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Selected departures from April to October 2016
Magnificent Rome, inspirational Florence and the legendary cities of Siena and Assisi – experience them all on our escorted tour to some of the most magical places in Italy
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For centuries Italy has drawn visitors in search of culture and romance with few countries comparing with its enormous Classical origins: its art, architecture, music, design, scenery, food or wine. Its contribution to art far surpasses that of any other nation being home to the most extensive ancient civilisation, the Renaissance, the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican. Blend this with the striking natural beauty of the Tuscan countryside, the vitality of Rome, the effervescence inside every Italian and you have unbeatable ingredients for a tour.
Firstly we visit Tuscany and its great cities of Florence, Siena and Arezzo, then Umbria and Assisi and finally, the Eternal City of Rome. Birthplace of Dante and the Renaissance, Florence has been described, since its ‘rediscovery’ early in the last century, as the most beautiful city in Italy. It owes its wealth to the explosion of commerce during the Middle Ages. Principally wool and other textile industries, backed by powerful banks turned Florence into one of the world’s richest cities. Political control moved to the nobility, especially the Medici who then married into the leading royal families of Europe. The city became the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe for 300 years. Artists and sculptors flocked to the city diverting some of this new wealth in their own direction by filling the palaces and churches to bursting point with some of the world’s most outstanding works. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian amongst others, created many of the masterpieces now on display in the Uffizi gallery, an absolute must. Another struggling but brilliant thinker found finance here too: Galileo, inventor of the telescope who, on discovering the first four moons of Jupiter named one of them Medici in honour of his patron.
We also visit Siena, the other great city of Tuscany. Beautifully medieval and enclosed behind vast defensive walls, it has rural parts even within the city creating a unique atmosphere. Indeed it is more a collection of cities being split into a series of parishes whose rivalries are still in evidence during the twice yearly Palio, the famous horse race where anything goes. However the city is quite outstanding and has arguably the most gracious square in the world, the Campo, and to be fair, when you see it, backed by the soaring Campanile, it is hard to disagree.
Assisi is principally famous as the city of Francis, Patron Saint of animals and one of the most famous figures in Christian history. Every house seems to be adorned with window boxes crammed with geraniums adding a splash of colour to the centuries old walls. The basilica of St. Francis is, as you would expect, outstanding in all its breathtaking detail. Of all Italy’s historic cities, it is perhaps Rome which exerts the most compelling fascination. There is probably more to see here than in any other city on earth. Upwards of 2000 years of civilisation has given it a unique atmosphere. The grandeur of the Colosseum, scene of some of the cruellest acts ever committed, the Appian Way where Spartacus was crucified, the magnificence of St. Peter’s, the grandeur of the Vatican, the sheer brilliance of the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain and Baroque churches – the list is endless. Boasting one of the world’s great cuisines, far from being pizza and pasta, one of the first things which strikes you about visiting a restaurant, is how deeply embedded in the culture, food and drink really is. Fresh vegetables and salads, combined with succulent meats, seafood, a hint of garlic and the finest olive oil create simple, tasty, and healthy menus.
One of the greatest joys of visiting Italy is of course, being amongst the Italians themselves. Stylish, always ready to help and, if there is a single national characteristic – it is living life to the full, which creates the fantastic atmosphere so much in evidence.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at a supplement of £169. The price includes seven nights with breakfast (dinner is included on the first four nights), all tours as mentioned, return flights as detailed, airport departure taxes, timed entrance to the Uffizi gallery, and the services of a Riviera tour manager.
You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Rome. On arrival, a coach will take you to delightful Arezzo in the heart of Tuscany and an ideal base for our series of visits during the next few days. We stay four nights on half-board at the four-star Hotel Minerva, located about half a mile from the medieval city walls. The hotel was started as a restaurant fifty years ago by the present family owners which specialised in traditional Tuscan cuisine.
After breakfast, we drive to lovely medieval Siena which was, during the 12th and 13th centuries, one of the world’s largest and richest cities and a similar size to Paris! An unrivalled period of building took place and the range of palaces, grandiose townhouses and piazzas were built. Without doubt the main square, the Campo is one of the most beautiful you will ever see. Unusually half-moon shaped and surrounded by tall, centuries-old buildings, they are all different embracing an overall harmonious and beautiful style. Just to sit here, enjoy a drink and reflect on lives gone by is a real pleasure. Siena’s cathedral is absolutely outstanding, one of Italy’s greatest, built from black and white marble with the most intricate carvings imaginable some of which are by the great master himself, Michelangelo. The floor is a revelation with countless thousands of pieces of stone creating a unique inlaid pavement. It is impressive enough now but had a planned nave been completed during the 14th century, it would have created Christendom’s largest church. The city fell into rapid decline after the Black Death, accounting for the city’s astonishing preservation. During the journey to and from Siena we shall see some of the famous Tuscan countryside: this truly a wonderful scenic area.
Today we visit Florence, pearl of the Renaissance, a superb and beautiful city and deservedly on the map of the traveller since the days of the Grand Tour. During our guided tour you will see the principle monuments such as the Cathedral – which can house a congregation of 10,000 and the Baptistry – the oldest building in the city. This afternoon we enjoy a reserved visit to the Uffizi gallery, quite simply one of the world’s most monumental art collections. It contains work by Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Michelangelo – the list is endless. Florence is not just about art though, it is a delightful place in its own right. Full of shops and colourful markets which delightfully complement the city’s artistic treasures.
Arezzo is a wonderful medieval town nestling behind its imposing stone walls as it has for centuries. This morning, we have a walking tour during which we learn about the town’s illustrious past and there is a host of things to see. The city flourished in medieval times, coming under the rule of the Medicis in the 15th century and today the town is a complete kaleidoscope of architectural styles which somehow blend together harmoniously, with such charm. There are Romanesque churches juxtaposed with timber-beamed medieval shops, separated by intimate cobbled squares. Arezzo’s main square is nothing short of a masterpiece and without doubt must be one of Europe’s most stunning. Arezzo’s second claim to fame is its superb frescoes housed in the huge cathedral, some of the world’s most detailed and most well preserved. This afternoon you are free to explore this lovely town as you wish, absorbing its astonishing charm. Arezzo is also noted for its extremely skilled jewellery industry. In countless traditional workshops, skilled artisans create the highly original pieces on display fashioned from gold, silver and every dazzlingly precious stone known to man. You could do worse though, than enjoy a sumptuous lunch overlooking the main square and reflect on times long ago, when it would have been full of robed bishops and merchants hurrying along to their next appointment. There is an unmistakable ambience throughout Italy and it is hard to put your finger on what makes it so special, but here in Arezzo it is very much in evidence.
Today we leave Tuscany after breakfast driving firstly to Assisi. This delightful medieval town, with its flower-hung streets, lovely views over the Umbrian countryside and fountain-splashed piazzas is famous for a single event – the birth of Francis, the most revered saint in Italy. The man himself was one of the most extraordinary figures the Italian church has ever produced. He had a privileged upbringing, leading a very un-Christian lifestyle, but whilst imprisoned, God appeared to him. After release, he renounced his inheritance, living the life of a beggar, and mixed with lepers, but ultimately found his vocation founding the order of monks which bears his name, the Franciscans. Two years after his death, the basilica was built, financed by donations from all over Europe creating one of the most beautiful shrines in the Christian world adorned by arguably its greatest art collection outside an actual gallery. The building today is actually two churches, one on top of the other with St. Francis himself lying under the floor in the crypt. The mood inside is most respectful, being in tune with Franciscan principles - silence being the rule, quite plain around the tomb itself and accompanied by brown robed monks. We have ample time to visit the basilica together with the town, arriving in Rome early evening.
Our hotel is either the four-star Grand Hotel Beverly Hills, located in the prestigious Parioli residential district, a short walk away from the Villa Borghese gardens and gallery. The hotel is around a 15 minute walk from the nearest metro stop, a direct tram is available just a few steps from the hotel to the Colosseum and there are various buses to connect with major attractions across the city. The hotel has a spacious lobby with lots of space to relax on the comfortable leather sofas after a hard days sightseeing. The hotel is decorated in a classic style and features extensive wood panelling in the public areas and is air conditioned throughout. All rooms are comfortably furnished with private facilities with bath or shower, mini bar, safe, hairdryer, air conditioning and flat screen satellite TV.
Some departures will stay in the four-star Hotel President, situated right in the heart of the Eternal City within walking distance of the main Termini station, providing superb transport links via metro and bus to all areas of the city and the main sights. The hotel offers stylish, modern accommodation, spacious reception areas, comfortable seating, breakfast room serving a full continental buffet breakfast, restaurant and bar where you can meet your fellow travellers for a relaxing well-earned drink after a day of sightseeing. All rooms are tastefully decorated in a modern style and have private facilities, air conditioning, mini-bar and satellite TV.
Rome is, without doubt, one of the most captivating cities in the world, where ancient and modern blend perfectly. This morning, we have a sightseeing tour during which you will see many of the principle sights and monuments such as St. Peter’s, the Colosseum, Circo Massimo, Victor Emmanuel memorial, the Vatican, Palatine Hill, River Tiber, the list is endless. Probably nowhere else on earth is there so much history in such a small area. It owes its grandeur obviously to the Roman Empire which held sway over much of the globe for nearly 500 years and then to the Papacy which for a large part of its existence, commanded as much political influence as religious. But it’s more than buildings and galleries, there are quiet areas, tiny little piazzas, lovely bars, cosy restaurants where the waiters will talk all day if you let them. All this combined gives the uniqueness which is Rome. This afternoon you are free to explore as you desire although you may wish to visit the Vatican Museums (entrance fee not included), the only part of the Palace you can visit independently. This is the largest, richest and most compelling such complex on earth which contains so many artefacts from the city’s history. Many of the finest artists of the Renaissance worked for a variety of Popes but there are other displays too: Egyptian antiquities, furniture, sculpture, silverware and of course, Michelangelo’s wondrous masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel which really has to be seen to be believed.
Today you have a free day to explore this amazingly interesting city as you wish, so what is it to be? Perhaps some of the ancient ruins: the atmosphere of history is inescapable as you view the magnificence of the heart of the Roman Empire. Looking at the Forum, Colosseum, the Pantheon to name but a few, it is easy to let your mind wander and imagine who has preceded you: Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, St. Paul, Nero, St. Peter and when you see how compact everything is the atmosphere is quite eerie. Take a stroll around the Piazza Navona, Rome’s most picturesque square, lined with luxurious cafés, where the present day Romans come to see and be seen with the superb baroque fountains lending a cooling sensation to the whole scene. Walk down the Spanish steps like countless visitors before you since the 18th century. Take a coffee in the famous Caffe Greco, once the haunt of Keats, Byron and Wagner. You could window shop along the Via Condotti for some of the finest clothes you will find anywhere. Perhaps the most satisfying activity though is simply to wander where your feet take you stopping off where you wish – its serenity will captivate you.
Today the coach will take you to Rome airport, at the appropriate time, after a really memorable tour.
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