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Behind the Scenes: Europe’s Best Guides

HOME > JOURNAL > EUROPE > Behind the Scenes: Europe’s Best Guides

Head of Europe, Molly Kinnaird, joined some of our most experienced European Guides to bring you ‘a day in the life’ as they swerve the tourists of overcrowded cities and charter through vast open waters. 

About the Author

I love the diversity of Europe. The continent offers a wealth of cultures, languages, landscapes and adventures waiting on our doorsteps. Set off on a culinary pilgrimage through Sicily or take to the open seas in Norway for an epic whale-watching experience.’

Europe as a general rule, is a pretty well trodden continent. Pictures of the architecture, landscape, and coastline are never that unfamiliar – even if you have never seen them for yourself. As such, it can be easy to get drawn into ticking as many off as you can, in as short a time as possible. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and with more Greek islands than days in the year, we have a better idea – exceptional guided experiences.

A guide has an incredibly important job and European guiding is all about focusing on what is most interesting and important to you. You want a history lesson – we know the specialist. After some action – we know the mountain guide. Eager to keep the children happy – we know the perfect pizza chef. We have arranged hikes to see brown bears in Romania, treasure hunts around St Marks Square for families, and access to Spanish wineries not open to the public.

Perhaps my most special guided experience was through Swedish Lapland. By cross country ski, we ventured across the frozen lake and into the forest to the spot where my guide as a child used to call for moose. Moose call mastered, cross country skiing only mildly improved, we headed back to camp. As the thermometer headed towards -30°C my guide taught me how people can survive, and thrive, in such extreme environments. Then as the abundant silence of Lapland settled around us, we enjoyed a feast of foraged goods and were rewarded with the Northern Lights, Milky Way and more shooting stars than I have wishes. 

For me, seeing space or place through the eyes of a local specialist guide is a privilege. Passion fuels passion and you can return home feeling smug about what you have learnt and understood about a place, that a photo or audio guide could never. We are proud of the guiding network we have built so whether you want to hone in on the Royal family in London, archeology in Sicily or King Crab fishing on a frozen lake in Norway – we know just the person.

Giacomo is an animated and charming third generation Sicilian guide with never-ending knowledge, whose passion for culture and food is always received well by guests.

“Sicily is as close as it gets to heaven on Earth. Rich in colour, flavour and history, it manages to remain humble and welcoming despite its many blessings. My family and I have the honour of sharing our land’s wealth with visitors – and even I seem to learn something new about this magnificent island each day (which makes describing just one day almost impossible!). However, this has to be my very favourite itinerary: days don’t get much better.

The best mornings are those when I take visitors to the Agrigento Doric Temples to watch the sunrise. Sitting under the majestic, ancient olive trees beside the Temple of Concord whilst the golden daylight sweeps over the scenery is very special. The best part is revealing the delights I have brought hidden in a basket: orange juice, cornetti, and brioche with ice-cold granita, which we eat whilst chatting excitedly about the day ahead. No breakfast is complete, however, without the sacred ritual of a coffee, so we make a beeline for the nearby cafe to savour our first of the day

Fuelled for the day ahead, we set off for our next stop. The drive from Agrigento to Palermo takes us through the charming towns of Aragona and Sutera: this journey is a lovely way to lap up Sicily’s staggering scenery. There are some particularly breath-taking views around Sutera, so we usually stop off for another coffee and a leg-stretch here. When we arrive in Palermo, our first priority is lunch (if you hadn’t noticed, a normal day in Sicily could be mistaken for a culinary pilgrimage). Vucciria market is a glorious explosion of the island’s rich ingredients and cuisine. Vucciria literally means ‘chaos’ and the exciting bustle of sellers and locals can be quite overwhelming, so I always recommend the delightfully crispy arancini followed by a selection of cannoli for a market-based lunch. Although if guests are in the mood for a sit-down lunch, Tondo’s pizzas are close to perfection.

Helping visitors unlock Palermo’s astounding assemblage of architectural, artistic and cultural jewels is pure joy: this city has acted as the fusing point for numerous civilisations for millennia so there are surprises around every corner. It can take time to get used to the extraordinary blend of Byzantine, Mediterranean and North African influences, but it is this unpredictability and charming imperfection that makes everyone fall in love with Palermo. I often like to structure our tour around the works of Serpotta, whose stucchi adorn many of the city’s oratories and churches.  Finally, when the heat of the day starts to wear off, we climb to the top of the Cupola di San Salvatore for the awe-inspiring panoramic views of Palermo’s domes and the sea beyond.

After a busy day in this exotic city, a fifteen-minute drive to the quaint fishing village of Sferracavallo is a wonderful breath of fresh air. The long, golden sunsets here are unrivalled and the small restaurants, perched on the water’s edge, serve exquisite seafood: we blissfully pass an evening filled with sea urchin linguini and cooling Sicilian white wine, whilst colourful fishing boats bob gently in the background.”

3 nights accommodation on a B&B basis with  2 days of private guiding and driver from £2,100 per person.

Tom is a captain who leads our guests in a search for arctic wildlife in the open sea and waterfalls with spectacular mountain peaks in the fjords.

“Travellers that make the journey to this remarkable region of Norway are always amazed at how we natives have managed to build such a comfortable life for ourselves, thriving in this beautiful but harsh environment. Every moment in the Alesund region is an adventure and I ensure guests make the most of every minute here.

The day begins out on the open water. Nothing wakes you up like darting across the ocean at super-speeds on an open-rib boat, bouncing off the waves as the salty sea water sprays your face. Although they come away a little windswept, every guest is grinning from ear to ear. These vessels aren’t just for thrill-seekers though. They are also perfect for exploring the most secluded of enclaves in the fjords. Winding through the narrow waterways, we get up close and personal with the mountain cliffs and spectacular waterfalls. 

I am fortunate in that I get to share my home with some fantastic wildlife, which I, in turn, love to show my guests. The Grasoyane seal colony is one of our most beloved residents, appreciated by locals and visitors alike. When they’re not lazing about on the coastline, we watch them dive to capture unsuspecting shellfish. If we’re very lucky, we may spot orcas playfully leaping from the water, and stalking prey along the coastline. 

And, at just the right time of year, hundreds of pilot whales will arrive to chase the Gerry fish through the fjords – a spectacle I will never tire of seeing. Next, I continue our journey towards the neighbouring island of Runde, where we find millions of seabirds nestled in the rugged cliffside. It’s great fun to watch bright-beaked wild Atlantic puffins clumsily fly through the air, landing in the water and bobbing alongside the boats. 

It’s very easy to work up an appetite from all the exploring. And, surrounded by oceans full of fresh seafood, I see no better way to enjoy a meal than by catching it yourself. We’ll try our luck at catching cod and herring in the Borgun Fjord, a peaceful moment to relax and take in the views. Then, with our bounty in tow, we’ll deliver our feast to the kitchen at Apotekergata, where we will enjoy a lovely lunch overlooking the Brosundet canal. 

People often remark on the charming farms perched atop the surrounding hillside, curious about everyday life here in these remote islands. Every place has its own unique story to be told, real moments in history that matter, and so I make sure I take the time to share these with my guests. I want to show them the authentic side of this undiscovered corner of the world. These are what people will fondly remember from their time with me.”

3 nights accommodation on a B&B basis with 2 full day expeditions from £2,420 per person.

Peter is a Blue Badge Guide based in London, whose storytelling and personal anecdotes bring this historical, fascinating city to life.

“Growing up as a child chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral and being the son of two historians, my weekends were often spent exploring London’s Square Mile. I suppose that life has somewhat come full circle now that I show visitors around my favourite parts of the city. It’s been five years since I received my Blue Badge, and I love guiding just as much now as I did when I first began.

I always ensure that the sites I include in my tours showcase that living, breathing part of the city. For that reason, I’m always out and about a few hours before I meet my guests, scouting any events or happenings that will add something extra to your experience. For example, if we’re exploring Wren’s Churches, I’ll be checking the liturgical calendars for the season, or stopping by the Friends’ offices at St Stephen Walbrook. It never hurts to check the specials board at the Sweetings and Cafe below, either! 

Regarding where we begin our day’s touring, I always find that the hotel can be a great jumping-off point. The older establishments boast some incredible architecture and are often located in areas of major historical significance. In any case, the start of our tour will always make sense for where we’ll be heading. For instance, if we’re spending a morning or more discovering beautiful Baroque architecture, I will be there to greet you on the steps of St Pauls. Or perhaps waiting with a hot cup of coffee at the cafe inside St Nicholas Cole Abbey instead. 

We’ll be visiting many sites in succession, each carrying the theme that piques your interests. Still, a natural curiosity for the unknown is a welcome trait of all guests I lead around London. In fact, I would consider it wrong to not have the odd digression! For example, if you’re someone who’s a bit of an oenophile, we will stop at the City of London distillery to pick up a bottle of the delicious Christopher Wren gin. 

Winding through the web of backstreets, alleys, courts and cut-throughs, we’ll keep away from the crowds. For all the grandeur of London, I’ll be revealing the more intimate side of the city through artefacts and anecdotes. From a heart-filled hand-written letter by Christopher Wren to his beloved wife Faith to the fond memories of my Grandmother’s time commuting to her shifts at the telephone exchange during the Blitz. There’s very little of London that hasn’t been snapped or shared, so I consider it an absolute privilege to reveal these layers of the past in the brief time that I will get to spend with my guests. 

For lunch, we enjoy a meal at the ‘Wrennaisance’ dining hall at the Ned or perhaps overlooking St Paul’s at the Ivy Asia for those of you who might be feeling a little touristy. On the other hand, if you’re someone who likes to sample local street food, we’ll grab a bite on Bread Street and eat among the pews at St Mary’s Aldermary. One of my most beloved and meaningful bookends for an afternoon tour is attending evensong at the cathedral. It is a beautiful way for you to connect with one of the capital’s longest-living traditions.” 

3 nights accommodation in London on a B&B basis with 2 days of private guiding from £1,950 per person.

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