IMMERSED IN ITALY : FROM VENICE TO FLORENCE TO ROME
A dream trip through Italy for a group of amici
A few months into the COVID pandemic, an old friend contacted me with a special request: create an Italian trip for him and his lovely wife, together with a group of their close friends. Hit the highlights, but also explore some back roads that only Adagio knows. Call up my buddies around the Bel Paese and create some cool experiences. This is the trip that resulted. We hoped to do it in June 2021, but COVID planned otherwise. So in September 2021, 10 brave souls made their way across the Atlantic for the time of their lives. We were blessed with few crowds and lots of sunshine. This was truly a trip for the Adagio archives!
You can enjoy a similar experience. Just give us the parameters and let Adagio do the rest!
DAY 1: Venice – Dinner at Harry’s Bar and small group tour of St Mark’s Basilica by night
Arrive at your first hotel and settle into the Venetian lifestyle.
You’ll start this evening with dinner at a Venetian icon: Harry’s Bar. Since 1931, Harry’s Bar has welcomed writers, painters, artists, aristocrats, kings and queens. Among them there were: Barbara Hutton, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Giancarlo Menotti, Peggy Guggenheim, Orson Welles, Frank Lloyd Wright, Joe di Maggio, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway. The keys to the success of this tiny Bar are service, freedom and lack of imposition.
After dinner, you’ll enjoy an after-hours visit of another Venetian icon: St Mark’s Basilica. Built as the private church of the city’s Doge (like a modern-day governor) and created in the early 9th century after Venetian merchants plundered the relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria—it marks a symbolic turning point for a city that was beginning to dominate the Mediterranean. The Basilica’s distinctive facade mixes architectural elements lifted from the Eastern tradition with Gothic designs. All of the passersby will wonder where you’re going as a custodian unlocks the basilica’s doors for you and walks you right in. Inside, take a deep breath. You’re experiencing St. Mark’s Basilica as almost nobody else does, or ever has ever been able to (aside from the Doge himself) – empty! No standing elbow-to-elbow with other tourists, no seeing the church as if through a strobe light from hundreds of popping flashbulbs, no noise from the crowds. This is when the mosaics are at their most beautiful, with all 43,000 square feet lit up, glimmering and sparkling in the dark.
Accommodation for the next 2 nights: 3 or 4-star boutique hotel representative of Venice’s esteemed past and present
DAY 2: Private Intro to Venice and the Glass Blowing Tradition
After breakfast, start the day with a private transfer from our hotel to the island of Murano, where the city’s glass artisans work. Venetians have been making glass since the middle ages, and the importance of glass objects, glass trading, and glass craftsmanship is deeply interwoven with Venetian history and identity. You’ll see glass artisans at work in a local factory, learn how the craft of glass-making has evolved, and discover what makes Murano glass so unique.
Venetians didn’t invent glass. Glass manufacturing can be traced back millenia to Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, it became one of the symbols of the city, and, in particular, of a tiny island in the Northern lagoon, Murano. This craft was so important to Venice – both for its economy and status – that it established a system of patents to protect the inventions that were being forged by the skillful artisans. With time, glass masters were considered as part of the local nobility and were granted special privileges. The city’s glass factories have been located on Murano since 1291, when The Doge forced their relocation out of Venice proper in order to contain fire hazards.
After the visit, take private water taxi back to St Mark’s Square for the continuation of your discovery of Venice. Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square as it’s known in English, is the most renowned public space in the city and, historically, its social and political focal point. Yesterday you explored Saint Mark’s Basilica. Instead, today, you’ll discover the other iconic buildings on the famous Square and over to the oldest part of Venice around the Rialto Bridge. For a thousand years, the Doges ruled Venice. An elected official who held office for life but could not pass the title down to his heirs, the role of the Doge is a crucial piece of the Venetian puzzle. You will begin your time together with a discussion about the role and the overall political structure of Venice from the medieval period until Napoleon took the reins of the city in the 18th century.
The afternoon tour continues meandering through the fascinating streets between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, with commentary along the way. Exiting from the square, you’ll get off the beaten track to the small canalside alleyways while your guide shares stories of Venice’s rich history and points out examples of its unique architecture. You’ll take in the surrounding neighborhoods and a handful of churches, palaces, and public spaces that give evidence to the city’s relationship with the East and its influences on architecture and daily life. As part of this, you may discuss Marco Polo’s reported ancestral home, Corte del Milion, the trading center Fondaco dei Tedeschi, small clusters of Armenian homes and churches, and finally, the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. You’ll end the tour understanding the layout of the city and the history of the Republic.
This evening you’ll be treated to a private “tribute to Mozart” concert right in our hotel, with music written by a professor at the Venice university.
Meals included: breakfast, cocktails/snacks before the evening music concert
DAY 3: Venice – Lake Garda
Breakfast, check out and free time for final exploration in Venice. Private water taxi to the Venice car park, then transfer to the town of Desenzano on the south shore of stunning Lake Garda. Afternoon free to lunch on the lake and explore. Tonight you’ll enjoy a private cruise of the lake, ending at a romantic dinner spot on the eastern shore.
Accommodation for tonight: boutique hotel in town. Meals included: breakfast
DAY 4: Lake Garda – Pietrasanta, Tuscany via Milan (visit to da Vinci’s Last Supper)
Breakfast, check out, and private transfer to the charming Tuscan town of Pietrasanta. Piestrasanta is located close to the famous Cinque Terre (which we’ll explore on foot tomorrow) and is filled with artists, eateries, and fine shops. Our boutique hotel is in the center of the action. The hotel was created inside a seventeenth-century palazzo, the result of a careful renovation that has maintained and enhanced its original charm. Its extraordinary private collection of contemporary art blends naturally into classic environments and modern comfort, creating a unique whole with the garden of old palms and the veranda.
But before we reach Tuscany, we’ll make an important stop: we’ve been fortunate enough to snag tickets to visit Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. Milan’s most famous mural is hidden away on a wall of the refectory adjoining the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Depicting Christ and his disciples at the dramatic moment when Christ reveals he’s aware of his betrayal, it’s a masterful psychological study and one of the world’s most iconic images.
Late afternoon arrival at our hotel and free evening. We suggest checking out the many boutiques and restaurants near our hotel.
Accommodation for the next 2 nights: Albergo Pietrasanta 4* Meals included: Breakfast
DAY 5: Hiking and Le Cinque Terre (the “Five Lands”) on the Mediterranean Sea
After breakfast, transfer high up in the Ligurian hills to the trailhead in Volastra. Destination: An off-the-beaten walking path to Corniglia, one of the 5 fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre, or “five lands”. Allow about 1 hour 45 minutes for a leisurely pace with your experienced guide, with plenty of time for photo ops. Explore Corniglia for a bit and find a cute spot for lunch on your own, then transfer with our vans to another of the 5 villages — Manarola (half hour drive). Late afternoon return to Pietrasanta with driver. Evening at leisure. Meals included: Breakfast
DAY 6: Pietrasanta to Chiantishire via Pisa and Florence
Check out and early departure after breakfast for the jewel of Tuscany: Florence! En route, you will stop for a quick photo op in front of the iconic leaning tower of Pisa.
Your guide will meet you at 10:30am today in Florence to introduce you to this most gorgeous Renaissance city on foot. San Giovanni Battista square (the religious center of Florence) with brief explanations of the exteriors of the baptistery, the bell tower and the cathedral (Duomo). Then walk along Via Calzaiuoli, arriving in Piazza Signoria (the political center of the town). You will arrive late morning at the Accademia Gallery, where your focus will be Michelangelo works. Your timed entrance to the Galleria dell’Accademia (with skip-the-line tickets) will lessen the wait time. The Accademia houses Michelangelo’s masterpiece and consummate symbol of the Florentine Renaissance, the Statue of David. Here you will explore this important statue and related works and learn about many aspects of Michelangelo’s career.
The walk will end around 1:30pm, and we suggest lunch at nearby Ristorante Accademia. Free time, then transfer in late afternoon to our villa hotel south of Florence (about 1 hour) away. Time to rest and explore the property. Dinner at the hotel tonight.
Accommodation for the next 2 nights: Hotel Villa Le Barone 4* in the Chianti hills.
Meals included: breakfast and dinner at the villa
DAY 7: E-biking to a winery; wine tasting and lunch; then dinner with Janet and Stefano by the olive groves
After breakfast, our e-bikes will be delivered right to our door! Fitting and quick lesson on how to operate, then we’re off on a 2-hour (14km) gorgeous guided ride through rolling hills to the Savignola Winery. An excellent producer of Tuscan reds (Chianti and more experimental), Savignola will present their wines paired with a light lunch. Time to relax a bit before we return to our hotel by van. Free time in the afternoon to nap, relax by the pool, or explore the vast library offerings of Villa Barone.
Early evening, private transfer to the hills south of Florence. On the way, you’ll stop for a brief visit of the stunning Badia a Passignano abbey. You’ll end at the home of our friend and ex-pat Janet, who has lived here for the last 45 years. She and her Tuscan husband Stefano raise olive trees and make very fine olive oil on a small scale which you can order freshly bottled and delivered to your home. Today you will visit briefly their olive groves, followed by a fantastic dinner (included; prepared by family) at their modest home. Private transfer back to the hotel after dinner.Meals included: breakfast, light lunch and wine tasting, dinner with wine.
DAY 8: Tuscany to Rome; visit the Coliseum, Palatine Hill and Forum
Check out; departure after breakfast and beautiful drive (about 3 hours) to Rome through the hills of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.
Upon arrival in Rome, you will meet our guide for a private visit of the archaeological core of the city, focusing on three key monuments: the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, and the Coliseum. Led by an architect, this tour uses the ruins of the ancient city as a backdrop for discussing the rise of the Roman empire and the role of archaeology in history. The tour also features skip-the-line tickets so that you can enter the ruins quickly. You’ll start at the Coliseum, where you will discuss Roman public spectacle and decadence. Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Coliseum is a marvel of ancient engineering and construction. You’ll explore the role the Coliseum played in the social life of ancient Rome and discuss how this monolith was built
On Palatine Hill, you will explore the first stages of the city and the legend of its founding in 753 B.C. by Romulus. You may also stop in the Palatine Museum to learn about Roman sculpture, or visit other ruins, including remnants of the aqueduct of Claudius. Following this, you’ll head down the Via Sacra (the main street of ancient Rome) and past the major sites that crowded the city center, including the Curia (senate house) and the temples, triumphal arches, and basilicas around the Forum Square. At the end of your Roma Antica tour, you will have a deeper knowledge of ancient Rome–its emperors, its history, and its feats of engineering.
Walk to your hotel from the Forum, and remainder of the afternoon and evening free.
Accommodation for the next 2 nights: Nice centrally-located 3 or 4 star hotel. Meals included: breakfast
DAY 9: Vatican Museum
You’ll get an early start today with a private transfer to the Vatican City, where you’ll enjoy a private walk through the Vatican Museums (including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel). Visiting the Vatican is a challenge. As one of Europe’s most crowded museums, just getting inside—never mind making sense of its layered tapestry of art and history—is difficult to say the least. This private Vatican walk is designed to solve this problem by slipping around the crowds and explaining the collection in a way that it makes sense in the context of your visit to Rome. During your time together on this Vatican Tour you will visit the most significant parts of the Vatican Museums, as well as the Sistine Chapel.
After the morning tour, there’s time for lunch and independent exploration, including a chance to pick up last minute souvenirs. This evening, your guide meets you again for a stroll to see some of Rome’s must famous landmarks: Campo dei Fiori, the Pantheon, Piazza di Pietra, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps (or variants) before dinner.
Meals included: breakfast.
DAY 10: Departure – Rome Airport
Private transfer to Rome Fiumicino airport.