Buongiorno! Welcome to Italy. Crowded with ancient ruins and religious monuments, Rome still pulses to the beat of modern life and is packed with designer shops, restaurants, cafes and exciting nightlife. If you arrive early there are plenty of things to keep you busy. Maybe save the unmissable sights for tomorrow morning and today do as the Romans do – sip an espresso at one of the tiny streetside cafes and sample the many flavours of gelato that colour the city. For those captivated by the 'Eternal City', throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return visit to Rome.
Enjoy some free time in Rome or, if you wish, your group leader will be available for an orientation walk, taking in some of the best-known sights of Rome like the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and the Roman Forum. No visit would be complete without a trip to Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica. Entry to the Basilica is free and there's a small charge to climb the dome for a breath-taking panorama over Bella Roma. If there's time, visit the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. In the afternoon you'll travel by train from Rome to Florence, Italy's ‘outdoor museum’ (approximately 2 hours). Florence, the cultural heart of Tuscany, bursts with religious treasures and Renaissance masterpieces. It's been said that during the second millennium, a third of Europe's most important artists lived in Florence. The minds and talents of the Medicis, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli, Donatello and Michelangelo all flourished here. After checking in to your hotel, the rest of your evening is free to explore the city of the Renaissance. Food is also a major part of the city's identity, so perhaps explore some of the culinary delicacies on offer from across Tuscany.
Today is a free day for you to explore all that Florence has to offer. It's impossible to see everything in this Renaissance wonderland, however, so take your time and enjoy it. The principal sights are easily discovered on foot – the Pitti Palace, the Ponte Vecchio, the Arno River front, the many statues and monuments of the Piazza della Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio, the 13th-century Duomo (with its fiery depiction of the Last Judgement), the Baptistry and the Belltower, and the Santa Croce Church. Visit the Uffizi, one of the world's oldest art galleries and a work of art itself. See Michelangelo's famous statue of David in the Galleria dell'Accademia. In the evening, join your leader for a picnic and climb uphill to Piazzale Michelangelo for that most photographed of all sunset views across the rooftops of Florence. Then join the locals in taking a passeggiata, a leisurely socialising stroll, perhaps between piazza Beccaria and piazza della Repubblica.
No doubt there'll be more to see in Florence this morning, then this afternoon you’ll take a train to Lucca (approximately 2 hours). Lucca is one of Tuscany's real hidden gems, with centuries-old buildings, beautiful churches, charming piazzas and narrow streets within the ancient city ramparts. You’ll be captivated by this medieval town, which simply radiates charm. In Lucca, you’ll stay in some unique accommodation – your own private apartments. Staying in the city centre allows easy access to all the sights, restaurants and bars, all an easy stroll from your front door. The kitchen is fully equipped and you can choose to buy your own beautiful local ingredients and supplies for meals. During their stay, some of our groups make Italian feasts with produce from around the area.
Set off on a cycling tour following the scenic Serchio River through the Tuscan countryside (4 kilometres round the walls that are now a tree-lined avenue, and 14 kilometres by the river, approximately 3-4 hours). There are cafes and plenty of spots for a Tuscan picnic along the route. Your base in Lucca provides you with the perfect opportunity for a later outing to the nearby city of Pisa (approximately 30 minutes by local train). Here there'll be ample time for you to visit the quirky world-famous Leaning Tower, as well as the Duomo (Piazza dei Miracoli, once the largest in Europe) and Pisa Baptistry (please note that it's not always possible to climb the tower). The tower was built in the 12th century, but its foundation was on shifting sand and clay, meaning that it now leans at an angle of 4 degrees (after restoration and stabilising work). Wander the shopping streets, from high-end boutiques to speciality book and antiques stores, and perhaps enjoy an aperitif. Back in Lucca, a way to end the day is to head to a local bar for a refreshing Prosecco and a delicious focaccia with finocchiona salami and pecorino cheese, in the shadow of the Palazzo Pretorio.
Today is a free day in Lucca to take in all the sights that this city has to offer. Wander to the former Roman amphitheatre found off Via Fillungo. The remains of the amphitheatre are gone, but the medieval houses now standing in its place follow the outline where the spectator stands once were. Here, in what’s now called Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, there are many outdoor cafes where you can sit down and see the world go by and do a spot of people watching. Also here, 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus formed a coalition government to rule Rome. Make sure you also head to Foro Square to see the majestically constructed San Michele church, built over the ancient Roman forum and rich in artwork, and make a stop at the 14th century Duomo di San Martino, a splendid example of Romanesque architecture. Inside you’ll find the tomb of and monument to Ilaria del Carretto, carved by Jacopo della Quercia – it’s a masterpiece that dates back to the 15th century. Also, it might be 25 flights of stair to climb to the top of the Guinigi Tower, but the views are worth it. The tower also makes for a great sight in itself as it has trees growing on its roof!
Travel by train to La Spezia (approximately 3 hours), an important naval base that’s now the gateway to the gorgeous Cinque Terre, or ‘Five lands’ in English. A medieval port town whose name is derived from its historic importance in the spice trade, La Spezia is your base for exploring the nearby stunning stretch of coast known as the Cinque Terre (approximately 30 minutes by train). The name comes from the five tiny villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – whose position, wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs, makes it one of the highlights of the whole of Italy. After lunch, explore the city or perhaps head out by ferry or bus to the pretty seaside town of Portovenere, known for its colourful houses straddling the waterfront. Return to La Spezia and walk around the pedestrian zone on Via del Prione to the gardens along the harbour. Or opt to take another ferry to Lerici, another small village across the Bay of Poets dominated by its castle, for dinner.
This morning venture out on the footpaths of Cinque Terre (Five Lands), a region of Italy famed for its coastline and pastel villages on mountains that plunge into the sea. The footpaths that run between the villages were once the only way to travel in the region, and take you through olive groves, vineyards and on to idyllic, breath-taking vistas. If you're feeling energetic, walking the entire path (12 kilometres, approximately 5 hours) will give you the best taste of the villages and countryside, though will require a good level of fitness. You can also choose to walk just a few sections, which will still unveil a great amount of majestic scenery. Some sections of path can be difficult, as there are challenging uphill stretches, narrow paths, steep cliffs and foot bridges. Please remember to bring comfortable footwear such as trainers or light hiking shoes. It's also possible to take the train between any of the villages or back to the group's base in La Spezia whenever you want.
Travel by train to Santa Margherita on the Peninsula of Portofino (approximately 1 hour). Store your luggage and set off on an energetic 5-7 kilometre walk, finishing at the glamorous resort of Portofino. Wander down the waterfront, past the small fishing and pleasure boats in the busy marina, and enjoy great views back over to the town. Continue along the road, passing the beach clubs, private villas and hotels that command stunning vistas over where the hills of the Italian Riviera meet the bays and inlets of the Bay of Tigullio. Spot the locals sunbathing in the coves and cross through a pretty forest with some gentle ups and downs. Descend down to the pretty port of Portofino, famed as the place where the rich and famous come to live La Dolce Vita. Continue up to the marvellous lookouts surrounding the town for unparalleled views, or join the glamorous for coffee and people-watching at the harbour. Then enjoy the fabulous coastal scenery with a boat ride back to Santa Margherita (weather permitting). Continue by train to Asti (approximately 2.5 hours) in the Piedmont region, where mouth-watering culinary delights await. Be sure to try a dish flavoured with truffle, and quaff divine Italian wines celebrated the world over.
Today you’ll take a bus to the green hills of the nearby rural village of Castagnole Monferrato, where you’ll visit the home of a local winemaking family to sample their vintages and learn about the grapes. The Ruche grape variety is unique to this region of Italy – it's grown in just seven small villages in the province of Asti and produces a ruby-red, intense and aromatic wine. After the wine tasting there is the option to enjoy a home-cooked lunch in the village, before returning by bus back to Asti. The town of Asti, located in the Piedmont region, was one of the most important towns in medieval times, sitting on trade routes between Turin, Milan, and Genoa. Signs of the city's former wealth can be seen in the remaining defensive towers, the impressive churches and fine squares, but today it’s best known as the home of some of the finest and most sought after wines in Europe – excellent reds and the sparkling white ‘spumante’. It's also the best place to find ‘tartufo’ (truffles), a distinctive regional delicacy. You may be lucky enough to be here on a market day, when the Piazza del Palio hosts the region’s largest open-air market.
Travel by train to Milan (approximately 3 hours), Italy's second largest city and the capital of Lombardy, Italy's wealthiest province. You’ll stop here for a few hours. In this most fashionable of cities, this is the place for stylish shopping and cafes – Milanese specialities! Explore the city's historic centre, visit the city's most famous building, the Gothic Duomo, and walk between its rooftop sculptures, admiring the views and the stunning Gothic terrace. Most will want to visit Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece, The Last Supper, if there's time – see below for details. After half a day in Milan, late in the afternoon continue by train and bus to Lake Como (approximately 2 hours), an area of stunning beauty full of unique and evocative landscapes. Arrive in Como and head up to your base in the small town of Cadenabbia. This small town has a feeling of exclusivity and seclusion, and your accommodation sits right on the lake with incredible views.
This morning, board a ferry to travel across the blue waters of Lake Como to the pretty village of Bellagio. Here you can enjoy a walk through the countryside and discover the estate of the Villa Melzi. This grand white villa sits just back from the water and its surrounding estate is filled with a plethora of rare and exotic plant life. The rest of the day is free to take the ferry between the various parts of this area of Lake Como, like Varenna, Cadenabbia, or the beautiful Villa Balbianello, which film fans may recognise from films such as Casino Royale or Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Villa Carlotta is another waterfront villa open to the public, a former marquis’s mansion dating from the late 17th century that today functions as a museum. It holds a wealth of artwork and is surrounded by acres of romantic Italian gardens. Just past Cadenabbia is Tremezzo, where you can find a place for food or an aperitif, sitting dockside, lakeside, or out on a veranda. Simply walking lakeside and admiring the beautiful views whichever way you turn is a wonderful way to spend the day. Be sure to fill up on fine Italian fare tonight.
Leave the lakes behind and head for another watery wonderland, taking the train to Venice (approximately 6 hours). This grand city of bridges, towers, piazzas, canals, churches and gondolas – practically unchanged for 600 years – is literally sinking under the weight of its iconic sights. Venice is built over a hundred small islands connected by 400 bridges. Still rich with artistic masterpieces, modern Venice combines history with contemporary life through food, performance, art and architecture. There are plenty of things to keep you busy when you arrive. Take a walk around the maze of streets behind San Marco Square and begin to understand the complex canal system of Venice. The Grand Canal is a great place to start, as you can stroll over the Rialto Bridge and browse the endless amounts of boutique shops that sell Venetian masks and handmade Murano glassware. For dinner, perhaps seek out Venice's distinctive culinary heritage, which goes back to ancient times and features rich risottos, saline baccala (salted cod) and creamy polenta.
Venture out and explore Venice today. There are only two ways to get around this city – on foot or by boat. Take in the famous sights – the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, Doge's Palace (the ruler of Venice), the Piazza San Marco with its golden Basilica, and of course, the evocative Bridge of Sighs. Take the vaporetto (water bus) over to the island of San Giorgio to climb the bell tower for the best view of Venice. No trip here would be complete without a journey down the Grand Canal in a Venetian gondola. While away your day in the busy San Marco square and be sure to try the local tiramisu and Italian coffee. There’s creativity everywhere, overflowing into the canals; see it in the Venetian glass in Dorsoduro or down the streets spreading out from the Campo Santo Stefano. Visit the Palazzo Ducale, overflowing with paintings by Italian masters, and contrast it with the modern Guggenheim. Simply enjoy getting lost and uncovering your own slice of Venice. In the evening, maybe gather your fellow travellers for a final group dinner of Venetian specialities like fresh lobster and squid ink spaghetti dishes.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. As there is so much to see in Venice you may want to consider extending your stay. We are happy to book additional accommodation for you, subject to availability. Please enquire at the time of booking.