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Immerse yourself in the lively rhythms of
life in Italy on an unforgettable journey to
some of its lesser-known treasures. Walk
between the picturesque villages of the
Cinque Terre, explore the Carrara quarries
where Michelangelo chose his marble, and
settle into a restored medieval castello to
discover traditional Tuscany. Delve into the
cultural centers of Florence and Siena, and
step behind the scenes on an insider’s tour
Walk through terraced vineyards and charming seaside villages tucked into the dramatic slopes of the Cinque Terre.
Gaze at Michelangelo's astonishing frescoes during a private after-hours visit to the Sistine Chapel.
Stay in a 13th-century castello while exploring Tuscany’s beautiful hill towns.
Discover the town of Lucca on foot or ride a bike atop its medieval city walls.
Itinerary - 10 Days
Day 1 — Pisa, Italy
Arrive in Pisa and drive
to Sestri Levante, Italy’s spectacular Ligurian
coast. Settle into our hotel and take a stroll
through town before our welcome reception
and dinner. Hotel Vis à Vis (D)
Day 2 — The Cinque Terre
Nestled in the folds of a rugged coastline, the
five pastel-hued villages of the Cinque Terre
tumble picturesquely from the rocky cliffs to the
sea. Travel through steep, vine-covered hills to
Manarola, and set out along a coastal walking path
that links the villages. Follow the trail as it winds
along the hillside, offering incomparable views,
and learn about the history and geologic features
of this region from our guide. Board a ferry and
cruise north to Vernazza to take in the stunning
coastline from a different perspective. Enjoy
lunch on your own in Vernazza—a village open to pedestrians only. This afternoon, take an optional
vigorous hike or return to the hotel for time at
leisure. Hotel Vis à Vis (B)
Day 3 — Carrara/Lucca/Florence
Begin the day in Carrara, home to the marble quarries where Michelangelo chose the massive blocks that he transformed into masterpieces. Here, walls of shining white marble soar skyward, cut out of the mountains and accessible only by narrow switchbacks. Continue to the lovely walled city of Lucca and set out on a walking tour highlighting its Romanesque churches. Ride a bicycle atop the city walls or take advantage of free time to explore the town. Arrive in Florence, and enjoy an evening on your own. Hotel Brunelleschi (B)
Day 4 — Florence
Take a morning walking tour of the
historic center of Florence. In Piazza della Repubblica, discover the city’s beginnings
as a Roman settlement. Stroll through
narrow streets past the fortified houses
and towers that marked the medieval town, and emerge onto the open Piazza della Signoria, the political center of the city since the Middle Ages. Immerse yourself in the world of Michelangelo this afternoon. A native son of Florence, Michelangelo
attracted the city’s most powerful patrons, the
Medici family, and inspired generations of artists. Encounter Michelangelo’s peerless “David” and the evocative “Prisoners” at the Accademia.
Hotel Brunelleschi (B,D)
Day 5 — Florence/Gargonza
Travel south into the Chianti region. Visit the renowned
Badia a Coltibuono vineyard and fortified
former abbey for a wine tasting and lunch. Then
continue to Gargonza, a medieval hamlet superbly situated in the Tuscan countryside. This afternoon,
settle into the privately owned 13th-century castello of the Guicciardini family—our
home for the next three nights. Take the rest of
the day to read, relax, and enjoy the swimming
pool, set in an olive grove with a glorious view. Castello di Gargonza (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Siena
A short drive brings us to the Tuscan gem of Siena. Soak up the medieval flavor of the city on a walking tour that includes the Piazza del Campo; the Palazzo Pubblico; and the colorful, marble-clad cathedral. Stop for lunch on your own in one of Siena's many trattorias, and spend the afternoon exploring at leisure. Castello di Gargonza (B,D)
Day 7 — Tuscan Countryside
Venture into the Tuscan countryside on a morning
hike through the scenic landscape near Gargonza.
During a free afternoon at the castello, stroll the
gardens, relax by the pool, or try your hand at a
game of bocce. Later, you may join the castello’s
chef for a cooking lesson and a tasting of several
fine local vintages. Castello di Gargonza (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Pienza/Rome
Drive through gorgeous scenery on the way to Pienza, an architectural treasure trove. Take a morning walk through the heart of the town before sampling local specialties such as pici (hand-rolled pasta) and fresh pecorino cheese. Continue to Rome and enjoy a specially arranged visit to the Vatican Museums where we we will have access to rooms normally closed to the public. Our visit culminates with a rare opportunity to visit the breathtaking Sistine Chapel after hours and examine the masterpieces without the crowds. Grand Hotel de la Minerve (B,L)
Day 9 — Rome
Begin the day in Vatican City with a visit to the massive St. Peter's Basilica. Within its walls are the priceless works of Renaissance and Baroque masters, including Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini. Continue on to the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. After lunch on your own, stroll through the ancient Forum and the Colosseum. Toast your journey at a grand Roman farewell dinner tonight. Grand Hotel de la Minerve (B,D)
Day 10 — Rome
Transfer to the airport for your return flight home. (B)
Writer Tim Jepson is a passionate and lifelong devotee of Italy. Since graduating from Oxford he has spent many years living in and writing about the country. He has authored more than a dozen books, two articles for National Geographic Traveler, and five National Geographic guidebooks to Italy's cities and regions. Tim has also worked on programs about Italy for the BBC and commercial television. A keen hiker, Tim takes pleasure in studying the food, wine, art, and culture of the country.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.