Tuscany with everything that single word evokes within us, the ‘Cinque Terre’ probably Europe’s most astonishing coastline and its ultimate gem, embarrassingly beautiful Portofino captured on countless travel posters.
Selected departures April to October 2017
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 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!
This really is a lovely place to explore so we won’t be rushing off. Wander its charming cobbled streets, shady promenades or dally in elegant piazzas.
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 is just a short drive to Pisa for our guided tour, 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 we return to Lucca for a leisurely afternoon or perhaps another visit in to the historic centre of Lucca, before our 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.
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. Visit 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 £199 per person. The price includes four nights at the four-star Grand Hotel Guinigi 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.