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Village Italy or Best of South England tour?

I reserved both for next spring—Village Italy in April, South England in May—but can only take one for both time and cost reasons. Has anyone been on both and preferred one over the other? Or even if you've only been on one, I'd love your thoughts.

For context, I've been on 7 RS tours so far: MyWay Spain, MyWay GAS, Sicily, Turkey, Greece, Adriatic, and Portugal. Turkey, Greece, Sicily, and Adriatic were my favorites. I bore pretty quickly of churches and do enjoy the "cultural immersion" themed ones better than the survey tours. I also prefer tours that are more active.

Would love any thoughts, opinions, advice...

Thanks!

Posted by
9 posts

We took the Village Italy in late October of 2019 and have not taken the South England so can’t compare. We would do the Village Italy over and over again, once a year if funds permitted. My husband is not a big fan of seeing every church and we found Village Italy to have a few but not the main focus. The focus was more on wine and food. The small hill towns we visited were so charming and the accommodations cozy and delightful (except for one and that was just a matter of our artistic taste vs the hotels). The tour had so many events where we took part, or observed, like watching the truffle hunting dogs then having an amazing dinner with truffles in each course. There was not one day that we were bored or overwhelmed with museums and churches. It felt like a trip about the real people and lives of Italian people. We felt more like family than visitors. We feel like a big part of the love for this trip was the absolutely amazing tour guide Ann. She and the bus driver Ezio were an awesome team. We felt like Village Italy was a dream trip!

Posted by
15 posts

We've been on both. Since you've been to Sicily I think you would find the flavor of the Village Italy tour to be more like that. If you are who I'm thinking you are we were on the Sicily tour with you in Sept. of 2014. D & D from Evergreen. Village Italy was one of our favorites and oh! the Food. The South England was excellent also. We loved the little villages and the tour was jammed pack it seems every day with so many things to see.
Lots of climbing. A lot depends on the tour group and your guide as you know.
It's hard to say which one would be more appealing to. You'll just have to do one the first year and the other the next.

Posted by
2054 posts

Wow, for me that’s a tough one as I have taken and loved both tours. They are both very experiential, both have amazing food (possibly a slight edge to VI here as the visit to the organic farm and following meal were incomparable), both visited and stayed in amazing small villages. I loved the mysticism of walking Dartmoor National Park and “meeting” the Dartmoor ponies. Are you more drawn to visiting Italy or England? I could promise you will have adventures on either/both tours you wouldn’t be able to duplicate on your own. Maybe take one now and the other when you have the time! I would happily repeat either one. Good luck!

Posted by
9928 posts

I have done both and enjoyed both very much.

If you haven't been to England then I might pick that one as it gets you to some places that are a bit difficult to access by public transport (middle of Dartmoor National Park for one). They've changed it slightly from when I took it which is good. The overnights in Cornwall are now in Falmouth (where I stayed for 6 nights on a Road Scholar tour) instead of Penzance. Penzance just put you so much further for the long drive back to Bath at the end plus I liked the Falmouth vibe better than Penzance (or at least the Penzance from the neighborhood where the RS hotel was located).

They've also just headed back to Bath on the final day instead of trying to work in a big site. This is excellent as we were traveling on a holiday weekend and the traffic was miserable so we were late getting in to Bath and literally had to throw our stuff in our hotel rooms and head out to our farewell dinner. I suggested this change on my eval and I know from talking to our guide he and the other guides were going to lobby for that change as well.

Not a lot of churches in this one - Canterbury Cathedral but the visit to the stained glass workshop was seriously amazing and a visit to Salisbury Cathedral as well. I can't think of any other big churches....did a couple of small ones on my own in free time but I love churches. Saw a falconer in the Canterbury Cathedral cloister with his Harris Hawk hunting pigeons which was very cool.

IF you do this one, I'd go to Canterbury a day ahead, at least, as there is quite a bit to see that is not on the tour. I'd stay in Bath as many nights as you can manage but I am a lover of Bath and for myself 4-5 nights (3-4 days) is not too long.

I also really enjoyed the Village Italy tour. I agree there was not much in the way of churches....Ravenna, Sienna and Assisi involved cathedrals and churches but I can't think of any others. Well, we did a quick visit in Orvieto just to see a chapel and to look at the gorgeous carving on the façade. I enjoyed the smaller villages and slower pace BUT although I say "slower" we still had plenty of walking every day! I guess it felt slower because there was not the frantic-ness of Rome, lol. I did add in churches because I made this a "relic" tour and tried to see all the relics available after seeing St Anthony's vocal cords, jawbone and another body part in Padua, lol. I'd also done Heart of Italy and had finished the 21 day Best of Europe tour which spends 8 nights in Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome and CT).

For VI I would go in to Padua 2 nights ahead, maybe 3, as there was a lot to see there and I did not get everything done. The tour sees the Scrovegni Chapel but I would make another appointment to visit as you only get about 30 minutes in there at a time and it is so gorgeous. I would not add an extra night in Orta at the end. I did but it was raining buckets and we'd done all we wanted to do by noon on the final day. Could have gone on Milan and had some extra time there.

editing to add: Both Andi and Elaine are quicker off the mark than I am this morning! Either I've had too much coffee or not enough, lol!

Posted by
62 posts

Wow, what a great set of replies! Thank you all.

Indeed, I've not spent too much time in England other than London too many years ago to remember much. I think the initial appeal of the South England tour came from watching too many British TV shows that are set in the gorgeous countryside, even if that countryside wasn't in the south of the country per se. And I have traveled pretty extensively throughout out Italy as an independent traveler back in my 30s. Based on the posts thus far, South England has a slight edge over Village Italy.

Ok, three more questions, if you happen to have time:

(1) How do the hotels of the two tours compare? I'm a terribly light sleeper and need a calm/comfortable room to get sufficient sleep and keep up with tour activities.

(2) How is the food on the South England tour? To complicate things, I'm a vegetarian who is lactose intolerant 😔. I already know how the food on the Italy tour will be 🍷🍝.

(3) Does anyone know why they changed the name from Villages of South England to Best of South England between 2020 and 2022? I had actually signed up for the 2020 tour, which was cancelled, and when I reserved again for 2022, noticed the change in name.

Posted by
9928 posts

I've reported both the posts between Lori's and this one to webmaster to remove for spam.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. I'm not a light sleeper but I slept well in all the hotels on both tours EXCEPT the Rose and Crown in Salisbury. My single room overlooked the garden area which was used for a venue for weddings/parties. Both nights (Friday and Saturday I think) there were parties til midnight. I'd gone down and asked for a fan so I could have the windows closed and still be comfortable. They did not have any more fans (my brother and SIL apparently got the last one). I do not think others were bothered by the noise, it was just where my room was situated. I will say this breakfast was the best of the tour with huge choices! Some of the hotels have probably changed since I did VI in 2014 as the itinerary has changed slightly. Padua is probably the same (weird decorating as one of the owners was the designer, lol), as are Lucca, Levanto (for the CT) and Orta. All were quiet.

  2. The food was actually really good on the Southern England tour. I was traveling with my brother, SIL and her sis. My brother and the sister and I are all vegans. The guide said he nearly had a stroke when he saw there were 3 vegans on tour, as he'd never had a one. He was able to get us lovely food at every single group meal. We'd asked him to let us know if a venue would not be able to do a vegan meal so he warned us ahead of time that the pub lunch on Dartmoor might not work out and recommended we have some back up food. Well, the salad we were served was huge and lovely and made us all very happy! I'd not worry about the food at all. I'll see if I can remember the name of that pub. It has a fire that hasn't gone out in 100 years or something like that.

  3. I thought "Villages" of Southern England was not a realistic name for this tour which stays in Canterbury, Salisbury, (then)Penzance/(now) Falmouth and Bath....none of which are actually what I would call villages. It does GO to a lot of small villages but I think the name change better reflects the tour itinerary. I did find that Alfriston and Chagford WERE villages and pretty neat places to stay.

Editing to add: OK, the pub was the Warren House Inn and the fire has been burning since 1845! The views were absolutely amazing from here and yep, Dartmoor ponies were right outside. Very cool location.

http://www.warrenhouseinn.co.uk/history.html

Posted by
11451 posts

I took both tours--back to back. Both are very good.

Hotels on the RS tours change as does the itinerary. Some are good, some not so good.

My suggestion is to decide which tour speaks to you the loudest.

Posted by
62 posts

Pam, the details on the hotels and food (esp. re vegan) are extremely helpful. I had been worried that the England tour would be very meat-heavy. I so appreciate your taking the time to write this all down for me.

Bob, it's remarkable that your South England and Village Italy reports are each so close to the dates I have signed up for (i.e., May 9-21, 2022 for SE and April 16-May 1, 2022 for VI). And that there's a good Thai restaurant in Salisbury. And that you get to see the beach where Broadchurch is filmed (big inspiration for my interest in this trip). I enjoyed your reporting style: mapping the day's itinerary to your own experiences and reflections. You managed to communicate a lot in a short amount of space.

Thank you both. I certainly have much more data upon which to make a decision, but can't say I'm any closer to making one. I do know that if I do VI, I will need to go to Padua early so I can check out the botanical garden.

Posted by
9928 posts

Oh gosh....I'd forgotten the Giggling Squid! Wow, what a feast for veggie folks. Robert, our guide, had the 3 vegans sit at the same table and the restaurant brought us out so much food we wound up trying to pass it down to the rest of the table but they were completely stuffed with what they had been served. When I return to Salisbury (and I will...it's a favorite) I'll go back here!

My Southern England trip:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/tour-report-villages-of-southern-england-5-21-6-2-18
My VI trip is older....
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/village-italy-9-29-14

Posted by
62 posts

Pam, these are such excellent reports! Thanks for sharing such critical details, which will help me map out my pre- and post-trip, packing, and dining plans. Now I just have to decide on which tour....

Lori