One of the miracles of Italy is that a relatively small country contains such a wealth of stunning scenery and beautiful cities. This vacation is your opportunity to savor both. You'll enjoy a guided tour of Tuscany, the Italian Riviera, and the Alps—ageless, evocative regions that brim with history, striking vistas, and rich traditions. Discover Florence’s Renaissance treasures and Orvieto's ancient charms. In the Italian Riviera, you’ll stay in the Santa Margherita area and visit picturesque Portofino. As you journey through the Alps, you'll also visit fair Verona. Then travel high into Southern Tyrol to Bolzano, surrounded by the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites. Framed by brief stays in Rome and Venice, it's a superb opportunity to experience Italy's treasures—all at Grand Circle's exceptional pacing and value.
Your flight departs this evening.
A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist you to your hotel. Tonight, mingle with fellow Grand Circle travelers, including those who took the optional pre-trip extension to Rome, Italy, and meet your Program Director over a Welcome Drink followed by dinner at your hotel.
Set off today to begin your guided tour of Tuscany. After breakfast, you'll depart for Florence, stopping along the way to visit the hilltop town of Orvieto. Set upon the flat crown of a steep volcanic butte, Orvieto has been an impregnable town since the time of the ancient Etruscans. It was a major center of commerce and learning in the Middle Ages—Thomas Aquinas taught there—and its independent-minded leaders often squabbled with the Papacy. The construction of the 14th-century Orvieto Cathedral is distinctive in its use of basalt and travertine, which are of volcanic origin. Its three-gabled facade is exceptional, with vivid bas-reliefs, statuary, and mosaics. You'll become acquainted with the area during a discovery walk with your Program Director and then enjoy some free time to explore on your own. This afternoon after you arrive at your hotel, delight in an exclusive Discovery Series Italian language lesson—learn some of the most useful Italian words you will use during your trip from your Program Director. Then, join us for an exclusive Discovery Series presentation on the history of the Art of the Renaissance to prepare you for more meaningful discoveries in Florence and Tuscany.
This evening, dinner is included at your hotel.
This morning, embark on a walking tour of Florence with an expert local guide. To begin, you'll marvel at the exterior of the beautiful Duomo. This elegant church with its remarkable octagonal Brunelleschi dome is one of the most magnificent structures in Florence. You'll also visit the Accademia Museum where you'll have an opportunity to see Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Our tour continues with a stroll through Piazza Signoria, the busy square that was the ancient center of city life during the days of the Medici. Perhaps in your free time you'll visit Santa Croce Gothic church, and its tombs and memorials to many famous Italians like Dante, Galileo, and Michelangelo.
This evening, enjoy a Home-Hosted Dinner with a local family, a unique opportunity to share a home-cooked meal of regional flavors, and learn about life in modern-day Italy. This is a truly unforgettable opportunity to make new friends and experience everyday life.
Today is free for you to visit some of Florence’s famous sites on your own. The historical center of Florence is full of striking buildings and piazzas and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And you may want to visit the Casa Guidi, Elisabeth Barrett-Browning’s home in Florence, just next to the Ponte Vecchio; or, across the street, the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. Or perhaps you'll explore the Uffizi Gallery. This world-renowned museum is home to masterpieces by such legendary artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto, Titian, Michelangelo, and many more.
This afternoon, join us on an optional Treasures of Tuscany tour to discover the rare beauty of Tuscany. Whatever your personal vision of Tuscany may be—rolling hills covered with vineyards; remote medieval towns and sun-drenched castles; a grass-wrapped bottle of robust Chianti—you may find it today, along with many other treasures of this beloved wine country. You’ll head out toward the medieval hill town of San Gimignano, known as the “Town of Towers.” You’ll enjoy free time to explore the narrow, stone-paved streets that twist inside the walls of this quaint town. Then travel through the scenic Chianti wine country to Castello Oliveto, a 15th-century manor where you will take a tour of the residence and its ancient wine cellar before enjoying dinner.
Your day is free to spend as you please.
Or, take advantage of a full-day optional tour to Siena. A local guide will take you on a walking tour to discover this medieval walled city, built on three ridges and dominating the land between the valleys of Arbia and Elsa. Siena was a rich and powerful city during the Middle Ages. From the twelfth to the 16th centuries, its banking activities and trade in wool and textiles placed it in direct rivalry with Florence. Its influence decreased after that time, as it spent much of its energies in defense against foreign conquerors.
Today's Siena still retains the air of the Tuscan Middle Ages. The 334-foot slender Italianate tower of the Town Hall soars from the rim of the Piazza del Campo, an inclined, central square that is one of the most beautiful in all of Italy. Surrounding this square, where an annual horse race called Il Palio takes place, are numerous lovely churches and palaces dating from the twelfth to 16th centuries. Here and throughout the city are some of the most splendid examples of Gothic architecture in Italy.
During this optional excursion, you'll have some free time to explore on your own before enjoying an included lunch at a local trattoria.
Today marks the end of your guided tour of Tuscany, and the beginning of your stay in the Italian Riviera. Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before journeying to Santa Margherita. Along our route we stop in Pisa, where you have free time to explore the Piazza dei Miracoli (the Square of Miracles) at your own pace. The square is decorated by the stunning marble architecture of its Cathedral, the Baptistery (with its marvelous echo), and, of course, the Leaning Tower. This famous tower brings to mind one of civilization's most illustrious names—Galileo Galilei, the genius who helped to found modern science. At the square's Cathedral, you can still view the lamp that inspired Galileo's theory of the pendulum. He used the vantage point of the top of Pisa's celebrated Leaning Tower to demonstrate principles of speed and velocity.
You'll continue on to the Italian Riviera. This is a strikingly beautiful coastal stretch marked by mountains and promontories falling into sparkling seas, and by gentle hills covered with green forests and vineyards. After checking in to the hotel, you'll enjoy a walk around the vicinity with your Program Director. Tonight, enjoy an included dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, join an included excursion to Portofino featuring a scenic boat ride (depending on the season and weather permitting). Portofino is the gem of the Italian Riviera, with an idyllic location on a miniature cove. The town is tiny, and you can walk wherever you wish to go, admiring the pastel-colored houses, lovely gardens, and elegant villas. Stroll past private old villas to the lighthouse, or climb steps from the port to the little parish Church of St. George with its panoramic view of the port and bay.
This afternoon, enjoy some free time at leisure, or join an optional Ligurian cooking lesson. During this session, you'll learn about the rustic cuisine and herb-infused flavors of the region, plus enjoy an aperitif and dinner. Otherwise, dinner tonight is on your own.
Take advantage of a full day to savor the delights of the Italian Riviera according to your own interests. Perhaps you’d like to take a local train to nearby Chiavari to browse the shops and the local fruit and vegetable market, one of the prettiest in the region.
You may want to discover the nearby "Cinque Terre," where five little villages, each with its own unique character, are built into the cliffs between the beach and the vineyard-terraced hills of this rocky coastline. Or, spend more time in Santa Margherita exploring its streets or relaxing along the waterfront.
Dinner is included at your hotel tonight.
After breakfast at your hotel, begin your journey to Bolzano. Along the way, you’ll stop in Verona, where you’ll be met by a local guide for a walking tour of the city made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. You’ll visit Juliet’s iconic balcony and explore the handsome main square, the Piazza dei Signori.
We arrive in Bolzano in mid-afternoon and check into our hotel. Bolzano is located high in the Alps near the border of Austria, and is a true blend of Italian and Tyrolean cultures. Note the architecture of the houses and churches, and the cuisine—all of which are part of Southern Tyrol’s distinctive character. This is a mountainous region whose history is long and convoluted, with Italy gaining Southern Tyrol from Austria by the treaty of St. Germain in 1919. You'll enjoy an included dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
After breakfast, enjoy a walking tour in the company of an expert local guide introducing you to Bolzano’s Austrian and Italian influences. Since medieval times, Bolzano has been a staging point on the route south through the Brenner Pass to Rome.
In the Old Town Center, see vivid examples of Bolzano’s Germanic Gothic history. Visit the Duomo, a 14th-century wonder featuring remarkable frescoes, and stroll the pedestrian-only Piazza Walther. You’ll also visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology to see one of the area’s most ancient residents, Otzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy found preserved in the Italian Alps in 1991. You’ll learn Otzi’s history and see the ancient clothes and tools found frozen with him.
This afternoon, join us for an optional excursion to Renon Mountain, which rises over Bolzano. We'll reach the mountain by cable car, taking in panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas. Continue by train to a nearby village where you'll have time to explore the town and learn more about local life. Here, you'll stop at a traditional maso (Tyrolean farmhouse) to taste apple juice—the local specialty, and then you'll continue to Unterrin for dinner in a local gasthof (tavern).
Or, enjoy an afternoon to make your own discoveries in Bolzano. Perhaps you'll visit one of the city's museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art, or the Museum of Natural History. You may also choose to visit the open-air market.
This morning, drive through the Dolomite Mountains, and witness some of the most amazing alpine scenery in Europe. You’ll stop to visit picturesque Lake Carezza and take in the spectacular vista of Latemar Mountain before continuing on to Pordoi Pass, where you'll witness some of the highest peaks in the Alps. You'll savor the hearty alpine food during lunch at a typical South Tyrolean restaurant. Then, travel through the breathtaking Sella Pass and Eggental Valley, followed by a stop at a local resort village. This evening, dinner is on your own.
Spend your day at leisure. You may choose to explore the historical streets, shop at the traditional fruit market, or relax at a local cafe.
Or, you can journey farther into Tyrol as you cross the border with Austria to visit the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck during an optional tour. Your scenic journey will take you over the Brenner Pass and via the Europabrucke, the tallest road bridge in Europe. The setting is enhanced by the backdrop of the Karwendel foothills’ deep green fir and pine forest, and by the snowy peaks beyond. Nestled in a bend of the river Inn, the historic capital of Innsbruck is surrounded by the Alps.
You’ll discover Innsbruck’s Old Town, a small area of sturdy medieval houses painted in pastel colors and supported by sloping buttresses. Enjoy a walking tour along the city’s main thoroughfares—such as the Maria-Theresien Strasse—to the magnificent City Tower, built in 1442 and later crowned by a Baroque bulbous cupola. Here, you’ll encounter the city’s Market Square, full of 15th- and 16th-century houses. Beyond, a labyrinth of alleyways invites aimless strolling.
Perhaps the most charming landmark in Innsbruck is the Golden Roof Palace, erected by Archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century as the residence of the Tyrolean sovereigns. You’ll have an opportunity to capture its beauty during a photo stop. The tour will come to a close with coffee and cake at a local cafe.
Back in Bolzano tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.
This morning, transfer to Venice, where you'll experience a local form of transportation known as a vaporetto (a small ferry) which will take you to your hotel. This afternoon, enjoy a walking tour of the "City of Canals" in the company of a local expert guide. Your tour begins in the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the center of Venice. This square was the heartbeat of the Serenissima (Serene Republic) in the heyday of Venice’s glory as a seafaring republic, and the city’s major attractions are centered here. It is one of the most beautiful and most photographed squares in all of Europe. Dominated by the lovely St. Mark’s Basilica, the spacious square is surrounded with outdoor cafés, and is the perfect place to do a little people watching Italian-style while sipping a cappuccino.
Ornate St. Mark’s Basilica is so richly embellished that it looks as though it could have been moved intact from Istanbul. Though the domed church is a conglomerate of many architectural styles, its main influence is Byzantine. Its facade is adorned with marble and mosaics that depict the life of Christ and St. Mark (whose body was smuggled into Venice in a pork barrel to confound Muslim officials who would refuse to search anything that touched pork).
Outside the basilica is the campanile (bell tower), which was rebuilt after it collapsed in 1902. It is now open should you want to ascend (via elevator) for a good view of the six cupolas of the church. Around the corner is the Palazzo Ducale, or Doges’ Palace. As we view this grand palace from the outside, note that this Venetian-Gothic palazzo is considered by many to be the grandest civic structure in Italy.
Tonight, enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your travel companions at a local restaurant.
You'll be escorted to the airport after breakfast for your flight home. Or, extend your stay with our Venice, Italy post-trip extension.