Great WALKING Tour
My wife and I took this Go Ahead Tour (GAT) Walking Tour of Provence directly following our previous GAT tour of Amsterdam, Luxembourg & Brussels with a post trip to Paris. We did our own connection from Paris to Cannes on the French TGV train. We had the opportunity to explore and visit Cannes in some detail before the tour group arrived two days later.
Our group was made up of 17 members and this was optimum. Any larger and we are not sure the trip would have been as effective. Our recommendation would be for Go Ahead Tours to limit all trips to no more than 20 people.
When everyone arrived in Cannes our Tour Director Jean-Sébastien Saito (J-SS) had an introductory meeting for a brief get together to discuss the trip members, the rules and the guidelines.
1. He had us introduce ourselves and tell where we were from.
2. He then discussed his thoughts on the trip.
3. He stressed that this was our tour.
4. That he wanted to do what we wanted.
5. That he wanted to make everyone happy.
After the meeting I privately asked about seat rotation, he said that he was sure the group could work that out.
On the next day the group talked about rotating and some did but over half did not. This seems to be an issue with Go Ahead Tours - all of our three trips have had no rotation and on this trip some members sat in the front seat over half the trip. Others sat in the back seat where they could stretch out and sleep. And the singles were always by themselves - two seats per person.
On the bus, 15 minutes before we arrived at a destination J-SS gave us good information as to the destination. He spoke about available restaurants at every stop and when we arrived at our hotel. When we stopped during the day he let us know where one could find a bathroom.
He was quite good at reinforcing times and locations for morning departure, lunchtime, etc. Just prior to arriving in our new city he would tell us our room numbers while on the bus. Once inside the hotel, we would pick up the key and go to our rooms. This allowed him to help unload the luggage and bring them right in and even to our rooms.
On long drive days J-SS told us to let him know when we needed to have a restroom break. Maybe in this we could have had a stop every 1.5 hours to go to the bathroom, get something to drink and to just stretch our legs.
The one area that might be a concern for Jean-Sébastien Saito is the drive commentary. While we were on the bus for an hour to three hours, he could have given us a high level of information. As we drove through the roads of Provence we got very little information until the last 15 minutes. Then it was not history, stories, question and answer or any material we would need for the next walk, it was our schedule for the stop.
My best example of this was the stop in Arles where we stopped our walk for a 20 minute history lesson on Vincent van Gogh. As we walked to the gardens of the hospital, J-SS decided to stop on the side of the street and just before entering the courtyard and gave us a historical overview of what van Gogh had done. It was 20 minutes of great information but we could have been in and out of this location in the time he told us the history on the street if he had given us the information on the bus drive.
On our first day together I provided Jean-Sébastien with a short list of questions.
I went over them with him and then asked him to also discuss the political upheaval in Paris just the week before on the passage of GLBT laws and why people were so upset that riot police had to be brought out, the subways closed during rush hour and people were told not to be on the streets. None of my questions were covered or briefly mentioned. Several people were concerned that his repertoire of stories was very limited and that he depended on his iPad to research our next stop and then give us the material.
One of the very positive aspects of Jean-Sébastien leadership was when realized we had some extra time he took us places not in the itinerary. In Ste. Maximin he gave all of us a rundown on the Church in Ste. Maximin and why we should see this church. Several times he stopped briefly to show us or have us do a quick walk that was not on the schedule.
At the end of the days he took many people to see a location that was not on the schedule. After giving a brief description he told people what mass transportation they could take to get to the hotel and took the rest of us to our destination. These worked perfectly and all of us appreciated his efforts to improve the tour with sights not on the published schedule. This showed us he was willing to go beyond "the schedule".
In our Grotto of St. Marie Madeleine walk he ran after people to see if they were OK when 13 took the path that was much longer. He took water on the walk and shared with everyone at the top. After our very wet walk to the Grotto of St. Marie Madeleine he provided beverages and some food from his optional money.
In all but one walk he led the group to the destination and return. As we arrived in Avignon, he passed out two maps and discussed our next day agenda. He suggested that the following morning we would all meet at the Papal Palace, arriving there on our own. He would be there waiting for us by the entrance.
The issue with this plan was that we had not had a complete city orientation and were told to just follow the main avenue until we arrived at the Palace. As it was the first thing in the morning, there might have been a problem if some people had not gone due to the rain. It worked out as everyone arrived and we began our tour.
In the early days of the tour J-SS would lead and with his long strides, put some distance between himself and some of the less physically able.
Right after our introductory meeting in Cannes, he took us on the walk to the Pierrot 1Er Restaurant in Cannes. We walked downhill and through the narrow streets without a pause until we got to the waterfront. As I always do on all tours, I trailed, as I knew where we were going and had been over the route.
The other 15 people who had just arrived did not and some did straggle. We all met up and all were OK. I was concerned as he did not look back or check on the status of the group. Later on the trip he became very conscientious in checking on how people were doing and if anyone was having a problem. He also knew that my wife and I would give him the thumbs up to signify all was well and we would be there soon.
We signed up for this tour as it was billed as a walking tour. This was very definitely a walking tour. We used a pedometer and a GPS device to check on the mileage we walked. Even with the rain during the first three days, almost everyone went out to our predetermined walk. The walk to the Grotto was the most difficult as it was raining hard and we had to climb steps that were not geometric in any way. We also walked around many cities, villages and country roads. The guided walking tour of Aix en Provence was the least effective as our guide had a very soft voice that did not project well in a city environment.
Overall GAT provided a very diverse schedule with many varied activities within the "walking" tour. Specially good were the visits to businesses, a few churches, many hill towns, seaside walks, strolls through many village markets, participating in wine tasting, see natural oddities, take an excursion to Monaco, visits to Roman ruins, and to see architectural masterpieces. Unlike previous reviews, this trip challenged everyone - it was truly a walking tour.