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
As of 2020 Brett has guided at least one tour every year for the past thirty years. He can hardly believe it! 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, and this winter he has been exploring New Zealand’s epic landscapes as he develops several new itineraries down there. He divides his time between homes in New Zealand and Tuscany. Languages: Canadian-eh, French and Italian.
Emanuela ("Manu") lives in Rome but is originally from Genoa and grew up in places as diverse as Sardinia, Sicily and Holland. She spent 20 years in Tuscany and even a few in Berkeley, California, so is truly multicultural. A biologist by training, she worked for an environmental consultancy in Tuscany before giving it up to guide for us in 2000. In 2014 Manu started working for us full-time, planning trips and handling our finances (not her favorite part of the job!) in addition to guiding our Tours and the tours we provided to REI Adventure. In 2004 Manu was one of the innaugural recipients of REI's TOP GUIDE award. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and traveling, from the Galapagos to the Greek Islands, Australia to Africa, and exploring the cultural riches of her home in Rome. She guides our tours in Tuscany, the Dolomites, the Cinque Terre, Sardinia and Puglia as well as our French tours in Corsica and Provence. Languages: Italian, English and French.
Claire has a PhD in French and Comparative Literature but happily abandoned academia years ago to become a guide. Her zest for life and wanderlust have taken her all over the world, from Albania to Zanzibar, and she now works closely with Brett to oversee the research and development of our tours while continuing to guide many of our private, customized tours as well as the tours we supplied REI Adventures. Claire won REI's TOP GUIDE award in 2005. Claire is fluent in French and Italian, and can order wine in another 15 languages. She lives in Florence when she is not guiding our tours in Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia and Turkey.
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 also close to her heart as she studied in Seville while in university. Fluent in Spanish, Sara also guides our Andalusia hike and our Scooterbella Scooter tour. 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.
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.
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.
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. Dennis also won REI's TOP GUIDE award in 2017 for guide the Cinque Terre and Dolomites tours that we provided to REI Adventures. Dennis is fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and Manx.
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.
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.
Rachele is “Comasca,” which means she was born and still lives 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 and Lake Como walking 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 centre 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!
Dimitris leads our Cyclades Walk and our Dodecanese Island walk and boat trip. 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. You will not be disappointed. Dimitris also likes to dance, which is a good thing because so do we! Languages: Greek and English.
Mariateresa was born, raised, and lives in Rome where she works as an I.T. engineer. She is an avid outdoors woman, departing just about every weekend to hike the Abruzzo mountains. Her other passion is wine. In fact, she has recently passed the demanding studies and exams to become a qualified sommelier. She has explored much of Italy by foot, and travelled extensively throughout Europe.
Mattia was born in a small town in the Marche region of Italy, near the Adriatic coast, then moved to Tuscany where he got a Master’s degree in Moral and Political Philosophy at the University of Florence. He switched focus, however, and worked for many years in the Apennines mountains, where he founded a small company dealing with environmental education, hiking, cultural events, and the breeding of endangered fish. He led a volunteer project in the Casentinesi National Park and organized a festival called Libra, "where literature meets nature." He also wrote a novel entitled “Le orme degli uomini liberi” (the footsteps of free men), which was based on the Italian “Partisan” Resistance in the Alps during WWII. He loves books, nature, and cycling, but also unconventional music, football and history. His goal is to spend his life exploring the mountains of the world, and then writing about it. Mattia guides our tours in Tuscany and the Dolomites. Languages spoken: Italian 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.
Cristina (“Cri”) is from Faenza, in the flatlands of the Po Valley, which perhaps explains why she has been drawn to the mountains which beckon in the distance on a clear day. She spends all her weekends and free time in the Dolomites near Cortina where she rock climbs, hikes, skis, runs, and walks her two dogs. She also loves travelling and has organized mountaineering expeditions with her friends to various countries. During the week she applies her economics degree as a freelance accountant to pay for her lift-tickets, carabiners, and new hiking boots. She is a certified Mountain Guide and a licensed Alpine/Climbing guide for the Veneto region of Italy. Cristina of course guides our various Dolomites tours. Languages spoken: Italian 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.