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Selected departures October 2016 & April to October 2017
This fascinating tour explores two of Italy’s most desirable regions, Tuscany and the Italian Riviera, delightfully different from each other yet fascinating and evocatively scenic in their own way.
Initially staying in Pisa, you'll take a boat ride to the Cinque Terre Villages described by Lord Byron as ‘Paradise on Earth’ and then visit Portofino, Italy’s most exclusive town with its extraordinarily picturesque waterfront.
This fascinating tour explores two of Italy’s most desirable regions, Tuscany and the Italian Riviera, delightfully different from each other yet fascinating and evocatively scenic in their own way. Firstly we visit Tuscany, always a favourite destination for art, architecture and stunning countryside. Staying in Pisa, home to the apparently gravity-defying tower - Italy’s unofficial trade mark - yet the city offers much more! Its breathtaking Cathedral and Baptistery for majesty and beauty alone rival the world’s finest, but wander from here and you soon lose the crowds, discovering that Pisa is a true medieval gem. Its maze of characteristically tiny streets and intimate piazzas lined with traditional food shops and atmospheric family-run restaurants will delight you. Plus the university, where Galileo once taught, is one of the Europe’s oldest. Nestling inside its outstandingly preserved renaissance walls, seductive Lucca, birthplace of Puccini is one of Tuscany’s most graceful towns. Once Roman, it has welcomed visitors to its picturesque historic quarter for centuries. Yet despite its popularity, Tuscany safeguards some magnificent scenic surprises, just waiting for the discerning traveller. We explore wonderful, almost secret villages unchanged for centuries where medieval streets tumble down the hillside, plus taste Bolgheri’s stupendous wines – in short, a real undiscovered Tuscany.
Northward lies the gorgeous, rugged western coastline of Italy, where the word beautiful just does not suffice! A favourite amongst Italians, and largely kept to themselves, you don’t meet too many other tourists in delightful Portovenere, the Cinque Terre’s charming unspoilt villages with their riot of pastel colours, or Portofino’s exclusive and stunningly beautiful harbour favoured by Europe’s elite. The natural beauty here is astonishing - umbrella pines protrude horizontally from sheer cliffs interspersed by calm bays, and rugged headlands protrude into the glass-like, azure Mediterranean.
What better way to explore how these elements come together and create one of the world’s most irresistible natural spectacles than by boat? Especially suited to the Cinque Terre’s car free villages, we explore these picturesque hideaways, navigating the spectacular coast.
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 £159 per person (£199 for 2017 dates). The price includes four nights at the four-star Grand Hotel Bonanno (four-star Grand Hotel Guinigi for 2017 dates) and three nights at four- star superior Grand Hotel Miramare, with breakfast and dinner; return flights; all taxes and charges; return transfers; guided tours of Pisa with entrance in to the Cathedral, Baptistery and Camposanto; guided tour of Lucca; visits to a working Tuscan vineyard and tasting; cruise by private charter boat along the Cinque Terre (subject to weather conditions); visit to Portofino; all transport and tours as mentioned; services of a Riviera Tour Manager. Where hotels feature a swimming pool, pools are open in the summer months weather permitting.
NOT INCLUDED: Should you wish to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa entrance is €15 (approximate cost, payable locally).
Important note: For safety reasons visiting the Cinque Terre and Portofino by boat is inevitably subject to weather conditions. If we are prevented from sailing to the Cinque Terre we will travel by rail visiting the villages of Monterosso, Vernazza and Riomaggiore. If we are prevented from sailing to Portofino we will travel by local bus (approximately a 10 minute drive) - the only other possible method allowed. In these cases refunds of £23 and /or £4 per person per the respective tour will be given. Should these circumstances occur, the Captain’s decision is final, please consider this when booking this holiday.
You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Pisa. On arrival you will be transferred to your hotel, the four-star Grand Hotel Bonanno, staying four nights with dinner. Ideally located on the edge of Pisa’s historic centre, just a short walk to the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral. Featuring a spacious and stylish lobby with lounge, bar and a restaurant, spacious rooms await, with all the facilities you would expect of a modern four-star hotel including a well appointed bathroom, air conditioning, mini bar, Wi-Fi and TV.
On arrival you will transfer to Lucca and your hotel, the four-star Grand Hotel Guinigi for four nights. Situated in a leafy area of Lucca and a twenty-five minute stroll from the famed city walls, the hotel offers a wonderfully tranquil base. There is a welcoming bar and lobby area on the ground floor. All rooms are furnished in soothing pastel shades with satellite TV and are fully air-conditioned.
After breakfast enjoy our guided tour of Pisa, the historic heart centred on its aptly named Piazza dei Miracoli - the Square of Miracles. During the 11th century extensive trading links were forged with Spain and North Africa, bringing Moorish scientific expertise and vast wealth. Pisa became one of Europe’s richest cities leading to an explosion of magnificent building projects, the results of which are delightfully visible today. The great “Leaning Tower” is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable icons and the centre of a stunning array of perfectly harmonious buildings unmatched anywhere. The richness of decoration in the cathedral is just astonishing; breathtakingly detailed sculpture, fine art, a medley of graceful arches and inspired use of colourful marble. The huge bronze doors and the amazing carved wooden roof are truly remarkable. Indeed it was in this cathedral’s massive nave that Galileo is said to have formulated his pendulum theory when observing the incense burner swinging from the highly decorated ceiling. Next you are sure to be impressed by the enormity of the 12th century Baptistery, a superb example of the transition from Romanesque in the lower levels to Gothic styles in the upper registers. Constructedentirely of marble, and being on the same unstable ground as the tower, it also leans - but only slightly! Inside, the acoustics are nothing short of dramatic with noises seeming to echo endlessly – often demonstrated by the staff! Last but not least of the wonders here is the Camposanto, the monumental cemetery said to contain soil from Golgotha – site of the crucifixion - so Pisa’s great and good could be laid to rest in Holy soil! It consists of an incredible Gothic cloister lined by sarcophagi and huge frescoes gradually being restored to their former glory.
This afternoon you can explore more of Pisa’s sights as you wish. There are two excellent museums containing fine art, ancient Roman finds and objects from the Cathedral; plus the Piazza dei Cavalieri and the Orto Botanico – Europe’s oldest botanic garden. Or visit the Palazzo Reale where Galileo revealed to the Grand Duke of Tuscany the planets he had discovered through the world’s first telescope – what a fascinating demonstration that must have been!
Please see morning of Day 4 for our guided tour of Lucca. This afternoon you can explore more of Lucca’s sights.
Today we discover some of Tuscany’s best secrets where amidst its typical rolling landscape studded with classic finger-like Cypress trees, olive groves and traditional farmsteads displaying their unmistakable terracotta roofs, hilltop villages appear to sprout almost magically. We visit two of them, really quite unknown, wonderfully unspoilt and utterly charming for no other reason than that. You probably won’t find the historic medieval village of Campiglia Marittima in a guide book, but it is marvellous to stroll in solitude around its maze of ancient alleys - squares nestling below, the castle tower dominating above and gazing over timeless countryside.
You will of course be well aware vineyards abound here, producing the excellent wines Tuscany is justifiably famous for, with the small village of Bolgheri producing an outstandingly rich style. It would be a veritable travesty to pass by without stopping for a tasting – so of course we do. Next we call at Castagneto Carducci, before returning to Pisa.
After a leisurely breakfast, it’s just a short drive to historic Lucca, famed for its wonderfully preserved Renaissance city walls. Founded by the Etruscans, as we explore the historic centre on our tour you will instantly notice the rectangular grid pattern and amphitheatre preserved from Roman times. It is not difficult to imagine the place buzzing with rumour and intrigue when Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus established the infamous First Triumvirate here, a secret political alliance carving up the Roman Empire henceforth, until it fell 400 years later, ruled by dictatorial Emperors - some benevolent but some notorious! Growing prosperous on the silk trade from medieval times onwards, Lucca once rivalled Byzantium and was Italy’s second largest city-state after Venice before eventually being conquered by Napoleon. The superb city walls, with each of their four sides lined with trees of a different species, remain beautifully intact, cementing their place as one of the Tuscan region’s major sights, although in true Italian style they have even been used for racing cars!
Lucca really is a lovely place to explore so we won’t be rushing off. There’s plenty of time for you to wander its charming cobbled streets, shady promenades or dally in the elegant piazzas. Enjoy a divine Italian coffee or a light lunch in the cafes surrounding the unmistakable oval-shaped, former Roman Amphitheatre. Lucca is Puccini’s birthplace and with numerous concerts celebrating his outstanding works you can often hear talented vocalists at rehearsal adding a wonderful acoustic dimension to your enjoyment of this beautiful spot. This afternoon, we return to Pisa for a leisurely final evening and dinner, having sampled some of Tuscany’s lesser known delights in addition to some classics.
Guided Tour of Pisa in the morning (see day 2). This afternoon we return to Lucca for a leisurely afternoon or perhaps another visit in to the historic centre of Lucca, before our final evening and dinner.
This morning we drive north past Carrara’s enormous gleaming quarries, source of the finest marble, much prized by sculptors from Michelangelo to Henry Moore and used since Roman times to build the great monuments now stretched across the Italian nation and beyond.
We commence our exploration of the extraordinarily naturally beautiful coast of Liguria, studded with some of the world’s most attractive small villages with rugged mountains dropping sheer into the Mediterranean. Firstly we see the “Gulf of Poets” a favourite haunt of Byron, Shelley and DH Lawrence amongst others, then the stunningly picturesque village of Portovenere, its massive fortress high on the hillside towering over a jumble of pastel houses lining the harbour. Wander gently along the promenade, explore the fascinating network of narrow medieval lanes leading to the church and castle behind - it’s just a hint of what follows.
We stay three nights in the outstanding fourstar superior Grand Hotel Miramare, Santa Margherita, this classic fin-de-siècle building dating from 1906 faces the sea to the front and extensive mature landscaped gardens to the rear. The public rooms are extremely tasteful, elegantly decorated featuring antiques and contemporary furnishings of the highest quality. Hardwood floors and intricate plaster coving emphasise the hotel’s heritage creating a wonderful yet understated ambience. The bar and restaurant continue this theme while the owners reside in the hotel and consider it their home - and it shows. The rooms are equally tasteful, oozing charm and sophistication; the whole hotel boasts every modern facility yet retains its essential character of period elegance.
Elegant Santa Margherita is ideal for our stay; charmingly chic and quintessentially Italian, the lovely palm-fringed coast and green-carpeted mountains form a wonderful backdrop. Full of smart shops and pavement cafés a sophisticated atmosphere pervades the narrow streets beyond, and is just three miles from Portofino.
A leisurely breakfast, perhaps on the hotel terrace overlooking the deep azure blue of the Mediterranean glinting and sparkling in the morning sun, precedes two days exploring the splendours of the surrounding coastline in the manner to which local peoples have been accustomed for millennia; by boat.
Today we cruise by private charter to the extraordinary Cinque Terre (“The Five Lands”), five villages cut off from the landward side by a rugged terrain and steep coastline, almost unreachable by car. We will visit a selection of the villages, the individual names, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, mean little and are almost unknown but as the Cinque Terre they are celebrated as a region completely unspoilt by modern development. Their dramatic position makes this one of Europe’s principal scenic highlights and when you see the sheer variety of colours, topography and timeless beauty of the villages themselves you will fully appreciate their reputation. Seafood dominates menus here - anchovies being a local speciality - while the steeply terraced hillsides produce fine olives and pesto. Being Italy, there is also much locally produced wine and it is fascinating to see how the local growers have adapted to the steep terrain with precarious-looking monorail mechanisms used to ferry themselves and their produce, some of which has to be harvested by boat! There is a refreshing lack of souvenir shops so you can truly immerse yourself in surroundings and a lifestyle that has changed very little over time.
Today we admire yet more stunning scenery with fine watercraft quietly going about their business on the shimmering waters as we sail to Portofino. Arriving here by boat gives you the true sense of the way in which this historic fishing village nestles around its own superb natural harbour, set amongst cypress trees and olive groves with the realisation that all you have heard about the stunning beauty here is not hype! Superlatives just roll off the tongue. Traditionally this incredibly pretty village with its jumble of colour-washed houses stretching up the hillside from the water’s edge earned its living from the fruits of the sea, and its many superb restaurants still do. Mentioned by the great Roman writer Pliny the Elder, as early as the 1950s it was a favourite of Bacall, Bogart, Burton and Taylor. Indeed celebrity spotting whilst whiling away an hour over a drink is a common pastime of residents and visitors alike. However you may prefer to explore the quieter backstreets, seek out a “locals” bar for more authentic Portofino life or take a walk to the headland where the scent of wild thyme, pine and wild flowers hangs heavy in the air plus a stupendous view.
Returning this afternoon, you can explore lovely Santa Margherita itself; perhaps seek out a bargain or two in the smart shops, wander amongst the many parks and gardens with their abundant semi-tropical plants, then sip a cool aperitif as the sun sinks slowly over the sea. It’s time for our final dinner in the hotel’s classic dining room overlooking the warm waters of the Med, and as the waterfront lights twinkle on the gentle waves, take a moment to reflect on the splendours of this wonderful region.
After breakfast, bid farewell to the Ligurian coast and transfer back to Pisa Airport for your return flight.
We have just returned from the Lake Como trip staying at the Grand Menaggio Hotel and have to say we thoroughly enjoyed the whole week. The hotel facilities, cleanliness, food, were .. [Read More]
The whole tour was run like clockwork and was very professional at all times. Our upgraded room to balcony sea view didn’t disappoint, the views was spectacular, the arrangement of terrace & .. [Read More]
Teresa & Kevin Hartnett
We have not long returned from a holiday to Sicily with your company and had a wonderful time.
We had an exceptional guide Daniela.
Her attention to us as travellers, her .. [Read More]
Joan and Peter Lynn
A thoroughly enjoyable and simulating tour. Jaw-dropping history, dramatic mountain scenery, expert local guides - especially Christina and Theo. Nafplion is a charming town for a few nights by .. [Read More]
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour, despite some rain at the beginning. Our tour guide, Hugo, was excellent and so were the local guides in Tarragona and Barcelona. We were lucky enough to have a .. [Read More]
Mary and Peter Berg
A very informative and enjoyable trip, hotels 1st class, our tour guide, Richard’s knowledge and attention to to detail excellent, making this holiday memorable
Paul & Claudia McDonald
This was our first trip with Riviera but certainly won’t be the last.It was beautifully organised with Nikki our tour manager and Mariano our driver being outstanding. Nothing was too much .. [Read More]
Keith and Lynda Thatcher
What a fabulous holiday! All 3 hotels were of superb standard and had their own individual character. We visited some beautiful places in the Douro Valley that would have been difficult to .. [Read More]
Valerie Marden and Caroline Paige
We recently returned from the Riviera’s Land of the rising sun tour and it was a wonderful experience. The tour was very well planned and made the best and most efficient use of our time .. [Read More]
Nicki and Simon Jefferis
Just arrived safely home from our best Riviera experience yet. Tour manager John Shaw was outstanding, his talks on Portugal’s history, geography and customs were greatly appreciated by all and .. [Read More]
Colin and Wendy Butt
A thoroughly enjoyable trip - an ideal introduction to the area - we saw and learnt so much (as we have always found with Riviera Travel tour managers!)
Diane was excellent - as was Gerard .. [Read More]
Hazel and Simon Morton
A very enjoyable tour. The time spent in each town seemed just right. The hotels were in good locations and all of a good standard. Tour guide Sharon, driver Orencio and the local guides were all .. [Read More]
Rob & Jane Taylor
Just back from a wonderful holiday in South Africa with Riviera. Everything ran very smoothly thanks particularly to the professionalism and good humour of Matt, our excellent Riviera Tour .. [Read More]
Hugh and Irene
This was the first time we have been on an organised tour and we really couldn’t fault it. We stayed at the very Italian, shabby chic Europa Palace which admittedly does need an .. [Read More]
We have just returned from our second Riviera tour and we enjoyed this one just as much. It is quite simply the best way to cram so much into a taster holiday for a given region. Riviera organise .. [Read More]
Richard and Deborah Willshire
To enjoy the unmatched landscape, European type towns, yet farmers from years gone by you must take the guides advice about the altitude. Ann from Rivera will then take you on an unforgettable .. [Read More]
John and Debbie
Kevin was a good and a very knowledgeable guide who clearly loves and understands this part of the world, its people and culture and could explain all this and its more recent turbulent history. .. [Read More]
We have just returned from your classical Spain tour and I want to tell you that we found it very enjoyable. In our opinion there was a good balance between organised trips and own time in each .. [Read More]