I'm using the "old" evaluation form, which RS used to post unabridged on the site - much more helpful than the reviews posted under "Our Tours" these days. (EDIT: I originally had this report as four separate threads, but I'm adopting a great hint from Nigel to post parts II, III and IV as comments to the original report. I also left part III standing as a separate thread because of two very helpful replies from Kim and Jane).
1) most impt factors in choosing tour - we'd heard that the VIT was a good way to experience Italian food and wine. We can handle single cities + day trips via train on our own, but we look to RS whenever we want to explore a collection of more than a few cities and towns.
2) favorite "wow" moment. Toss up between the Piccolomini Library (who knew frescoes could have such brilliant colors) and the floors of the Duomo in Siena and the tour provided by Cecilia (remarkable insight + sense of humor) at Tenuta Le Velette
3) hotels/meals/experiences - any especially good/bad - hotels basic-plus to luxurious, as usual for RS. Best meal was at Ristorante Venus in Lake Orta on our last night. More hotel and food info in Parts II and III. Favorite experience after Cecilia's wine tasting experience was Stefano's fun and informative cooking class, followed closely by visit to the Etruscan museum in Chianciano Terme and the ceramics workshop in Deruta. Big thumbs up to RS for supporting these small outfits!
4) pace? any way to make use of your time more efficient? See "tips in Part II" regarding pace. Loved the days when we had 1.5 hours instead of one between the start of breakfast and departure. We did Civita di Bagnoregio the day of the wine tasting as opposed to the day after advertised on the schedule. I liked the way we did it because it freed up more time the following day.
5) could front ofc have done anything better. As usual, it would really be helpful to know what's the longest stretch between self-service laundromats, which RS never publishes or tells you if you ask.
6) did our advertising mislead u in any way. No problems.
7) rate ur guide: accessible, fair, engaged; clear orientation at ea stop; leadership; speaking and teaching; knowledge of history and art; grasp of contemporary issues. Our guide was excellent in all respects.
8) comment on local guides. All very knowledgeable, friendly and approachable, with excellent command of English - unless our tour director was translating, of course. Appreciated the unique insights of many.
10) comment on driver - RS drivers are the best and ours was no exception. And he was fun to be around and had an excellent singing voice to boot. The fellow who drove the small bus in Carrara was also highly skilled.
Parts II-IV (posted as comments below) contain "tips" - and yes, we would recommend this tour to anyone interested in Italy, especially to those who are less than thrilled by the hustle and bustle of big Italian cities.