Selecetd departures April to October 2019
For centuries, Italy has drawn visitors in search of culture and romance; few countries can compare with its prodigious classical origins in art, architecture, music, design, scenery, food and wine. Italy’s contribution to European painting and sculpture surpasses that of any other nation. Blend this with the magnificent scenery of its lakes, one of the world’s great cuisines and the Italian attitude of living life to the absolute maximum and you have a superb destination for a tour.
Italy is blessed with fantastic scenery and some of the finest is to be found as you approach Lake Garda, where the abundant flowers and verdant trees covering the banks are reflected in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour. The picturesque lake with gentle waves lapping slowly onto the shingle shoreline, the stunning snow-capped Alps in the background and a scattering of charming villages all fit together in a beautifully balanced mosaic.
It is only in the past 150 years that Italy has come to exist as a nation state formed from a collection of largely independent cities, often separated by almost impenetrable marshes or mountain ranges. On this tour, we shall visit two of these – the hugely different, but equally classic cities of Verona and Venice.
Verona is without doubt one of the most attractive cities you will ever see, deservedly well known as the setting for the legendary tale of Romeo and Juliet. Significant since ancient times, it has more ancient remains than any city in Italy except Rome itself. Its most striking monument is the arena – the third largest amphitheatre ever built – where the entertainment on offer included gladiatorial combat. Enclosed by massive and exceedingly well-preserved ramparts, the city has a captivating medieval feel to it with pink-hued buildings, lovingly restored, lining the streets.
All the enticing pictures you have seen of St Mark’s Square and Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal have merely been telling the extraordinary truth: Venice is a stunning city. You cannot walk for more than a few minutes without stopping to gaze at sights which simply demand admiration.
One of the greatest joys of visiting Italy is, of course, being amongst the Italians themselves. Stylish, always ready to help and, perhaps the overriding national characteristic, living life to the full and creating the fantastic atmosphere so much in evidence – so come with us and see.
You will be met at your departure airport by a member of the Riviera Travel team before checking in for your flight. On arrival in Italy, a coach will take you to the delightful resort town of Gardone Riviera, where we will stay at the four-star Hotel Savoy Palace. This evening, we will get together with our travelling companions and tour manager for a welcome drinks reception overlooking the lake (weather permitting) before dinner at the hotel.
Lake Garda first came to prominence in the late-19th century, when visitors came to enjoy the clean mountain air, and it has been famous as an area of outstanding natural beauty ever since. Today we will have a tour of the lake, passing through some lovely, quintessentially Italian villages complete with tiny harbours clinging to the shoreline against a backdrop of mountains.
Our day begins with a drive north along the western shore of the lake to the pretty little town of Limone, hemmed in on one side by the steep mountains and on the other by the lake, which up until 1932 was only accessible by boat. We then continue to bustling Riva del Garda at the northern end of the lake, where we will stop for lunch and time to wander the charming medieval centre with its pedestrianised streets. From the northern end of the lake, we board a ferry for a leisurely cruise back to Gardone, passing between towering mountains and lakeside villages.
After an early breakfast we take the drive to unique Venice; caught in a time warp and as culturally rich as any city can be. We will take a walking tour during which we will see St Mark’s Square and its Basilica, the Campanile and Doge’s Palace together with countless other places of interest.
Venice first came to prominence in the 10th century and grew in wealth and power on gaining its independence from Byzantium, reaching its zenith during the 15th century. It was then that many of the fantastic buildings you see today were built. Venice at the time was the greatest power in the Mediterranean with an empire encompassing Crete, parts of Turkey and a huge portion of Northern Italy, and it soon created a capital to match. Sitting between the Eastern and Western world, trading quickly grew and innumerable merchants poured their newly made fortunes, just as people do today, into the arts and property, private and municipal. St Mark’s Basilica is a must: built to house the relics of St Mark himself, it is Europe’s most exotic cathedral with the decoration inside being incredibly opulent. The statistics are staggering – there are over 40,000 square feet of detailed mosaics of every colour of the rainbow covering the entire interior. The blend of coloured-marble columns, gold and red painting, and bas-reliefs combine to create one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
Adjacent is the Doge’s Palace, once home of the most powerful man in Venice who, incidentally, was elected for life. The Palace was also the seat of government councils and courts, as well as the prisons. Obviously, the government of such a great power had to be accommodated accordingly. As a visit will reveal, the palace is home to the most amazing wood carvings, an exquisite floor inlaid with exotic woods from as far afield as Japan, and one room alone featuring four Tintorettos. The walls and ceilings are exquisitely decorated with paintings, frescoes and gold leaf. St Mark’s Square itself is a must too and the focal point of the city since its foundation. Today, visitors have replaced merchants and to sip a coffee in one of the square’s pavement cafés, drinking in the beauty around you, must rank as one of life’s great pleasures.
To see it all at once, why not take a trip up the imposing Campanile tower? Originally built as a lighthouse, Galileo demonstrated his telescope to a sceptical public here. For art lovers there is Accademia, housing one of the finest collections in the world with superb examples of Renaissance work, or the Guggenheim with exhibits by Miro, Picasso, Chagall and Léger among others. One thing that really strikes you about Venice is that it is not nearly as expensive as you might believe. Away from St. Mark’s Square, small restaurants offer three-course meals at reasonable prices. But Venice is not just art and monuments, fantastic though they are, this is a city that cries out to be seen from the water and what better way than by taking a trip by gondola. These beautifully made boats are crafted from 300 individual pieces of wood. A short ride on one of them is a lovely and peaceful way to explore the backwaters of the city. You will have sore feet when you return to the hotel, but everyone should visit this wondrous city at least once in their lives.
Today is a free day to explore at your leisure. You could choose to stroll along the lakefront promenade from the hotel and pause in a café for a refreshing lunch with stunning views. Alternatively, you may choose to take a bus or stroll into Gardone Sopra, which is home to an impossibly quaint old town. You will also find Heller Gardens, a botanical garden which makes the most of the microclimate to showcase a number of plant species rarely seen outside of their natural habitats. ‘Vittoriale’, the estate of the eccentric poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, is located nearby and a fascinating place to spend an afternoon.
Our journey today takes us west and back in time to the sleepy yet achingly beautiful Mantova, a medieval city often overlooked despite its proximity to Lake Garda. Perhaps the answer lies in the three surrounding lakes, forming a natural fortification and keeping Mantova a secret from the world, one which has remained virtually untouched for centuries. As the dramatic skyline of ancient towers, domes and cupolas comes into view, it’s easy to see why the city features in two well-loved tragedies: it is the setting for Verdi’s Rigoletto and Shakespeare had an impassioned Romeo exiled here.
During our guided tour of the old town, the reasons for its UNESCO World Heritage status become strikingly evident. Although compact in size, Mantova has more than its share of artistic, cultural and architectural treasures. The city reached its zenith in the 14th century when it came under Gonzaga rule, one of the greatest Renaissance families of Italy. Their home was the sumptuous Palazzo Ducale, a highlight of the city and once Europe’s largest palace with around 500 rooms, extravagantly decorated with glorious works of art. Wander the cobbled streets and relax in the lovely squares, where locals and visitors alike meet for a coffee. Perhaps take a cruise on the River Mincio and admire the city from a different perspective.
Today you are free to do as you wish, so what is it to be? Take the ferry to Sirmione, set on a narrow peninsula rich in history and famed for its thermal water with healing properties. It’s a pleasure to wander the inviting streets lined by pastel-hued buildings adorned with colourful flowers. Or you may choose to relax in your hotel, perhaps by the swimming pool located in pretty gardens. For the more adventurous, you may choose to stroll along to a private beach (additional charge), where you can enjoy a dip in the lake itself.
Verona is one of the most pleasing and beautiful cities in Italy and today we have a guided walking tour to appreciate it at its best, discovering its hidden side too. We approach through the centuries-old city walls and when you enter the old town you cannot help but admire the medieval buildings complete with their contrasting frescoes underneath archways unchanged for centuries. Typical pavement cafés abound, some with violinists serenading their clients whilst they take a refreshing drink, enjoying the shade from the warm sunshine. The tiny narrow streets, complete with tasteful shops, are so typical of Italy and then there is the market place, dating from Roman times, replete with interesting reminders of the city’s past.
The tragic story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is set in Verona and when you experience the atmosphere here you can see why. The two great lovers from rival families have inspired countless films, poems and dramas and you can even see the balcony where the immortal words ‘O Romeo, Romeo’ were reputedly spoken. The Roman arena is awe-inspiring but there are also countless medieval and Renaissance squares and courtyards to explore, as well as a superb 12th-century cathedral which houses a piece by Titian. The Roman Theatre is a must too, as are the clipped box hedges and dazzling display of colour at one of the Renaissance’s finest gardens. Another interesting site is San Zeno – arguably the finest Romanesque church in northern Italy. One of the most delightful things about Verona is that despite being close to Venice it receives fewer visitors. This afternoon is free so you can explore the city as you wish or, perhaps, go shopping. Italy is inextricably linked with chic fashion and style and Verona has some lovely shops; prices are not nearly as expensive as you may imagine, with leatherware being particularly good value.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on a twin/double room for sole occupancy. The price includes seven nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast, welcome drinks reception, all tours as mentioned, scheduled flights as mentioned, airport departure taxes, all local accommodation taxes, transfers and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager. Included excursions are: guided tours of Mantova, Verona, Venice and Lake Garda. Please note tours departing on Fridays will visit Mantova on day 3 and venice on day 5.
Please note the use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.
Whether you’re an opera aficionado or not, a trip to the oldest open-air opera festival could not be a better addition to your stay. Held in a Roman amphitheatre, the summer performances are truly something special – when the floodlights go down on the 15,000 spectators, the cacophony diminishes to hushed whispers, before the magic begins and the beautiful voices fill the dusky air.
Prices shown include a coach transfer to Verona and an unnumbered stone seat. Cushions are available to hire on arrival at the arena.
Performances start between 8.45 to 9.00pm, but you will be taken to Verona in plenty of time, so you may wish to enjoy a pre opera dinner or drink.
To arrive in time for the opera you will miss your included dinner at the hotel, however this will be replaced with a lunch on one of the free days
|Tour departure date||Performance||Performance date|
|26th June||Il Trovatore||29th June|
|3rd July||Carmen||6th July|
Please call us on 01283 742 300 to book this experience.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Milan Malpensa||Gardone Riviera||2.5 hrs|
|Verona Airport||1.5 hrs|
|Milan Bergamo Airport||1.5 hrs|
|Milan Linate||2 hrs|
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
The use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.