Monica & Pete Petersen (Untourists of the Week) Italo-philes extraordinaire

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1. Tell us a little bit about your most recent Untour.

We went for a month: two weeks in Tuscany and two weeks in Switzerland Oberland. We have made several Untours to these places as we cannot seem to get these beauties out of our system!

From the minute we arrive in Montalcino to Le Chiuse #4, we settle in and start living like a local. The beauty of the property and the vineyards surrounding our apartment are a feast for our eyes. We look forward to meeting with Harriet for the orientation the next morning at Olivetto de Maggiore Abbey and lunch afterwards. Harriet is a wealth of information, adding enjoyment to every aspect of our Untour. We drive the many backroads all over the area and discover small and interesting towns to explore. Getting lost is half the adventure and just leads you to yet another discovery.

We have spent many enjoyable and outstanding lunches and dinners at i Poggioli Restaurant in Buonconvento. The market on Saturday in Buonconvento is not to be missed! Many towns have markets on different days of the week and it’s worth checking out. It’s quite the way to experience living like a local; mingling among the shoppers and the fresh fruits and vegetables are outstanding. Picking up a freshly roasted chicken for a picnic or dinner is beyond wonderful. That’s our usual Saturday night fare. Sometimes, we even wait while the butcher slices porketta onto a fresh roll for a sandwich and wraps it up to go.

There are so many things to see and do in Tuscany…we just get in the car and drive. We have favorite haunts like Pienza, Orvieto, Montalcino, Siena, and taking the bus ride up to Montepulciano and down is better than a ride at Disneyland; strolling through any of these is one pleasant discovery after another. The public squares and cafes/bars are a great place to sit outside over a cappuccino or gelato and just enjoy the scenery. No matter what time of year that you go, there is always something new to see and explore. We never tire of the rolling hills, vineyard vistas and each time we visit, there are changes to explore.

Oberland is just as wonderful, but very different. We have stayed in Gunten before at Zimmerman, but this time decided to stay in Frutigen. It was a lovely, comfortable apartment with wonderful hosts. We love riding the trains and feel that upgrading to a First-Class Rail Pass was definitely worth it. We love taking the train to Interlaken and then sailing on Lake Thun or Brienz. There are so many villages and towns to see from the lake boats. It makes for a quite wonderful and interesting day.

We also took the train to Lake Geneva and Montreaux on a field trip with our fellow Untours travelers. One wonderful day, we took the cog train way up into the Alps, which was breathtaking. We didn’t go all the way up, so we feel we have some unfinished business up there. That gives us an excuse to go back, which we are doing in July 2014.

2. Why did you choose to go there?

A friend of ours told us about Untours in 2000. He had recently been to Switzerland and regaled us with stories and pictures. We pored over the brochure for hours and decided to go for Switzerland and Italy for our first trip. We have since also been to Sicily and Switzerland Heartland. We have made so many nice friendships in our Untours, and even in some of the towns we’ve visited, so we will travel with Untours as long as we’re able!

3. What is your favorite Untours memory?

We have so many wonderful memories: we’ve celebrated several of our birthdays and special occasions with Untours. It is difficult to choose just one. In Italy, would it be the vast fields of sunflowers or red poppies, the beautiful roses at the end of the rows of vineyards, visiting the many churches and abbeys, sampling and enjoying new restaurants such as lunch and winery tour at Castello Banfi, adventuring out on yet another dirt road to the Riserva di Fizzano where the Olive Garden Restaurants send their chefs for culinary training, or finally arriving back at Le Chiuse after a day of exploring and going out to the pool for a swim and joining your fellow travelers to swap stories of your day and sharing “a bit of the grape.”

After two weeks, it is now time to take the train to Switzerland via Florence and Milan, with sites of Lakes Maggiore and Como. We just love the Swiss trains and we are so pleased that we upgraded to First Class Rail Passes, at the urging of our friends who have traveled Untours Switzerland previously. We have many memories of hopping on the train to Interlaken and then taking a lake boat back to Thun.

One of our outstanding adventures was boarding the lake boat in Thun on August 1st, which is the Swiss National Holiday. We boarded at dusk and sailed around the lake viewing the fireworks of the villages who were competing for best display. It was spectacular and then, if that wasn’t enough, there appeared a huge barge in the middle of the lake which proceeded to put on an incredible hour-long display of fireworks for the Finale! Watching the sun set over the lake sinking behind the Alps was a lovely sight each evening. The cleanliness of the Swiss towns and cities is impressive and the residents are so friendly and helpful. Their weekday open-air markets are great and fresh produce is a sight to see, even the many types of cheeses are fun to sample. We ride the trains, boats, cable cars, and funiculars every day to a new destination..

4. How is taking an Untour different from other ways of travelling?

Le Chiuse—where they stayed

Every detail is taken care of for you. The staff, both in Media and at your destination, is top-notch and are to be commended for all their support. The Dream Book and travel suggestions and supplements are wonderful so you can really plan your trip. You can do as much as you like or as little. But the options to “Live like a Local” are there for you, just as Hal Taussig imagined it would be.

5. If you could describe an Untour in just three words, what would they be?

Adventurous. Memorable. Fun.

6. Have you heard of our trailblazing Untours Foundation? What do you think of a company whose profits have gone to create jobs among vulnerable populations through loans to pioneering, green businesses?

We believe it is a much-needed and admirable entity in this world of ours.

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