ROME Welcome and farewell dinners with wine at a local restaurant; guided sightseeing, visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square & Basilica, and the Colosseum and Roman ForumPISA Marvel at the legendary Leaning Tower FLORENCE Guided walking tour, visit Michelangelo’s David, and Signoria SquareLUGANO & LOCARNO (SWITZERLAND) Visit the subtropical townsLAKE MAGGIORE Boat ride to the Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori, followed by dinner with wine (departures March 26-October15)MILAN Orientation, see the Galleria, walk through the fashion districtVERONA See Juliet’s balcony and the Arena (all departures except March 26-October 15)VENICE Private boat ride; guided walking tour, visit St. Mark’s Square & Basilica, Doges’ Palace, Bridge of Sighs; glassblower demonstration PADUA Walking tour, visit the Piazza delle Erbe and St. Anthony’s Basilica; enjoy a cappuccino at the Pedrocchi CaféASSISI Guided sightseeing, visit St. Clare’s Church and St. Francis’ BasilicaSORRENTO-CAPRI By jetfoilCAPRI Guided visit of Capri village, including a funicular ridePOMPEII Guided walking tour of the excavations Headsets throughout tour
- Departures January 22, February 19, October 22-December 17 and January 21-February 18 (2014) overnight in Milan instead of Lake Maggiore. Dinner on day 5 not included. Lugano, Locarno, and Lake Maggiore replaced with Verona visit on day 7
- Departure December 17 Christmas Eve in Venice, dinner included
DAY 1Arrive in Rome, Italy
Welcome to Rome! At 5 pm, meet your Tour Director and traveling companions for a special welcome dinner with wine at one of Rome’s lively restaurants. (Dinner)
Morning guided sightseeing features visits to the VATICAN MUSEUMS and SISTINE CHAPEL, world famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings, monumental ST. PETER’S SQUARE and BASILICA, and 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. (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."
Marvel at the amazing Leaning Tower in Pisa, then on to Florence. Tonight is your chance to join an optional dinner to try out Tuscan specialties. (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. "
Follow your Local Guide to the ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS and see Michelangelo’s David. Admire the magnificent cathedral, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry’s “Gate of Paradise,” and sculpture-studded SIGNORIA SQUARE, and see Ponte Vecchio. To enhance your stay, optional excursions are available to the magnificent Uffizi Gallery and to San Gimignano, Italy’s most picturesque medieval town. (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."
"As the Nazis retreated from Florence during the Second World War, they blew up all of the bridges across the River Arno except one – the Ponte Vecchio. It was evidently saved on Hitler’s personal orders. This was where he had met the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1938, cementing the “pact of steel” alliance. The Führer had been so impressed by the elegant “Old Bridge,” which had graced the spot since being built in stone in 1345, that he decided to save it. The German army instead blew up all of the ancient buildings on either side, so that the bridge could not be used by the Allies, but the Ponte Vecchio itself was salvaged for posterity."
"While the Uffizi Museum is world famous, few of the millions of visitors wandering its luminous corridors realize how much we really owe to its architect, Giorgio Vasari – a figure who defined our very notion of the Renaissance. A true Renaissance man in our modern definition of the term, Vasari was an accomplished painter and an inspired designer, but his true genius was actually as a writer. In 1550, he published Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects of Italy, a classic of biography from which much of our knowledge of the Renaissance artists is drawn."
DAY 5Florence–Lugano, Switzerland–Locarno–Lake Maggiore, Italy
North across the Apennine hills and through the flat Po area to the Swiss border. In Lugano, enjoy a leisurely break to stroll along the spectacular lake or on Via Nassa, or sip an espresso on Piazza Riforma. Via Locarno, at the northern tip of Lake Maggiore, arrive in elegant Stresa. (Breakfast, Dinner)
DAY 6Lake Maggiore. Boat Trip to Isola Madre & Isola Dei Pescatori
A leisurely morning with the chance to join an optional excursion to the baroque palace and peacock gardens of enchanting Isola Bella. Later, join an exciting BOAT CRUISE to the Isola Madre, with its botanical garden, and to Isola dei Pescatori, where a dinner of local specialties awaits you. (Breakfast, Dinner)
"Isola Bella. Beautiful Island. Rising out of the waters of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, a gardener’s paradise awaits. When Count Carlo Borromeo decided to give his wife, Isabella, a gift back in 1632, he was thinking big. The expansive island villa and garden he planned for her are considered the epitome of Baroque-style architecture and garden design. With terraces built straight to the water’s edge, the island appears as if it is a floating flowering ship. Many of the rooms are of notable historical interest, like the Music Room, where Mussolini hosted the Stresa Conference in 1935 that should have ensured peace in Europe, and Napoleon’s Room, where he often stayed in the company of Giuseppina Beauharnais."
DAY 7Lake Maggiore–Milan–Venice Island
Stop in Milan, the commercial capital of Italy, for an orientation featuring its gothic Duomo, glass-domed GALLERIA, and famed La Scala Opera House. Of course, you will enjoy a walk on Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga, Milan’s famous fashion district. Arrive in romantic Venice, and enter in style by PRIVATE BOAT. Maybe an optional gondola ride tonight? (Breakfast)
DAY 8Venice Island
Highlights of your guided walking tour are ST. MARK’S SQUARE and the Byzantine BASILICA, lavish DOGES’ PALACE and the BRIDGE OF SIGHS. Then, watch skilled GLASSBLOWERS fashion their delicate objects in the age-old manner. A wonderful optional excursion is available 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. "
DAY 9Venice Island–Padua–Assisi
In Padua, walk to the Piazza delle Erbe and visit ST. ANTHONY’S BASILICA. Next, enjoy a cappuccino at the popular Pedrocchi Café. Arrive in peaceful Assisi. (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."
Meet your Local Guide and visit ST. CLARE’S CHURCH and ST. FRANCIS’ BASILICA, built on top of his tomb. Leave the province of Umbria and turn south to the charming, bayside resort of Sorrento. (Breakfast)
DAY 11Sorrento. Excursion to Capri
Speed across the bay by JETFOIL to the Isle of Capri. Ride the FUNICULAR to Capri village for a guided visit of this pretty town. Free time to explore the little shops on the piazzetta before returning to Sorrento. The remainder of the day is at leisure. (Breakfast)
"Rising like a whale from the ocean, the spectacular island of Capri has held a particular attraction for celebrities trying to “get away from it all” over the centuries. In former times, it lured the writers Goethe, Oscar Wilde and Graham Greene; these days, it attracts American stars like Leonardo di Caprio, Harrison Ford and Mariah Carey. But Capri first became famous in 26 AD, when the Roman Emperor Tiberius “dropped out” here to escape the political in-fighting in Rome. For 16 years, he ruled the Empire from his luxurious cliff-side palace – flashing his orders to the mainland via a lighthouse. Protected by 500 foot cliffs, Capri had only one landing point, and his villa, located on a remote headland offered sweeping 300 degree views of the ocean. B"
Stop for a guided visit of POMPEII, the Roman city both destroyed and preserved by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This evening, back in the “Eternal City,” a special farewell dinner with wine awaits you as a proper way to say, “Arrivederci, Roma!” (Breakfast, Dinner)
"While wandering the superbly-preserved streets of Pompeii keep an eye out for the cauponae or early fast-food restaurants beloved by the ancient Romans. Located on several corners and looking like open-air bars, these one-room establishments were where busy citizens could grab a quick meal and glass of wine on the run. They were identified by colorful signs over their doors (one place excavated in Pompeii had a Phoenix, another, an elephant and pygmy). And like modern coffee bars in Italy today, customers stood at an L-shaped brick counter to order. There were jars full of hot and cold food, as well as amphorae of wine, which they could consume on the spot or take out to a few wooden seats provided on the street or, in some cases, a small back garden."
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (Breakfast)
Motorcoach with free Wi-Fi; private boat rides on Lake Maggiore and Venice; jetfoil; funicular ride in Capri
Full buffet breakfast daily; 5 three-course dinners, including special welcome and farewell dinners with wine in Rome and a special dinner with wine at Lake Maggiore (except departures January 22, February 19, October 22-December 17 and January 21-February 18, 2014 that have 4 three-course dinners included)