You also still have the support of a tour manager if needed. Maybe something to consider?

Posted by
30 posts

Thanks for the response! I actually did consider the "My Way" options but unfortunately none of what's still available quite fit my travel dates. Plus, I actually find planning transport and hotels to be the simple part -- i definitely really appreciate having some structured sight seeing to the day.
and from my experience on the other tours, the local guides employed are second to none!

I hope you thoroughly enjoy your first RS tour!!

Posted by
514 posts

I have not done either of the two tours you are considering, so I can’t comment on them. They both sound great and I am sure you will hear from others!

A tour that you might have overlooked but might want to consider is the Best of Bulgaria. I had the best time on this tour a few years ago! Stefan, the RS tour guide there, is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and fun. The itinerary often allows for afternoons on your own, so I think you would have enough down time with a good balance of organized activities. Bulgaria has been a bit of a crossroads in history, so there are ruins and churches from many civilizations - Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Russian, Jewish, Orthodox, Muslim. Good museums as well. The countryside includes mountains, lakes (including the Black Sea), orchards, wineries. Stefan arranges for visits with communities such as the Roma and Muslims, along with some cultural events like a dance performance. Give it a look.

Posted by
2216 posts

I can only speak to the Greece tour, which we thought was fabulous. The Athens part with the visit to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum was conducted by a guide who just made you a part of that period and helped you understand why things were constructed the way they were. Ditto for the guide to Olympia, where of course everyone had to run (our walk) the course. The guides for Mycenae and Mystras were also engaging, but Epidavros was a real surprise. The healing center of Asclepius is adjacent and we thought that was fascinating.. My husband is in health care and was especially impressed with their approach to wellness. It’s not all Greek ruins. The cog railroad, the seaside day off and Hydra are a break, as well as things like the wine tasting. My husband was not in great shape for this tour (pre-knee replacement) and never had trouble with the pace. One of my favorite movies is “ My Life in Ruins,” an old Nia Vardalos film where she plays a tour guide in Greece. It’s probably silly, but she talks about hearing the wind through Temple of Hephaestus and then we got to hear it. The memories from this tour continue to refresh our souls.Good luck with whatever you choice you make.

Posted by
28 posts

We took the Greece tour in May 2018 and are going on the Adriatic tour in May this year. We loved the Greece tour. It was a great mix of history and ancient sites with lots of time to hike, sit by the sea and have a glass of wine or beer, and just relax. Our guide was great, as were the local guides and I feel like we learned a lot. But we also felt relaxed and got to enjoy some alone time as well. I don’t think you could go wrong with this tour!

Posted by
2455 posts

Ladyjayden, I have participated in the RS Greece tour, but not the Village Italy tour, so it is hard to compare. The excellent Greece tour certainly did include a lot of historical sites, including ancient ruins, but also included small rural towns, and plentiful free time.
It is strange that just as I was thinking “what about Bulgaria?”, Renee wrote the same thing. The RS Bulgaria tour was one of my favorites, probably the #1 favorite, of 11 RS tours, for several reasons. I had few expectations when I chose it. I knew little about Bulgaria, the price seemed a bargain. Bulgaria is a very interesting, beautiful and diverse country. There were very few tourists around, so it was much easier to explore, either with our tour group, or independently, and interact with everyday Bulgarian people who did not live their lives interacting with visitors. I had no trouble communicating with people in English, including when on my own. I believe Stefan still leads all the RS Bulgaria tours, and he is an extraordinary guide, not only full of diverse information, passion for his country and culture, and caring for the experiences and interests of tour participants, but he has developed many, many relationships that allow his travelers to meet and learn from community and neighborhood leaders, craftspeople, educators, etc. Bulgarians are in general very warm and welcoming and open to those interactions.

Posted by
14175 posts

I've only done Village Italy which I thought was wonderful! It has lots of experiential activities - wine tasting, olive oil tasting, honey tasting. My trip was in 2014 so not sure what experiences you will have this year.

There would be many opportunities to elect to skip the daily activities if you feel you want to do something else. On the day we stayed at the agritourismo, while I wanted to see Siena and chose to go, I'd have been very happy to just sit around the lovely grounds and look at vineyards!

I don't remember any really early days on this trip except perhaps the day we exited from the Cinque Terre area.

I did this tour at the end of nearly 8 weeks of travel and it was my 3rd RS back to back to back tour. I was NOT ready for my travel to be over, lol! I could have kept going. The hardest one of those 3 was the 21 day Best of Europe which was very taxing, but I'd recovered by the time I got to Padua.

If you choose this one I hope you have time to arrive at least one day ahead, 2 nights would be even better but your time off might not allow that. Try not to arrive on the start day just because you'll be tired and jet-lagged and you want to be fresh to start!

BTW, thank you so much for your work in healthcare during the pandemic. I'm a retired hospital social worker and I'll just say I am so glad I had been retired for years when this came along. You'll have a wonderful time on this tour!

Posted by
3961 posts

I can’t comment on RS Village Italy tour, but did take the Greece Tour in 2017 & Adriatic Tour in 2018. Loved both tours. I agree with payntertex that it was a great mix of history, ancient sites with lots of time to hike and also relax. We appreciate our downtime and felt it was conducive to this tour. As a couple who does more independent touring we were very pleased with the pace. As far as timing, the end of May into June should be lovely in Greece. As a retired healthcare provider I really enjoyed Epidavros & Asclepius. I had the opportunity to test out the amazing acoustics at Epidavros. I had about a half hour to choose a song to sing. I didn’t have time to be nervous. It was an experience of a lifetime.

Posted by
1103 posts

We have only taken the Village Italy tour, and thought the pace was fairly relaxed. The Village Italy tour covers smaller towns, whereas the Greece tour spends several days in Athens, which would be an intense big city experience.

Posted by
2252 posts

I have taken both tours and like all RS tours, there is generally only a half day of planned activity, the rest of the day being spent at your own discretion. You can opt out of any of the planned activities if you want. You’ll just need to let your buddy and/or your guide know you have other plans. All that being said, I would be hard pressed to recommend one over the other as they both (along with the Adriatic) remain at the top of my all time favorites. Both involve a few “hilly days” and both are what I would call “experiential” rather than site-seeing tours. I loved them both equally and both are equally physical. I’m an ahem….older woman, who didn't have any trouble keeping up the pace with either tour. I also wouldn’t have missed any of the awesome activities offered either as part of the tour or “extras” suggested by the guides. Wonderful tours! Whichever you chose, you can’t go wrong. Do one now and the other next time!

Posted by
11401 posts

Whichever you chose, you can’t go wrong. Do one now and the other next time!

Cannot fault that suggestion.

I have done the Greece tour. Never felt 'overwhelmed' or 'too much ruins'

Posted by
1514 posts

Thanks to everyone that shared their tour experiences. Bulgaria is on my list, but I am saving it for when I am older. I am even more excited about the tour now after hearing your reviews.

Posted by
21 posts

As a long time RS forum lurker, this is my first post - so be nice to me! I have taken two RS tours since 2017 - Village Italy (solo) and the Greece tour (with a friend). Both were great tours with plenty of free time - but I found the big difference is the landscape that you are surrounded by when you have free time. I prefer smaller villages and towns when I travel and both trips have that. During the Village Italy tour - my free time was spent having drinks in the plaza, visiting sites that aren't on the RS tour, shopping, and sitting by the pool at the countryside estate looking out at the gorgeous rolling hills. On the Greece tour - I was surprised by the beauty of the terrain we were traveling thru - mountains, remote villages, and the water. Ahh! (I'm smiling) having views of the sparkling water is what relaxes me. Some of my favorite moments were the downtimes enjoying a meal or drink along the shores of Kardamyli, Monemvasia, Nafplion, and Hydra. I would say there is also more history on the Greece tour (Athens, Delphi - beautiful mountain setting, Olympia, Epidavros, Mycenae...) but, after all, you are touring Greece and to think you are standing on sites where Socrates may have once walked or where the Olympics began is pretty awesome. And honestly, sometimes I would take out my ear buds and wander nearby and take photos or just try to be in the moment. We did have several on our tour who skipped the visits to Epidavros and Mycenae - so you can take more down time if you like.

On neither trip did I feel exhausted at the end of the tour days and both trips nourished my soul. I loved both trips, but if you made me choose my favorite, it would be the Greece trip - because of the water views. I miss the Greek frappes (iced coffees). That said, I am going on the RS Tuscany trip next month ! Time for an aperol spritz!

Posted by
112 posts

I have done both tours. RS Greece in September 2018 and Village Italy in September 2019. Both were fabulous, my previous tour to those was Best of Europe in 14 days.

I had a wonderful time on both but I think my favorite was Village Italy. The one thing I remember about the Greece tour is that the scenery is similar all over....thousands of olive trees wherever you look and very rocky, stunning water views though. I had a great time but for me Village Italy had the higher score, I loved the varied scenery, the Italian culture and people.

I leave on the Best of South Italy tour in 4 weeks time, hoping my 4th RS tour will be as good as the previous 3 now it's finally here! Whatever you do you will enjoy, it's impossible not to on a RS tour!

Posted by
115 posts

I have done both tours, and loved loved the Greece tour. I liked the villages of Italy tour but not nearly as much as Greece. I think part of it was the downtime in the Village tour was in the middle of the country with not much to do. They suggested taking a walk — but really not a hiking trail place, you had to walk down a dirt path between farms or swimming was suggested but it was too cold. Where all the downtime in Greece was all at a really cool spots. I live in wine county and can ride my bike out to multiple vineyards witching a 10 mile radius. Being stuck with no car, bike or anything else — not even wine tasting at an old farm house was not my cup of team for 24 hours when there is so many beautiful places in Italy. The other day with down time on that tour was a Cinque de Terrace which was really nice. But overall I thought the downtown time in Greece was way more awesome.

On your other question about history, yes there is a lot of historical places, but there is also beautiful places we stayed with lots to see.