BlogDiary of a Tour Manager!


Gerard Venet




I was in Provence, on the Riviera and in Italy in September with a group from Illinois. In Provence, we visited a truffle farm. The soil in the part of the Luberon where the farm is located is made of a mixture of clay, limestone and loam, is non acidic and has good drainage. It takes 7 to 10 years to obtain good truffles (hence their high price). We followed the dogs that are trained to sniff out the summer truffles (tuber aestivium). 

On the Ligurian Coast, near Genoa, we stopped at the seaside resort of Arenzano, where we saw Villa Sauli Pallavicino, set in an English style park with a conservatory. Marquis Tobia Pallavicino built it in 1558. To comply with 19th century tastes, Marchioness Luisa Sauli Pallavicino gave it the aspect of a mediaeval castle enclosed in walls with watchtowers. In Milan, clients had a tour of the city in vintage FIAT 500 cars.

In October I was in Spain with an American group from the Bronx. We stayed a few nights in Barcelona. The Catalan capital boasts beautiful buildings and large avenues: Ronda Littoral, the mile-long Avinguda Diagonal, Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, the elegant Passeig de Gràcia with Gaudi’s Casa Batl ó and Casa Milà. On the Rambla is located the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

We were in Zaragoza at the time of the ceremonies and processions to our Lady of the Pillar, which attract tens of thousands of pilgrims. The Marian sanctuary, Nuestra Señora del Pilar is believed to have been erected by Saint James on 2nd January A.D.40, in order to host a miraculous image of the Virgin. It is located at the place where he is believed to have placed it on a pillar. 

As English clients wanted to know more about the Hansa (« Hanseatic League ») we travelled to Lübeck, its former main trading port. In the 12th century, merchants from the Low German speaking areas established a commercial network alongside the North and Baltic Sea Coasts. It extended from London to Novgorod via Bruges and Bergen. Agricultural production increased thanks to the mediaeval warm period (11 th -13 th centuries) . Merchants used the cog,a ship capable of transporting large volumes of cargo. Hansa merchants had their own property in London known as the Steelyard. There, they imported grain,stockfish, timber, wax and linen fabric. Their main export was woollen cloth. In Novgorod merchants bought mostly furs, wax and honey but also luxury goods that arrived there via the Silk Road. During the walking tour, we saw the birthplace of Heinrich Mann (1871-1950) and his brother Thomas Mann (1875-1955). We owe to the latter the thrilling novel Buddenbrooks (1901). It is the story of a family of grain merchants known since the 16th century, whose fortunes the author traces over four generations, from 1768 to 1877. Our tour included Bremen, Nijmegen and Antwerp. All these cities were affiliated to the Hansa.

In Janów Podalski I visited the thoroughbred Arabian horse stud farm. Every year, lovers of thoroughbreds come to participate in the national championships and one of the most famous auctions of « Arabs » in the world. In Lesna Podalska I visited St Mary’s sanctuary and monastery of the Pauline Order. I went to Koden, the second largest centre of religious worship to the Virgin Mary in Poland, located on the river Bug. On the other side of the river is Belarus. If you walk too close to the river (as I did) you come close to the border and hear the sound of blank warning shots. 

I enjoyed the historic town of Kazimierz Dolny. Its location in the Vistula valley and on the Lviv-Silesia and Ruthenia-Prussia trade routes meant that its grain trade flourished .The rich merchants houses are a testament to its past wealth. The town was one of the locations of Wojtech Smarzowski’s film Volhynia. The film shows in a realistic and brutal way, the Ukrainian nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, atttacking villages in Volhynia and killing their Polish populations. In 1943 and 1944 the massacre cost the lives of almost 100,000 Polish civilians. 

One place not to miss in Eastern Poland is the close-to-primeval forest of Bialowieza . It covers 150,000 ha (370,658 acres). Part of it is in Belarus. It is home to over 20,000 animal species. One of them is the largest European mammal, the bison. Adult males weigh over 900 kg (1,984 lbs) and can run up to 50 km/h (31 mph). This is why I considered it safer to see them in enclosures!