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 some of our tours and has her hand in the design of all of them, 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

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.

More About Karen ›

Italian by birth but aspiring citizen of the world, Giulia has always had a passion for travel. Lover of local markets and cultures, she is always on the lookout for good food and traditional recipes. At Tuscany Tours she does what she always wanted most: to tailor trips for people through itineraries that help them make their dreams come true, also making you imagine the journey through the photos that she selects for our Instagram profile.

More About Giulia ›

Siena grew up in California and in Siena, Italy. That's where her name comes from! That’s where her name comes from! Her parents passed on their love of art to her early in life. This led her to pursue a B.A in visual arts with a focus on photography. She helps with video editing and graphic design for Tuscany Tours.

More About Siena ›
Rubi in Verona

Rubina began her Tuscany Tours adventure in 2017 after earning her Master’s Degree in Tourism. She manages our small-group tours in Italy, France, and Spain. Her biggest passion is French culture (that’s a good thing since she married a Frenchman and lives in France!). She loves learning about different cultures and meeting local people.

More About Rubi ›
Rubi in Verona

Sherry is our bookkeeper. She grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She loves to travel and has traveled extensively! When she’s not working, Sherry is a runner and – though she’s completed 17 marathons – she sticks to half marathons now. She also loves to sew quilts and knit and is an avid reader.

More About Sherry ›
Rubi in Verona

Along with Giulia, Emma is our instagram manager. She has grown up in both California and Italy. She has always had a passion for languages and all-things travel. She is multi-lingual and speaks English and Italian fluently.

More About Emma ›

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!

More About Toni ›

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.

More About Ben ›

Though Cid studied Mathematics at university, his life drastically changed when he decided to travel and became a nomad and backpacker, living in the United States, England, Israel, Australia and Ireland. When he finally set foot in France 30 years ago, he found a new place to call home.Though Cid studied Mathematics at university, his life drastically changed when he decided to travel and became a nomad and backpacker, living in the United States, England, Israel, Australia and Ireland. When he finally set foot in France 30 years ago, he found a new place to call home.

More About Cid ›

Australian born, Eurocentric and Italian focused, Freya wears her newly acquired Italian citizenship like one of her many much-loved red jackets – with flair, passion and pride. She loves art, a good story, being surrounded by beauty, and feeds on feelings, excitement and great ideas. She leads tours for us in Venice and Florence and often guides for our private client trips.

More About Freya ›

Born in Rome, Ludovica has traveled extensively throughout Europe. Having gone to school in Rome, Berlin, Russia, and Siena, she speaks multiple languages! She loves to stay in contact with people and share her passion for Tuscany and its artistic and cultural heritage. 





More About Ludovica ›

Sinisa is an international hospitality professional that claims he was born in a kitchen. He loves traveling and is always on the outlook for the most interesting food and wine. He is the host of our Catalonia and Istria, Croatia wine tours. You may also find him escorting tours in Spain.

More About Sinisa ›
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.

Karen Embrey, CTE, SMMC - Senior Trip Designer & Groups Guru

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!

Rubina Lemmo - Public Tours Coordinator

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

Giulia Sorgato – Trip Designer & Instagram Editor

Giulia studied Tourism Design at the University of Padua, her home city, and then continued her studies in the much dreamed-of Florence where she met Pam! Her passion for travel was born as a child during summer holidays with her family. When she began adding her own ideas to the family’s itineraries, she decided to make it her job. At Tuscany Tours she does what she always wanted most: to tailor trips for people through itineraries that help them make their dreams come true, also making you imagine the journey through the photos that she selects for our Instagram profile.

Giulia’s favorite place in the world….
….is Tuscany! Good food, a chat with a local, a nice walk in the Val d'Orcia with my camera or in a fresh fruit and vegetable market, a glass of good red wine with a breathtaking view. Can you ask for more?

Sherry Trantow – Accounting Ace

Though she works as Tuscany Tours’ bookkeeper, Sherry is also a licensed dental hygienist. Her knitting hobby helps keep her hands in shape (she is pictured here in the first sweater she ever knitted). She has since created 6 more sweaters! Sherry spends half her time in Rochester, Minnesota, and the other half in northern Wisconsin at their lake house. She and her husband are avid cross-country skiers, so they visit the area year round.

Sherry’s Travel Tip:
Take any opportunity to travel! Even if it is just to the next county to look at the waterfalls!

sherry

Siena Hilt – Graphic Designer & Video Editor

Siena was born in the United States, but she grew up in Italy, close to the town of Siena. That’s where her name comes from! Her parents passed on their love of art to her early in life. This led her to pursue a B.A in visual arts with a focus on photography. She helps with video editing and graphic design for Tuscany Tours.

Emma Hilt – Social Media & Instagram Editor

After graduating from a linguistic high school in Siena, Emma enrolled in the University of Florence to continue her language studies. When not working with Tuscany Tours, she works as a preschool teacher teaching English to ridiculously cute toddlers. Along with Giulia, Emma keeps Tuscany Tours hip and cool on Instagram.

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.

Fede has been a licensed guide and tour escort in Italy since 2012.  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: Antoinette "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 over 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 seafood cuisine.

Tour Leader / Art & 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 Pantani

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.

Tour Leader: Freya Middleton

Florence has been Freya’s home since 2000 and being a private tour guide is her vocation. Her degrees, both undergraduate (Sydney University) and Masters (Warwick university, England), in art history provided the starting block for a lifelong love affair with beauty and the understanding that the picture really does speak a thousand words. Scholarships at the beginning provided the possibility for full Euro immersion (Rotary Youth Exchange program to Belgium, to France at the Sorbonne University, to Italy on post-graduate research scholarship), and a thirst for adventure made her stay. She tries to touch an Aussie beach once a year for a few weeks but is tickled pink to be living her life in the country of melodrama, Italy.

Tour Leader: Ludovica Noviello

Ludovica attended the German school of Rome from kindergarten until high school graduation. She then moved to Berlin where she studied at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures: French and Russian at the Humboldt University. She traveled many times to Russia where she attended language courses to improve her Russian. After graduation, Ludovica held internships in Brussel at the Italian Cultural Institute and in Rome at the German Academy. She organized cultural events, exhibitions, and provided translations from Italian to French, English and German. She moved to Siena to study at the school “La Bottega Toscana” to become a tour guide. She is authorized as a tour guide in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish.

Ludovica guides for Tuscany Tours in Italy, France and Spain.

From Ludovica:
I love to stay in contact with people and convey them my passion for Tuscany and its artistic and cultural heritage.

Tour Leader: Cid Nogueira Quadros

Cid has studied mathematics at IME - Institute of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of São Paulo, as well as Cinema at FAAP College. However, his life drastically changed when he decided to travel and became a nomad and backpacker, living in the United States, England, Israel, Australia and Ireland. When he finally set foot in France 30 years ago, he found a new place to call home. He graduated in Art History at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris and became a multilingual lecturer (French, English and Portuguese) and in his 28th season, he has guided more than 60 thousand people through history. Cid acquired French citizenship and is married to Isabel with whom he shares twins!

A Cid Tidbit:
Cid visited the Louvre in Paris over 60 times…..and that’s just between 2018 and 2019! Imagine how many times he’s been there in total!

Tour Leader: Sinisa Curavic

Sinisa is an international hospitality professional that claims he was born in a kitchen. He loves traveling and is always on the outlook for the most interesting food and wine. Raised in Sweden, but with his roots on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, Sinisa harmoniously combines the Nordic punctuality with the Mediterranean 'joie-de-vivre'.

Sinisa guides for Tuscany Tours in Spain and Croatia.

Sinisa's motto:
Everything is possible!

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1-800-634-3460

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


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