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 of Rome.
Depart for Pisa and arrive the next morning. Drive
to Siestri Levante, Italy’s spectacular Ligurian
coast and check into our hotel. Take a stroll
through town before our welcome reception
Hotel Vis à Vis (D)
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
Hotel Vis à Vis (B)
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)
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)
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 Count and Countess Guicciardini—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)
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)
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)
Drive through gorgeous scenery on the way to Pienza, an architectural treasure trove. Stroll through the heart of the town before sampling local specialties such as pici (hand-rolled pasta) and fresh pecorino cheese. Continue to Rome, arriving in the afternoon. Head into Vatican City to visit massive St. Peter's Basilica. Within its walls are the priceless works of Renaissance and Baroque masters, including Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini. Enjoy a specially arranged visit to the Vatican Museums this afternoon 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)
On a morning walking tour, visit 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)
Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.
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.
Tim will join the following departures:
Sep 10 - 20, 2014
Oct 08 - 18, 2014
Apr 15 - 25, 2015
Oct 07 - 17, 2015
ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.
Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single
room, add $1,690 in 2014 and $1,705 in 2015. Add
$650 to the cost of the August 10, 2015 departure,
which includes a ticket to the Palio horse race in Siena.
International airfare to Pisa and return from Rome is not included in the expedition cost.