Escorted tours: Take it slow

Escorted tours: Take it slow

Don’t hurry, be happy, with a tour that takes its time, says Katie McGonagle

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Remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare? As the wise old tortoise taught us, slow and steady often gets better results than fast and furious, and the same could be said of escorted tours.

Forget racing from one place to the next, changing hotels every day, or hopping off the bus to take a photo without stopping to soak in the view. Now, tour operators are tapping into the trendy ‘slow revolution’, with itineraries that build in more free time, spend several nights in each place, and give guests a chance to stop and smell the coffee.

The names explain it all: Titan introduced a Stay & Explore range this year, Cosmos Tours & Cruises brought in Relax & Explore, and Travelsphere calls its selection Relax & Discover.

While some blur the line between escorted touring and tailor-made independent travel, they show a demand for holidays combining the variety and ease of a tour with the flexibility and independence of a single-centre break. Make sure you’re tapping into the trend with our guide to the slowest tours in town.


Titan, Cosmos and Travelsphere are new kids on the leisurely touring block: Insight Vacations cottoned on to the idea in 2005 with Easy Pace itineraries featuring at least three nights in each place and plenty of free time.

Easy Pace Italy spends three nights each in Rome, Florence and Venice, with guided city tours, behind-the-scenes access to the Vatican and a visit to Michelangelo’s David, plus time to explore these cities solo.

Sister brand Trafalgar followed suit with its At Leisure range, which has doubled since launch to a standalone brochure of 31 itineraries, all guaranteeing no pre-9am starts and two or three-night stays on average. Among this year’s new routes are Corsica and Sardinia, East Coast Town & Country Retreat in the US, and Southern Icons in New Zealand.

Paul Melinis, sales director at One Stop Touring Shop, says: “At Leisure is one of our most successful launches to date, and customers have responded very positively to the more relaxed pace and later start times of the trips. What is particularly interesting is we realised 89% of guests were first-time travellers with Trafalgar, showing we were tapping into a whole new market.

“It’s a formula that’s been going from strength to strength with sales in 2013 up 35% on the previous year across the board.”


The familiar surroundings of the UK and Europe make it prime territory for independent touring. Grand UK has had particular success in this market thanks to its 55-plus age profile, with popular destinations including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, where seven-day Manx Magic tours are based at Rutland Hotel in Douglas and include three excursions (from £449 departing October 20 or April 27).

Flexibility is also at the forefront of Ffestiniog Travel’s relaxed itineraries such as Rhine: From Sea to Source, a new 13-day tour departing in June.

Alongside included excursions – a paddle steamer journey, tram to Basel, and the iconic Glacier Express – guests can add extras such as a ride on the foot ferries that ply their trade across the Rhine, or a journey on the charming red trains of the Unesco World Heritage-listed Rhaetian Railway network (from £1,920).

A relaxed pace doesn’t have to mean taking it too easy: Great Rail Journeys has resort-based adventures such as its eight-day Walking in the Swiss Alps tour, which includes all but one night in the same hotel, scenic mountain railways and cable car rides, plus three days’ walking accompanied by a guide (from £1,075 in 2014).

Rail enthusiasts can also take it slow on Diamond Rail Holidays’ tours, which allow extra time in key spots. The seven-night Madrid, Seville and Cordoba tour spends two nights in the capital and three in charming Seville, with two days on which guests can choose between a guided excursion and time by themselves (from £1,359 in April).


This trend is no less apparent outside mainland Europe, and it doesn’t get more chilled than one of Taber Holidays’ most popular breaks, The Best of Iceland.

This two-week ‘semi-escorted’ tour stays in just two resorts, Akureyri and Hella, with guided day trips to bathe in Hveravellir’s hot springs, visit Europe’s most powerful waterfall and stop by buzzing Reykjavik.

If clients prefer warmer climes, Explore has two traditional sailing trips which save having to pack every night: the eight-day Greek Islands Cruise takes a relaxed journey on-board a ‘caique’ fishing boat, with sightseeing stops at harbour town Karistos and the archaeological ruins of Eretria (from £799 in September including flights, accommodation, boat crew and guide). Even more exotic is its Maldivian equivalent, a nine-day dhoni cruise to explore its tropical atolls at leisure.

There are other reasons for choosing an escorted tour. For single travellers, it can be an easy way to explore a destination without the worry of going it alone. Clients nervous about visiting the frenetic Djemaa el Fna square or souks of Marrakech (pictured) by themselves can try one of the city breaks from singles specialist Solos (from £559 for three nights with flights).

Escorted tours


It’s even more tempting to pack in as much as possible when flying farther afield, but a slower-paced itinerary, tailor-made private tour or an extension will help clients soak in more of the atmosphere.

Wendy Wu Tours’ Classical Vietnam, for example, can be arranged as a private tour if customers want more than the standard 16 days, while those who want to sightsee as they sail can sample the five itineraries introduced this year in its Orient River Cruising programme.

Allowing plenty of time in each place is a high priority for Collette Worldwide, whose Best of China tour has four nights in Beijing, three in Xi’an and two in Guilin and Shanghai. General manager Peter Traynor says: “Today, clients expect not only to see the main sights, but to enjoy some exclusive activities and have time to relax.

“Collette’s tours all build in time for relaxation and leisure.”

A similar philosophy lies behind the tailor-made programme from Hayes & Jarvis, launched last December and already a hit with customers seeking the flexibility to add a city stay on to an escorted tour or extend stopovers in key destinations. Latin America and the Far East have been the stars so far, with options such as combining a four-night city stay in Lima with a four-night tour of Cusco and Machu Picchu with Orient-Express, from £2,899 including return flights.

Leisurely tour brands

A wave of new ‘leisurely tours’ ranges has emerged in the past year. Here’s a quick round-up:

Titan: Stay & Explore

When? The first brochure was released in February.

What? It started with 37 single or twin-centre breaks in Europe, the US, Egypt and the UK, plus cruise options. Expect even more in the 2014 brochure, with additions including Prague and Lisbon city breaks.

Extras? VIP home pick-ups, tour manager and choice of excursions.

Example: Scenic Lakes of Slovenia is an eight-day holiday with half-board accommodation at Hotel Park on the shores of Lake Bled, plus excursions to capital Ljubljana, Bohinj Lake, the Postojna Cave and the Triglav National Park, from £895 including flights.
0800 988 5858

Cosmos Tours and Cruises: Relax & Explore

When? Launched last summer for travel in 2013.

What? A choice of 17 single and twin-centre holidays, typically for seven nights, across Europe and North Africa. Best-sellers include The Villas & Gardens of Lake Como and Lake Garda & the Dolomites.

Extras? Travellers pick their own hotel, with more traditional or family-run properties available, plus one excursion included and others at a supplement.

Example: The eight-day Korcula & Dubrovnik trip spends three nights in Korcula then four in Dubrovnik, with half-board accommodation, return flights and transfers, from £655.
0808 115 1684

Travelsphere: Relax & Discover

When? A dedicated brochure released in late spring.

What? Single-centre holidays across nine destinations: Malta, Tunisia, Costa de la Luz, Madeira, northern Cyprus, Dubai, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Extras? Travellers get one excursion plus other optional trips, a choice of hotels on some trips, and extensions to Kandy or Singapore on the Asian tours.

Example: Vietnam starts at £1,099 with flights, transfers, seven nights’ B&B in the five-star Palm Garden Resort in Hoi An and a half-day tour to My Son. A two-night Singapore extension costs from £249.
0844 567 9961


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