ROME Welcome dinner with wine at a local restaurant; guided sightseeing, visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum, see the Holy Stairs, visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Square and BasilicaFLORENCE Guided walking tour, visit Michelangelo’s David, the cathedral, and Signoria SquarePISA Marvel at the legendary Leaning Tower VENICE Private boat ride; guided walking tour, visit St. Mark’s Square and Basilica, Doges’ Palace and the Bridge of Sighs; glassblower demonstrationFERRARA Guided visit of Este CastleASSISI Guided walking tour, visit St. Clare’s Church and St. Francis’ BasilicaANCONA-PATRAS Overnight crossing in two-berth cabins with private facilities OLYMPIA Guided walking tour of the archaeological site including the Gymnasium and the museumDELPHI Sirtaki dance lessons with a glass of Ouzo; guided walking tour of the excavations and the Archaeological MuseumATHENS Guided sightseeing, visit the Acropolis; farewell dinner with wineHeadsets throughout the tour
DAY 1Arrive in Rome, Italy
Welcome to Rome! At 6 pm, meet your Tour Director and traveling companions, and leave the hotel for a special welcome dinner with pasta and wine at one of Rome’s lively restaurants. (Dinner)
Sightseeing with your Local Guide concentrates on ancient Rome. Visit the COLOSSEUM and the ROMAN FORUM, where Roman legions marched in triumph. Continue to Rome’s main cathedral, St. John’s Lateran, to see the HOLY STAIRS, Scala Sancta, supposed to have been brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. Officially, these 28 marble steps may only be ascended on the knees. To make the most of your stay, join our optional Roman Highlights excursion and see 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. "
"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."
Start 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. Next is Florence, the splendid capital of Tuscany and the “Cradle of the Renaissance.” Tonight, an optional dinner at a typical Tuscan restaurant can be arranged. (Breakfast)
"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."
Follow your Local Guide to the ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS with Michelangelo’s David, and the magnificent CATHEDRAL. Admire Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry’s “Gate of Paradise,” and sculpture-studded SIGNORIA SQUARE. Afternoon and evening at leisure. (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."
In Pisa, marvel at the amazing Leaning Tower, 180 feet high and no less than 12 feet out of the perpendicular. Then, straight across the wooded Etruscan Apennine Mountains to Venice, city of romantics. (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. "
Enter in style by PRIVATE BOAT. Highlights of your guided walking tour this morning 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. Then, enjoy Venice at your own pace or join an optional gondola ride through the maze of little canals. (Breakfast, Dinner)
"It is no accident that one of history’s greatest explorers, Marco Polo, came from Venice. His hometown had been Europe’s gateway to the East long before he set sail in 1271; the influence of the Orient could be seen in its art, its fashion and its architecture, creating, in the words of one historian, “the most colorful, sumptuous, and sensually bewitching civilization that history has ever known.” Thanks to Venetian conquests in the eastern Mediterranean, the 17-year-old Marco had the first leg of his travel route mapped out for him – he was able to island-hop through friendly territory as far as Constantinople, from there he was seduced by China for more than 20 years. When Polo returned to Venice in 1295 as a bearded and vaguely Eastern middle aged man, even his relatives did not believe he had been in China the entire time."
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, a special guided visit has been arranged for you to ESTE CASTLE, former residence of the ruling Este family, one of whom was married to Lucrezia Borgia. As Ferrara is very close to the River Po, over the centuries the city has been threatened by floods. You can still see how high the water level came in the past. Also admire the marble cathedral before continuing to peaceful Assisi. A walking tour with a Local Guide features ST. CLARE’S CHURCH and ST. FRANCIS’ BASILICA, the hub of a religious order devoted to ideals of humility, forgiveness, simplicity, and love for God’s creatures. Hear about monastic life and admire the priceless frescoes adorning the walls of the church. (Breakfast, Dinner)
"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."
DAY 8Assisi–Ancona–Overnight Cruise to Patras, Greece
In Ancona, board your high-speed FERRY for your overnight CRUISE across the Adriatic Sea to Greece. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Dock at Patras and continue by motorcoach to Olympia, a sanctuary and a national shrine to the Greeks in classical times. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Focus on Olympia, where the athletes of antiquity performed in honor of the king of deities. Learn about the history of those original Olympic Games as you walk with your Local Guide among the impressive remains of the GYMNASIUM and the Temples of Hera and Zeus. Visit the MUSEUM, which displays a magnificent statue of Hermes. In the afternoon, proceed to mythical Delphi. Tonight, a special highlight: a DANCING LESSON, where you’ll learn how to dance the Sirtaki, made famous in the movie Zorba the Greek. Also enjoy a glass of Ouzo, a traditional drink in Greece. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Ancient Olympia: The Origins of the Games
"While centuries of weather and wear have left the site of the original Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece, in ruins, you can easily imagine the 30,000-seat stadium packed with fans. As you venture here, a palpable sense of the incredible feats that occurred on this hallowed ground will overtake you. The first Olympic Games were part of a religious festival held in honor of Zeus in 776 B.C. and were open to all male Greeks (and later, Romans). Athletes traveled to Olympia from as far away as Iberia (Spain) in the east and the Black Sea (Turkey) in the west. And while Greek city-states were often at odds with each other, a sacred truce during the games helped channel their hostile opposition into athletic competition instead. The ancient Olympic festival lasted five days and included wrestling, chariot and horse racing, the pentathlon and the pancratium (a vicious form of no-hols-barred boxing)."
Morning visit with a Local Guide to the ancient sanctuary of the god Apollo in its dramatic setting on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Hear about the Oracle and tour the EXCAVATIONS. Also visit the ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM to admire the Charioteer of Delphi, an extraordinary 5th-century BC bronze statue. On your way to Athens, your Tour Director will tell you about Thebes, the setting of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and Marathon, where 10,000 Athenians defeated more than twice that number of Persian invaders in 490 BC. You may wish to join an optional dinner outing to one of Plaka’s tavernas with cool Retsina wines and folk dancing. (Breakfast)
Tour the capital’s classical sites with a Local Guide: the Parthenon’s crowning beauty atop the ACROPOLIS, the Erechtheum with its Porch of Maidens, the beautifully preserved Theseum, Roman Temple of Zeus, Theater of Dionysus, and the Agora where Socrates taught. Vistas of the Royal Palace, government buildings, and elegant homes in the modern city provide a striking contrast to the remains of a glorious past. Exciting optional evening excursions are available. (Breakfast)
DAY 13At Leisure in Athens
A full day at leisure to give you a chance to enjoy an optional day cruise to the islands of Aegina, Hydra, and Poros. This evening, a farewell dinner with wine has been prepared at your hotel to celebrate the success of your vacation. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (Breakfast)
Motorcoach with free Wi-Fi; private boat ride in Venice; overnight cruise
Full buffet breakfast daily; 7 three-course dinners, including special dinners with wine in Rome and Athens