Ciao! Welcome to Italy. If you arrive early, hit the tiramisu hard as you touch down in Venice, land of gondolas and romantic sighing. In this little slice of old-world heaven, get lost in a maze of cobblestone streets and dance across the Piazza San Marco. Fancy a tipple? Prosecco is the drink of choice here; match it with a pasta fazool and embrace your inner Dean Martin. Now, ‘that’s amore.’
A grand city of canals, 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 only two ways to explore Venice - by boat or on foot. Some of the more popular sights include the Grand Canal, the shops of the Rialto Bridge, the Palace of the Doge (ruler of Venice), the Piazza and Basilica di San Marco and the Bridge of Sighs. Take the time to wander the narrow, cobblestone streets and spacious piazzas and cross the hundreds of tiny bridges, where shops, markets, galleries, churches and stunning buildings lie around every corner. You can't leave Venice without going on a classic Venetian gondola. It's a common way for visitors to see the major canal routes from a fascinating perspective.
Travel on a series of trains (approximately 5 hours) to the Liguria region. La Spezia, a medieval port town whose name is derived from its historic importance in the spice trade, will be your base for exploring the truly epic stretch of coast known as the Cinque Terre (approximately 30 minutes' train ride away). In La Spezia appreciate indulging in the foods of the Liguria region, which take advantage of the products of the Mediterranean. Pesto is a speciality, and is often served with pasta, green beans and potato. Focaccia is also a speciality, and makes a tasty start to lunch – team it up with some cheese and ham and you have a simple yet delicious picnic.
Cinque Terre’s colourful houses built into cliff faces are an amazing feat of engineering. Those Italians aren't afraid of nothin'. Hike along the famous paths between the villages. Olive groves and vineyards cover the mountains that plunge into the sea, so brace yourself for some crazy, crazy views. You can walk as many sections as you like, or jump on a train between any of the villages or get back to base in La Spezia whenever you want.
Board a train bound for Florence (approximately 3.5 hours). You'll arrive around mid-afternoon. Get a feel for the heart of Tuscany – birthplace of the renaissance, capital of Tuscany and cultural hub of dear Italia. It's brimming with religious monuments and Renaissance masterpieces. No wonder a third of Europe's fat-cat artists lived here back in the day! The minds and talents of the Medicis, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli, Donatello and Michelangelo all flourished here. Join your leader on a visit to the Mercato Centrale (the central market). Your leader will teach you some words in Italian, and then it's off to the various produce stalls for you to try your new language skills.
It's best to see the main sights of the 'outdoor museum' 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, Baptistry and Belltower and the Santa Croce Church. It's a dizzying list, but don't forget to visit the Uffizi, one of the world's oldest art galleries and a work of art in itself. And of course there's Michelangelo's super-famous statue of David in the Galleria dell'Accademia. What a guy.
Head to Rome by train (approximately 2 hours). Time for some Roman around. Arrive in Italy's capital and dive head-first into all it has to offer. 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. Don't miss the Colosseum, Arch of Constantine and the Forum (the centre of ancient Rome). And 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 so you can catch the awesome views from up there. The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are also well worth your time before.
On the last day it's time to say ciao to your new travel companions, and you're free to depart whenevs. If you have some more time in Rome why not join one of the Urban Adventures on offer in this great city. Check out urbanadventures.com for more details.