Francis – the secret ingredient

Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled with the strides I’ve made learning Italian. I even fought a traffic ticket in Italian, for crying out loud.  (Sort of – watch this space. I’ll tell the story soon.) Still, after 5 weeks fending for myself, it was a relief to be treated to a day in Tuscany, in the care of Francis Surman. To say he’s a driver undersells what he offers. Yes, he’s a fine driver — with a large and comfortable 8-person Mercedes van — but, more than that, he has extensive experience as a personal assistant.

In short, Francis is a “fixer” who makes things happen. Guests at our villa have hired Francis to negotiate their rental car in advance (whether in Rome or Orvieto), to pick them up at the airport, to help ship their purchases home, to tour them around Rome, or, as we did, to take them on a ramble through wine country and get them home in one piece without any close encounters with Italian authorities.

Here are two examples how Francis has helped our guests: for some, he has met them at the airport in Rome, added his name onto their rental car contract there, driven them to the villa, and helped get them settled; for others, he has picked them up at the airport and driven them in his car or van to the Orvieto rental agency and then led them to the villa. Letting Francis work out these sorts of details can be a very gentle way to begin a trip to the heart of Italy.

A thoroughly delightful companion, Francis speaks 5 languages, has an encyclopedic knowledge of films (ask to see his Hannibal Lecter impersonation), and is at ease in any crowd. And it’s easy to see why so many of Francis’s regular clients are affiliated with the UN (which employs thousands in Rome): he could give the professional diplomats a run for their money. On the day we toured Tuscany with Francis, the plan was for Jeff to come to Benano early in the morning to consult with us and the workmen on the construction project, while Francis would come later with Jeff’s wife Robin and our other three friends. As we were wrapping up our meeting, Francis came to the door and announced his arrival. Jeff asked, “Are we ready to go?” Without a “yes” or “no,” Francis gave Jeff all the information he needed to discern the answer for himself. He replied pleasantly, “Your wife is in the car.”


25 Comments on “Francis – the secret ingredient

  1. Anything to avoid the vehicle rental circus @ the Rome airport is worth almost any price. Thank you for promoting this “secret ingredient” to improve one’s start to a wonderful Italian visit.

    • Sounds like you had a nasty experience renting a car in Rome? Care to share the gory details? Thanks –

  2. Francis goes above and beyond the call of duty – he was there to greet us on Sunday a.m. in Rome, drove us and made arrangements for a rental car pick up on Sunday in Orvieto (unheard of) and then we made arrangements with him to guide us on a wonderful tour of the wine country, a wine tasting in Montepulicano, a trip to Assisi and back to Rome. Very reasonable and extremely knowledgeable. Not only was he a great asset and “made” our trip – he is also now a dear friend. Jenny

    • Hello, years ago in Rome we had the same Francis as the driver to take us back to the airport we were also impressed by his knowledge he gave us his card for if we ever were coming back. Now we are going back and the emaila is not correct anymore.
      Can you are anyone give us his right emailadres or website.
      thanks and kind
      regards Rita Maesen

  3. Our last Roman holiday – three years ago, I believe – occurred in-season: July. We found the car rental place @ da Vinci grossly undermanned and overwhelmed by herds of travelers all arriving simultaneously from the West. The heat, people packed cheek-to-jowl, no seating, HOURS of waiting after overnight flights, tempers short and lines long – not a pretty sight. Perhaps things have improved since then but I’d happily pay E250 to avoid that mess again.

  4. What a wonderful discovery, Karen. Frances sounds like a wonderful person to know and rely on for all your travel details.

  5. Francis is a great person, honest reliable and very hard working. He can do any thing………
    We have known him since 8 years and you can really trust Francis whatever he does.

  6. My family and I visited Rome for the first time last year. Our plans included to visit a cousin of mine who unfortunately was away at the time but thankfully passed on our details onto Francis. We had such a wonderful time with the additional extensive knowledge Francis had shared with us on Rome’s history. He is definitely a person who could easily acquire a role as an embassador for the country, as well one of the nicest person you will ever meet! I highly recommend him for anyone who wishes to experience a comprehensive visit to Rome and also gain knowledge of it’s history. Mics

  7. I can only agree – Francis is not only very reliable, friendly, and hard-working, he also has a great sense of understanding people’s different needs and interests and making plans for the day (in our case) accordingly. Thanks to Francis, my mother had a great day in Umbria despite her limited mobility. Francis knewwhere to drop us off in Orvieto so she could she the Duomo without walking too much. And I tasted the best pasta dishes for lunch (and I have lived in Italy for 2 years now). I can highly recommend Francis!

  8. Francis is a great friend and a honest, patient and reliable worker. He can safely handle all sorts of trips to whatever place in Italy; and you can be sure he’ll take care of you in the best way.
    I’ve called him countless times, also to help with aged parents and, was always more than happy with him.

  9. Pingback: Great to be back in Italy. Free for Lunch? | Postcards from Umbria

  10. My friend and I visited Rome recently and had the pleasure of meeting Francis. To describe him, is like “Calgon, take me away!”… The trip certainly would not have been as amazing as it was without him. He alleviated all the worries of getting from the airport to our destination, renting a car and driving throughout the country and was able to quickly familiarize us with the area. Francis is a wealth of knowledge to boot! He was able to share many historical facts with us, schedule reservations at the best restaurants, coordinate wine tasting as we drove through the countryside… You get the idea! I felt as though I had made a lifelong friend with Francis by the time I left and would recommend him to anyone going to Rome. He is a man of his word and delivers quality service with a smile!!!

  11. I’ll tell you the truth… vacation would not have been so amazing if it weren’t for Francis. He is indeed a Wealth of Knowledge. He took us to some of the most amazing places and we endured extreme V.I.P. treatment. I am so thankful for all he exposed us to on the trip and could not imagine another trip to Italy without Francis’ assistance. Francis Surman is indeed one of a kind. He is genuine, kind, patient and extremely trustworthy.

  12. I have known Francis for 4 years now, when I came to HQ Rome for my job and after I left Rome. Francis is a good person. I have a daughter who adores him for his ability to engage with a four year coupled with my demanding shopping, fixing, and name-it- schedule. He is polite, patient and knowledgeable and above all so so reliable. he gets things done, whatever it is. Trust me.

  13. I will be moving to another duty station very soon and truly speaking, what I would miss the most is just Francis! He has assisted me on everything I needed during the 2 years I have been in Rome. I’ve called him countless times (for helping with the housing when I first arrived, to take me to the doctor, for tourism, shopping, for italian translation services,for taking me back and forth to the airport, for advising about best places to eat and further more and also to support my daughters and their friends every time they’ve visited me in Rome. Francis is an amazing worker, a real friend, a wonderful human being: honest, reliable, polite, solidary. He has an extensive knowledge on Rome’s history. He is definitely one of the nicest persons you will ever meet. I highly recommend him for anyone who wishes to experience the best quality assistance while living in Rome!

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  15. We visited Benano for the first time in August and can echo what everyone else here has said about Francis. We were a family of five. Due to the size of our party along with luggage we were going to need a van such as what Francis has. We decided to hire Francis to be our driver for the full week. Francis was absolutely everything we had hoped for and more. Having been with us for the week, he was so much more than just a driver. Our family feels as though we have a new friend now in Italy. We can’t recommend Francis enough.

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  17. That Francis is an excellent compass around Rome is TRUE. He gives the clients a genuine ease of Rome and understanding the different historical sites in Rome. He has taken care of our diverse needs in Rome for the last 2 years we have been coming for UN meetings. Kudos Francis n God bless u even more. Your services go beyond monetary value.

  18. Francis was recommended to me by a friend who has visited Italy several times. We were looking for a driver to take us around Tuscany for Cantine Aperte. We ended up not only hiring Francis for Cantine Aperte, but also for the day prior to Cantine Aperte so that we could visit different areas in Tuscany. Francis is much more than a driver! We had such a great time touring Tuscany with him. He is very knowledgeable of the area and was well prepared for our travels. We could tell after just a few short hours that Francis is a geniunely nice guy and he loves what he does. Francis also gave us a four hour tour of Rome when we returned to the city. It is obvious that Franics loves his city. He is very knowledgeable and passionate about the history of Rome and took us to so many great sites. When first inquiring about our tours, Francis phoned me in the U.S. from Rome to get an idea of what we were looking for. He then sent very detailed e-mails with suggestions for our day trips in Tuscany. He also offered tips for other cities that we would be visiting, such as Positano and Venice. Francis indicated that even if we decided not to do the day trips in Tuscany with him, that we should contct him with any questions. Not many people would go the extra mile like this. We had a great time in our travels to Tuscany and Rome and we owe that to Francis Surman! Thanks Francis! We hope to see you again!

  19. Everything on this site about Francis is true. He made our trip delightful from airport pick-up, hotel delivery, transport to and from cruise port, and finally a full day in Tuscany – he was the best! A charming, knowledgeable, fun person—we laughed and learned. We will recommend him to anyone traveling to Rome and hope to see him again. “Hakuna matata” is truly the perfect phrase for our new friend. He even speaks Swahili! Thanks again Francis for everything!!!

  20. Our Villa in Tuscany recommended Francis and it was the best recommendation of our whole trip. Francis not only took care of every detail of our transport, so there was no lining up and waiting, he was always there early, not late. A seamless trip from beginning to end.
    When driving to our destinations Francis was a wealth of knowledge about the timelines and history of Italy, as well as the culture and entertainment. He is able to accommodate whatever his clients would like to do, and if you’re not sure in a new place then he knows what to suggest, and they were always great suggestions.
    Professional, kind, smart, funny, down to earth, and one of the greatest people we have ever met, we would recommend Francis Surman to any traveler. A new acquaintance is now and new friend and we hope we will cross paths with him again.
    Thank you so much Francis, our trip to Italy would not have been as wonderful as it was without you.
    Love, Wendy and Ken

  21. Pingback: My Italian Rental Villa » Katie’s Itinerary for a Week in Benano | Rocca di Benano

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