Unquestionably Rome exudes history: from its Catacombs that entombed early Christians, to the Colosseum where gladiators battled to the death and on up to the Palatine Hill, the traditional site of Rome’s founding. It is also home to the Vatican City, the home of the Pope, and St Peter's Basilica The city is enthralling, with perhaps more to see than any other place in the world. Eating in Italy is deeply embedded in the country’s culture, and dining in Rome can seem to last forever and consist of many courses. The city offers a vibrant cafe culture and nightlife, as well as the many iconic sights. Please note that if you wish to visit popular museums such as the Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel) and Villa Borghese in Rome, and the Uffizi or Accademia Galleries in Florence, to avoid waiting in line for a long time (especially in high season May-September when it could be a question of hours!), it is advisable to reserve tickets in advance. Tickets can be reserved online at various websites including www.florenceart.it or www.virtualuffizi.com for Florence and www.tickititaly.com for all. Please make your reservations for Day 5 of your tour, when you will have a free day to enjoy Florence. Most Museums are closed on Mondays (Day 3). There may be the possibility of arranging tickets on arrival on Day 1, with the help of your Tour Leader, but availability cannot be guaranteed at such short notice. As your fellow travellers are arriving throughout the day, there are no planned activities until your Group Meeting this evening, so check-in to the hotel (check-in time is approx 3pm) and enjoy the city. Check the notice boards or ask at reception for the exact time and location of the group meeting. After the meeting, you might like to take the option of heading out for a meal in a nearby local restaurant to further get to know your CEO and travelling companions. Please make every effort to arrive on time for this important welcome meeting. If you are delayed and will arrive late, please inform us - contact numbers are provided in these notes. Your Chief Experience Officer will then leave you a message at the front desk informing you of where and when to meet up.
We have a morning free in Rome, to give you chance to experience a brief taste of the Eternal City. You will have time for a visit to the Colosseum or the Forum, or a walk around Rome's sights, before our afternoon departure to Siena. We then travel by comfortable long-distance coach to Siena and our twelfth-century hotel inside the medieval city walls. Built on three hills and surrounded by well-preserved medieval walls, Siena is filled to the brim with fine examples of Gothic architecture. It has one of the world's most unique central plazas – the Piazza del Campo. This shell-shaped "square" houses the Palazzo Pubblico, the Torre del Mangia, and many other architectural treasures. It is also world-renowned for hosting the Palio, the famous horse race, which is an important part of Sienese identity, history and culture. Siena's cathedral, the duomo, begun in the twelfth century, is one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque architecture. Its main façade, completed in 1380, campanile and baptistery make a fine group. Inside is the famous Gothic octagonal pulpit by Nicola Pisano supported on lions, and the labyrinth inlaid in the flooring, traditionally traversed by penitents on their knees. Within the Sacristy are some perfectly preserved renaissance frescos by Ghirlandaio. Beneath the duomo, in the baptistery is the marvelous baptismal font with bas reliefs by Donatello, Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and other 15th Century sculptors. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo contains Duccio's famous Maestà and various other works by Sienese masters. More Sienese paintings are to be found in the Pinacoteca. The Palazzo Pubblico, itself a great work of architecture, houses yet another important art museum. In between all this culture, take a rest at a local café and enjoy some real Tuscan gastronomic delights. Estimated Travel Time: 3.5 hours
Travelling on a mid-afternoon local bus, we head northwest to the capital of the region, the inimitable Firenze (or Florence as we know it). Florence personifies all that is beautiful in Italian civilization. It is the capital of the Tuscany region with a population of approximately half a million people. The fathers of Italian painting, Cimabue and Giotto lived here, along with many other prominent artists. It is the birthplace of the Italian language (Dante Alighieri) and Europe’s richest cultural period, The Italian Renaissance. Florence’s cultural and historical impact attracts thousands of international travellers each year. In the summer, life in Florence can be found in the streets and squares. Outdoor cinemas, music, dance and theatre enliven most squares every evening. Fill your free day with a visit to the marvellous multi-coloured Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, the medieval Ponte Vecchio or the Medici Chapels. Take a break at Piazza della Signoria with a gelato or an espresso before hitting the vivacious Piazza San Lorenzo to bargain for discounted woollen and leather goods. Florence has much to offer. One one of the evenings in Florence, we will walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset for the famous view over the River Arno and the city. Estimated Travel Time: 1.5 hours
We take a local train to wind our way westwards to the beautiful little Tuscan town of Lucca. Here the day is free to get out and discover the city and its history. The best way to do this is to hire one of the hundreds of bikes for rent around the town and take to two wheels. Spin your way along the top of the stunning medieval city walls, zoom down into one of the many cobbled piazzas for an espresso and a revitalizing slice of pizza before setting off to take in some real culture at some of this little city's many palazzos, churches and towers. In the evening, you might choose to take in a classical music concert in one of the historic churches - don't forget that this is the birthplace of the maestro Puccini. Lucca is a magical place surrounded by Renaissance walls and set in beautiful countryside. This classic medieval city has been well preserved over the centuries, and contained within the 16th Century walls you will find piazzas, towers, and copious marble-decorated churches. Today, Lucca is one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany, a prosperity gained mostly through wine and olive oil production. This tranquil town is a fantastic place to take a gentle stroll, promenade atop the tree-lined walls or enjoy the gastronomic delights distinguished by the use of local aromatic herbs. Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours *Note: The October 27, 2012 departure of this tour will stay overnight in Pisa instead of Lucca but will still allow for ample time to visit Lucca by day.
Today we head west again by local train, towards the famous Cinque Terre National Park, one of the most beautiful and famous areas of the Mediterranean. Human activity, in particular viticulture, has contributed to create a unique landscape, characterized by five charming villages perched on the rocky coast, the crystal clear Ligurian Sea lapping at their doorways, vineyards, olive groves and woodland towering up steeply from their backyards, and best of all, an extensive network of age-old footpaths and mule tracks awaiting your exploration. On our way to Monterosso our base for the next two nights, we'll stop off in Pisa. Leaving our bags at the train station we'll head into town to see that famous Leaning Tower. Don't miss the spectacular ornamental cemetery, baptistry and duomo (cathedral), which make up the religious complex of which the Tower is an integral part. We'll have a couple of hours to explore and take photos, have a panini or a slice of pizza for lunch, before we head back to the train station and on to La Spezia. Please note, entrance to the monuments in Pisa is not included. Your leader will be happy to help you to buy entrance tickets if you wish. Day 7 is our day for exploring Cinque Terre. Walking the entire coastal path (approximately 6 hours) gives you the best taste of the villages and countryside, terraced hills and vineyards sloping steeply down to the sea. Set out early with your CEO to Riomaggiore and walk the whole coastal trail to Monterosso, or jump on the local train that links the villages for a less strenuous way of enjoying the area. There will be plenty of time for swimming, tasting the local wine and grappa, sampling some fresh seafood and watching amazing Mediterranean sunsets along the way. Estimated Travel Time: Lucca to Pisa 30 minutes. Pisa to Monterosso, 2 hours
We set out from Asti on a train journey with a few changes en route, passing through Milan and on to elegant Como, the head of Lake Como, on the border with Switzerland with its spectacular backdrop of the snowy-peaked Alps. Less than an hour from Milan, Lake Como is a jewel-like oasis of tranquility, a magical combination of lush Mediterranean foliage and snowy alpine peaks. One of the best vantage points for this breathtaking view is in Piazza Cavour, on the banks of the lake in the town of Como. On Day 10, we'll set out by boat to explore Lake Como and its many elegant villas and towns, such as Bellagio with its shops, restaurants and fine residences. Bellagio is located right in the heart of Lake Como. The town's location is often said to be one of the most beautiful of all Europe. Villa Serbelloni, owned by the New York's Rockefeller Foundation, sits above Bellagio, and is well worth a visit for its formal gardens. You could also visit Villa Carlotta, on the banks of the lake near Tremezzo, or Villa Balbianello near Lenno. There are also enjoyable walks to be had in and around the charming towns. Back in Como, there is plenty of time for soaking up the elegant atmosphere in one of the lakeside cafés or restaurants. Take some time for shopping - even if your wallet only allows for window shopping! - some of the finest Italian designers are to be found in Como's chic boutique stores. Take a funicular ride up to Brunate, high above the town of Como, for really spectacular views of the lake and some pleasant walks around the hillside dotted with fabulous villas. Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
A final train ride east brings us to captivating Venice, one of the few cities in the world that can be truly described as unique. Over an extraordinarily long period, this "floating" city of water has been embellished with monuments of rare splendour that today make it a tourist attraction like none other in the world. Wonderful museums such as the Accademia or the Scuola di San Rocco give us the opportunity to enjoy great painters of the renaissance like Jacoppo Tintoretto, Vittore Carpacio or Tiziano. For a more contemporary take, why not visit the fabulous Peggy Guggenheim gallery, located inside her former home, right on the Grand Canal itself. While in the "city of canals", you can't miss out on a vaporetto (water-bus) ride along the Grand Canal. This is the best (and cheapest!) way to enjoy unparalleled views of the majestic palaces lining the water, the old-world shops of the Rialto Bridge, the Palace of the Doge (ruler of Venice), the Piazza and Basilica of San Marco and the romantic Bridge of Sighs. There will be plenty of time for you to wander the narrow, cobblestone streets and wide piazzas, crossing the hundreds of tiny bridges and of course, getting lost in Venice's labyrinth - by far the best way to discover this city's captivating magic! Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Depart Venice at any time.