Rome is rich in the relics of its past, the capital of an empire to which it gave its name and the seat of Christianity. The honey-colored city of fountains and marble was, according to legend, founded by Romulus in 753 BCE. Today, Rome is the center of Italian political, administrative and culture life, and at its heart is the seat of the Papacy.
After we arrive in Rome we enjoy a group welcome dinner to meet our fellow travelers.
Imperial Rome awaits us. The seat of power to a 500-year strong civilization, Rome continues to delight travelers today. Our small group will tour the Roman Forum where we see the ruins of the Temple of Vesta, the Curia and the Temple of Saturn to name a few.
We next visit the Colosseum, home to some of the most epic staged battles in history. It was capable of seating 50,000 spectators and was the largest amphitheater built in the Roman Empire. Standing within its towering walls it is easy to imagine the gladiatorial contests. Archaeological digs continue to unearth new insights, most recently to the hypogeum (the underground) and its complex passageways and chambers.
After some free time for lunch we reconnect and discover Baroque Rome, identifiable by its fluid architecture and copious ornamentation. Discover the grandeur of Rome’s fountains including the Trevi Fountain and the Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (the Fountain of the 4 Rivers). We spend time in the Piazza Navona before a visit to the Pantheon with its perfectly proportioned dome. Our touring today concludes at the Spanish Steps.
Vatican City, seat of the papacy and the smallest state in the world, is packed with a glittering array of art, sculptures and stunning architecture. Michelangelo’s immense influence on the Renaissance is never more evident than in this state. We discover some of his incredible pieces on a sightseeing tour that includes the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The Sistine Chapel is most famous for its painted ceiling by Michelangelo, taking a backbreaking 4 years to complete.
Just south of Vatican City we visit Trastevere, a medieval neighborhood of Rome. The Piazza di Santa Maria lies at its center and is a popular area for locals and travelers alike. In this charming spot we have time to stop for lunch or indulge in a gelato before we walk back to our hotel.
It’s time to live like a local, connecting with traditional Italian customs. Nothing is more Italian than pizza and this evening we learn all about Italy’s national dish. We prove our dough-making skills and top our pizzas like a master. Our evening meal is spent enjoying the pizzas we have created ourselves.
Religious events can affect the opening times of St Peter’s Basilica.
[Breakfast and Dinner]
Tuscany is a region known for its rolling hills, fine food and wine, and the sepia tones of its incredible art and architecture. We depart Rome today for the Tuscan capital of Florence, journeying through serene countryside and stopping en route to visit the medieval town of Siena.
Our small group tours Siena and its UNESCO World Heritage-listed center. We pass through the Piazza del Campo where the 17 traditional families of the district (the Contrade) still gather twice-yearly donning ancestral colors in support of the ‘Palio’, a horse race. The piazza is a site to behold. Travertine paving divides the piazza into sections symbolic of the town’s ruling families and each section gently curves upwards from the square’s center. We also visit Siena’s Cathedral and Baptistery. We have free time here for independent exploration before we continue to San Gimignano.
Perched high atop a hill, it is breathtaking to see the UNESCO World Heritage-listed San Gimignano on the Tuscan horizon. We embark on a walking tour of the city exploring its well-preserved medieval tower houses.
We continue to Florence arriving in the early evening.
Florence is a city unlike any other. It is the proud birthplace to the Italian Renaissance, a cultural movement that radically altered art and architecture. Art flourished in this city because the patronage of the 14th century Medici family ensured artists had the financial support to create their masterpieces. Arguably a result of this patronage is the abundance of sights within one square mile--more than any other city in Europe.
Our tour starts at the impressive Piazza del Duomo and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral was built in the 15th century with its dome designed by the forefather of the Renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi. The engineering behind the dome was revolutionary at the time, and it still remains the world’s largest brick dome. We then see Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Piazzale Michelangelo. Here the Accademia of Fine Art houses Michelangelo’s beloved David, sculpted by him at the tender age of 26. Our afternoon is at leisure to explore the delights of the Tuscan capital. Enjoy some gelato and peruse the city’s streets with its shops of leather goods and Florentine gold and silver.
We journey to the countryside today for a full day of exploring the region of Chianti. We stop in the townships of Castellina and Radda and walk their cobblestone streets while learning their unique histories. Chianti is synonymous with the medium-bodied red wine it produces which blends Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot. We continue to an agriturismo, a classic Tuscan farmhouse. These rustic stone and brick farmhouses dot the Tuscan landscape, and we are treated to a three-course lunch in these idyllic surrounds.
[Breakfast and Lunch]
Farewell to the delights of Florence as we travel to Pisa, most famous for its Leaning Tower. The tower was built over a 200-year period, with construction commencing in the late 12th century. Poor foundations on one side of the tower produced the iconic 4-degree tilt for which the tower is known. Our local guide will take us on a sightseeing tour of Pisa with free time for lunch.
We continue North along the coast to the harbor town of La Spezia. Located on the Ligurian Sea, La Spezia is the gateway town to the picture-perfect Cinque Terre. Our journey affords us some spectacular scenery with a crystal-clear ocean, tiny coves, small villages, thrillingly steep cliffs and winding rivers lining our journey into town.
In Pisa we have plenty of time to take photographs outside the Leaning Tower however we do not enter the tower. It routinely has a large queue for entry and is a taxing climb.
Welcome to the Italian Riviera and the spectacular Cinque Terre, the ‘Five Lands’. A UNESCO World Heritage-Listed area, the Cinque Terre is comprised of five coastal villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Hiking trails and a local train network connect the villages but no cars are allowed which has helped preserve the unique appeal of this region. Brightly painted houses are perched against the steep faces of the cliffs, terraced vineyards are carved into the hills and are supported by cleverly-engineered stone walls. We spend a full day exploring and enjoy a three-course lunch together in one of the five villages.
[Breakfast and Lunch]
Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, is home to some of the country’s finest produce including delicious prosciutto (Parma ham) and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. We taste test some foods then have an orientation walk before being given free time to explore and eat lunch. Then, we continue to Venice on the Northeast coast.
Venice enchants our imagination and leaves us with some unforgettable memories. Its 117 islands are connected by a staggering 409 bridges. Wandering the islands through their narrow lanes is a joy unto itself. Once we arrive, we first take to the water and travel by water taxi to our hotel. We enjoy free time for dinner this evening, catching our first glimpse of the city.
Awake this morning in what is certainly one of the world’s most romantic cities. Bridges gracefully arch over narrow canals, gondolas silently glide by, and the noise of city traffic is welcomingly absent. An array of water vessels, from gondolas, water taxis to barges laden with produce bob along the city’s main street, the Grand Canal.
We wander through the cobblestoned passageways to St Mark’s Square. Here we embark on a sightseeing tour of Venice’s key sights. We pass through the Bridge of Sighs and gaze through its tiny aperture, which in ancient times provided prisoners with a precious last glimpse of the world beyond. We walk to the Doge’s Palace, otherwise known as the infamous Palazzo Ducale. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture was the seat of government for the Venetian Republic and today houses an impressive museum. Another highlight is our visit to the Basilica of San Marco, a masterpiece of the Byzantine empire. The interior walls are dazzling with artworks and mosaics and the Golden Altar, the ‘Palla d’Oro’ is masterfully crafted.
Venice is known for its breathtaking Murano glassware and we are treated to a glass blowing demonstration before an afternoon spent traveling along the city’s canals in a Venetian gondola. This evening we enjoy a farewell dinner together.
[Breakfast and Dinner]
Our tour concludes after breakfast this morning. We bid farewell to our new friends and to the delights of Italy.
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