I’ve just finished leading tours in Italy for the last two months.
One thought now that I’m done: Soooo thankful.
I’m incredibly grateful to all our clients who said “yes” to Italy this year.
What was CRAZY while I was on tours, however, was running into Gigi Guides readers in Italy. Randomly!
I had no idea this was going to happen of course, cause this was the first season that people have actually been using Gigi Guides to travel Italy. (It just came out a few months ago.)
The very first time I met a Gigi Guides member, it was the most unexpected.
I was standing in a van, in my bra.
That might sound weirder than it was because changing in a van is normal when you’re shopping the markets in Italy.
Vans are the change rooms (and where they stash the most expensive stuff), so there are a ton o’ gals stripped down to their skivvies in vans.
As a side note, I was trying on this killer Gucci top (no, I don’t buy luxe stuff like that normally cause I feel guilty spending my daughter’s college money, but heck, it was 2014 stock, so they were practically giving it away.)
Anyway, as I was saying, I was in a van, and the lovely Deborah was trying on a Stella McCartney dress (white and black, looked hot on her).
She turned around and said, “Hey, are you, Bianca?”
I was like, yeah! I am! Totally didn’t even miss a beat, even if I was half naked.
(Remember, when we’re working leading tours we’re “on” almost 24/7. It’s early mornings and late nights, no matter if you’re in bras, post-shower towels, bathing suits, pajamas — you’re available for clients. That’s the lives of above-and-beyond style tour leaders.)
Anyway, in the van, she chirped, “I’m Deborah Frank! I bought Gigi Guides!”
I immediately recognized her name from our customer list. I talked to her on the phone from California.
(The very first day Gigi Guides was released, I called our first day buyers. It took me a week to call everyone, but I’m so happy I did. It was such an honor to connect with everyone personally.)
In the van, we launched right into serious shopping mode. I was negotiating a Lanvin purse purchase with the very eccentric Senora, the Lord of the designer merch.
The Senora has ultra “contraband” luxury goods that she doesn’t let out of the van. Cause what she does is totally illegal. But, in molto-Italiano style, there’s always a way to bend reality. Some loophole and connection to exploit, and here it is: she just buys directly from the manufacturers all the current season’s merch. Not sure how, but likely I don’t want to know. She cuts out the retail price and voila — sells out of a van.
This season’s 2016 Lanvin purse that Deborah snapped up (after much negotiations in Italian by me in my bra) retails for 1200 euros at the stores right now. They’re not copies either in this stall (plenty of copies in Italy though). Proof of that is the brand-laden Forte dei Marmi mammas. With their kids and pricey Marni bags in tow, coming straight from the beach and rustling through the merch. There’s a lineup to get into that damn van. And you ain’t gonna rush the Senora. Na ah — you gotta shut up and wait your turn to see the contraband and in the van.
This is just the kind of stuff you see in Italy, if you know what you’re looking for. That’s why it’s a country that NEEDS insider intel and know the customs of a particular place, so you don’t miss out on all this fun.
Anyway, Deborah scored big time, and I lightened my daughter’s college fund with that delicious Gucci top.
I wrote Deborah, and we had an email laugh about our van meeting.
Then, she offered up this review of Gigi Guides.
Bianca is fantastic! She is just as charming and genuine in person as she appears in her Gigi Guides videos.
I scoured the Internet for information on Italy, and her website kept appearing. I followed her online, and loved her style, and sensibility. When she advertised her guide, I signed up immediately! I wasn’t disappointed. We spoke on the phone for almost an hour.
Her advice was fantastic. Imagine my surprise when I was in the Forte de Marmi Wednesday market, and I heard a familiar voice, saw her face, and knew it was her immediately! What are the chances? Never in a million years could we have planned a meeting, and made it a reality!
I wish I could have stayed longer, but we were late. I couldn’t resist the Lanvin purse. My poor daughter was hungry and sweltering from the heat. Ah, what a day I had! Shopping, vino, and lunch on the beach in Forte dei Marmi…a perfect summer day, all because of the power of the internet!
Adorable little plug, right? Thanks, Deborah. You’re the best!
A few days after that, I was filming a new video for Gigi Guides in Vernazza. Here I am below.
That night I got this email!
I posted this Facebook update after another Gigi Guides member sent me her photo album and cute note.
You may have heard, but we’re also putting together a Sicily chapter focusing on the Aeolian Islands.
My Sicilian tour co-host, Tommaso Pante, who is the most adorable guy said to me on the last day of our Sicily tour (we take our tour clinets here too).
Bianca, don’t go back up to La Spezia now (I was flying up north to my house that day). Why not go to my villa and rest there for a few days.
When someone hands over the keys to his empty villa, on the most beautiful island in the world, you just say, YES.
So I canceled my flight, spent four glorious days zipping around on a rental scooter, researching the next chapter of Gigi Guides from this home base.
All Gigi Guides buyers will get this Sicily chapter during this lifetime access window (which is currently still open). If you get Gigi, you get ALL the city guides we add, all the updates, forever, free.
Look, as you can see I live and breath this company. I’m the founder, with a mini global team. But, unlike many CEO’s who stay inside spreadsheets, I’m in the trenches.
I’m literally driving around on my scooter, with messy hair and jeans, from dawn until dusk, gathering cool stuff to write in our guides. Speaking with old men I can barely understand, (Sicilian accents are hard), and I’m getting to the ROOT of what makes a place so amazing and why.
This is not fluff. It’s not surface BS, and it’s not filler.
Gigi Guides is chockers full of decades worth of insider information to the most beautiful places in Italy.
I would have been crazy to say no to Tommaso when he offered me his villa. It’s an opportunity not to miss.
I kinda think people “winging it” without good advice in Italy are crazy. But not in a good-crazy way. In a “you’re missing out on a huge opportunity” kinda way.
Do the founders of Lonely Planet still ride around dusty Sicilian islands talking to caper berry farmers? No. Do the Fodor’s editors pound the pavement in the heat? Nope. They don’t.
I know how traditional paper guidebooks are created and updated because I know the writers who work those jobs! The travel industry is small, and I’m friends with those writers.
That’s why I know what we’re doing is cutting edge, and totally in tune with what the modern traveler needs.
Because Gigi Guides is all digital — the content lives on your phone, your IPad, or your laptop (or you can print out on paper) — we update the info constantly cause it’s just pixels. Pixels are easy to update on the fly! Paper guidebook sold on Amazon. No — they are not the latest and greatest. Most people are surprised to learn that the info inside them was created 10-15 years ago. Generally, just prices are updated every few years.
Ok, well enough about this.
It’s my birthday in a few days, and my hubby’s a few days after that. Since I’ve been working for two months STRAIGHT, and we’ve had an Au Pair taking care of my daughter (OMG that’s another story for all you working moms out there) we’re taking a FAMILY vacation. We’re escaping to an island, off the west coast of Canada. It has no WiFi. I’m going to have internet withdraws. But we have bikes, boats and board games to occupy us. Just like the old days, like when we all grew up, imagine that!
My team is in the inboxes and can answer questions that you have when I’m offline for a week. You’ll likely meet Kiiri, who is head of Customer Support. She’s a working mom too with a brand new baby so we’re going to be “on Italian summer hours” meaning responses will be slower this week.
But do WRITE US — if you’re going to Italy and are still planning the whole shebang WITHOUT Gigi Guides — let us know why on earth you’re doing that. We’re super curious. What else are you using to get the job done? Blogs? Library books? Luxury concierge service? What is replacing Gigi Guides to give you a great trip?
We wanna know! Feel free to leave a comment.
P.S. I have soooo many great tips and photos for you in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for our emails and feel free to forward this to someone who is traveling to Italy.
P.S. Click here to explore the Gigi Guides membership.
Thanks for checking out our blog!
Are you interested in travelling to Italy with us on a day trip?
Check out our Day Tours of Florence and the Cinque Terre HERE!
We’d love to see you in Italy!
Image credit: (top) Caroline White.
I was in Italy last May, just after GiGi guides came out and I was SOOO glad I invested in the guide. It was wonderful and super helpful. One restaurant that Bianca recommended in Vernazza, the Bel Porto was so amazing! Sadly, it was raining, so we couldn’t sit out on the terrace, but our waiter was so charming and the food so absolutely delicious (try the squid ink pasta!) that it didn’t matter at all. I can’t wait to go back to Italy and definitely want to do one of Bianca’s group trips. Looks like so much fun and I need a Gucci top!!
Anne, thank you so much for writing this! We are so glad that Gigi Guides was a help to you during your travels and especially that you loved Belforte as much as you did. We bring our tour and workshop groups there when we can and everyone is always thrilled — as much by the view as by the food. I’m sorry your night was rained out, but it sounds like they took good care of you anyway. Can’t wait to see you on one of our group trips. That Gucci top is calling your name!
most importantly…where is this van?! i’m coming to cinque terre in october and really hoping its in one of these towns. or milan?!
Lol! It’s in Forte dei Marmi, in the “inner ring” of the market there. Right beside the place that sells vintage jewelry.
I want to say, I was planning my own trip to Tuscany for Fall of 2017 and came across GiGi Guides and wasn’t it fate that Bianca was on in live chat and after that and reading her website intro, I signed up. I WAS pretty convinced on how I wanted my 2 weeks to evolve but I’m already glad I’m getting the best help. I had no idea about Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees! That point alone will go a long way to paying for this membership. I’ll be getting one of those cards AND a second debit card as Bianca suggests. I work in a business where I hear about CC-issuing companies putting holds on purchases and cards all the time while they investigate to be sure the charges are not fraudulent. I don’t want to be caught without spending power while I’m there… so It makes TOTAL sense but I would have never thought of it on my own. Thanks bunches Bianca. I’m totally sold.. Now to get back to more videos!
Yay, Sue! So glad Gigi Guides is helping you plan your best trip ever!
I am planning a 14 day trip to Italy for my husband and another couple. Unfortunately, I did not find your blog and website until was midway through planning 🙁 had I only known the hours and hours I would pour into this I still would have stopped then and got your guide instead of going it alone!
I have been most excited about Cinque Terre and reading your blog continues to amp my excitement! We plan to follow many of your suggestions, and if, I mean when I return,I for sure will plan to use your guide and services!
Anyone that is just starting the process of planning the trip themselves should stop now and use it! I’ve been utilizing Rick Steves which is great but I like you’re down to earth style and the fact that you are there! It is clear you love Italy and what you do ! I’ll be looking for you in late September!
Any suggestions for must try restaurants in Rome?
Thank you so much for all of the enthusiasm, we love it! If you’re going to be using Gigi Guides, you’ll see that we have an extensive Places to Eat section for Rome. It was curated by the amazing Kristina Gill (food and drinks editor at Design Sponge and co-author of Tasting Rome) and is split according to neighborhood, so you can zero right in on the best eats near where you’re staying. A great one for nearly anyone though because it’s right by the Pantheon which most visitors are likely to go see is Armando al Pantheon. Check it out, and have a great trip!
I am planning my 1st trip to Europe…. ITALY !!! I will be there in Sept 2017. Not counting flying to and from Italy, I will have 14 days to explore.
Will GIGI guides help if I am traveling alone?
My plan is Cinque Terre for 3 nights. Then to Siena … Explore the hill towns in Umbria and Tuscany area then on to Florence.
I am travelling with 3 others all young at hearts in our senior years. Three are very fit and will be walking many trails. I walk with a cane but can handle most stairs. I won’t be walking with the others but working with my sketch book and paints during the day. Could you suggest the best village to use as a base and places not to be missed for a painter.
Cheers from Victoria, BC
We are travelling to Italy May / June 17 and have loved reading your blog. Any chance you would be able to tell me if the market in Forte dei Marmi will operate on Sundays in June?
The famous Forte dei Marmi market happens on Wednesdays throughout the year, as well as on Sundays in the summer. You can read about other markets in the area here.
Happy travels to you!
Thanks so much for that.
My daughter and I are taking our first trip to Italy! We arrive in Milan on Friday May5. We plan to spend the first night in Milan and then head to Florence for 4 days and then Rome for 2 days and then back to Milan to depart on May 12 – short time, know, but all my schedule could allow. We thought we would do day trips to Cinque Terre from Florence but after reading your blog it sounds like we should shorten our time in Florence to just 2 day and find a place to stay in Cinque Terre?? Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. I really want to do wine tour/tasting as well.