It’s not uncommon for travelers to fall in love with Italy on their first trip, but Matthew Daub took “love at first sight” to a new level: he was smitten before he’d even made it out of the airport. His first trip with his wife, Barbara, was in 1994 as part of a large art-related travel group. And right away he was seduced by the natural exuberance, style, and linguistic cadence of the Italians.
“We hadn’t even left Fiumicino Airport before I said to Barb, ‘We’ve got to keep coming back here.'” Matthew grew up in New York and spent a lot of time around Italians. “I always loved their approach to life and sense of family. I honestly enjoy sitting in a café, and observing life, and writing in my travel journal as much as visiting any museum or cultural site.”
A talented artist, Matthew has spent the past 30 years teaching watercolor and drawing at a university in Pennsylvania. “Painting in Italy excites me, and I love doing it with friends,” he says. So, it was a natural for him to start leading small, arts-oriented tours in Italy.
Matthew and Barb started “Arts Sojourns” in 1998, and have been leading groups of artists and others to their favorite destinations around Italy ever since. They take care of all the details, so the travelers can relax, enjoy the experience, and be creative within a small, supportive group environment while being inspired by some of Italy’s most beautiful scenery.
While many group tours are formulaic and regimented, the Daubs decided they wanted to take it slow, offer a semi-structured format, and foster creativity. “We consider ourselves planners and facilitators more than tour leaders,” says Matthew. “We prepare and equip them and have enough group activities to maintain cohesiveness and camaraderie, but the last thing I want to do is to lead tourists around with a flag or a paddle and interpret everything for them. We want our clients to return home feeling like they’ve been immersed in the culture and had an adventure.”
Their trips aren’t limited to painters, though. They’ve had many creative guests that include photographers, writers, and musicians. “We’ve had a portrait photographer who has traveled with us four times and has done a private sitting with each person in the group. We had musicians who did a presentation on Puccini when we were in the composer’s hometown of Lucca. It’s always an eclectic and interesting mix of creative people. We call our program ‘A vacation for artists and their friends’ because we take the non-artists’ needs just as seriously as the artists’ and I think we appeal to more independent travelers who might not otherwise be attracted to a group,” says Matthew.
Leading small groups allows the Daubs to travel a few times a year and explore new places as they seek out new territory to possibly add to their offerings. However, Matthew and Barbara put a lot of effort into planning the trips. They organize four-star hotels, visits to hidden gems, local festivals, and make sure to find beautiful scenery that most people wouldn’t discover on their own the first time around.
The pay-off is the chance to spend time in Italy each summer, and share it with others. Leading tours subsidizes their own Italy travels, and portions of the trips are legitimate tax deductions. But with a high number of repeat guests, they say the real satisfaction is seeing their clients happy. “I love when a great plan comes together, and it’s extremely gratifying to see our ‘Sojourners’ having a terrific time and making new discoveries and knowing we facilitated it,” says Matthew.
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