As a travel writer and editor, I spend a lot of my time planning travel. When I am not comparing flights, train schedules and hotel options for my own travel, I find myself fact-checking for a travel guide or article that I am editing. And I am not a spontaneous trip planner: I’m meticulous (you might say picky) to a fault, and want to make sure that I have made the best possible choices for all aspects of a trip. Perhaps this is a character flaw, but in all these many years of traveling, I still live in fear of being disappointed or making the wrong choice. This is part of the reason that I have never been drawn to package tours or group trips. I like to travel independently, and at my own pace, but I also just don’t trust anyone else to make travel choices for me. It is safe to say—I have issues.

So when InnTravel, a UK-based company that offers pre-arranged, self-guided Slow holidays throughout Europe and farther afield, suggested that I try their travel model, it meant a departure for me—in more ways than one. InnTravel takes care of all the macro-planning, from train tickets to hotels. They choose hotels based on your preferences and budget, but all of their options are three- and four-star properties, selected by InnTravel for their relaxed ambiance and welcoming hosts. Some of their packages include a few meals at restaurants that they have hand-picked. They can also book your airfare if you wish. The company offers city breaks, as well as epic train journeys of up to 14 days or more, plus walking tours, biking holidays and active winter vacations. The difference is that their trips are all self-guided—they take care of the planning but once you’re underway, you’re one your own to discover, explore, eat and drink. At the same time, InnTravel offers a 24-hour help line should something go awry.

Prior to our trip to Verona, Venice, and Bologna, a nice little package arrived at home—our personalized InnTravel trip binder, with the itineraries, as well as city maps, luggage tags, and detailed walking tour itineraries. Historical and cultural context was provided for each city, as well as lists of don’t-miss attractions and recommended restaurants. Also really helpful in the trip pack were specific directions for getting from train stations to hotels, how to use public transportation in each city, how much to expect a taxi to cost—all those little details that make one feel that they are prepared for their journey. Come to think of it—those are all the little details I would normally spend pre-trip hours sorting out on my own.

Venice…

We traveled to Venice on our own (we live in Italy) by train, and very easily navigated the trip from Santa Lucia Station to Hotel Flora, a cozy, family-run three-star hotel with a distinct old-school charm and an inviting cocktail bar. Despite being steps from Calle Larga XXII Marzo, the main—and usually clogged—artery through which pedestrian traffic flows to and from Piazza San Marco, Hotel Flora was quiet and tranquil, and our sleep a silent one. Breakfast was offered in either in a pretty ivy-covered garden or in a comfy dining room, which set us up for two days of exploring Venice by foot and vaporetto, or water bus. Even in June, which is not quite peak travel season in Venice but getting awfully close, we were able to wander away from the most crowded parts of the city and take in the magic that is Venice.

From Venice we headed to Bologna with the handy Trenitalia e-tickets that the InnTravel team had emailed to me pre-trip. I did not have to deal with searching a single rail schedule, select train times, routes or seats—that piece alone really sold me on the InnTravel experience.

Bologna…

Our hotel in Bologna was Hotel Porta San Mamolo, set in a quiet area just inside the old city walls and a 10-minute walk from Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s grand central square and buzziest area. Our room was large, warmly decorated and unfussy, with wood-beam ceilings and an especially spacious bathroom. Like the Flora in Venice, Porta San Mamolo is in a centuries-old building, meaning no two rooms are alike in design and footprint, which just adds to the charm. Daily breakfast here is offered in a verdant courtyard garden and dining room. InnTravel packages typically include a few dinners over the course the course of a trip. In Bologna, we ate at Antica Osteria Le Mura, a highly-rated restaurant across the street from the hotel.

Verona…

From Bologna’s massive Stazione Centrale we were off by train to Verona, our last stop. Our hotel, Giulietta & Romeo, is right in Verona’s thumb-shaped centro storico, or historic center, formed by a sharp curve in the Adige River. It’s a block from the Roman Arena, the grand, well-preserved ancient amphitheater that predates Rome’s Colosseum. Via Mazzini, the elegant, arcaded shopping street leading to Verona’s central Piazza delle Erbe, is also just a block from the hotel. Behind its period façade, the hotel is surprisingly modern, with sleek rooms and an airy covered courtyard where breakfast is served. Like all the hotels during our trip, it managed to be centrally located, yet offer a quiet, relaxed retreat from the busy city outside its doors.

Final Thoughts…

In an increasingly frenetic, digitally connected world, “luxury” doesn’t necessarily mean 5-star accommodations and Michelin-quality meals. It can also mean the gifts of time, of relaxation, of worry-free travels. With its fairly priced packages and philosophy of stress-free, yet-still-independent travel, InnTravel delivers true luxury to modern, autonomous travelers like me—by freeing us from all those hours lost in front of the computer comparing hotels and checking train schedules, yet still ensuring comfortable stays, engaging experience and smooth voyages.

Elizabeth Heath sampled part of Inntravel’s Grand Tour of Italy, which includes stays in Turin, Verona, Venice, Bologna, Florence and Rome. The 14-night trip costs from £1,795pp based on 2 sharing, including 14 nights’ B&B accommodation, rail travel between cities, city maps and walking notes. International flights are extra. The trip can also be extended to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. For more information visit inntravel.co.uk.

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