Welcome to Italy and to the famed city of the Roman Empire, the Seven Hills, ‘La Dolce Vita', the Vatican City and ‘Three Coins in the Fountain'! Italy is a diverse country with something for everyone. Ancient ruins lie next to modern buildings and cobblestone alleyways next to busy streets. Home of pizza, pasta, olive oil, and wine, Italy is known as a food lover's paradise. Fashion lovers from all over the world also flock to Italy for the latest clothing, shoes, and handbag designs.
Rome, with its wonderful palaces, churches, grand romantic ruins, opulent monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of the world's most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals. Meet your fellow travellers and Tour Director this evening for a welcome drink at the hotel.
Today we explore Imperial Rome. Highlights include the Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia, the Capitol, the Imperial Palace and lastly, the Colosseum. The Colosseum is one of the most famous sites in Rome and was the largest amphitheatre built in the Roman Empire. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, including mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on classical mythology.
The afternoon is free for you to enjoy at leisure before a group welcome dinner this evening. (B/D)
We discover majestic Vatican City this morning, where we'll visit the amazing museum with its collection of artworks and artefacts, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica. The world's smallest sovereign state is situated entirely within the city of Rome, spread over a hill west of the River Tiber. Vatican City is regarded as a non-commercial economy as it has no major imports or exports and is administered by the Pope and the Pontifical Commission. Most notably, it is the centre of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide organisation.
Vatican City is home to the famous Sistine Chapel and incredible museums, St Peter's Square, St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Garden. The Sistine Chapel is most famous for the painted ceiling by Michelangelo which was commissioned by Pope Julius II and took 4 years to complete (1508-1512). Other famous works include 'The Last Judgement' and the side walls covered in Renaissance frescoes depicting important biblical scenes.
St Peter's Basilica (one of the largest basilicas of Christianity) stands on the site where Peter, the apostle who was considered to be the first Pope, was crucified and buried. St Peter's Square is directly in front of the Basilica and is surrounded by a colonnade of 284 columns. Every Sunday at noon devotees gather to receive a blessing from the Pope from his window. After our morning tour the remainder of the day is free for you to enjoy at leisure. (B)
Today we continue to the beautiful coastal town of Sorrento, gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Built into the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Naples, the sweeping views will take your breath away. We first depart for the ancient city of Pompeii, where a local guide will meet us for a tour of the famous ruins. The prosperous Roman city of Pompeii lay buried for hundreds of years after the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in the year 79AD and is one of the most significant examples of Roman civilisation.
The volcanic material that covered Pompeii kept the city largely intact, including both the exteriors and interiors of many buildings. We'll have some free time to wander around and marvel at the ruins before continuing along the beautiful coastline to Sorrento. Special Experience: Enjoy an Italian culinary experience, with a hands-on lesson teaching us how to make pizza the authentic way. (B/D)
After breakfast we will be met by our local guide and make our way to the Sorrento port to board the ferry to Capri, the island playground for the rich and famous. The ferry between Sorrento and Capri skirts a stunning stretch of the coast so, if you can, sit on the left side to really enjoy the view! The Emperor Augustus was the first to discover the beauty of the Isle of Capri in 29BC followed by many others including Tiberius, Lenin, Mussolini, the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe and the factory owners Krupp. Each one of these guests influenced Capri's culture which continues to enchant the many visitors it receives today.
A true jewel of the Mediterranean, Capri is known for its rugged seascape, café culture and brilliant bougainvillea. On arrival we'll take a minibus up to the peaceful hilltop village of Anacapri. After our tour enjoy some free time to explore this beautiful island before we return to Sorrento later this afternoon. (B)
Today we enjoy an excursion along the Amalfi Coast. The Amalfi Coast stretches for 50 kilometres across the southern edge of the Sorrentine Peninsula. Its rugged cliffs and the beautiful villages that cling to the hillsides make it one of the most picturesque destinations in Italy. Enjoy the views as we travel past the stunning towns of Positano and Amalfi, making photo stops along the way. We'll enjoy some time in Amalfi, the main town of this beautiful coast, before we make our way back to Sorrento.
The rest of the day is free for you to enjoy at leisure. Limoncello, Italy's famous lemon liqueur, has traditionally been made from the zest of Sorrento lemons for more than 100 years. Maybe try some after dinner as a ‘digestivo'? (B)
Travel to the picturesque town of Alberobello today, famous for its unique trulli - whitewashed dry stone circular houses with conical roofs. First, we bid farewell to Sorrento and make our way to the region of Apulia, which forms the heel of Italy's boot. Along the way we'll stop to visit the UNESCO Heritage-listed fortress of Castel Del Monte. The imposing octagonal castle was built in the 13th century by Emperor Federico II and sits proudly overlooking the commune of Andria. After some free time for lunch we'll continue to Alberobello. We'll learn about the origins of the 15th century buildings on a walking tour of the town's historical centre.
Special Experience: Spend two nights staying in a traditional, heritage-listed trullo, a conical shaped house unique to the region of Puglia. (B)
We'll travel to the picturesque white town of Locorotondo this morning. This delightful town is famous for producing delicious bread. We'll try some local breads such as focaccia, taralli, frisele or mostaccioli at a local bakery and enjoy some time to discover Locorotondo.
Our next stop for the day is the seaside town of Monopoli. Located on the Adriatic coast, the town was first settled around 500 BC as a fortified Messapian city.
We'll have some free time here to explore the unique surrounds, including the Baroque Monopoli Cathedral with its tall bell tower. Tonight, we will have a special dinner guest joining us, a local resident. It is a great way to discover more about the culture and way of life in beautiful southern Italy. (B/D)
Our journey today takes us to Matera, a town famous for its 'sassi' - the ancient cave dwellings that appeared in Mel Gibson's ‘The Passion of the Christ'. As we approach Matera later this afternoon, our first glimpse of this unique town will be one that you'll remember forever – almost as if you've stepped back 2,000 years in time. Before arriving in Matera, we make our way to Ostuni, a 3,000-year-old city perched on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea. This charming, fortified town known as ‘La Città Bianca' (The White City) has a very exotic feel - more Greek or Middle Eastern than Italian.
We will enjoy some free time to wander through the narrow streets and alleyways, mingle with the locals or just sit in one of the many bars and restaurants and watch the world go by. In Ostuni you'll also be able to find a beautiful range of locally-produced handicrafts. The items being produced and sold are not cheap but are completely unusual works of art and well worth taking home to remind you of your visit.
Special Experience: Stay in one of Matera's impressive cave residences known as ‘sassi' for two nights.
Special Experience: Take a tour of a local olive farm. Located on the plains of the Marina di Ostuni, the impressive olive trees are thought to be up to a thousand years old. (B)
Sit back and enjoy the scenery as we drive south through Calabria to the town of Villa San Giovanni, where we'll board a ferry across the Strait of Messina to Sicily. The scenic drive will take us through the mountains, villages and along stretches of coastline and we'll make some stops along the way.
Once in Messina, we'll follow the coast to the stunning seaside town of Giardini Naxos. The oldest Greek settlement in Sicily dating back to 735BC, Giardini Naxos is a lively town right on the bay between Capo Taormina and Capo Schisò. Spend some time exploring your surroundings this evening, before a group dinner at the hotel. (B/D)
Today we visit Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano at approximately 3,350 metres high. To the ancient Greeks, Mount Etna was the realm of Vulcan, God of Fire, and the home of the one-eyed monster known as the Cyclops. Over 1,200 square metres of Etna's surface is covered with solidified lava. We'll see lava stones, make plenty of photo stops and then have some free time for lunch.
After lunch we'll continue to the hilltop town of Taormina. Here we'll see the picturesque Duomo that dates back to the 13th century. Over the years it has been reconstructed and restored and is a great mix of Renaissance and Baroque design aesthetics. We'll also see the ancient Greek amphitheatre and take a leisurely stroll through the charming narrow streets of the old town. We'll then return to Giardini Naxos where the evening is at leisure. (B)
This morning we discover Palermo. Our tour begins at the red-domed Moorish church of St John of the Hermits. Dating back to 1132, the church was built on the grounds of a mosque and has been inspired by Islamic traditions of 5 mosque-like domes. We'll then visit the Norman Cathedral (Palermo Cathedral), also heavily influenced by an Arabic design style, and continue on to the Royal Palace, once the seat of power for Italy's Kings during the Norman domination.
The Palace is set on a plateau away from the city traffic and, like much of Palermo's architecture, it has a mixture of influences from its long history. The greatest influence came from Roger II in the 12th century when he summoned Arab and Byzantine artists to decorate and reinvent the Castle. The most outstanding of these are the byzantine mosaics that depict stories and images from the Old and New Testament. The afternoon is then at leisure for you to relax or explore at your own pace. (B)
Situated on a hilltop on Sicily's southwest shore, the town of Agrigento is where we travel to today. The ruins of the ancient city of Akragas are the main attraction of this relatively small town, and we'll get to explore this later today. This morning we travel to Monreale, a humble hillside town, home to one of Sicily's most famous attractions, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cattedrale di Monreale. This impressive structure is one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture remaining today. After visiting the Cattedrale, we'll enjoy a brief tour of the town and take in the views over the Conca d'Oro, or Golden Valley.
Continuing on we'll follow the southern coastline to Agrigento. Located on the outskirts of Agrigento, the Valley of the Temples is one of Sicily's most historical attractions. The archaeological park is made up of 8 temples - Hera, Concordia, Heracles, Olympian Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Hephaestos, Demeter and Asclepius. Agrigento was once a Greek city called Akragas, settled by descendants from Rhodes and Crete who found the land and climate to be perfect for grape and olive growing. (B)
Beautiful Malta offers a contemporary Mediterranean lifestyle, full of traditional customs and contrasts. It is often described as an open-air museum, with over 7,000 years of history set against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea. Before we board the ferry for Malta, we continue along the Mediterranean coast, stopping to explore in the beautiful Ragusa region. The region is famous for its rich red wines that are usually made from a blend of Nero d'Avola, Frappato and Pignatello grapes. In Ragusa we'll enjoy a short walking tour of the old town and some free time for lunch.
Special Experience: In the town of Modica we'll stop and try the speciality of the region ‘Cioccolato di Modica', characterised by a grainy texture and aromatic flavour. Later this evening, after some free time and dinner, we'll make our way to Pozzallo and take the ferry to Malta.
We'll arrive in Malta late tonight. (B/D)
We'll spend the day discovering Valletta, Malta's capital. Founded in 1566, Valletta bears all the hallmarks of a fortified city, yet within its walls its elegant urban features reveal an architectural opulence steeped in history. The city is a living testimony to the legendary Knights of the Order of St John. Their extravagant palaces, and the Co-Cathedral of St John, are renowned for their wealth of artistic treasures. Beginning in ‘Strada Reale', or Republic Street as it is better known today, we walk amongst the locals until we reach one of the jewels of Malta: The St John's Co-Cathedral.
Austere and deceiving externally, inside you'll find incredible baroque art and architecture. The Grandmasters and several knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art, including Caravaggio's masterpiece – the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. With the Co-Cathedral behind us, we make our way into St. George's Square, the centre of the city, to see the Grandmaster's Palace from the outside (closed for visits), and to experience the Casa Rocca Piccola, a privately owned 16th Century Palace and home of the noble Maltese family de Piro.
Special Experience: Visit the oldest cafe in Valletta and enjoy tea or coffee with freshly prepared pastries known as pastizzi. This afternoon we'll experience Malta in 5D at a show, which brings 7,000 years of island history to life. We then stop at Upper Barracca Gardens. Situated near the entrance of the city, these gardens offer a breathtaking panoramic view over the Grand Harbour, considered to be the finest natural harbour in the Mediterranean.
To finish the day we enjoy a cruise in a traditional dhajsa boat (similar to a Venetian gondola) along the Harbour and witness Malta's living past. Cruise around the natural Grand Harbour of Valletta and learn about the town's history and the Great Sieges of 1565 and 1942. (B)
This morning we take a short ferry ride to the tiny island of Gozo. The island's charm lies in its picturesque landscapes, pastoral villages, and quaint churches. Although the islands of Malta and Gozo are similar in history, Gozo has a character entirely of its own. Gozo is the home of the prehistoric Temples of Ggantija in Xaghra and this is where we begin our sightseeing today. The temples date back to the Neolithic Age (3,600 - 2,500BC) and are believed to be the oldest free-standing religious structures in the world, pre-dating the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge.
Continuing on, we stop in the coastal town of Dwerja to see the site where the famous Azure Window once stood - until recently it was an impressive rock arch where the sea had crashed against the cliffs and formed a natural hole as a result. From certain points on the cliffs, the arch gave the appearance of looking through a window to the ocean - hence the name.
We'll then visit the capital of Gozo, Victoria, and see the Citadel and the lovely Bay of Xlendi. We'll also have some free time to wander. Renowned for its woollen goods and handmade lace, it is the perfect opportunity to purchase some souvenirs.
Special Experience: Visit a traditional Maltese restaurant, where we'll be able to taste some local Gozitan wine and produce over a light lunch and tasting. (B/L)
Enjoy the day at leisure to relax or discover more of Malta at your own pace. This evening we'll visit the former capital, Mdina. The medieval city reveals its charm at night when the narrow streets are empty and lit by old lanterns. Walking through the surrounding walls of the venerable ‘Silent City', it will feel as though we've gone back in time to The Middle Ages.
From the bastions we'll have probably the best and most unique view of the island. The silence in Mdina is eerie, and our tour guide will familiarise us with the secrets of the city and its nocturnal residents. For example, you will get to know the story of the White Lady of Mdina. After our walk we'll enjoy a group farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Optional Excursion: Hagar Qim Temple & Marsaxlokk - This fantastic excursion begins at one of Malta's jewels - the Blue Grotto. With its dazzling blue sea, it will leave a striking impression. If weather permits, you will have the opportunity to take a boat ride (boat fee not included) around the caves and grottoes where you can experience the luminescent corals and glowing water. Your guide will then show you the prehistoric temple complex of Hagar Qim which was discovered in 1839. It dates from about 3,800 BC, and it is one of the oldest known man-made structures in the world. The temple stands on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the islet of Fifla.
Finally, you will proceed to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk where you have free time to explore and admire the most picturesque seaside locality in Malta. Fishing nets are often spread on the quay to dry in the sun and, quite often, fishermen can be seen mending these nets. These activities, together with the modest fishermen's houses by the quayside, lend the place charm and serenity. 5hrs – from Euro 111pp (B/D)
La Dolce Vita
The jewel of the Mediterranean