You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Rome from your selected airport. 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 rest of the day will be spent at leisure, allowing you time to settle into the hotel and start exploring if you wish.
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 is a wonderfully 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 famous Cathedral – which can house a congregation of 10,000 and boasts the largest brick dome roof to-date. This afternoon we enjoy a reserved visit to the Uffizi gallery, with entrance fees included, 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 old town that has nestled behind its imposing stone walls for centuries, hidden away from the tourists. On this morning’s walking tour we learn of the fascinating stories behind the many ravishing views you’ll encounter in Arezzo’s historic centre. In common with other places on this tour, the area flourished in medieval times, coming under the rule of the Medicis around the 15th century. The town contains a range of architectural styles which blend to produce a charming whole – Romanesque churches are juxtaposed with timber-beamed shops, linked by intimate cobbled squares. Arezzo’s Piazza Grande, lined by narrow-fronted multistorey buildings and with a steeply sloping pavement, is one of Europe’s most evocative and atmospheric main squares, while inside the Basilica di San Francesco are the Legends of the True Cross frescoes by Piero della Francesca. We visit the Villa La Ripa this afternoon to enjoy a wine tasting. This is an impressive Renaissance villa with a cantina dating back to Roman times. Located in the undulating countryside just outside Arezzo, it’s surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and produces a selection of wines including Sangiovese, a Tuscan red. The owners, only the fourth family to own the property in over 500 years, are passionate about the villa and we will find out more about.
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 in Rome is either the four-star Eurostars St John or the four-star Welcome Piram Hotel.
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, 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. Wealth flooded in throughout the Renaissance and beyond. The result is the abundance of places of interest you see today. 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, for your flight home after a really memorable tour.