Enjoy a leisurely vacation with two-night stays in Rome, Venice, Florence, Nice, and Paris. A special welcome dinner with wine is included at a lively Roman restaurant, as well as guided sightseeing including St. Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum and the Forum in Rome. In Assisi, visit St. Francis’ Basilica, and a private boat ride is the perfect way to reach St. Mark’s Square with its Basilica and the Doges’ Palace in Venice. Stop in Ferrara, and admire de Este Castle. In Florence, a wine tasting, followed by dinner with traditional Tuscan specialties awaits you. And, of course, you will admire Michelangelo’s David. Enjoy a scenic drive along the Mediterranean via Pisa and its Leaning Tower, then follow the famous Moyenne Corniche and stay two nights in Nice on the French Riviera. A highlight visit to the famous artist town of St. Paul de Vence has been included—walk along the quaint street with its art galleries, and enjoy a glass of the local Pastis. Travel to Paris by high-speed TGV train, where a special dinner at one of Paris’ attractive restaurants awaits you. During sightseeing, a visit to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower has been included for a spectacular view of this amazing city.
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DAY 1Arrive in Rome, Italy
Welcome to Rome! At 6 pm, meet your Tour Director and traveling companions and leave the hotel for a welcome dinner with pasta and wine at one of Rome’s lively restaurants. (Dinner)
Sightseeing with your Local Guide starts with a visit to the VATICAN MUSEUMS and SISTINE CHAPEL, world famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings and The Last Judgement. Continue to monumental ST. PETER’S SQUARE and BASILICA. Cross the Tiber and visit the COLOSSEUM and the ROMAN FORUM, where Roman legions marched in triumph. To make the most of your stay, join our optional Roman Highlights excursion and see the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the sites and squares of medieval Rome made famous in the movie Angels and Demons. (Breakfast)
The Roman Forum
"Visitors can be a little confused by the Roman Forum; at first glance, it is a rather lifeless array of marble fragments. But we must remember that in ancient times, this space was far more than the temples and monuments whose ruins we can explore today. It was filled with bustling, noisy life as the popular crossroads of the city – the predecessor, in fact, of the modern Italian piazza. Every morning at dawn, average Romans would escape their cramped, dark apartment blocks (called insulae, or “islands”) and spent their days outdoors. "
"In the early 1500s, Rome was full of neglected ruins from the days of the ancient Empire, which still contained artworks buried amongst the rubble. The Renaissance had seen a sudden growth of interest in all things classical, and the popes – cultivated men who were in touch with the intellectual currents of the day – were the richest art collectors in Italy. They began offering substantial cash rewards for any sculptures, until Rome was scoured by freelance treasure hunters on the hunt for pagan masterpieces. The most dramatic discovery occurred in 1506, when a Roman father-and-son team of excavators reported a promising find near the ruined Baths of Titus. The artist Michelangelo himself excitedly hurried over to help with the work, followed by the pope’s official agent, Guiliano da Sangallo. When the excavators brushed away the dirt of 1,000 years, they found an enormous marble sculpture, perfectly intact, of a muscular Trojan hero being attacked by giant snakes. Guilano cried out in amazement, “This is the very Laocoön described by (the ancient Roman author) Pliny!” The sculpture was carted off to the Vatican Museum."
"Thanks to Hollywood recreations such as Gladiator, nothing symbolizes the cruelty of Imperial Rome as much as the Colosseum. In truth, the games held there were even more extreme and theatrical than modern film directors dare to suggest. A day at the Empire’s most famous arena was a total entertainment package, mixing bouts of savage violence with solemn religious pageantry, sexual titillation, slapstick comedy and kitschy stage shows."
"Rome is one of the most filmed cities on earth, with its signature set location being the Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain, a romantic, 85-foot-high baroque masterpiece depicting the god of the sea, Neptune, and his Tritons. Not surprisingly, the best time to visit Fontana di Trevi is late at night, when the crowds have gone, the din of Rome’s traffic has died and floodlights dance magically on the water. In fact, the whole centro storico takes on a calm, timeless aspect after dark, and it is well worth stretching your legs after dinner on your own Fellini-esque promenade."
Morning break in peaceful Assisi. Visit the massive 13th-century BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS built above the saint’s grave. Continue to the Adriatic coast and arrive in romantic Venice. Tonight is your chance to join an optional evening featuring a taxi boat ride along the Grand Canal followed by a traditional Venetian dinner. (Breakfast)
"Saint Francis may be Assisi’s most internationally famous son, the charismatic preacher who has been the subject of numerous bio-pics. But his female counterpart, Saint Clare, evokes almost as much devotion amongst Italians. Her life story reads like a medieval inversion of The Sound of Music: A beautiful young woman born into a wealthy family, she was betrothed at an early age to a dashing local noble and seemed destined for a conventional life of luxury and pleasure. But her future was transformed in 1210, when she saw the handsome young Francis, espousing the sacred virtues of poverty in the streets of Assisi. Clare immediately cut off her long golden hair, took a vow of celibacy, gave away all her fine clothes and began to dress in a simple cassock. She soon founded her own religious order for women, the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, which demonstrated a devotion to good works that matches the all-male Franciscan order of monks. In fact, she is often known to Catholics as alter Franciscus, another Francis."
Start sightseeing in style by PRIVATE BOAT and meet your Local Guide. Highlights of your walking tour are ST. MARK’S SQUARE and the Byzantine BASILICA, lavish DOGES’ PALACE and the BRIDGE OF SIGHS. Also watch skilled GLASSBLOWERS fashion their delicate objects in an age-old traditional manner. Later, you may wish to join an optional cruise to colorful Burano Island. (Breakfast)
Bridge of Sighs
"The world’s most poetically-named bridge, Il Ponte dei Sospiri, the Bridge of Sighs, was built in 1614 so that prisoners of the Venetian state could be transferred in secret from the Doge’s Palace to the so-called Nuovi Prigioni, or New Prisons. The wistful name was actually conceived by the English poet Lord Byron in the early 1800s that imagined the horror of prisoners taking their last glimpse of Venice before going underground to captivity. "
In Ferrara, stroll through imposing Este Castle to the marble cathedral, before continuing across the wooded Apennine Mountains into Tuscany to Florence, “Cradle of the Renaissance.” Enter Piazza Santa Croce, and check out the enticing shops with Florentine leather goods and gold jewelry before meeting at restaurant Casa Toscana, where a wine tasting, followed by dinner with traditional Tuscan specialties awaits you. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Your guided walking tour features a visit to the ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS with Michelangelo’s celebrated David. Admire the magnificent cathedral, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Baptistry’s heavy bronze “Gate of Paradise,” and visit sculpture-studded SIGNORIA SQUARE. Choose from our exciting optional excursions to enhance your stay. (Breakfast)
La Piazza Della Signoria
"What’s the best vantage point to ponder the most illustrious town square in Florence, the Signoria? An outdoor table in the venerable Caffè Rivoire – preferably over a delicious, if not painfully expensive cioccolata con pane, a dark and mud-thick hot chocolate. Late at night, when the crowds have gone, you can search the long shadows and imagine that very little has changed here since the 1400s. The Signoria is the most elegant sculpture garden in Europe. Masterpieces include the splendid Neptune Fountain by Ammannati, Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli and a precise copy of Michelangelo’s David, all strategically poised in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. This grand public space has been the centerpiece of Florence since the 15th Century, the golden age when the city was established as the most beautiful in Europe. Eminent merchants in their ostentatious finery met here to discuss business in the midst of Florence’s raucous daily life."
DAY 7Florence–Pisa–Nice, France
In Pisa, marvel at the amazing Leaning Tower, 180 feet high and 12 feet out of the perpendicular. Then, drive past a string of Italian and French Riviera resorts towards the Principality of Monaco. Leave the highway for the panoramic Moyenne Corniche to arrive in Nice. (Breakfast)
"It was the most perfect experiment in the history of science. Holding both a cannon ball and a small musket ball, the 30-something Pisa native Galileo Galilei scaled the steps of his city’s famous Leaning Tower, and held them dramatically over the edge. Eight stories below, the town’s most learned scholars and priests were gathered as observers. They watched as the two balls dropped to the ground at the same speed – disproving, with a single stroke, the ancient idea that objects fall at different rates depending on their weight and size. This archaic concept, which had been espoused by the ancient Greek author Aristotle, had been accepted without question for more than 2,000 years, Galileo’s great innovation was to put it to a practical test of observation. Unfortunately, this famous story is probably not true. Galileo never wrote about it himself – it was recounted in a late biography penned by his secretary, Vincenzo Viviani. Most historians now believe that it was Galileo’s imaginative disciples who invented the Leaning Tower tale in order to make the theory so clear that even a child could understand it. "
DAY 8Nice. Excursion to St. Paul De Vence
A highlight visit this morning to the picturesque hilltop town of St. Paul de Vence. Marvel at the many art galleries, and relax with a glass of pastis at a local terrace, where you may see the locals play pétanque (lawn bowling). Return to Nice for a lazy afternoon to dabble in the blue Mediterranean or to stroll along the elegant Promenade des Anglais. An optional outing is available tonight to Monte Carlo. (Breakfast)
Transfer to the railway station and board the high-speed TGV TRAIN to Paris. Meet your Local Guide and take the elevator to the second floor of Paris’ most famous landmark: the EIFFEL TOWER. This evening, a special dinner with wine has been included at a local restaurant where you can try out local specialties like escargots, soupe à l’oignon, boeuf bourguignon, and others. Afterwards, why not join an optional drive through the “City of Light?” (Breakfast, Dinner)
Discover the world capital of chic and style with a Local Guide and admire its most famous sights: the Opéra, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées, and more. Optional excursions to the magnificent Louvre Museum to admire the Mona Lisa, and the lavish baroque Palace and Gardens of Versailles are available. Tonight, an optional evening out for dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge may be the best way to say, “Au revoir, Paris.” (Breakfast)
There’s more than one way to conquer the world. The flabby, charismatic “Sun King,” Louis XIV, knew that he could impress the French people with his insanely lavish royal lifestyle, but he also wanted to make his mark on Europe. Throughout his 55 year rule in the 17th Century, he campaigned vigorously to establish Paris as the continent’s capital of style, promoting its gourmet food and wine, haute couture, cutting-edge perfumes, opulent furnishings and exquisite jewelry. Every new innovation required Louis’ personal imprimatur, making him the world’s first fashion dictator. Author Joan DeJean claimed in “The Essence of Style” that Louis’ devotion to elegance has shaped the culture of indulgence today – “Without the Sun King’s program for defining France as the land of luxury in glamour, there would never have been a Stork Club, a Bergdorf Goodman, a Chez Panisse or a Christophe of Beverly Hills.”
Today, a thick pane of bullet-proof security glass keeps artlovers a safe distance from the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco Giacondo,” known in French as “La Joconde” and English as the “Mona Lisa.” But back in 1911, it was simply hung on the walls of the Musée du Louvre like any other canvas. That was until a former museum employee named Vincenzo Perrugia strolled into the gallery before opening hours on August 21, noticed the room was empty, took down the Mona Lisa and walked out of the Louvre with it under a painting smock. When the loss was finally noticed, the police were mystified. For two years, the whereabouts of the masterpiece was unknown, while French detectives made various wild guesses. (It had been stolen by the Germans. By anarchists. By evil geniuses. By lunatics.) They actually arrested the country’s top art critic, Guillame Apollinaire, then let him free. Then, out of the blue in 1913, an Italian art dealer in Florence was contacted by a man calling himself “Leonardo” who claimed to have the Mona Lisa and wanted to see it hang in the Uffizi, Italy’s top art museum. Although he found it hard to believe that the thief could be so reckless, the dealer tipped off the police and agreed to meet the strange Leonardo in a Milan hotel room. There, the nondescript fellow opened his suitcase, emptied out his socks and underwear, opened up a false bottom in the case to reveal the Mona Lisa – and was immediately arrested.
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (Breakfast)
Motorcoach with free Wi-Fi; private boat ride in Venice; high-speed first-class TGV train
ROME Grand Hotel Beverly Hills (F)VENICE Carlton on the Grand Canal (F)FLORENCE Starhotels Michelangelo (SF)NICE AC Hotel Nice (F)PARIS Marriott Paris Rive Gauche (SF)
Full buffet breakfast daily; 3 three-course dinners with wine in Florence, Rome and Paris
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Years of Experience: 13 years
A European tour is very educational and lots of fun. It is always enjoyable to see guests return home with thousands of beautiful pictures and wonderful memories. My greatest satisfaction as a Tour Director has always been that I can let my guests not only see a city, but also feel and experience the absolute magic of a city like Paris. That cannot be found in any guidebook or on the Internet!
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UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The following UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be seen or visited on the The Best of Italy & France:
- Paris Banks of the Seine
- Vatican City
- Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco
- Ferrara, City of the Renaissance
- Historic Centre of Florence
- Historic Centre of Rome
- Venice and its Lagoon