Scroll down to meet some of the people who make Hidden Italy Walking Tours happen.
I first went to Italy as a backpacker in 1980 and fell in love with the country. I returned in 1983, living and working in Milan until 1988. Afterwards I worked at the Institute of Languages, University of New South Wales (Sydney) taking guided tours to Italy annually. I spent two years with my family in Prato (Florence) in 2003 and 2004, working at the Monash University (Melbourne) Centre. Since then I have dedicated myself full-time to Hidden Italy. I love photography and writing and have had articles and photographs on Italy published in most major Australian newspapers and travel magazines. I speak fluent Italian, alas with a pronounced Australian accent. "Great Walks" magazine recently said I had the best job in the world.. there are other much more worthy jobs around but I am lucky my passion has become my profession - click here to read their interview.
Carolyn and Simon met at a presentation by the Director of the Uffizi Gallery at the Italian Institute of Culture in Sydney - it was love at first sight (at least for Simon, Carolyn took a little more convincing). At the time, Carolyn was working at the Banca Credito Italiano in Sydney. Her love affair with Italy had begun some years before in 1982 when she spent three months in Tuscany. Some time later she returned to Tuscany, working for three years on a wine and olive oil estate outside Vinci, 20 kilometres south of Florence. Carolyn is the backbone of Hidden Italy. She speaks fluent Italian (with a very good Tuscan accent) and has a passion for Italian textiles and furniture.
As anyone who has done a Hidden Italy self-guided walk will know, Anna, our Italian operations manager, is a remarkable woman. She was born and grew up in the Val d'Orcia in southern Tuscany, where she still lives with her young daughter and partner. She is a graduate in history and art from the University of Siena, has lived in the USA and Central America, speaks fluent English and Spanish and is a qualified and registered guide for Siena and Florence. Despite her tender age, she has lead walking tours throughout Italy for a variety of Australian, English, Canadian and American walking companies.
Born in Sicily and raised and educated in Australia, Carmelina returned to Italy for a brief visit in 1992 and has been there ever since. After 15 years of working in tourism throughout Italy (including stints running boutique 5-star hotels in Tuscany and the Italian Alps as well as managing and tour-guiding for several American and English walking companies) Carmelina returned to her native Sicily, setting up home near Cefalu. Few people know the lay of this land, or are better able to share their passion and insights into this unique and complex island, than Carmelina.
"Carmelina is a wonderful and generous guide. We really felt her enthusiasm and passion for her country and feel that she really wanted us to share all those emotions. ...she had friends in every town and was greeted so warmly .... her popularity was evident."
Paul designed and leads the spring garden tours in Tuscany and Piedmont. Paul is an art historian, author (including the Blue Guides to Piedmont, Northern Italy and Southern Italy and the Art/Shop/Eat series for Venice, Milan and Florence, among other things) and is a long term resident of Tuscany. He is an active visual artist and has taught painting, drawing and the history of Modern art at the European study centres of several American universities. In recent years he has become increasingly involved with landscape design, developing large-scale projects in Tuscany and the Dolomites. He has designed and led walking tours in Italy since 1994. He is also a very nice guy! He lives with his family in Fiesole in the hills above Florence.
"Paul Blanchard was superb, such a fun, informative caring man..... passionate about his subject and fantastic on imparting his knowledge...what an amazing trip we had!" S and G Richards, Gardens of Tuscany.
The Sicily Team
Nuccio (on the left) and Gandalfo are my dear friends and colleagues and are the backbone of Hidden Italy in Sicily. Both were born, raised and live in the small town in the centre of Sicily which is the base for the first part of Hidden Italy guided tours in May. As drivers of the two tour minibuses they accompany us throughout the Sicily guided tours (except for our time on the islands) but they are much more than this: they are fine examples of Sicilian grace and hospitality; Nuccio's picnics during the tour are legendary; while the visit to Gandalfo's family home in the country outside the town (a 19th century former baronial home built into the side of a cliff) is often considered one of the highlights of the trip. Nuccio also provides the transfers and back-up on the Sicily self-guided walk.
Nino and Matteo
Nino and Matteo (father and son) are our guides during our visit to the Aeolian Islands. They are natives of Lipari, the largest island of the archipelago. Father Nino was a professional fisherman for over 30 years. Six years ago he converted his boat and has been taking tourists around the islands since, with Matteo following him from fishing to tourism. Few people know the beaches, coves and reefs of the islands better than Nino and Matteo and we are very fortunate to be onboard with them.
The Sardinian team
Fabrizio (on the left) is our man in the Barbagia, in central Sardinia. He fell in love with the mountains when, as a kid, he spent his summers with his uncle grazing in the high pastures. He's been exploring the mountains ever since. He is a passionate guide, an accomplished photographer and plays a mean piano-accordion. Maria-Giovanna was also born in Oliena. She spent five years on the 'Continent', studying law in Bologna and working in Rome but her love for her native land drew her back to Sardinia. Their good friend Antonio (right) is a 'pastore' (a shepherd) he hosts us on his property, providing a wonderful BBQ lunch of homegrown suckling pig, accompanied by his own oil, bread, red wine and garden grown tomatoes - nothing better!
Exploring Puglia to research our guided tour, I was very lucky to meet Giovanni. Criss crossed by country roads lined with dry stone walls and ancient pathways, Puglia offers wonderful walking but, unlike many parts of central and northern Italy, the walking routes have not been identified or marked. I went to the council offices of our host town to get some maps and get going. Fortunately, they put me in touch with their friend, Giovanni, Sports teacher at the local high school, a passionate walker and renowned local historian. I spent many fascinating days with Giovanni exploring the area and have been able to incorporate a number of these walks into the tour. Giovanni will join us on several of the walks in central Puglia.
Silvia and Marco
Silvia and Marco are our capitains courageous in southern Puglia, taking us out on their two 12-metre yachts for a day exploring the sparkling waters and rocky coastline of southern Puglia. They are both proud Saletini (inhabitants of the Salento, the tip of the heel of Puglia) and they bring to life the history and traditions of their native region. A highlight of the day is the picnic lunch on board - all rigorously local produce, of course.
Mauro does not describe himself as a 'guide', he considers himself more of a cultural emissary for his beloved Verona. A recently retired professor of art and history, Mauro has travelled the world but has always returned to his native city and there are few things, or people, in Verona that he doesn't know. Turning his nose up at the myth of Juliette's balcony, he takes us down little lanes, through hidden courtyards, into building basements to show us the real Verona, enlivened by historical tidbits, anecdotes and lots of local gossip.
Sonia and Alfred
Sonia and Alfred families have lived in the Val Badia in the heart of the Dolomites for many generations (and Alfred seems to be related to everyone in the valley) and join us for our autumn tour of these beautiful mountains. They are very proud of their rich Ladino heritage, which traces its roots back to pre-Roman times (their children speak Ladino at home, attend school conducted in German and Italian and are learning English as a foreign language all before the age of 10!) and are pleased to share their stories and traditions, bringing to life the valleys and villages of their homeland.
Maurizio and Rita
Maurizio and Rita are our hosts at their family osteria in the Franciacorta wine district, where we have a long lunch on our way from Venice to Lake Como on the Hidden Italy September tour of the Italian Lakes. The osteria has been in Maurizio's family for over 100 years and he is the 4th generation of his family to run it. It's menu, which changes daily, is an anthology of traditional Lombard cooking, based around his grandmother's recipes. The osteria is listed as one of the 200 Locali Storici d'Italia (Historical Places of Italy) and is considered one of the finest of its category in Italy by the Slow Food Association.
Signora Agnese is our host in Ticino, the Italian speaking region of Switzerland, which is one of the bases of the Hidden Italy tour in September. Signora Agnese, originally from Bern, moved to the beautiful Centovalli (the 'valley of one hundred valleys') above Locarno on the northern end of Lake Maggiore when she married, helping to turn her husband's modest family hotel into one of the finest in the district, particularly renown for its restaurant. Her son is also involved in managing the hotel and her daughter-in-law is the head chef. One of the highlights of our visit is Signora Agnese's animated and entertaining tour of her adopted town.
We have been extremely lucky adding three wonderful guides for our Trieste and Friuli autumn tour. The first is Onoria, a native of Trieste who, with her mixed Italian, Slovenian and Austrian background, is a proud representative of her city's rich history and heritage. She studied history and languages at university in Trieste and speaks fluent English, German and Spanish (and is currently working on her Slovenian). Onoria joins us three times during the tour including guiding us around Udine at the beginning and Trieste at the end.
Our second wonderful guide is Francesca. Built like a sparrow, Francesca has the energy and dexterity of a mountain goat. With a list of quaifications as long as your arm, including degrees in Geology, Forestry and Environmental studies, she worked for 10 years as a digital cartographer in Udine before having a tree-change and leaving the big smoke to return to the valley she grew up in (20 kilometres from the Austrian border). She now dedicate herself to making cheese from the milk produced by her flock of 12 goats and donig a bit of guiding. Francesca joins us for the walks in her valley (where we spend four days) sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm as we go.
The third wonderful guide to join us on the Friuli tour is Antonio. Born near Venice, Antonio moved to his wife's family village in the Natisone valleys on the border with Italy and Slovenia some years ago and has embraced his new home with passion. Antonio joins us on what must be one of the most extraordinary Hidden Italy walks: following the ridge line that has formed a border, for better or worse, between the Latin and Slavic worlds since Roman times, including most recently as a part of the Iron Curtain and as a bloody frontline in World War I. Antonio unlocks its secrets and stories with an encyclopedic knowledge and narrative flair that rivals Ken Follett.
Matteo is one of our guides on the TraIls to Freedom hike in August. He is 33 years old and lives in Tollegno, a small town near Biella. A passionate hiker, lepidopterist (butterfly expert) and mountaineer, Matteo has a Phd specialising in the conservation of biodiversity in the Alps from Turin University, has extensive teaching experience, is a qualified Alpine guide and speaks excellent English.