Walks of Italy: Stepping Up for Travelers
A conversation with Stephen Oddo, Co-Founder, CTO, Marketing Director of Walks of Italy, Walks of New York & Walks of Turkey
by Marla Norman, Publisher
If you’re going to Italy, forget about airfares, hotels and cars. The first thing you should do is visit the travel site Walks of Italy. Why? Because their tours have the best access to the most sought-after sites and the most personalized service you’re likely to encounter in Italy. And, Walks of Italy only books small groups — no more than 12 persons. So you can actually interact with your guide and fellow travelers. Moreover, the tour options are varied and imaginative with numerous options depending on your taste and budget.
Here are just a few of the tours offered by Walks of Italy. Watch the videos for a quick virtual trip through Italy!
Along with special access to the Sistine Chapel a full hour before the general public is allowed to enter, this walk includes a complete Vatican Museums tour and St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Borghese Gallery – Bernini, Caravaggio & Raphael
The 17th Century Borghese villa is filled with some of the world’s most extraordinary and significant art: sculptures by Bernini and Canova; paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian.
It is possible to experience the best of Florence in a day because this tour includes a reserved entrance to the sites — no standing in lines. Highlights include: Michelangelo’s David, the Duomo (and its underground!), Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi and masterpieces by Da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto, Titian, Michelangelo, Raphael, Perugino and Caravaggio.
Legendary Venice – St. Mark’s Basilica & The Doge’s Palace
This walk provides privileged access to two of Venice’s best loved landmarks: the opulent St. Mark’s Basilica, including the mosaics that have earned it the nickname the “Golden Basilica,” along with the only surviving “bronze” quadriga (team of horses) from antiquity. The tour of the Doge’s Palace, includes the Armory and the Prisons to discover the intrigue behind the “Most Serene Republic of Venice.”
Pompeii & Amalfi Coast with Transfer from Rome
This excursion provides a driver from Rome to Pompeii for a 2.5 hour tour of the archaeological site. A panoramic drive along the legendary Amalfi coast is followed by a tour of Positano. The easiest, most stress-free way to get from Rome to Pompeii and the Amalfi coast.
Walks of Italy co-founder Stephen Oddo shares his passion for Italy and upcoming expansion plans for his company.
How did you first fall in love with Italy?
I’m originally from California, but I’m of Italian descent, so I’ve always been fascinated with the art and architecture of Italy. When I went to Rome for my first visit, I wound up staying for over 7 years.
What are some of your favorite places in Italy?
Of course, I’m very fond of Rome, but I also like the northernmost part of the country. I spent a winter in Valle d’ Aosta, on the Swiss border. Umbria is a favorite area as well. I think of it as a rugged, smaller version of Tuscany. What’s especially wonderful about Umbria is that it’s not as big a tourist draw as Tuscany, so it’s still very accessible and fun to search out the hidden gems.
How did Walks of Italy begin
I gave day tours at the Vatican when I lived in Rome. That’s also where I first ran into my partner, Jason Spiehler, who was a tour guide as well. We began to work together and attract more bookings. Things really took off after we received recommendations from the New York Times and Rick Steves. In 2010, we launched the website and our first videos.
What do you feel sets your tours apart from other operations?
We really work hard to create the optimum experience for our travelers. We are the antitheses of the big bus tours. Our tours are for small groups and we provide special access to sites that the other companies don’t. And, we always work to deliver something unique, some kind of add-value that our competitors don’t provide. For example, one of our most popular tours is for the Sistine Chapel, where we are able to go in a full hour ahead of anyone else. In Venice, we have tours through the secret passages of the Doge Palace. In Florence, we have an evening tour with a wine stop.
We also are very particular about our guides. We want them to be knowledgeable about the history, art and architecture of the cities, but we also need for them to have a real passion for the place and to be able to convey that enthusiasm to our travelers. And, of course, our guides speak excellent English.
You’re constantly expanding your operation. What’s up next?
We recently added a few tours that are geared strictly for food. In Rome, we have a Markets, Tastings & Pizza Making excursion that’s very popular. Venice has a Rialto Markets & Cicchetti Tastings and in Florence there is a Markets, Wine & Gelato tour. There are a few more as well. But, because the food tastings have become so popular, we’ll continue to add more.
Our biggest news is that we’re expanding beyond Italy. We’ve recently launched Walks of New York and Walks of Turkey. We’re also considering Washington D.C. and possibly New Orleans.
Other European countries are also under consideration. Our plans are to just keep stepping ahead!