The people who will lead your Customwalks tours are quite simply the best in the business.
They are knowledgeable, smart, witty, charming, and entertaining. Their job is to look after you, entertain you, inform you and generally enrich your travel experience.They have to be able to tell a good yarn, have a good laugh, and keep a tired bunch of hikers happy both on the trail and at the dinner table. Even more important, they are there to look after your wellbeing and keep you safe.
Unlike many other companies, our managers and guides live in the areas where we run our trips. Our mix of North American and European managers and guides allows us to understand what you want and expect in terms of service while providing you with a tour that benefits from our intimate local knowledge.
More often than not, your guide will have grown up in the region where you are travelling. They know the people, the customs, the folklore, and of course the language. For those of us "ex-pats" amongst Customwalks guide family (Brett, Stephanie, Claire, and Melissa) we each have a minimum of 20 years of experience living and working in Italy and France. Our experiences of what it is like to move to Europe to "live the dream" is a story that many of our guests want to hear. Our experiences and insights are different from those of our native born colleauges, but no less compelling.
All of our guides are accomplished individuals in their own right. They are great company on and off the trail. Many have multiple degrees and our ranks include former university professors, business consultants, successful artists (mosaicists, painters, and ceramicists), actors, translators and interpreters, authors, and a master sommelier.
Guiding a group of people for a week is a full-on job but it is fun, and extremely rewarding. Indeed, we often make lasting connections as well as great memories during the course of a tour. More often than not we finish the tour as a group of friends who have just had a fabulous adventure together. The people you see below guide our tours not out of necessity, but because they love it.
Meet our Trip Leaders
A bon-vivant, avid hiker, and raconteur Brett brings great enthusiasm and knowledge to every tour he leads. Brett’s passion for the outdoors and travel has seen him hiking in such exotic locales as Algeria, the Tusheti Mountains of Georgia, and the high Atlas mountains in Morocco. He has also cycled extensively throughout Europe and continues to enjoy developing our new tours. In November 2019 he developed our new Oman hike. During the pandemic he spent 18 months in New Zealand exploring New Zealand’s epic landscapes and developing our New Zealand based tours. In 2022 he hit the ground running and was back to leading our tours in Tuscany, the Dolomites, Croatia, Sicily and Puglia. The year he is guiding in Tuscany, and our three boat based tours in Greece, Croatia, and Turkey. He divides his time between homes in New Zealand and Tuscany. Languages: Canadian-eh, French and Italian.
Dennis has always loved traveling, an off-shoot of being born on the Isle of Mann into a British-Italian family. Dennis grew up in Italy, but spent his summers on that island in the Irish sea, with the result that he is perfectly bilingual and bi-cultural. Indeed, he has a passion for intercultural experiences and completed postgraduate studies in international cooperation and development. He has left his footprints in the deserts of Morocco and the jungles of Peru, climbed the Pyrenees in Spain and volcanoes in Mexico. He now enjoys walking in the forests of Tuscany, where he lives. His passion for nature and sustainability recently led him to take part in a business venture related to organic farming, which is now his main activity when he’s not working in tourism or teaching languages. Dennis guides our tours in the Dolomites (Alta Via and Dolomites Grand Traverse), Tuscany, the Cinque Terre, Andalusia, Amalfi and Piedmont and he guided the tours that we provided to REI Adventures in the Dolomites, Cinque Terre and Tuscany. Dennis is fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and Manx.
Francesca was born in Arezzo, Tuscany, and loves music, books, and good food and wine. She believes that travel is an important part of life and enjoys exploring new places, meeting new people, and following local recommendations to a new restaurant or breathtaking view. She has traveled extensively through Europe, and loves taking long walks to discover a secluded beach or historical site (her childhood passion was archaeology). After finishing a degree in Classics, she worked in a press office for cultural events in Arezzo, and then worked as production manager for music and theater festivals. She also managed an arts center in Arezzo and writes reviews for an online music magazine. Languages spoken: Italian, English and Spanish.
Marco is originally from Florence but now lives in the verdant hills above Lucca. His love of travel has taken him on hiking adventures all over the world, from the Sahara to the Amazon and Nepal. A man of many skills, he has worked in the fashion industry in Florence, as a chef on a super-yacht in the Mediterranean, and as an artist and mosaicist from his home studio. Marco is a fervent supporter of La Fiorentina, the Florence football club, and the Rolling Stones. He guides our walking tours in the Cinque Terre, Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast and Sardinia, as well as our Vespa tours. Languages: Italian, English, and Spanish.
André is a Portuguese native. He is happiest when guiding visitors who wish to travel slowly, by foot, and discover the natural beauty and enduring culture of his homeland. André attained a PhD in geomorphology which fits well with his general love of nature and interest in natural history, animal tracking and bird watching. He is also a keen photographer. André guides our Portugal Camino de Santiago walking tour. Languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.
Licia is from the heel of Italy, Taranto, to be precise. However she left Puglia to go to University in Siena where she graduated with a degree in pharmacy. After many years working as a pharmacist in various towns and villages in Tuscany Licia decided to embrace her desire to travel and learn English. A three-month trip to New Zealand turned into a year and a half stay during the pandemic which helped her achieve both goals. Now she knows many fantastic hikes in the South Island of New Zealand and she knows how to employ "dag" as both a noun and an adjective. Licia started to work part time in the office during the 2022 season and she has become a full-time employee as of January 2023. She looks after all of the administrative tasks involved with receiving payments and paying our suppliers, among other things. Besides being a keen hiker Licia also enjoys sketching and painting water colours. Languages: Italian and English.
Sara is 100% Tuscan and lives in Arezzo. She has a passion for travel and meeting new people. Sara is deeply devoted to her home town of Arezzo and she is a licensed city guide for the historic city and its province. She loves helping people discover the beauty, history and traditions of Tuscany, but also of Puglia and Sicily where she also guides our tours. Andalucia is also close to her heart as she studied in Seville while in university. Fluent in Spanish, Sara also guides our Customwalks hike and our Scooterbella Scooter tour in Andalucia. Sara is also a mean salsa dancer. Languages: Italian, English, Spanish.
Until recently Nina was a tormented soul. She was torn between her life as a corporate lawyer in Auckland and her need to sling on a backpack and get out into New Zealand’s gorgeous backcountry. Happily, Customwalks may provide the perfect solution to Nina’s dilemma as she can guide a couple of tours a year for us down in NZ with us while continuing her career in law. During one hiatus from the corporate world Nina worked as a guide on two of NZ’s most famous multi-day hikes; the Routeburn track and the Milford track. She also guided groups along the Greenstone and Caples valley routes. Imbued with an innate sense of Adventure, she has sailed extensively in the Mediterranean and worked and travelled in Western Canada. Nina’s professionalism, good humour and cheeky wit will keep you both informed and entertained during the tour.
Melissa is going to love me for putting in this photo, but it was a memorable moment (we had just been up Stromboli volcano with a group of Aussies). She was raised in Michigan but fell in love with Europe after studying for a year in Provence when she was 19. She worked for several years leading bike tours throughout France, and eventually discovered a fascination with art while studying painting in Florence. She has lived in Florence for 15 years and continues to work as an artist and Fine Arts teacher in Florence and Siena but has never lost her passion for guiding people through some of the most beautiful places in the world. Languages: English, French, Italian
Stephanie is originally from the U.S. but has been living in Ravenna long enough to raise two boys and create a thriving mosaic business with her husband. She is passionate about hiking and local traditions and loves ‘poking around’ to discover new spots and trails. Our travellers love her quiet humor and attention to detail which ensures that the tour seems just to happen by itself. She guides our Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Dolomites, Sicily, Dordogne and Puglia Walks as well as the REI Adventures tours that we provided in Tuscany and the Cinque Terre, for which she received the REI TOP GUIDE award in 2015. Languages: English, Italian, and French.
Manuela was born and raised in the beautiful Tuscan countryside around Siena. She has a keen sense of adventure, which led her to study abroad in Ireland and Spain. She has a degree in environmental conservation and sustainable tourism. After graduating she remained in Ireland, spending five years in the Emerald Isle before returning to sunny Tuscany where she worked at “Dievole,” a leading producer of Chianti Classico wine, as well as at an Eco-hotel near Siena. This winter she hiked 630 kms, from Logrogño (near Pamplona) to Santiago di Campostella. She is now a licensed “environmental” guide for Tuscany and is looking forward to guiding our hikes in Tuscany and in the Cinque Terre, and sharing with you her love of Italy’s natural wonders. Languages: Italian, English, Spanish.
Rachele (Pronounced Ra-Kel-Eh!) is “Comasca,” which means she was born in the beautiful lakeside town of Como, in northern Italy. At the young age of 16 she went to Australia and lived with a family while she attended high school. She returned to Italy and studied management, tourism, and languages at university in Milan. Rachele has lived in Spain and Greece, travelled extensively throughout Europe as well as in Central America and India, but has always returned to her hometown of Como. She recently qualified as a licensed trekking guide in Italy and she guides our Cinque Terre, Dolomites Grand Traverse, Dolomites Alta Via, Dolomites Easy, Sicily, and Lake Como hiking tours as well as some of our scooter tours (she's a pro at getting around Como by Vespa!). When she is not on tour she helps her mother run a shop in the center of Como, and every year she relaxes on the Greek island of Folegandros where her family has a house. Languages: Italian, English, Spanish plus a little German, Russian and Greek.
Nefeli was born in Athens and went on her first backpacking trip at the age of 15. A trip to Turkey with her mother and brother made her an avid outdoor enthusiast and passionate traveler. She loves to explore her native Greece, with its beautiful countryside, unique culture, rich history, and amazing contrasts. She studied to be a teacher and did an internship at a Folk Art Museum, developing their educational programs. She also does environmental and outdoor education for children. And on top of it all, she’s a passionate Flamenco dancer! Nefeli guides our boat based tours in the Dodecanese islands, our Cyclades Island Hopper tour, and our Meteora and Zagori hike. Languages: Greek and English.
Dimitris leads our Cyclades Walk, our boat based tours through the Dodecanese islands and the Meteora to Zagori hike. Dimtris is an engineer by training but prefers to lead our hiking tours in Greece. His other passions are rock climbing, traditional Greek music (he is a mean Bouzouki player) and poetry. He also has a keen nose for good food which is why we are always happy for him to order for us when we are in the local tavernas. Dimitris has travelled extensively throughout the Balkans and Turkey. His love for the mountains has also brought him to the Dolomites and he happily co-guides our Dolomites Grand Traverse hike whenver he can. Previously Dimitris guided for REI Adventures in Greece and his talents were recognized with the REI Top Guide award. Languages: Greek and English.
Bill is a Blenheim boy, born and bred in the heart of New Zealand Wine country. An experienced and enthusiastic “boatie” with a lifetime passion for the sea, he also has a passion for New Zealand’s flora and fauna, as well as a fascination for Marlborough’s local history and its colorful characters. He has a background in commerce and has built careers in the timber and engineering industries, as well as launching an award-winning coffee brand that’s roasted locally. He enjoys mountain-biking, orienteering, travelling, and sampling New Zealand’s excellent craft beers. Joining the Customwalks team was a perfect opportunity for him to showcase and further explore the region he loves and knows so well, and to meet some new friends along the way.
Rudy was born and raised in Chianti, Tuscany’s beautiful wine region. He has degrees in anthropology and photojournalism but is also a yoga instructor and practitioner of shiatsu and osteopathy. He embraces a holistic approach to well-being so has studied the health benefits of plants and herbs and their culinary uses. He also loves backpacking around the world to learn about other cultures, and enjoys the beauty of our wonderful planet. He found a way to combine his interests by becoming a certified hiking guide, and since 2011 he has been guiding hiking and cycling tours throughout Italy for eight months of the year while spending the other four on his journeys of discovery.
Irma is from the mountainous Tusheti region of Northeast Georgia and accompanies our tours in the Republic of Georgia. She is an accomplished horseback rider and could almost ride before she could walk! She graduated from medical school and currently divides her time between her urban apartment in bustling Tblisi and her slate-stone house in the isolated village of Olmo in the Caucasus mountains. Irma is justifiable proud of both Georgia and the mountain people of Tusheti. She is a wonderful ambassador to her country. Languages: Georgian, Russian, and English.
Josko guides our tours in Croatia: Croatia Bike and Boat, Croatia Hike and Boat, and our Croatian Islands scooter tour. Josko is a native of Split and knows the Dalmatian islands like the back of his hand. A certified guide for the city of Split and its famous Diocletian palace, Josko is an avid hiker and takes great satisfaction in showing off the hidden gems of his homeland. When you travel with Josko you will meet dozens of locals as he brings you to meals with families as well as special visits with olive oil producers, brandy makers, and of course wine makers! Languages, Croatian and English.
Sagra - has been guiding for us since 1999 leading trips in Tuscany, Lake Como and the Cinque Terre. Sagra’s native tongue is Spanish, but she also speaks Catalan, English, French and Italian. When not guiding, she teaches secondary school in Spain and is also pursuing a Master’s degree in anthropology. She has a playful sense of humour and she is a delight to travel with. When not guiding our tours she loves hiking, swimming and sharing adventures with her daughter Carla. Languages: Spanish, French, English, Italian, Catalan.
Heidi was born in Gibraltar but was raised in Plymouth, in the U.K. She studied Social Policy and Administration at Brighton University and worked in Social Care for a few years, but eventually embarked on a round-the-world trip during which she spent 7 months in New Zealand. She fell in love with the country and returned to live there in 2013, making a new life in Christchurch where she's busy raising two daughters. She now works part-time for us taking payments and issuing trip agreements.
Sammy was born in England and spent much of her youth in Wales before moving to Tuscany 20 years ago where she has raised her two boys with her Italian partner. Travelling throughout Italy with her extended family Sammy has seen firsthand the positive impact travel has on all ages.Sammy has extensive experience of guiding hiking and biking tours throughout Italy. She is adept at mixing our outdoor activities with the tradition and culture that is unique to each location we visit. She loves to create memorable experiences by delving "off the beaten path" to discover local foods, folklore and personalities! Before embracing guiding as a vocation Sammy enjoyed many working adventures including running her own bar and working in the high end fashion industry in Tuscany. Her transition to guiding has fulfilled a longheld desire to combine her love of nature, travel, and meeting new people and sharing wonderful moments together.Languages spoken: English and Italian (with a pronounced Tuscan accent!).
Lisa is from the Italian region of Romagna, where riding a bike and rolling out homemade pasta is a part of everyday life. Curious by nature, her childhood dream was to see the world, so eventually she moved to California where she completed a Master’s degree in Museum studies and then worked in the museum world for seven years. Her yearning for adventure led her to quit her job and explore the world, and she soon realized that the best way to do it was slowly: by bike or by foot. She then transformed her passion into a profession, and has been leading biking and walking tours throughout Europe ever since. A courageous traveller and adventurer Lisa has also spent a year cycling solo through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and back though Italy to her home. Her latest passion is white water kayaking. Lisa guides our Cinque Terre and Sardinia hikes and researches and develops some of our new destinations. Languages: Italian, English, and Spanish.
Manuel was born and bred in Portugal although his natural curiosity and sense of adventure has taken him to foreign lands on many occasions. A natural joiner and organizer who enjoys working in teams Manuel has worked on many large events in Portugal as well abroad, most notably at the London and Rio Olympic games. His interest in sports, the outdoors, and meeting people from different countries and cultures has led him to lead active tours throughout Portugal and Spain. He loves hiking and camping but also has a keen interest in the history and culture of the Iberian peninsula. Manuel is one of the stalwart guides who lead our Camino de Santiago tour in Portugal and Spain. Languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish.
Pedro: A native of Portugal, Pedro attended university in Connecticut and earned his master’s degree in international economics in Lisbon. After a successful career in finance, he saw the light and decided on a major career change in order to allow him to indulge his passion for hiking, and biking, in the beautiful Portuguese countryside. He is also an avid surfer, and soccer van, and continues to stimulate his grey matter by reading about international current affairs. Pedro won the REI Top Guide award in 2015. He loves the fact that his work as a guide helps to promote cultural understanding, which he believes makes for a better world. Languages: Portuguese English, Spanish, French and Italian.