This tour highlights Italy's incredible diversity and showcases its world-renowned highlights and its lesser-known treasures. Starting in Rome and wending its way through Tuscany and the great cities of Siena, Pisa, and Florence, along the Cinque Terre and Italian Riviera, northwards to the foodie region of Piedmont where you'll hunt for truffle and indulge in a six-course sumptuous slow-food dinner in a monastery, you'll admire the beauty of both the Italian Lake District and the elegant city of Verona, savour the wine of the world-renowned Valpolicella region, and be enchanted by Venice, this tour truly is an Italian indulgence! With its small group sizes, relaxed pace and informal atmosphere, knowledgeable and personable tour leaders, and combination of freedom and authentic, local experiences, this tour makes for a fantastic alternative to traditional escorted tours of Italy, allowing you to soak up much more of the atmosphere, and indulge in Italy's world-renowned cuisine, history, culture, and beauty.
Amy has experienced part of this tour from Florence to Venice, and would be happy to share her experiences with you - or you can read her blog!
- Small group tour - no more than 18 passengers!
- Visit the medieval Basilica of St Francis in the charming village of Assisi, birthplace of St Francis himself
- Explore the beautiful and historic city of Siena
- Discover the secrets of Tuscan cuisine with an interactive cookery demonstration in a Tuscan villa
- Locally-guided walking tour of Florence
- Enjoy exploring the beautiful walled city of Lucca
- Visit the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and explore the city
- Explore the picture-perfect villages of the Cinque Terre, an UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Hunt for truffles in Piedmont
- Tour and wine tasting at the UNESCO-listed Grinzane Cavour Castle
- Savour delicious food over a sumptuous six-course slow-food feast in a historic monastery in Cherasco
- Sip grappa paired with chocolate and hand-made nougat during a distillery tour near Asti
- Enjoy a private boat trip to the elegant Borromean Islands
- Explore the beautiful Sigurta Garden Park
- Admire the sights of elegant, fair Verona
- Sample delicious Valpolicella wines during a tasting and tour at the Tenuta Santa Maria Valverde estate
- Be enchanted by the magical floating city of Venice, and enjoy a farewell dinner
- Private transfers to and from the airport (including water taxis in Venice)
- Services of a personable and professional tour leader, plus a local guide in Florence
- 12 nights' accommodation in charming boutique hotels, with daily breakfast, plus six evening meals
- Driver and mini-coach transportation
- Tours, excursions and activities, as described
- Flights are not included, but can be arranged by our travel experts
Full itinerary below
Day One - Rome
Today is arrival day, beginning in the 'eternal city' of Rome with a private transfer to your pre-tour accommodation. The rest of the day is spent at your leisure to relax or explore as you please (particularly if it's your first time in Rome) - from the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps to the mighty Colosseum - or start indulging in the Italian past-time of people-watching.
Day Two - Assisi and Perugia
You'll meet the rest of your group today, as well as your tour leader and driver, and you'll be whisked off in the luxury mini-coach, heading first for the birthplace of St Francis, Assisi, where you'll visit the towering 13th century Basilica of St Francis, and explore the labyrinthine lanes of the village. From Assisi, enjoy a scenic journey through the Umbrian countryside where you'll head to the buzzing medieval walled town of Perugia for an overnight stay. Your first day of the tour will be rounded off with a delicious dinner.
Included meals: Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel Fortuna (or similar)
Days Three and Four- Perugia, Siena, and Tuscany
This tour truly is an Italian indulgence, and you'll be treated to a diverse showcase of Italy's greatest highlights, discovering for yourself the beauty and variety offered by each region. Leaving the town of Perugia and the region of Umbria, you'll journey into the verdant foothills and valleys of Tuscany, a region which evokes the charms and culture of the Renaissance, and contrasts elegant, historic cities - where artists, philosophers and politicians once lived - with simplistic, rustic cuisine, and beautiful landscapes all around. Your first foray into Tuscany is the gorgeously Gothic city of Siena, one of the region's lesser known gems, but a Renaissance rival to nearby Florence, and boasting its own rich history, art, and fabulous architecture. You'll have time to explore the old centre before heading deep into the Tuscan landscape, taking in views of hills carpeted with vineyards and olive groves, dotted with medieval, sunshine-yellow villages, as you make your way to your idyllic villa in the heart of the world-renowned Chianti region. On day four, your host at the charming Villa la Palagina will share some Italian cookery secrets as together you rustle up a classic rustic Tuscan lunch, before spending a carefree afternoon relaxing by the pool, drinking in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape, or lounging on the terrace with a good book.
Included meals: Two breakfasts, one lunch (on day four), and two dinners
Accommodation: Two nights (days three and four) at Villa la Palagina (or similar) - Amy visited the Villa la Palagina during her trip: 'The Villa la Palagina is set in the heart of rolling Tuscan hills covered with vineyards, olive trees, and cypress trees, so boasts incredible views from wherever you look, whether from your room or the infinity pool. I viewed a selection of rooms, each were unique and eclectic, and bathrooms were marble-furnished but varied between offering a shower or a bath. The indoor restaurant was typically Tuscan with its stone, arched ceilings, and there's also a charming breakfast room offering up panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, although you can eat al fresco on the terrace. This is the hotel Back-Roads usually use; it just oozes Tuscan charm and it's a hidden gem in the Tuscan countryside (which probably attracted its famous neighbour, Sting!)'
Days Five and Six - Florence, Lucca and Pisa
Florence is often called the cradle of the Renaissance, and it's world-renowned for its artistic and architectural masterpieces, from the iconic terracotta-tiled Duomo to Michelangelo's 'David' sculpture, or the priceless treasures housed in the Uffizi Gallery, including Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' and da Vinci's 'Annunciation'. Today, you'll be joined by a local guide who will share the city's secrets, history, and culture, bringing the city to life on a walking tour. Later this afternoon, you'll head to Lucca, which is widely considered to be Italy's most spectacular walled town - be sure to attend the Puccini Opera, which is held in the town every evening, whether you're a classical music lover or novice. On day six, you'll visit the famous city of Pisa, best known for its Leaning Tower (which you'll visit), but it was also once a great state power, reaching the heights of its fortune and power in the 12th and early 13th centuries. During your visit, you'll discover the remarkable acoustics inside the Baptistery of St John (so be careful what you whisper within its walls!) before heading back to Lucca in the afternoon, to spend the rest of the day relaxing or exploring as you please.
Included meals: Two breakfasts
Accommodation: Two nights at the Alla Corte degli Angeli
Day Seven - Cinque Terre and Santa Margherita
Leaving the vine and olive-clad hills and valleys of Tuscany behind, today it's time to experience the glamour and charms of the Italian Riviera, first discovering the captivating, picture-perfect villages of the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre, and go with the flow. Along the journey, you'll notice the scenery change with more terraces, steeper hills, and pockets of multi-coloured villages. After a day exploring the villages - enjoying plenty of free time in each of three you'll visit - you'll head to the pretty coastal town of Santa Margherita for an overnight stay and an evening at leisure.
Included meals: Breakfast
Accommodation: Lido Palace (or similar) - Amy stayed overnight here during her trip: 'The Lido Palace boasts an excellent seafront location, just perfect for strolling in the evening - or, if you want to pop along to nearby Portofino, there's a bus just opposite the hotel (alternatively, you can take a taxi but these tend to be pricey). The hotel layout is a little unorthodox, as rooms are spacious, and appear to cover the width of the hotel from the corridor, with both a sitting room area (ours overlooked the sea), a bathroom with shower, and a bedroom.'
Day Eight - Barolo, Alba and Cherasco
After a day by the coast, you'll now head inland and northwards to Piedmont, a region renowned for its rich, red wines and luxurious cuisine, both of which you'll sample today. It's a real foodie day today, meeting a local farmer and his trusty dog to go on a truffle hunt (and tasting) in the village of Barolo, before sampling some of the famous Barolo wine (to name just one of the regional wines) during a tour and wine-tasting at the UNESCO-listed Grinzane Cavour Castle. The scenic back roads will then take you to the hidden Piedmont gem of Cherasco, a small but picturesque Baroque town, where you'll stay overnight in a historic 17th-century monastery and be treated to a sumptuous six-course slow-food dinner; after all, the slow-food movement, which focuses on local cuisine and ingredients, began in the Piedmont region.
Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel Somaschi (or similar) - Amy enjoyed a slow-food dinner and overnight stay here during her trip: 'The Hotel Somaschi was probably my favourite hotel during my trip: I love quirky buildings with a history, and it began life as a monastery in the 17th century. It's beautifully appointed throughout, but our Armani suite was fabulous, with a mezzanine level, a door leading onto a shared terrace, and a beautifully appointed and spacious bathroom. The slow-food dinner we enjoyed at the hotel was another tour highlight, with utterly sublime food in a beautiful setting.'
Days Nine and Ten - Lake Maggiore
Enjoy a leisurely start today (and maybe a stroll around Cherasco) before leaving for nearby Asti, where you'll be welcomed into a local, family-run distillery to learn about the production of grappa, followed by a tasting paired with chocolate and hand-made nougat. From Asti, your journey will take you further northwards, passing through Vercelli, the rice-growing capital of Europe, and pausing at the enchanting Lake Orta, a charming precursor to the magnificent Lake Maggiore, where you'll spend two nights surrounded by stunning scenery: a vast, pristine lake and the mighty Alps. On day ten, you'll sail for the Borromean Islands, the elegant summer retreats of the grand Borromeo family, wandering through the gardens and Renaissance Villa on Isola Madre, the Baroque Palace and Gardens on Isola Bella, and strolling along the pretty harbour of Isola dei Pescatori, before spending the rest of the day at leisure (top tip - enjoy a gelato by the lakeside back in Verbania!).
Included meals: two breakfasts
Accommodation: Grand Hotel Majestic (or similar) - Amy visited the Grand Hotel Majestic during her tour: 'The Grand Hotel Majestic boasts prime position on Lake Maggiore, and makes the most of the superb views (and sunlight) in its breakfast room and indoor pool, plus outdoor terraces. It's classically elegant, although some of the decor in the bedrooms can appear a little dated. Princess Caroline of Monaco and some of the wedding party stayed here for the religious ceremony for the marriage between Princess Caroline's son Pierre Casiraghi and Beatrice Borromeo, and it would be nice to imagine yourself as royalty staying here too! The hotel is situated in the picturesque lakeside town of Verbania, which offers a choice of shops and restaurants nearby.'
Day Eleven - Lake Garda and Negrar
As you travel the rural back roads of the Lombardy, you'll make your way from Lake Maggiore to the expansive and beautiful Sigurta Garden Park, near Lake Garda, before heading towards Negrar for an overnight stay, and dinner at a local restaurant.
Included meals: Breakfast, dinner
Accommodation: Villa Moron (or similar)
Days Twelve and thirteen - Verona and Venice
Today is the day of the 'Three Vs': Verona, Valpolicella, and Venice, setting your scene firstly at fair Verona, a compact but elegant, marble-paved city that will surprise and delight you. After exploring Verona's impressive Roman ruins, its historic riverside castle, and the famous site of Juliet's Balcony, you'll continue to the world-renowned Valpolicella region, which boasts the best of Italian wine. Here, high in the hills, you'll be welcomed into the Tenuta Santa Maria Valverde estate, a small, independent, family-run vineyard, where you'll learn about what makes Valpolicella wine so very special, and taste the difference for yourself. Bidding a sad farewell to the wine farm, it's onwards to your final destination, the beguiling and enchanting city of Venice, making for a fitting finale to a wonderful Italian exploration. Enjoying some time to explore, you'll be treated to a farewell dinner at a local restaurant this evening, sharing your favourite memories of your trip with your new-found friends and tour leader, and indulging in some more delicious Italian food and wine!
On day thirteen, your tour sadly comes to an end after a leisurely breakfast.
Included meals: Breakfast and dinner
Accommodation: Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal (or similar) - Amy visited the Hotel Carlton during her trip: 'Situated along the Grand Canal, the Hotel Carlton is also conveniently close to the train station, plus it's only about 20 or 30 minutes' walk from Saint Mark's Square. Rooms are decorated in a typically Venetian style with embroidered walls, although my favourite were the ones called the 'Patio rooms' which looked into an indoor courtyard which provided an oasis of tranquility. On the hotel's top floor, there's an outdoor terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, perfect for a drink, although you can also sip a refreshing Aperol Spritz or Bellini from the bar downstairs, with seats outside which are ideal for people watching.'
Amy says: 'It's hard to say what I loved most about this trip - the itinerary was brilliant as it beautifully balanced better known destinations with hidden gems, and showcases Italy's stunningly varied landscapes and regions (you soon learn how distinctive and proud each region is, and the different specialties and characters on offer!), while the pace was relaxed with no early starts and allowed plenty of freedom for exploration and chilling out to people watch whilst enjoying a refreshing drink. The small group size meant that you soon felt like a family, you could get to know people better, and check-in was always efficient, quick, and smooth. Throughout the trip, we enjoyed memorable and authentic local experiences, thanks to our small group size, and it was possible to enjoy an element of spontaneity. The greatest asset of the trip was Isabelle, our amazing tour leader, who was passionate, knowledgeable, friendly, and professional, and was a great team with our lovely driver, Fabio. I've had much more experience with cruises, but this trip converted me to the benefits and advantages of small group touring as I could enjoy a variety of destinations and immerse myself in the local culture and atmosphere!'
Select dates still available for 2017
Contact one of our dedicated travel specialists today to enquire about this holiday
01234 819 699
Villa la Palagina, Tuscany
Truffle hunting dog in Piedmont
Hotel Somaschi, Cherasco
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
Valpolicella wine tasting
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