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Visit the most sacred places in Italy as you travel from Venice to Sicily, via the Umbrian hilltop towns of Gubbio and Assisi. Continue to Italy's 'Eternal City' of Rome and learn about the catastrophic fate of Pompeii. Soak up the sunshine in beautiful Amalfi. See the smoke gently floating from the volcanoes of the Aeolian Islands - Calabria is a hidden gem for those who stray off Italy's beaten path. Discover this less-visited part of the country before delving into the spectacular sights of bustling Sicily, volcanic valleys of Mt. Etna, timeworn streets of Syracuse, and rich anti-mafia history of Palermo. This trip offers the chance to delve into history, culture and cuisine and to live a little of la dolce vita.
Day 1: Venice
Welcome to Venice. This watery wonderland of bridges, towers, piazzas, canals, churches and gondolas – practically unchanged for 600 years – is literally sinking under the weight of its iconic sights. There are no activities planned before tonight's group meeting, so if you arrive early there are plenty of things to keep you busy. 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. After the meeting, why not enjoy dinner with your fellow travel companions at a local restaurant.
Day 2: Venice
After an orientation walk to familiarise you with the city, you are free to venture out and explore Venice. There are only two ways to get around this city – on foot or by boat. Some of the more popular sights include Doge's Palace, the Piazza and Basilica di San Marco, and the 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. It's a common way for visitors to see the major canal routes from an immersive perspective. While away your day in the busy San Marco square and be sure to try the local tiramisu and Italian coffee that's on offer. There’s creativity everywhere, overflowing into the canals; see it in the venetian glass in Dorsoduro or down the streets spreading out from Campo Santo Stefano, lined with unique galleries and small boutiques. Visit the Palazzo Ducale, overflowing with paintings by Italian masters, and contrast it with the modern Guggenheim. Simply enjoy getting lost crossing the hundreds of bridges and uncovering your own slice of Venice. In the evening, perhaps join your fellow travellers for a group dinner at a local restaurant. Venice is famous for its specialities of fresh lobster and squid ink spaghetti dishes, so make sure you give one a try.
Day 3: Assisi
Take a train and bus combination south to Assisi, Italy's second-holiest city (approximately 5 hours). Assisi was the home of one of the world's most famous saints and the founder of the Franciscan order – St Francis. Whatever your feelings about religion, it's a place which inspires reverence. Join your group leader on an orientation walk to uncover a plethora of impressive monuments in Assisi, including Piazza Matteotti, the Basilica of St Clare and the Roman temple remains. Take a short guided tour of the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco (St Francis Cathedral). You’ll be led by a member of the Franciscan community, who will explain the life and times of St Francis and the beautiful art inside the church. Construction of the basilica started the day after St Francis's canonisation in 1228, and this imposing building houses the bones of St Francis and four of his followers. In your free time, you could walk four kilometres up a small trail to the top of Monte Subasio, home to the Eremodelle Carceri, a hermitage where Francis came to pray. That activity will work up an appetite for all the pasta you can eat tonight.
Day 4: Spello / Assisi
Today you’ll take the train to the charming nearby medieval town of Spello (approximately 20 minutes), a Roman town that straddles a thin ridge at the base of Mount Subasio – the mountain where St Francis was said to have talked to the animals. It’s a place scattered with weathered Roman monuments and known for its wine and rural charm. Two of the local churches feature frescoes by famed Renaissance painter Pinturicchio, who later lent his hand to works in the Vatican and Siena’s cathedral. Sample exclusive local wine and regional food specialties here when you lunch at a local enoteca. Mushrooms like tartufo and porcini make up the base of many pasta and risotto dishes, while whole stuffed pig with rosemary is a signature dish of the region. Return to Assisi in the late afternoon with some free time to further explore this unique town. Walk the via Guila that circles town, and stop by Piazza Santa Chiara – which has a stunning panorama of the Umbrian countryside – and Piazza del Comune, which gives an insight into life here in Roman times. It’ll be very hard not to spend the whole evening simply continuing the day’s foodie theme and indulge on the region’s fabulous food.
Day 5: Gubbio
Take a bus to the medieval hill-top town of Gubbio (approximately 2,5 hours). The streets of Gubbio, the province’s oldest town, are filled with stone houses and orange-tiled roofs, set against a mountain backdrop. This is a perfect medieval town, where there are centuries of history around every corner and the right amount of requisite cobblestone streets, gothic palaces and churches. The surrounding countryside is also lush and cool, the reason why many Italians retreat here in the summer months. When you arrive, a good way to get to know the town is to simply wander the 14th and 15th century streets. A trip to Gubbio wouldn’t be complete without a lengthy lunch or dinner along one of its narrow streets, so grab an outdoor table at a taverna for truffle-infused dishes.
Day 6: Gubbio
This morning take a ride with Gubbio's unique cable car – a 15 minute and 1,000 metre high ride to the Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo, which contains the mummified body of the town's patron saint. From up here you can marvel at the amazing vistas of the Umbrian valleys and mountains, plus get a great rooftop view of the town itself. The alternative is a 30-40 minute walk uphill on a gravel road to reach the basilica. Then take a peaceful countryside hike from the top of Mt Ingino to admire the Umbrian landscape and stunning view down to Gubbio (approximately 2-3 hours). You'll then have some free time to explore the delights of Gubbio as you wish. You can take in the Civic Museum (home to 3rd-5th century BC bronze Eugubine Tablets), the Duomo, or the Palazzo Ducale, whose original wooden study was deemed so exceptional it was shipped off to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Explore the many churches around town, including one on the spot where legend has it that St Francis tamed a wolf that was terrorising the town. Otherwise, simply just relax into the Umbrian pace of life. Enjoy a variety of local cuisine and try one of the dishes that Umbria is famous for – pecorino cheese, game meat and mushrooms all feature on restaurant menus.
Day 7: Rome
Travel by train to Rome (approximately 4 hours), and remember that while here, the best attitude is ‘when in Rome’! Join your leader on an orientation walk around the city, where you see some of the iconic sights such as the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine, the Forum (centre of ancient Rome), the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Via Dei Condotti and Piazza Venezia. Re-charge with a slice of pizza and a strong espresso at the Piazza Navona or throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish to return to the 'Eternal City'. 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 panorama over the city. Art-lovers should visit the Sistine Chapel to admire the timeless work of Michelangelo, while history buffs will enjoy a jaunt through the ancient halls of the Pantheon. Rome is packed full of restaurants and trattorias that cater to every taste and budget. Local specialities tend to be quite heavy, and include pastas such as carbonara (egg, cheese and bacon) and amatriciana (tomato, bacon and chilli). Eating in trattorias will give you a chance to sample some Italian wines, with house choices usually very good and affordable.
Day 8: Rome
Today is a free day for you to explore Rome. 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. Walk beneath the Colosseum's arches and marvel at the mighty Pantheon to gain an understanding of the might of Roman civilisation at the height of its power. Saunter through colourful piazzas, share narrow laneways with beeping Vespa’s and be awestruck by the history that is revealed around every corner. Or, to escape the heat of the afternoon sun, get lost amid the cool, marbled hallways of the Galleria Borghese and Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna.
Day 9: Naples / Pompeii
Travel by train to Naples (approximately 3 hours), a raucous city that overflows with passion, tradition and gastronomy. Naples was carved out by many empires of the past and by merchants and pirates from across the world: Romans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Venetians, Spaniards, Normans and Africans. Its evocative, historical old centre is a World Heritage-listed area and the famous Spanish Quarter is still one of the most densely populated residential areas in Europe. Naples is the birthplace of the pizza, so why not head to one of the many pizzerias and taste what's truly some of the best that Italy has to offer. Head underground to see ancient Napoli Sotterranea, the famous underground city. Later in the afternoon, board a train to the time capsule of Pompeii, in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius (approximately 1 hour). Your accommodation is perfectly located right near the entrance to the archaeological excavation site.
Day 10: Pompeii
The small picturesque town of 'modern' Pompeii has a wonderful old town square – the perfect place to while away some time with the locals, drinking true Italian coffee and watching the world go by. Most of today though will be spent exploring the ruins of ancient Pompeii on a guided tour. Until 26 August, 79 AD, Pompeii was a thriving Roman trading centre, where ordinary people went about their everyday business, but it was frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted, killing 2,000 people and their homes under a layer of ash. The city was never rebuilt and largely disappeared from people’s minds until the 18th century, when the ruins were re-discovered. Now you can take an unparalleled look back into the lives of ancient Romans and discover how they lived, worked and interacted 2,000 years ago. The finely preserved ruins include villas, temples, theatres and bustling markets. Walk along the chariot-marked streets, visit the magnificent amphitheatre and the ‘Villa of Mysteries’. You can also visit the Roman Forum and basilica, temples, public baths, and the tiny Odeon created for music recitals. The rest of the day is free, but if the ruins piqued your interest, head to nearby Herculaneum, which also holds a wealth of fossilised archaeological finds.
Day 11: Mt Vesuvius / Sorrento
This morning take a bus up the mighty Mt Vesuvius, where you’ll meet a local volcanology guide. Ascend to the summit of Mt Vesuvius for staggering 360 degree views over the Bay of Naples and into the steaming crater. Although Mt Vesuvius is still considered to be an active volcano, the last eruption was in 1944 and there's no sign of lava. See first-hand the awesome power of the volcano that engulfed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79AD. In the afternoon, travel by private vehicle to the picturesque resort town of Sorrento (approximately 1 hour). People have been coming to the peninsula and islands of the Sorrento region for at least 2,000 years, and set invitingly atop dramatic cliffs over sparkling, blue waters, it's easy to see why. There are many options in this small seaside town with its fine piazzas, maze of old streets, sidewalk cafes and glamorous shops. The area is also famous for its lemon groves, producing the famous limoncello liqueur. In the evening head out to try some of the best limoncello on offer in Sorrento.
Day 12: Sorrento
You have a free day to explore this delightful area and the museums, galleries and piazzas of Sorrento. Perhaps stroll along the marina or cool off in the waters of the local small beaches. They’re not big on sandy beaches here, so swimming Sorrento-style is via wooden or stone bathing platforms beneath the cliffs. Taking a trip to Capri is also a great option, with a hydrofoil taking you across to the island that was once home to the magnificent holiday palaces of the Roman emperors. Capri’s dramatic rocky coastline is pierced by natural grottoes, while in the interior, narrow roads wind through fragrant citrus groves, past villages of flat-roofed white cubist-looking houses with flower-filled gardens, and manicured towns which offer swanky hotels and chic cafes. Here you can take a boat trip to the fairy-tale Blue Grotto (La Grotta Azzurra), where the water shines with an extraordinary blue translucence, a result of refraction of the sunlight outside. Your leader will be of assistance and will have plenty of suggestions of what to do and see today. End the day a very Italian way with a demonstration of Gelato making.
Day 13: Amalfi
Arrive on the Amalfi Coast after a short journey by private vehicle (approximately 2 hours). The Amalfi peninsula is a land of rocky coasts, cliff-top vistas, azure seas, tiered lemon groves, whitewashed villages clinging to steep cliffs, and bright blue skies. If you're after a relaxing walk with a few cultural highlights, stroll from one side of Amalfi town to the other and pay a visit to the Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea and the Chiostro del Paradiso. If you’re after something more active, perhaps embark on a walk through the Valley of Mills where for centuries paper mills were in operation. Alternatively catch a bus up the Valley of Dragons to reach pretty Ravello. The French novelist André Gide once described this town as being ‘closer to the sky than the seashore’. For centuries, its lofty position and sunny, dry climate has made it an appealing place for writers, artists, musicians and travellers. Ravello also boasts two magnificent villas – the superb 11th Century Villa Rufolo which was once the home of Wagner, and Villa Cimbrone, a sumptuous 19th Century mansion with fabulous gardens and unequalled views over the Gulf of Salerno. Otherwise just laze around on the beaches and in the piazza, gazing back up at the amazingly picturesque part of the world.
Day 14: Positano / Amalfi
Your leader will take you for a half-day hike along the narrow trail of the famous Sentiero Degli Dei (the Walk of the Gods) which, until quite recently, was followed by mules and donkeys as they traversed the dramatic landscape. This path winds its way through unique scenery and boasts unrivalled views along the coast. Walk through forests and fields of wildflowers, olive groves and vineyards, past an-cient stone huts and beside sheer walls of granite. Glimpse local farmers tending their crops by hoe and elbow grease, herds of goats feeding beside the trail beside their shepherds, and teams of work-men commuting by mule. The trail ends in picturesque Positano where there will be ample time to ex-plore and maybe take a dip in the sea. Return to Amalfi by ferry which is the perfect way to see the coast from a different perspective.
Day 15: Amalfi
Today is a free day for you to enjoy everything the region around Amalfi has to offer. A great way to see the beautiful Amalfi coastline and take in the sights is to board a boat – there are regular seasonal services between Amalfi, Positano and Capri.
Day 16: Civita
This morning you'll travel to Civita by bus, train and private vehicle. It's a tad complex logistically, but well worth the effort to see this gorgeous village built into the rocky hillside. Civita was founded by Albanian refugees in the Middle Ages and the Civitesi are recognised as an ethnic minority by the Italian Government. Their language, arberesh, is a mixture of Italian and Albanian and is only spoken here and in some parts of Sicily. Take a walk around this fascinating village on arrival then perhaps choose to visit a local winery and cheese producer, or just walk in the scenic hills instead.
Day 17: Pollino National Park / Civita
Hike into the beautiful Pollino National Park that surrounds Civita. With sheer cliffs, narrow canyons and a diverse range of wildlife including the peregrine falcon, eagle owl and the recently reintroduced Egyptian vulture, this area is a hiker's paradise. After a short transfer you will embark on a hike through this extraordinary landscape. If you'd like to opt out of the hike, you can kick back on the terrace of your guesthouse and enjoy the scenery and hospitality of the locals. The afternoon and evening is at your leisure.
Day 18: Tropea
Transfer this morning from Civita to Paola, before taking the train onwards to Tropea. Tropea has a striking sense of timelessness, created by the streets full of faded buildings and the iconic fortifications that line the city’s cliffs. Explore the town as you head out on an orientation walk. You may want to visit the local Norman cathedral, the Duomo, which holds an icon of the town’s celebrated protectress, the Madonna of Romania. There’s also the Museo Diocesano, a tiny museum hiding in the Palazzo Vescovile next to the Duomo, which is full of religious art and wooden statues. If you’d prefer some time by the water, feel free to head to the beach and marvel at the looming structures on the cliffs nearby.
Day 19: Tropea
Enjoy a free day in this Mediterranean paradise. Reserve a spot on the beach, soak up some sun and cool off in the clear blue water, or maybe you'd prefer to sample Tropea's specialty: cipolla di Tropea. These are Italy's, and perhaps the world's, favourite onion thanks to their unique sweetness. Rumour has it you can even find a red onion ice cream in town, so why not give one a try as you kick back by the water.
Day 20: Aeolian Islands / Tropea
If the weather is fine, take an included boat trip to the Aeolian Islands of Vulcano, Lipari and Stromboli. These islands, affectionately referred to as ‘pearls of the Mediterranean’, attract all manner of adventurers and thrill seekers to their shores due to their natural beauty and volcanic activity. The trip will start with a boat ride to the aptly named Vulcano, where you’ll have a chance to dip in either the crystal waters or the famous sulphur springs as they sit in the foreground of an active volcano. Then, land on the isle of Lipari where you’ll have free time to visit the museum, have lunch, go shopping or stroll through the streets. Following Lipari, you’ll pass the isle of Panarea and travel to Stromboli to learn about the famous Sciara del Fuoco (street of fire) before spending free time on the island’s black sandy beaches. Afterwards, return to Tropea where you’ll spend the night.
Day 21: Reggio Calabria
Depart from Tropea by train as you travel onward to Reggio Calabria, the gateway to Sicily. The city’s placement in a major earthquake zone has caused much destruction over the years, meaning only few historical sites remain in comparison to the rest of Italy. However, this has resulted in a charming mix of architecture - balanced between the surviving old buildings and the modern structures. Embark on an orientation walk, before visiting the widely renowned National Archaeological Museum of Reggio. This building is arguably the most important tourism destination that the region has to offer, featuring an excellent collection of exhibits from Greek influenced sites across Calabria, including the Bronzi di Riace, two large bronze statues found on the sea floor in the 70's. Later in the evening perhaps hunt down some of the city's spectacular restaurants for grilled swordfish or pasta with cauliflower and broccoli (both are dishes typical to the area) and a glass of local wine, or wander past the city’s panoramic waterfront.
Day 22: Catania
Bid farewell to Reggio Calabria and travel by ferry to Messina in Sicily, where you’ll board a train to the atmospheric city of Catania. The city has a unique energy to it, an interesting blend of young and old. On one hand, there’s a gritty, attractive bar culture that fuels an exuberant nightlife, full of flavour and laughter. On the other hand, the very core of the city boasts one of the fabled “Late Baroque” towns – the UNESCO World Heritage site, Val di Noto. You’ll get the opportunity to explore both sides of this curious city by walking through its grand piazzas and wide roads. The evening is yours to enjoy, so perhaps get a gelato or a granita to cool off at the end of a busy day of exploration.
Day 23: Taormina / Catania
Take a day trip to the charming city of Taormina. Start things off with an orientation walk, where you’ll notice the Greek influence in the architecture. Walk through the back streets, gardens, and perhaps visit the world famous Greek theatre and the cathedral. The whole afternoon will be at your leisure, so there's plenty of time to explore at your own pace. Have a drink in the Mediterranean sun or dig into some traditional Sicilian pasta before heading back to Catania for an overnight stay.
Day 24: Mt Etna / Catania
Come face-to-face with Europe’s largest active volcano on a day-trip up Mt Etna. Drive up the northern flank of the volcano and embark on an easy walk through the spectacular Valle del Bove (Bull Valley), a valley formed when the original crater of Etna collapsed. It is Etna’s largest valley, in which many lava flows can be seen, one on top of the other. At an altitude of approx 2,000 metres walk into the centre of an extinct crater and visit a lava cave that can be explored with helmets and torches. Walk among the cold lava streams of Piano Provenzana, a former ski resort that has been destroyed during the last big eruption of 2002. Return to Catania in the early afternoon which allows you to explore this charming city in more depth.
Day 25: Syracuse
Next travel to Syracuse (Siracusa) by private vehicle, where an orientation walk through the most interesting parts of this old town awaits. While wandering through the streets, you might find yourself enchanted as you glance up, examining the crumbling facades and balconies supported for centuries by a host of stone lions, tigers, bears, dragons, moors, satyrs, devils, angels, kings, paupers, wenches and cherubs. Passing some open doors might give you a glimpse of an ornate secret courtyard, whilst others open right on to someone's dining room where lunch is being prepared. In the afternoon perhaps take a boat trip around the island of Ortigia for a scenic view of the walled off cityscape. You may want to participate in an optional visit to the Neapolis Archaeological Site – known as one of the world’ s finest – but if not, then don’t hesitate to spend your free afternoon exploring the countless monuments or slip into a bar for a refreshing granita instead.
Day 26: Noto / Ragusa / Syracuse
Start the day by taking your private transport to Ragusa, one of the most scenic towns in all Sicily. En-route stop at Noto. Noto has gained a reputation as an architectural jewel, its limestone structures dazzle on a sunlit afternoon. The town has the benefit of being slightly less known to tourists, resulting in an easier sightseeing experience. after departing Noto, arrive at Ragusa. The ‘new’ baroque city was completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693, resulting in two vastly different sides to the same city. After exploring the tangled alleyways and baroque palazzi, travel back to Syracuse.
Day 27: Palermo
Say goodbye to Syracuse before travelling to historic Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Get acquainted with the sights and sounds of the old heart of the city, and gaze upon some of the main monuments such as the uniquely styled cathedral. The building has undergone a number of modifications since its construction in the 12th-century – the most notable of these additions being its bronze dome. The afternoon is free for you to enjoy, so take the time to explore a labyrinth of small alleyways, buzzing colourful market squares and winding roads.
Day 28: Palermo
This morning there is the option to visit nearby Monreale, situated in a panoramic position above Palermo with fantastic views over the city and the sea. Visit the stunning interior and exterior of its cathedral, described as one of the ‘wonders of the medieval world’, and climb to its roof. In the afternoon, take part in a walking tour with a local guide where you’ll uncover symbolic places of rebellion and anti-mafia racketeering. Places such as the Teatro Massimo, Cape Market, Piazza della Memoria, Beati Paoli Square and more all have a rich history in civil mobilisation – not to mention the area’s relationship with serving delicious street food. Meet shop owners who have had the courage to denounce their extortionists, and follow the ethical consumer campaign “Pago chi non paga”, a campaign promoted by Addiopizzo to support those that rebel against the Mafia. Perhaps share a bite with your group tonight, the last before the trip comes to an end.
Day 29: Palermo
Your adventures come to an end today. If you’d like to stay on in Palermo we can arrange additional accommodation on request (subject to availability).
- Venice Traghetto Boat Ride
- Basilica di San Francesco Assisi Guided Tour with Local Monk
- Spello Enoteca Wine Tasting & Lunch
- Gubbio Hike and Cable Car
- Napoli Sotterranea Underground City
- Pompeii Archaeological Site
- Pompeii Walking Tour with Local Guide
- Mt Vesuvius Crater Rim Walk & Summit Climb
- Sorrento Limoncello Tasting
- Sorrento Gelato Making Demonstration
- Walk of the Gods Hike (Sentiero degli Dei)
- Hike in Pollino National Park
- Aeolian Islands Cruise (Vulcano, Lipari, Stromboli)
- Reggio Calabria Archaological Museum
- Day Trip to Taormina
- Day Trip to Mt Etna
- Day Trip to Noto & Ragusa
- Anti-Mafia Movement Tour in Palermo
20 Breakfast(s) Included
1 Lunch(es) Included