A love for travel
Sharyn Seibert and her husband Brian Lauder have transformed their love of all things Italian into an exciting new business venture.
Since starting this new journey in their lives, Seibert and Lauder have taken high school students, as well as adults to Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Seibert, a former high school art instructor turned specialist in Italian Renaissance art, says what became important to them was the desire to share their mutual passion. To improve her Italian knowledge, Seibert had studied in Italy.
“It was an exciting time,” she says. “It lit a fire in my soul. Our lives have been so enriched by our study of Italian art and culture, we wanted to give others a similar experience.”
Her husband shares her enthusiasm, adding their first trip together was in 2003.
“Sharyn’s excitement was contagious; I was smitten immediately,” Lauder says.
In order to fulfil the legal requirements of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), both Seibert and Lauder obtained their TICO certification in 2012 as travel counsellors.
The student trips began in 2008 when Seibert realized that there was no better way for students to learn about art history than to experience it first-hand. She developed a course that would give each student who completed it a high school course credit. Considering its role as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, it made sense to use Florence as home base.
Over the course of two weeks, the students visited art galleries, museums, and historic sites in Florence, Siena, Venice, San Gimignano, and Fiesole. Each student would create an art travel journal documenting the highlights of their trip, an idea which Seibert still incorporates into the adult trips for those who so choose.
When Seibert retired in 2012, the couple decided it was time to test the waters with adults, this time combining art and wine, two of Italy’s most beloved assets.
Lauder had long been fascinated with wine, not just as a beverage but also as a cultural phenomenon. In 2012, he completed the Intermediate Level of the Wine Fundamentals Program at the International Sommelier Guild. A seasoned traveller — he has lived in Germany, Greece, India, Switzerland, and the U.S., and has been to Afghanistan, France, Pakistan, Spain, and Turkey — his conversion to an Italophile was absolute.
“I married my own love and passion of wine with that of going to Italy and it seemed like a natural fit,” says Lauder. But, it wasn’t just Italy’s wines he fell in love with. He was also captivated by their food, architecture, language, landscape, and, above all, their zest for living.
“They have refined living well into an art form, something that we goal-oriented North Americans seem to have forgotten,” Lauder adds.
Seibert and Lauder have already taken several groups to both Florence and Tuscany, as well as to the famously photogenic Amalfi Coast.
“Each time we go, we enrich our lives further,” says Lauder.
“We want our fellow travellers to have the same intimate, immediate experience that we have had so many times,” Seibert adds.
In both locales, Seibert teaches their guests how to create personal travel journals that not only provide them with an opportunity to hone their artistic skills, but will also serve as personal mementos.
Meanwhile, Lauder conducts daily wine tastings and up to two wine tours (both optional), giving the oenophiles on the tour the chance to sample many local wines unavailable and, in some cases, unknown on this side of the Atlantic.
Furthermore, on the trip to the Amalfi Coast, one of the side trips included a climb to the summit of Mount Vesuvius, the still-active volcano responsible for destroying Pompeii in 79 CE.
Of course, not every minute of every day is scheduled.
“It’s important for our guests to have some time to explore the area on their own, or perhaps just to relax back at their hotel room or apartment.”
While most of the accommodation in Florence is in hotels (single rooms with no single supplement), the trip to the Amalfi Coast includes individual apartments in a villa set inside a lemon grove, just outside of the picturesque town of Sorrento.
Guests are greeted every day with heady tropical fragrances, beautiful vistas, and the vibrant colours of bougainvillea and roses.
The trips can accommodate about eight travellers at a time. And now that both Lauder and Seider have been retired for a few years, it seems fitting to be able to travel while teaching others the things they have learned along the way.
“This is the time of life to do something we really love to do,” says Seider.
For Lauder, his most memorable trip was his first time in Italy in 2003.
“I stepped off the railway station and saw boats instead of cars, canals instead of roads.”
Seider echoes his love of Italy.
“All our trips have been so precious,” she says. “We’ve become friends with our travellers, which is so wonderful.”