Q – We are pretty much convinced that guides can make or break a trip. We are planning a 20th Anniversary with a vacation taking in Florence, Assisi, Bologna and Rome. We are staving at really nice hotels with amenities provided by our travel agent but we haven’t pulled the trigger yet on guide services for a September trip. We do not want a guide who is simply cheap. Can you give us some guidelines as to what a guide in these Italian cities should cost if we give the agent the go-ahead.

A – We really agree that the guides you select will largely influence the experiences you have in these cities. Prices will be less in Assisi and Bologna, but not by much. Here is what a really excellent guide and a certified and safe driver will cost in Florence and Rome:

Guide for Half-Day Walking Tour: 300 – 350 Euros.

Guide and Driver for Half Day Touring 550 – 650 Euros

Guide and Driver for a full Eight-Hour Day – 1100-1300 Euros (as of this writing, Euro = $1.23)

The prices above are based on 2010/2011 tariffs and are per couple – not per person.

Remember, that the better drivers must pass rigorous tests, along with their vehicle. Guides are registered professionals with advanced degrees in history and or art. The best guides book up months in advance and if you book last-minute, you could get the guide that no one else wants to use. Guides charge for their time. The guide must earn about the same to escort two people as he/she would earnfor a group of forty. That is one reason that the better escorted tour programs in Europe are relative values. It might also be helpful to note that official guides in Italy must reside in the city where they lead tours and they are not permitted to lead tours within most other locations in Italy. In the interest of safe driving practices, most of the better Italian tour firms require a separate guide and driver. Drivers who do narration are not always paying attention to the road. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, Italians are among the best drivers in Europe, far more skilled and less likely to kill you then their American taxi driving counterparts. You will rarely see a traffic accident during your travels in Italy.

Finally, a personal note. We want to congratulate you for including Bologna in your travels. It is an often-missed gem and is considered by many to have Italy’s best pasta. Among the better restaurants

are Pappagallo, Biagi alla Grada, and Gianni. But if you really want to know the Bolognese secret head to the Gelateria Da Gianni. This gelato emporium justifies, on its own, a visit to Bologna. One of the exotic flavors is called “Purgatorio”.