Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, Italy, is a beautiful, calming historic site replete with open green spaces scattered with olive trees, cypresses, fragments of columns and partially reconstructed buildings. I visited this beautiful place a year ago; and while I enjoyed walking through this relaxing setting, the importance of many of the buildings and ruins was completely lost on me. In retrospect I would have gained so much more that day had I engaged a private tour guide to give me thorough tour, and assist with so many other nuances such as:
Like Hadrian’s Villa, many historic monuments lie outside of today’s cities, often located in unpopulated areas. The temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia are one such example, and Stonehenge in the United Kingdom is another. While these sites can often be reached on public or private transport, this can create a lot of hassle when travelling in a foreign country. Local transport schedules can be difficult to decode and some cities are not very forthcoming with travel information. A guide and driver can take you directly to the site, thereby saving you the stress of arranging or driving in an unfamiliar environment.
Creating a schedule
One trip when I did experience the benefits of a tour guide was in Avignon, France. We knew we wanted to explore the countryside but we had no idea where to start. While we did comprehensive research on online travel guides, our tour guide helped make our trip itinerary efficient and effective with her inside insights and tips on the sights. She drove us between villages and lovely towns considered among the most beautiful in France before finishing our tour at the Pont du Gard. Along the way she made sure we saw and learnt about all the important attractions in the area. This was our only day to explore and there was no way we could have covered so much ground, or even have known where to start, had we set out on our own.
I love books. But when it comes to a historic site, no book can quite measure up to the advantages of a professional tour guide. Nor, for that matter, can a plaque – which may reveal dates and some information about the ruins, but may be weather damaged, crowded with other tourists or just not that easy to find. A good guide can make a site come alive just with his / her narrative, customising the information according to the audience tastes. The ruins are then abandoned rubble piles no more! A good guide won’t just feed you lines from a guide book, but rather share insights into a near-forgotten people and culture.
Notice the little things
Reading a detail heavy guidebook can overwhelm, as well as sap your interest and attention span. When this happens, centuries of history start to blur and the historic site becomes a chore to complete, becoming another something to tick off your travel bucket list. Instead, a good tour guide will draw your attention to the little things that you might have missed on your own, be it wall paintings hidden in a corner, the architectural style of the columns or the significance of a tree on an ancient battlefield. A tour guide will know who lived and, more importantly, what monumental episodes took place within ancient walls.
I still value the time I spent at Hadrian’s Villa. It was a quiet day early in the summer season and there weren’t many other tourists. Nevertheless, should I be lucky enough to return, I will be doing so in the company of a tour guide.