Day 1 Mar 19, 2015
Arrival & Florence (D)
Arrive at Florence airport, where your group will be greeted by a local, English-speaking guide and transferred to your hotel in Florence. Check-in, then explore on your own until dinner. It’s been a long day, so dine in the hotel this evening as a group. It will be your first chance to break bread together and remind yourselves how wonderfully lucky you are to be in Bella Italia!!
Day 2 Mar 20, 2015 Florence (B,L, D)
Half-day guided tour of Florence with local guide; Afternoon at the Uffizi Museum .
Your discovery tour starts at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, with the beautiful Dominican church of the same name. Here you can appreciate great masterpieces such as Brunelleschi’s Crucifix, and Masaccio’s Trinity. Proceed through the typical little square of the Croce al Trebbio and the elegant Via Tornabuoni to reach Palazzo Strozzi. Further on, you will see the Palazzo Davanzati and the fourteenth-century Palagio di Parte Guelfa by Brunelleschi. Shortly thereafter you will come upon the Ponte Vecchio, the “Jewelers’Bridge”, one of the symbols of Florence; then pass through the Piazzale degli Uffizi to enter Piazza della Signoria, a splendid “open-air sculpture museum,” overshadowed by the famous and imposing Palazzo Vecchio. The tour continues through the heart of the Medieval city to Dante Alighieri’s house and church, and on to the Cathedral Complex, where your walking tour ends.
Stop for a quick lunch in a local trattoria, then this afternoon, skip the line and get right into the Uffizi, one of the must-see museums in Florence. The Uffizi gallery is the most complete Italian painting gallery, following the evolution of the Florentine school from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance through the works by Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo and other great Renaissance masters. There will be time at the end of the tour for individual visits to other rooms of the Gallery and to enjoy the breathtaking views from the windows. This evening, enjoy dinner in a small local restaurant.
Day 3 Mar 21, 2015 Chianti (B, L)
Michelangelo’s David; Half-day guided tour of Chianti with local guide
This morning, skip the lines again! We have pre-booked entrances for everyone to the Accademia, where you will see that most iconic of statues, Michelangelo’s David. There is nothing like standing next to a great masterpiece to make you feel inspired! The rest of the visit will concentrate on Michelangelo’s other works, including his important unfinished statues.
Enjoy lunch in a local trattoria before boarding your coach.
It’s time to explore Chianti! On the way, your air-conditioned vehicle will stop in Greve, where you will visit an historic Butchers shop situated in the main square – enjoy your first taste of Salami and cheese, as well as Tuscan bread and wines.
Continue to a Tuscan castle, one of the most beautiful and well-preserved in Tuscany, set atop a hill dominating the Valley. Visit their the wine cellars followed by lunch with a selection of their wines. In the afternoon, visit a family-run wine cellar and olive oil farm for a tasting session.
Return to Florence in time to enjoy a quiet evening on your own.
Day 4 Mar 22, 2015 Vinci & Lucca (B, L, D)
Full day guided tour of Vinci and Lucca with local guide
Visit the home town of Leonardo da Vinci, including the house where he was born and the museum dedicated to his life’s work. On display are actual models of many of Leonardo’s inventions. Leaving Vinci, continue to a nearby country house surrounded by vineyards. Lunch will be served outside (weather permitting) with a selection of local treats and produce.
In the afternoon, your coach continues on to Lucca, where you can take a walking tour of the town with a local guide. The ramparts that give Lucca its characteristic appearance run over 2 miles right around the town, making the city unique. Built during the 16th & 17th centuries in order to defend the city from a probable attack by the city of Florence (which never occurred), planted with two rows of trees in the 19th century, they now form an unusual park reserved for pedestrians and cyclists.
The tour gives you a chance to discover the local history and works of art, an easy and enjoyable walk through Medieval streets and elegant Renaissance palaces. On the way, you will see the Piazza Cittadella, with a statue dedicated to Giacomo Puccini, composer of many great operas; Piazza S. Michele; the old Roman forum; the Basilica of San Frediano with Byzantine mosaic work dating back to the second half of the 13th century; An old roman amphitheatre, which has been turned into a unique example of a very charming oval italian piazza; the Guinigi Tower, with its rooftop garden made up of 7 oak trees; the Via del Battistero with numerous antique furniture shops; the San Martino Cathedral, containing the Volto Santo, a mysterious antique crucifix, which sits in a precious Renaissance temple, visited by millions of pilgrims since the Middle ages; and Piazza Napoleone, opened by Elisa Baciocchi, one of Napoleon’s three sisters.
Tonight, after you return to Florence, dine in the hotel as you will need to pack for your morning checkout.
Day 5 Mar 23, 2015 San Gimignano & Siena (B, L, D)
Transfer to Siena; Tour San Gimignano with local guide
After breakfast, say good-bye to Florence and then board your coach for Siena.
En route, stop to visit San Gimignano, a little gem famous for its towers; your visit includes entrance to the Guinigi Tower, where you can see the city below. Walking through the Old City means plunging into the Middle Ages, enclosed by 13th-century walls and accessed by two main streets that intersect to create two wonderful piazzas. You will receive a guide visit with an insight to the history of this town and a look at the many craftsmen workshops that line these narrow streets.
On the way out, pause in Torgiano for a light Tuscan lunch.
In the afternoon arrive at your Siena hotel. Relax and rest this evening or explore the city. Dinner is at the hotel.
Day 6 Mar 24, 2015 Siena (B, L)
Full day guided tour of Siena with local guide
The city, set on three hills, is drawn together by winding alleyways and steep steps. Siena reached its demographic and economic peak between the 13th and the first half of the 14th centuries. Most of its monuments and works of art bear witness this glorious past.
Walking along the main street, the palazzos and piazzas welcome you as they have done for centuries the many pilgrims and merchants passing by. The main square, Piazza del Campo, is the natural centre of the city. Its shell-shaped heart made of bricks is like a warm carpet of “burnt Siena” color.
Visit the majestic Cathedral, delighting in its exceptional works of art, among which we find masterpieces of Michelangelo and Donatello. In the main square, Piazza del Campo, we find the Town Hall, the biggest Gothic palace in Italy. The building houses the civic museum, where you can enjoy the world-famous frescoes of the Buon Governo, depicted in the 13th century by Ambrogio Lorenzetti for the local Government, and learn about the technique used to paint them. You can also admire another masterpiece of the medieval sienese painting, the Maestà by Simone Martini, with the Madonna and Child Enthroned, surrounded by Saints. This represents one of the main examples of how much the people from Siena were devotees of the Virgin Mary.
Today you’ll have lunch in an Enoteca restaurant hidden away in one of the side streets of Siena.
Dinner on your own in Siena, or take the evening off to relax in your hotel.
Day 7 Mar 25, 2015 Tuscan Countryside (B, L, D)
Guided walking/coach tour of Tuscan Countryside with local guide
A walk of art in the Crete hills would be incomplete without a visit to the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Your walking tour starts from the lovely village of San Giovanni d’Asso, known for its white truffles and the first museum in Europe dedicated to this delicacy. Along wide roads overlooking the impressive and dramatic landscape of the crete clay hills, visit the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, founded in 1313 by Saint Bernardo Tolomei. You will see the church and the superb central cloister with 15th century frescoes painted by Sodoma and Luca Signorelli which describe episodes from the life of Saint Benedict.
Afterwards, your coach will tour you further around Tuscany as you visit delightful Montalcino and St Antimo, exploring more of the region before returning to your hotel and one final night in Siena. Enjoy dinner at your hotel, then make sure you’re ready to go in the morning!
Day 8 Mar 26, 2015 Lake Trasimeno & Assisi (B, L)
Transfer to Assisi; Visit Maggiore Island with local guide
After breakfast, you will board your coach for Assisi, but first, stop en route to visit Lake Trasimeno.
This area was inhabited by the Etruscans, whose graves continue to watch over the surroundings of Castiglione del Lago. It is thought that the Romans created the first lake’s effluent to regulate its water level, sadly introducing the world to water pollution. On the lake shores, the famous Trasimeno battle took place, where the Romans were defeated by Hannibal in 217 BC.
You will enjoy a private boat trip on the lake that will take you to the lovely Maggiore island. Take some time to explore this delightful little local island, and have lunch in a typical restaurant. After your return boat trip, your coach will continue on to Assisi, where you will have an afternoon arrival at your monastery.
Check into this primitive, pristine space where you will have the basic necessities of bed and bath as you turn within and experience a different side of both Italy and yourself. Up until now, you have been dining and drinking as decadently as the locals, experiencing all the wonderful outer Spirit that gives Italy its vibrancy and reputation. Now experience some inner Spirit as you quiet down into the life that many many have lived here over the centuries.
Dinner in Assisi on your own.
Day 9 Mar 27, 2015 Assisi (B, L, D)
Day for Contemplation
Take a day with Karen and Jennifer to relax in your sanctuary monastery and rest from the world. They will guide both your outer and inner journey today. All meals will be served in the monastery and the food will be simple and fresh.
Day 10 Mar 28, 2015 Assisi (B, L, D)
Full day guided tour of Assisi with local guide
Today is dedicated to Assisi and the trail of St Frances, its most revered son. Your tour begins with the stunning 3-level Romanesque/Gothic Basilica di San Francesco, built in the 13th century to house the body of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy. The greatest fresco masters of the late 13th and 14th century—Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti—were called to the Basilica, rendering this church one of Italy’s most outstanding art museums. What we know of as art was born here in 1300 and the restoration project following the 1997 earthquake is perhaps one of the greatest ever undertaken.
Continue along the backstreets of Assisi to see many architectural details and local curiosities: the 3rd century BC Roman wall and Roman city gate; the majestic Basilica di Santa Chiara where St. Clare of Assisi, follower of Francis, was buried in the 13th century; the piazza of Assisi with its medieval bell tower; elegant civic buildings of the 13th-14th centuries; and the stately Temple of Minerva, dating all the way back to the 1st century BC.
During the day, you will get the chance to meet many local artisans; for example, bookbinders and restorers, majolica craftsmen, sculptors, olive wood artisans, and weavers.
Have lunch at a local restaurant in Assisi. In the afternoon, your coach will take you to Monte Subasio. Here are the caves on the slope of Monte Subasio where St Francis and his followers established their first home at the Eremo delle Carceri (Carceri Hermitage). He often returned here during his life to pray and contemplate. St. Francis first began coming here in 1205—at the time the only building here was a tiny 12th-century oratory. Francis lived alone in a cave.
In the centuries that followed, various buildings were added around St. Francis’ cave and the original oratory, forming the sizeable complex that exists today and is still occupied by Franciscan friars.
The Eremo is reached after a short walk through the woods; in addition to the atmosphere, the Eremo is well worth visiting for its medieval architecture and art and several sites associated with episodes in the life of the Saint. Resident friars can provide tours.
Return to Assisi, where you will have dinner at the monastery.
Day 11 Mar 29, 2015 Assisi & Perugia (B, L, D)
Half-day guided tour of Perugia with local guide
After breakfast, visit the town of Santa Maria degli Angeli, located on the plain below Assisi. This was an early center for the Franciscans. Visit the basilica a lovely Baroque period structure raised in 1684 to shelter the Porziuncola (the oratory, the tiny stone home St. Francis and his followers used).
Continue on to Perugia, where you will have a guided tour of the city, including the Piazza IV Novembre, the Fontana Maggiore, and the Palazzo dei Priori, where the town councilors used to meet; you will see many beautiful 13th century frescoes. The building houses the National Art Gallery of Umbria and three other museums. Then it’s on to the Rocca Paolina, a fortress built by Pope Paul III over the houses and buildings he destroyed; you can visit the underground remains of the streets and homes. The Etruscan remains include the 3rd century BC Etruscan well, the Etruscan Arch (one of the city gates), and some of the massive Etruscan wall around the city.
After a delicious lunch in Perugia, enjoy a chocolate tasting in one the local artisan shops.
You will be back to have your Farewell Dinner in Assisi and pack for your return home.
Day 12 Mar 30, 2015 Home (B)
Transfer to Florence Airport
The group will take a coach from Assisi to the Florence airport to board your return flight to the US.