Best way to take a tour of Tuscany: Private tour or Independent travel?

When looking for things to do in Tuscany, I know I wanted to spend most of my time in the Tuscan countryside. I wanted to have authentic experiences with local farmers and producers while seeing the iconic landscape full of rolling hills. But, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a tour of Tuscany or have us go out on our own independently.

Jessica on wall by badia a passignano

We decided to do both and see how it went. I learned a lot on this trip and there’s so much to share about my journey and I hope it can help you decide what is best for you. I’ve already been asked for advice on how to travel through Tuscany because it is tough. There’s so much to see, do, eat, drink, and experience that it’s overwhelming.

Disclaimer: The semi-private tour we took with KM Zero Tours was gifted. I’ve been following them for years and reached out to see if I could help spread the word about their tours because they really resonated with the type of tour I wanted to try.

Jessica making pasta

Which is best for a tour of Tuscany? Private tour or independent travel?

I’ll tell you right up front that, for me, the private tour was the way to go. We had one other person on our tour so it was semi-private, but it still felt very private and we made a new friend!

There are many types of tours to take to visit the Tuscan countryside. There will be small groups, medium-sized groups, and large groups. With KM Zero Tours, they have pre-scheduled tours that you can join (usually about 7 days) and there can be 8-10 people on your tour. Or you can book a private tour for 3-7ish days. Or you can book a day trip from Florence or from your farmhouse in Tuscany and they’ll pick you up.

I loved our 4 day tour because: I didn’t have to worry about driving, planning, timing, weather, language, or meals. Since I’m the planner in the relationship, that was a HUGE thing-to-do taken off my shoulders. Another reason, that is a BIG one, is that our guides have real relationships with the producers we met. Not just business relationships, but proper friendships, and you feel like you are welcomed into the family. I actually had to double check at a couple places to be sure this was available to everyone, not just a blogger/vlogger. Everything we did is available to anyone! The activities available to those on the KM Zero Tours are real and authentic. They aren’t touristy, and you can feel that. You feel the authenticity. That’s what I always want in my travels but is harder to get when you’ve never been somewhere, don’t know the language, and don’t know where to start.

Finally, Arianna and Alessio (the owners of KM Zero Tours) are true gems in the tourism industry. You may get them, or one of their guides on your tour, but it’s obvious that the people they surround themselves with are also gems. Sean and I think of them as our new best friends in Tuscany. And you’ll get that feeling immediately. It’s insane.

It was so nice to always have someone with you who knew everything you wanted to know. You don’t need an audio tour, or a map, when visiting a cute little village, you just hang out with your new friends and learn it all.

Jessica in Siena walking down the street

Is independent travel so bad?

No, independent travel isn’t bad at all. It completely depends on the person. It isn’t my favorite way to travel because car rentals always do something to make you pay extra. We forgot to change our pick-up time and we got there 1 hour after their 2 hour hold window and they made us pay a lot more for a different car. I just don’t believe that in Corona times, someone else just showed up and took our car. I mean, really?

Then there’s the stress of scratching the car, using gas stations in unfamiliar countries (will your card work?!), going through tolls, and just being overly worried about a car that isn’t yours. Driving was mostly okay. It was better than expected, for sure. But there were some seriously tiny roads that were one-lane but two-way. My nerves were shot and I find that kind of stress exhausting!

Finally, parking. OMG. I don’t even want to go there. It’s such a headache that people don’t talk about. These are very old hilltop towns. Parking is not easy.

The good, though, is the freedom of sleeping in however late you want, going back however early you want, and changing your plans at the last second. All of which we did when we were on our own. But I’d give that all up for less stress.

Jessica in Tuscan town

What I learned about myself and how I travel

We talk a lot about hidden gems and getting away from the main cities, but ultimately, for me, that usually means the smaller cities. So, as much as I love the countryside (and I really do!) accessibility is an issue. I like convenience. That’s the biggest thing I learned.

When we got to Florence and we popped into our accommodation that was about 50 meters from the tram stop, with a lift, air conditioning, and a view, I was beside myself. We could walk anywhere, hop right on the tram and go directly to the airport, and find a great place to eat easily. Conversely, in the countryside when we were on our own, we drove directly from the car rental place to our Agriturismo. It was 2 hours directly there with no stops. We just wanted to get there before dark. That also meant we showed up with nothing for dinner and the nearest restaurant about a 10-minute drive away down super twisty roads in the dark. And of course we didn’t have a reservation.

You have to pick-and-choose. There will be times when renting a car makes sense. I think we’ll get one if we run around Germany. But then again, maybe we’ll just stick with trains.

For me, for Tuscany (and perhaps other regions in Italy), the small guided tour will be my first choice. Yes, you’ll pay for convenience, but if I get a once-in-a-lifetime wonderful experience, with no stress while creating new relationships, that’s something I’m willing to pay for.

Sean and Jessica in Tuscany

Your thoughts

How do you like to travel? I’d love to know in the comments. Everyone is different (that’s the beauty of the world!) but I like to explain my perspective in case someone hadn’t thought about it yet. Honestly, I didn’t even know about small group tours like the one we took until a couple of years ago. It’s much easier to decide how you want to travel when you know all of your options.

I truly hope that one day, you’ll make your way to Tuscany. I cannot believe how long it took us…and now we hope to go back within a year!

Wishing you joy and travels!

Jessica Cutrufello wearing a green floral dress, glasses and pink lipstick

Hi! I’m Jessica, an American who made Amsterdam her home in 2014. I share European gems through food and memorable experiences. Want to know more? Head to my about page or check out my YouTube channel.