Discovering Northern Italy with Travels with Audrey

Chat with Audrey

“Travel With Audrey” stands out as a unique venture, eschewing typical luxury tours in favor of immersive local experiences in Northern Italy, particularly in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Over the years, Audrey has cultivated a small family-owned business driven by a passion for making clients feel like honored guests in her adopted home. With the assistance of her Italo – Canadian husband, Audrey meticulously oversees every aspect of the tour, ensuring guests enjoy a relaxing, worry-free experience while also immersing themselves in the local culture, cuisine, and heritage.

Like a Local Experience

“Travel With Audrey” isn’t just a tour; it’s a fully lived experience, where guests dine in local trattorias, explore hidden trails, shop at artisanal boutiques, and engage with locals. To provide deeper insight into this remarkable endeavor, I interviewed Audrey, the visionary founder of “Travel With Audrey,” whose warmth and authenticity bring her dream to life before our eyes.

Friuli at sunset

Tell me about yourself. I know you were born in New York, but you’ve lived in many places. Where did you spend most of your youth? Where did you go to school? What was your major in college? Who is Audrey?

Yes, I was born in New York due to my parents’ circumstances during a revolution in the Congo where they were living at the time. However, my youth was primarily spent in Senegal for 16 years before moving to Canada. After college, I pursued a one-year program in Germany before beginning my career as a tour manager and guide in Toronto, eventually working for Air Canada for 25 years. I took early retirement to support my husband’s career in the Royal Canadian Air Force, whom I met in Italy where he served in the Italian Mountain troops. Growing up, I was exposed to multiple languages due to my German mother, Dutch father, and years spent in Spain. I learned Italian after meeting my husband, although I don’t speak Friulano like he does.

Travels with Audrey: Audrey with backdrop of countryside in Northern Italy
Audrey is a certified International tour manager.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in the tourism and travel industry? Did you have prior experience in this sector before creating “Travels with Audrey”?

I initially gained 8 years of experience as a step-on guide and tour manager before transitioning to the airline industry. After taking early retirement 25 years ago, I returned to my passion for travel. I became certified as an International tour manager in Colorado and worked for a European tour company from 2012 to 2015. It was during this time that I developed a deep appreciation for Italy, particularly my husband’s region, Friuli. While living in Colorado, I founded “Travels with Audrey”, driven by my desire to provide travelers with authentic experiences in Italy. Unlike traditional tour companies, “Travels with Audrey” focuses on immersive cultural experiences rather than mere itinerary planning.”

With so many travel companies already out there, why did you decide to start one?

I had several reasons for starting “Travels with Audrey”, but a significant one was my frustration with tourists receiving fabricated versions of Italy, laden with stereotypes, rather than experiencing the authentic country. After years of working for other tour companies, I realized that something was lacking. Mainstream tour operators were merely offering cookie-cutter products, and tourists were often preoccupied with capturing photos at popular sites, neglecting to truly connect with the history and essence of the places they visited. This resulted in a missed opportunity for deeper understanding and appreciation. It was this realization that led me to specialize in uncovering hidden gems, particularly in northern Italy and my husband’s native region of Friuli. We meticulously select services that provide genuine experiences. My goal has always been to offer my clients a glimpse into the real Italy that I’ve been fortunate to discover, an experience that many others sadly overlook.

Travels with Audrey: Italian winery tour

What inspired you to create “Travels with Audrey” and what are the main goals of your project?

Thanks to my husband, I truly gained a deep appreciation of Italy many do not know about, dispelling all the cliches and misconceptions of what it means to be Italian. I especially fell in love with his region, where our family lives, understanding how truly special that area of Italy is, and only those in the know were visiting. I am genuinely pleased about this because I am not keen on seeing large bus groups in our region. Friuli has an abundance to offer, which is why cultural vacations to Friuli were conceived. Naturally, my husband plays a significant role in this endeavor. Being from the region, he speaks the local language fluently and his career as an officer in the Italian mountain troops adds substantial value for those interested in exploring the area, delving into WW1 history, and seeking genealogy research services for clients.

Travels with Audrey: certified tour managers Manlio and Audrey
Manlio & Audrey (all images courtesy of © Travels with Audrey).

What makes the experience offered by “Travels with Audrey” unique compared to other travel offerings?

I want them to feel..

Like they are traveling with a friend; someone they like and trust.

Immersed in the history, local culture, and authentic way of life of a place; not just as a tourist and visitor but someone who gets to live and experience.

A deep connection with the locals and have stories and special memories that they can share with their loved ones back home.

Grateful and happy to be off the beaten path and to experience and learn something new; and that the value they are receiving far exceeds their expectations. 

How do you select destinations and itineraries for your travels?

I possess extensive local expertise acquired through years of research and living in various European countries. My passion lies in crafting custom itineraries that blend popular attractions with off-the-beaten-path experiences. As the local host and driver guide for groups of fewer than 8 on my tours in northern Italy, I ensure a seamless experience, allowing travelers to immerse themselves fully in the local culture. While there are a few companies specializing in regional travel, many opt for conventional routes.

What are the most popular experiences or activities among your travelers during the tours?

group of tourists enjoying a dinner and wine experience in Italy

Visit to food producers, wine tastings, boat rides on lakes and the sea, visiting local artisans.

How do you ensure that your itineraries are authentic and offer a true local experience to participants?

By ensuring they are included when I create them based on my local knowledge. I also ensure that when I have that first conversation with clients, they know that I do not offer a cookie cutter approach and will create for them something special, not only what is on their wish list but experiences I believe they will enjoy.

How do you manage seasonal changes and local events in your itineraries to provide authentic and unique experiences to your travelers?

As my itineraries are hand-crafted, I always check to see if there are special events happening at the time of their visit to include them. 

How do you plan the schedule of your tours? Do you follow a specific frequency, or does scheduling depend on variables such as the season, participant availability, or other factors?

My primary business involves custom tours for private groups, constituting 90% of my work, with the remaining 10% dedicated to Friuli cultural vacations, currently comprising two small group tours annually. I aim to increase the latter to six tours per year. As a solo entrepreneur, limited by my husband’s availability in Friuli and his current work commitments, I cap the total number of tours I operate per year at ten. I handle all tours personally and do not employ others to lead our tours. Additionally, I offer self-guided tour options and operate based on client requests, excluding the months of July and August.

What are your favorite or hidden places in Friuli-Venezia Giulia that you love to share with your travelers?

All of it LOL…..from the mountains, to the lagoon, to the historic sites, especially the local artisans, food and wines. But everything that makes Friuli unique and only this region can offer. Friuli I call a mini Italy all rolled into one. We have it all.

scenic lake and Mountain vista in northern Italy

What is the role of local culture and gastronomy in your itineraries, and how do you integrate them to offer a deeper perspective of the region to your travelers?

The role of local culture and gastronomy is pivotal in my itineraries, offering travelers a deeper understanding of the region. We prioritize experiences that connect our guests with locals, producers, artisans, and guides, creating authentic connections. It’s integral to our personal approach to ensure travelers are interested in and willing to explore the local culture and try regional specialties.

tourists touring a facility where Italian Prosciutto is made.

Have there been challenges or difficult moments you’ve faced during your career with “Travels with Audrey”? If so, how did you overcome them?

While running ‘Travels with Audrey,’ one notable challenge arises when I fall ill during a tour, with no one available to take my place. Fortunately, I’ve always managed to persevere and ensure the tour proceeds smoothly. Another difficulty arises when I realize during a tour that a client who booked with me isn’t a good fit, as they fail to grasp the essence of what I offer. Given my dedication to each tour, this realization is particularly challenging.

Could you share a memorable story or moment you’ve experienced during one of your tours in Friuli-Venezia Giulia?

Yes, in addition to our regular services, we also provide genealogy assistance for Friuli. Last year, our clients had the remarkable experience of meeting family members they never knew existed. It was an incredibly emotional moment for them, and we were honored to be a part of it.

What motivates you the most in your work, and what gives you the greatest satisfaction when you see the smiles of your travelers?

Sharing the Italy we know, the Italy we love, and when clients express their happiness, their gratitude and of course in their reviews, it puts me over the moon. I am happy when clients are happy. 

tour group in Italy: Travels with Audrey

What makes you most proud of the work you do with “Travels with Audrey,” and what are your future goals for the project?

I take great pride in the work we do at “Travels with Audrey,” particularly in sharing the beauty of Friuli, a region close to my heart. Our goal is to continue offering tours in Friuli, showcasing its unique charm to travelers seeking an authentic Italian experience beyond the popular destinations like Venice, Rome, and Florence. We envision ‘Travels with Audrey’ remaining a family-run business, prioritizing personalized experiences over growth into a large company.

Italian wine vineyard in Northern Italy

How do you reconcile your love for travel with the need to take care of yourself and maintain a balance in your personal and professional life?

Balancing my well-being while traveling extensively for 4 to 6 months a year is quite demanding. I’m constantly on the road, driving clients and conducting surveys to improve our services. To ensure I take care of myself during these busy periods, I limit the number of tours I personally lead each year.

I know you’re about to embark on your next incredible tour. Could you provide some information? What is the next destination? What have you organized?

For the spring, my clients will be in Friuli with me, and they have also booked time before with me to visit Slovenia and after the tour to visit other beautiful off the main tourist trail locations in northern Italy

Why Wait?

Your journey to Italy isn’t just another family or friend’s trip; it’s a personalized adventure tailored to your desires. Traveling with loved ones is an opportunity to create lasting memories, and Audrey ensures every moment is stress-free and filled with discovery. From navigating directions to arranging accommodations and transportation, Audrey handles all the logistics, allowing you to focus on enjoying quality time together. Simply choose your preferred dates, gather a group of 6-16 family and friends, and let Audrey orchestrate a seamless experience filled with unforgettable moments.

Why wait? Book your tour with Travel With Audrey now and dive into the authentic culture of Northern Italy! Don’t miss the chance to create lasting memories with your family and friends.

beautiful lake and mountains in northern Italy

Learn More About Travels with Audrey

@TravelswithAudrey_ on Instagram

Annalucia Scotto Di Clemente

Contributing Editor

My name is Annalucia, and I'm a communication and creative writing student at John Cabot University. I'm studying to become a journalist with the dream of opening my own editorial office that can train all aspiring journalists and give voice and importance to every single person who wants to. Currently, I am vice president of "The Matthew," the online and print newspaper of my university. Furthermore, I am a writer for "The Matthew," "Live in Italy Magazine," and "Italics Magazine." I enjoy writing and telling stories and experiences of all kinds, especially personal stories. Every time I write a story, I imagine there's a reader in front of me to fully engage them in my emotions. Writing is one of the most powerful communication tools, and I can't wait to communicate with all of you.

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