How do we make an itinerary for Sojourner Tours?
Usually, we spend a minimum of three years developing an itinerary.
THE FIRST YEAR: When we started developing tours outside Francis’ home-region (French-Swiss Borderland Sojourns) and Paris, we created our strategic three-year approach. Our first visit to a region is about finding the best place to base our guests for the duration of their sojourn. We spend weeks pouring through guidebooks, so that when we are on-site we can quickly and efficiently visit the most promising looking destinations. This year is usually focused on the region’s most famous places. We want to find an area with lots of interesting things located in close proximity to each other so we can base our guests in a central location. We feel like there are always some great sights that our guests won’t mind taking a long drive to visit, but over-all it is much nicer when most of the excursions are just a short distance from the place where they are staying. We talk to the locals to gather tips about lesser-known points of interest and their favorite places to eat.
YEAR TWO: The second year we arrive on site with a tentative sojourn itinerary sketched out that includes the best things we found that first year and several lesser known things. Putting these together takes a lot of time and deep research because we are trying to uncover things that are not well documented in guidebooks. We follow up on leads that we got from the locals. We also revisit some of the places we selected the previous year because now we are working on fine-tuning those visits for our guests: figuring out the best way to walk our guests through a village, buying books on the local history, checking out restaurants, etc. When we go home, this time we’ll be deciding which days to visit each place with our guests, which means coordinating the opening and closing times (Mondays and Tuesdays can be hard as things are often closed), looking for special events like festivals and markets, and more.
YEAR THREE: The last year is about fine-tuning the restaurants, walks and other aspects of those more unusual destinations that we checked-out and selected during the second year. It is also about visiting any places that we decided to add into a tour (for example, we are in the third year of development of our new Provence Sojourn and we’ve decided that instead of just visiting the charming countryside, as we’d initially conceived this sojourn, our guests would probably love to visit the big bustling city of Avignon to explore and see the monumental Palais des Papes. So, we are going to check that out in addition to fine-tuning things we visited and selected the last time we visited). Usually at this point, the itinerary is already written and we are just double-checking and making minor additions and adjustments or preparing for the actual guiding by practicing the walks or hikes.
What is different this time?
Our Dordogne Like-a-Local Sojourn is on tight development budget because we want to offer this line of sojourns at really low prices to our guests. We offer four different lines of tours so that our guests can choose a sojourn that fits their travel style: some people are mainly interested in major sights and want us to guide them the whole time while others know France well and are really looking for an opportunity to see something off the usual tourist circuit and they want time to explore on their own. Our new “Live Like a Local” line is for those who really want to be culturally immersed and as well as those who are on a tighter budget. (The Provence Sojourn will operate at a loss initially because we’d been developing this for our Off-the-Beaten-Path line of Sojourns when we decided to start our new Live-Like-a-Local line and saw it a perfect location for this style of sojourn.) So, in Dordogne, we just allowed for one year of developmental research and will initially offer the sojourn at a very low rate to our first guests which will gradually increase once we’ve been able to fully fine tune things.
Now, we’ve completed a week of research in the Dordogne and we’ve centered in on our base location and the main excursions. This autumn, I will release the full itinerary on our Sojourner Tours company website. My next few posts will be on Collioure where we’ve just started a new Language Immersion Sojourn.
-Lisa Gustavson (Sojourner Tours Owner)