Every year, our post about the new travel brochure grows longer and longer, as our activities expand. This year, rather than presenting it as a single instalment, we are separating it into a series of posts. If you are in a hurry to know about our new brochure, just read the next paragraph:

Peter Sommer Travels' brochure for 2020 was printed earlier this month and has now been posted to our subscribers all over the world. In the UK, it will already have reached most mailboxes, and further afield, it will do so soon. Of course, it is also available on our website as a pdf download or as a browsable online brochure. Beyond that, most of the tours have been on the regular website for some time now, and a good few are already booked out or nearly so. Since the year before last, it is especially recommended to look up our site once in a while from the spring onwards, as we try to schedule and announce most of our tours as well ahead of time as we can, and many of them book out fast. The brochure comes out when we have finalised all (or nearly all) our activities in the coming year, and we put great effort into it, as it remains the most hands-on approach to our offerings. The 2020 brochure contains 45 separate trips on 31 different itineraries in six countries.

The winter period brings us a little time to look back at the preceding season, to consider what we might want to modify or enhance and to invest time and effort into making the necessary changes and improvements.

As it has become a Peter Sommer Travels tradition, I use these posts to give an overview over our entire programme of tours and gulet cruises scheduled for next year and listed in the brochure. For our many faithful repeat guests, this is a handy way to get an idea of what we are doing - and what we are planning to do next! And for those who are not (yet) familiar with us, the series gives a broad synopsis of the type of experiences that this highly specialised small British tour operator can offer you. You'll find more information in the brochure itself, and even more on the tour pages of our website. If you are interested in a tailor-made tour or cruise, look at the final post to be published in this series.

During a reconnoitre earlier this month: a double rainbow over the 13th century Fore Abbey, County Westmeath, Ireland.

An especially good year  - Peter Sommer Travels' performance in 2019

Once again, our season in 2019 lasted from early April (starting with Exploring Sicily) to late October (ending with Exploring Crete). Between those dates, we ran 38 scheduled tours, with twice as many guests as we had only three years back, in 2016! This is not counting those on our tailor-made land tours, our private gulet charters and our increasingly popular add-ons. What's important about this is that it always comes with the same care for our guests' interests and needs and the same attention to detail that we consider the hallmarks of Peter Sommer Travels, the best-prepared tours available in the areas we travel.

So, it was a good year for Peter Sommer Travels and we are grateful for it. We love what we do, which is to design, prepare, organise and run high-quality cultural, archaeological and gastronomic tours or cruises, as well as family experiences and walking tours.

Our 2018 AITO Silver Award

We're especially grateful - Awards

We are the only company to have been in the top two of AITO's (the UK Association of Independent Tour Operators) annual awards every year since their inauguration. After Gold for 2015, Silver for 2016 and Gold again for 2017, we are chuffed to have won Silver once more for 2018 (based on a larger number of independent reviews than any other award-winner: see them here). We are very grateful for this honour, especially because it is based on the verdict of our guests themselves: it is a great encouragement to continue our effort to provide unique travel experiences for you to savour.

A panoramic view of the Mesara Plain on Crete, taken from the foothills of the Asterousia Mountains during a research trip last month.

Keeping it special: tour maintenance in 2019 and beyond

The winter period brings us a little time to look back at the preceding season, to consider what we might want to modify or enhance and to invest time and effort into making the necessary changes and improvements. The preparation of new tours (see next section) is only one part of this process, the other being tour maintenance, a never-ending process that is every bit as important as tour design itself. Our promise is to offer the best-prepared tours wherever we work, and to keep that promise, we have to keep a constant eye on all aspects of them. All kinds of things can and do change, from the availability of accommodation or hospitality via the opening times or days of archaeological sites or museums, also via road conditions or weather conditions (on cruises) to the possibilities of new content as new excavations are opened to the public, or road access to existing ones improves, and also as new exhibits become available for viewing. A well prepared tour is one that is prepared anew every time it runs. That's what we do.

Not a bad alternative: the 3rd century BC port of Falasarna in West Crete, now landlocked as the result of major earthquakes.

Tour maintenance happens both at short notice and as an element of longer-term planning. I can use my own work on Exploring Crete to exemplify both, but of course the same process applies to all of our tours.

This year, the western part of Crete was badly affected by flash floods just before our season started in April. As a result of road damage, our guides could not conduct Day 9 of that tour, which normally includes a drive through the White Mountains and a boat trip to the ancient city of Lissos, as normal. Therefore, they used their extensive knowledge of the region to devise an alternative programme off the cuff, visiting the ancient harbour of Falasarna and an important monastery at Kolymvari. Our guests certainly enjoyed the day, which was repeated in May and October. This kind of immediate modification is par for the course at Peter Sommer Travels, and all our experts have the wherewithal to find such solutions even at short notice.

A new addition to our Exploring the Peloponnese tour: the 13th century crusader castle of Chlemoutsi.

The more sustained aspect of tour management happens during the off-season, when we can invest time and effort. That's when we look systematically at potential long term improvements. For example, I added a few extra days on Crete last month to investigate further possibilities, also with a potential expansion of the tour by a day in mind. During these long and activity-packed days, I saw some well-preserved Early Bronze Age tombs, strolled around the partly unexcavated Roman town of Gortyna and admired a number of superb medieval painted churches in the southwest of the island. All these things might eventually become part of the itinerary.

Similarly, I spent some time in Ireland to make modifications to the Exploring Ireland itinerary, which will be a day longer from next year onwards, including several new highlights. Last week, I began writing this post in Arcadia, as my colleague Nota and I were inspecting a number of places that will be part of a slight change to Exploring the Peloponnese, newly including the stunning 'Frankish' castle at Chlemoutsi in the northwest of the peninsula, a key centre of western involvement in medieval Greece.

Similar efforts are being made for many of our tours in all six countries we visit, by Paul in England, by Peter and Filip in Croatia, by Michael and Cem in Turkey, and so on: at Peter Sommer Travels, we constantly invest our resources, time, knowledge, creativity and energy into all of our tours and cruises.

The famous Sycamore Gap, one of the most scenic places along the length of Hadrian's Wall in Northern England. In 2020, we introduce a walking tour along the great Roman border defence.

Finding more special places - new tours in 2020...

One of many highlights on Exploring Wales, newly introduced in 2019: Caerphilly Castle.

Of course, tour design is a core part of what we do. It is an exciting undertaking every time, but not a quick one. It ranges from the formulation of initial ideas, via the painstaking process of working out all the details through research and practical observation on repeated visits to an area and its sites, to the careful preparation of the programme for each day, including site visits, meals, travel and so on, finally culminating in the actual running of a new itinerary, when we get to share the things we have found interesting, intriguing, beautiful, awesome, delicious, fascinating - and so on - with our guests.

A Hellenistic mosaic at Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, a highlight on our new tour of Macedonia, Northern Greece.

Since the foundation of Peter Sommer Travels, over twenty years ago, there has never been a time when this process was not happening in the background. In 2019, our new itineraries included our Gastronomic Cruise of Dalmatia (Croatia) which ran twice, our Exploring Wales (UK) tour and our Easter in Athens experience (Greece), all of which were warmly received by our guests. We also reintroduced multiple itineraries in Turkey, such as In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great.

In 2020, we present two brand-new endeavours. Our new Greek itinerary, Exploring Macedonia, is a unique experience of a region steeped in history. In the UK, we add Walking Hadrian's Wall to our portfolio, the ideal way to explore one of the most extraordinary of all the monuments left by the Roman Empire. Additionally, we have revived Cruising the Southeast Aegean (Greece and Turkey), a distinctive tour revealing a fascinating part of cross-border history. You'll find more information about these itineraries in the respective posts in this series.

Our northernmost project so far is Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle crowns its beautiful capital city.

... and specialities beyond: Coming Soon

Pula, with its enormous Roman amphitheatre, is one of the most famous sights in Istria.

It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to understand that we are working on more new itineraries than our website and brochure necessarily show. Our approach is based on extremely wide-ranging preparation, and we will not promote a tour before all or most details are in place. With that in mind, our 2020 brochure, for the first time, includes a "Coming Soon" section, to give an impression of what we are most actively working on. This time, it highlights our plans for four new Exploring tours we expect to announce i 2020, namely in Istria, the northern peninsula of Croatia; on the islands of Mytilini and Chios in Greece; in the central part of Scotland between Glasgow and Edinburgh; and in the northwestern part of Asia Minor, a core region of Turkey that contains so many remarkable archaeological sites, including Troy itself. Work on all these experiences has started and is under way.

If you want to follow our efforts to bring these exciting new venues into the Peter Sommer Travels experience, you should check our social media during the off season. Especially on our Facebook page you can see what we are up to.

Our next post will be about our 2020 cruise programme in Croatia...

Other posts in this series:

Travel brochure 2020 - part 2: Croatia

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