Immersion Journeys in Italy, France and Spain
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Meet The Team

Our Founders: Pam Mercer and Sam Hilt

Sam Hilt – Founder, Trip Leader , Art Presenter

Sam co-leads several of our tours including the Best of Tuscany, the Best of Piedmont, The Florentine Renaissance, and the Best of Sicily. And he often makes "guest appearances" on our other trips as well. In addition to his passion for Italian culture and history, Sam has a special gift for presenting art to "normal people." He opens our travelers' imaginations and deepens their encounter with the art, architecture and culture of Italy. (Besides that, he tells great jokes—but usually only during the last night’s dinner!)

More on Sam…

Pamela Mercer – Founder, Public Tour Creator, Trip Leader, Trip Designer

Pam co-leads almost all the tours that Tuscany Tours offers, and she helps plan private trips for our travelers who prefer to travel on their own. She travels extensively to find the best restaurants and hotels, and, especially, to find the guides who are story-tellers par excellence.

Her favorite part of what she does is to introduce our travelers to the many wonderful families and individuals throughout Italy and France who have a way of slowing time down and offering an experience of depth.

More on Pam…

About Our Team

Our team is based in America, Italy, France and Spain.

We regularly get together in Europe to meet with the people who provide our travel services and to hang out with each other and have fun!

Here’s a behind the scenes look at one of our recent team meetings!

Our Trip Designers and Travel Experts

Shauna is in our California office and she designs trips for our individual travelers. An observer and detail-oriented person, Shauna pays attention to the small things, always looking for ways to make travel smooth and care-free. 

More About Shauna ›
Rubi in Verona

Rubi is in charge of our public tour organization. Born and raised in Florence, Italy, she is fluent in Italian, English, and French. She also helps organize travel for our private clients. When asked recently what she likes...

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Federica co-leads many of our public tours and she guides our private clients as well. Her warm personality, great sense of humor and knowledge of all things Italian make her the perfect guide to accompany travelers on our adventures.

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Toni co-leads our Amalfi Coast Tour and she can be counted on for great stories about everyday Italian life and in-depth knowledge of Italian food. Her laugh is infectious and her warmth and smile as well!

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Iwona is a trip designer for our independent travelers and she co-leads some of our Public Tours. She has worked in Poland, Ecuador and Spain and she is fluent in Polish, English, Spanish and Italian. She loves to travel all over the world and she loves using her knowledge about Italy to create amazing trips for our private travelers.

Iwona has two passions - yoga and travel and she spends vacations either on yoga retreats or with her Italian husband discovering culture, local cuisine and wines of Southern Europe.

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Jaimi co-leads some of our public tours and can be found hosting dinners and wine days for our independent travelers. She lives on a vineyard and is married to a winemaker.

She is happily immersed in the world of wine and has worked in various roles in tourism from wine guiding to trip organizing; all dedicated to her passion for food, wine, and travel.

She loves meeting people and sharing her enthusiasm for Italy.

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Art Historian, Lior Aviv, moved to Florence 14 years ago following his passion for Italian art in general and for Florence in particular.

You will meet him on our The Best of Tuscany Tour when he takes you on a magical walk through Florence guiding you to use your own imagination to begin to see the art of the city more deeply.

And you’ll meet him on our Tuscany After the Crowds tour as the main presenter of the art in Florence.

If you are an independent traveler, you may have Lior for as many days as you wish to introduce you to the art of Florence!

More About Lior ›

Ben co-leads tours for us and you can find him guiding our independent travelers as well.

With his knowledge of art and history, food and wine, society and traditions, he loves helping people to discover all the treasures that his beautiful region has to offer. 

Thanks to his passion and his smile Ben is the perfect travel companion to guide you through the streets of Florence or in the vineyards of the Chianti.

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Karen came on a The Best of Tuscany Trip in 2008; which sparked her passion for Italy.

Then, being inspired by Alice Steinbach’s book Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman, Karen chucked the corporate world in 2012 to run away to Florence to study Renaissance Art History.

She joined the Tuscany Tours team as a Trip Designer in the spring of 2014.  

Karen enjoys creating lifelong memories for our travelers.

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Jen’s our social media guru! As a graduate of the University of Tampa, she knew her marketing degree would take her places.

Right out of college, she discovered that if she was a flight attendant she could travel for free.

So, she signed up and traveled most of the world searching for her perfect place on earth.

She’s lived on three continents, has marketed everything from A (art) to Z (zeppole –how to make them, that is!) and now calls Lake Como home.

More About Jen ›
Tuscany Tours Team Pasta
Tuscany Tours
Rubi Shauna Florence
Fede Karen Lake Como
Florence
Rubi in the lavender

Team Bios

Sam Hilt – Founder, Trip Director, Art Presentations

Sam was born in Munich, Germany, grew up in Newark, N.J., and studied French and Russian Literature at Brandeis University. After completing his M.A. in Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, he put his academic career on hold temporarily and went out into the world to see what that was like. 

Over a period of about 15 years, he worked in various capacities including as a sharecropper, a sawyer in a lumber mill, a planter box maker, an English composition instructor, a bookstore/café owner, a San Francisco tour guide, a limousine driver, a computer store salesperson, a dBase III business applications developer, a software quality assurance testing manager, and a project management software implementation consultant—in more or less chronological order.
In the late 80s he decided to pursue a Masters degree in Psychology at Sonoma State University. Sam went on to study the psychology of art with a special focus on the Florentine Renaissance, and received his Doctorate from The Union Institute in 1995.

Sam enjoys languages and speaks Italian and French fluently, Russian quite badly, but Hebrew and Polish fairly decently. Sam is the author of three books, including The Uffizi Gallery, a guidebook to Florence's greatest museum; Turning Tuscan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Going Native, a tongue-in-cheek memoir of his family’s adventures in adjusting to life in Italy; and The Renaissance of Imagination, an innovative study of key Renaissance artworks during Florence’s Golden Age (all available through Amazon).

Pamela Mercer – Founder, Public Tour Creator, Mistress of Ceremonies, Trip Designer

Pam is originally from Oklahoma. She attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. She has lived in Colorado, California and now Tuscany! She has a degree in psychology and marine biology but says "all she ever needed to know she learned in her theatre classes." She loves researching great restaurants, handling tour logistics and leading tours. 

She also has a passion for music and she tries to find local musicians to feature in all our tours. Pam sings in an ITALIAN GOSPEL CHOIR! She finds it amazing to be singing American spirituals with a bunch of Italians in churches that were built in the 1400s.

Shauna Cadigan-Buck – Trip Designer and Organization Queen

Shauna’s parents raised her with the notion that traveling is one of the best educations out there. To that effect, she has taken extended trips overseas since she was 9 years old, earning a Bachelor’s at University of California, Davis along the way. 

An observer and detail-oriented person, Shauna pays attention to the small things, always looking for ways to make travel smooth and care-free. At the same time, she loves soul-touching experiences and, of course, great food and wine! Shauna has a passion for sharing those experiences with others and making their travel dreams come true. 

On her down time, Shauna loves to read, run, watch her two girls grow into amazing young women, and to go wine-tasting in her home county of Sonoma, California.
European favorites: The Pantheon in Rome, any and every trattoria that Pam shares with her in Florence, Italy at Christmas time, and Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

Rubina

Rubina was born and brought up in Florence.
Since she was a child she had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and she has traveled in many European countries developing her interest in tourism. Rubina is fluent in French and English and has a command of Spanish and Portuguese as well!

She attended an International French high school, graduated in Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Pisa and received a Masters degree in Design of Sustainable Tourism Systems at the University of Florence.  She runs her own business which supports tourism services and works as part of our global team of independent suppliers.

From Rubi:
I like learning about different cultures and meeting local people. I think that in order to appreciate a country you have to be in contact with locals, not the ones in souvenir shops but the baker or the lady at the market. That's why I love learning new languages!
Rubi

Tour Leader: Federica (“Fede”) Fiscaletti

Fede is a native of Rome where she graduated from university with a degree in Languages and Literatures.  A job opportunity in 2002 brought Fede to Tuscany where she worked as the Program Coordinator for the University of California, Siena Study center. She enjoyed nine wonderful years being in daily contact with students from the US before the school’s campus closed.

Since 2012, Fede has been a tour guide and escort in Italy. She lives near Siena with her husband and two great kids.

From Fede:
I love to accompany people that travel in Italy. I am a friendly, energetic person who really enjoys getting to know people and sharing my love of Italy with them!

Tour Leader: Toni Mazzaglia

Raised in North Carolina, Toni came to Italy in 1997 to discover her Italian roots, and immediately knew she'd be back to live and eat her way through the country. 

For the past 10 years, Toni has been hosting food and wine tours in Florence and all over Italy. 

She especially loves the Amalfi Coast and its wine and fresh sea-food cuisine.

Trip Designer and Tour Leader: Iwona Tascino

Iwona was born and raised in Poland. After graduating from university with a degree in Tourism and Leisure, she spent 3 years in Ecuador working in social and ecotourism projects.

Then she moved to Barcelona where she worked for an American tour operator organizing tailored-made trips to Europe (mostly in Italy, France and Spain).

She now designs trips for our travelers and leads groups as well!

Tour Leader and Host of Independent Travelers : Jaimi Albert

Jaimi has been living in the Tuscan countryside for over 15 years. Born and raised in New York, with a master’s degree in psychology, she worked for years in Corporate Training on Wall Street when she took what was supposed to be a quick trip to visit a friend in Italy that turned into 15 years! She fell in love with an Italian and decided to give up city life for some “tranquilità”.

With her fascination for the Italian culture, she often travels throughout Italy absorbing the traditions of the different regions. She has completed a sommelier and culinary arts certificate which just made her more obsessed with the Italian lifestyle. When she is not working, she is usually cooking, taking walks with her husband and son or planning the next long weekend trip to an Italian town that she just read about.

Trip Designer: Karen Embrey

After graduating from Georgetown University, Karen has called Tampa Bay, Florida home for over 20 years. She has enjoyed traveling all her life – from family camping trips while growing up in Virginia to a plethora of international destinations during her 15 years as a corporate meetings and travel manager (CMP, CTE and SMMC certified). Despite having no ancestral ties to Italy (that she knows of!), Karen’s heart and soul lies in this bel paese.

Karen’s Favorite Travel Tip: Stay overnight! So many places take on a truly magical aura when the day trippers leave and the locals come out. Venice, Siena, Positano, Florence…all are totally different experiences at night!

Jen

When Jen’s not looking for ways to entertain you on social media, putting together our newsletter or implementing strategic creative campaigns, she can be found in Florida visiting with her three sons and getting hugs from her three grandchildren. She’s a creative amateur photographer, award-winning photo editor, runs her own social media marketing company and loves everything Italian – especially her Italian husband and home in Como, Italy. 

Check out Jen’s photography on Instagram @jengenzale.

Jen’s Favorite Quote:
"I’d rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0. Everything you see I owe to spaghetti" – Sophia Loren

Tour Leader and Art and History Presenter: Lior Aviv

Lior Aviv holds two B.A. degrees in Art History and an M.A. in Art History.
Besides the art seminars and cultural presentations that Lior gives, he is working on two important projects. The first is writing his PhD which talks about Augustus Caesar and Cosimo I of the Medici family. The second is writing a book where the main goal is to transmit the message that art is a language which everyone speaks.

Lior’s years of teaching have proved to him that this is true and he has a way of teaching that enhances our own intuitive capacity to observe and understand art.

Tour Leader:  Ben

With an English mother and an Italian father, Ben was lucky enough to be brought up in a bilingual family.

After starting off as a trip leader with various tour groups he obtained his guiding license three years ago and now works all over Tuscany and Italy.

Ben speaks Spanish as well and you will also find him co-leading some of our trips in Spain.
Immersion Journeys in Italy, France and Spain
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1-800-634-3460

120 Fourth Street, Ste. 1071
Petaluma, CA 94953 USA


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