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Day by Day Itinerary

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.

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    Your flight departs this evening.

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    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.

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    • Meals included:
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    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 With & Without Words 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.

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    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. You’re sure to savor this family-style meal, as well as the opportunity to learn about everyday life in modern-day Italy.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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. We'll travel to the nearby town of Recco, where we will participate in an interactive cooking class led by the chef of a popular restaurant specializing in local flavors. 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.

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    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.

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    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 late 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    You'll be escorted to the airport after breakfast for your flight home. Or, extend your stay with our Venice, Italy post-trip extension.

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Traveler Reviews

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 5 locations in 14 days, including 2 single-night stays

Physical Requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 3-5 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs
  • Balance and agility are required to board vaporetto (small ferry) in Venice

Altitude

  • 1 full day at altitudes between 3,000-6,000 feet

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 51-89°F during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • March and November weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time
  • Expect strong, cold winds in the Dolomite Alps in April-May and September-October

Terrain

  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestone

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach, 100-seat ferry boat, and vaporetto

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Victoria Hotel

    Rome, Italy | Rating: First Class

    Located in the heart of Rome overlooking the Villa Borghese Park, this First-Class hotel is the perfect place to relax after exploring the city. Perhaps you’ll take advantage of the indoor and outdoor pools, or health club, or enjoy views from the panoramic terrace. The hotel’s on-site restaurant, the Belisario, is known for its regional Italian cuisine. Your air-conditioned room features a TV, wireless Internet access, and a refrigerator.

  • Londra Hotel

    Florence, Italy | Rating: First Class

    Situated in the center of Florence, the modern Londra Hotel is conveniently located next to the city’s main railway station. It’s also near Santa Maria Novella, one of the oldest and most well-known churches in the city. You may choose to unwind in the fitness center, or dine at the hotel’s on-site restaurant, specializing in Tuscan cuisine and seafood. Your room features satellite TV, complimentary wireless Internet access, minibar, and telephone.

  • Hotel Jolanda

    Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

    The elegant Hotel Jolanda is situated close to the seaside, and not far from major sights along the Italian Riviera, like Portofino and Cinque Terre. The hotel features an on-site restaurant offering regional cuisine, a fitness center, sauna, as well as well-tended gardens. Each well-appointed, air-conditioned room includes a private bathroom, hair dryer, minibar, and a safe.

  • Parkhotel Luna Mondschein

    Bolzano, Italy | Rating: Moderate First Class

    The Moderate First-Class Parkhotel Luna Mondschein is located in the historical center of Bolzano, and has been family-owned since 1798. It is within close distance of the Dolomites, and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. During your stay here, you’ll have an opportunity to go bicycling or jogging on the trails nearby, or dine in one of three on-site restaurants. Each room features a TV, wireless Internet access, telephone, and minibar.

  • Continental Hotel

    Venice, Italy | Rating: Moderate First Class

    Located in the center of Venice, the Moderate First-Class Continental Hotel Venice is the former home of a noble Venetian family. Besides overlooking the Grand Canal, you’ll be within easy reach of many main attractions, as well as in close proximity to the railway station. Your air-conditioned room features a TV, wireless Internet access, balcony, and safe.

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  • Victoria Hotel

    Rome, Italy | Rating: First Class

    Located in the heart of Rome overlooking the Villa Borghese Park, this First-Class hotel is the perfect place to relax after exploring the city. Perhaps you’ll take advantage of the indoor and outdoor pools, or health club, or enjoy views from the panoramic terrace. The hotel’s on-site restaurant, the Belisario, is known for its regional Italian cuisine. Your air-conditioned room features a TV, wireless Internet access, and a refrigerator.

  • Continental Hotel

    Venice, Italy | Rating: Moderate First Class

    Located in the center of Venice, the Moderate First-Class Continental Hotel Venice is the former home of a noble Venetian family. Besides overlooking the Grand Canal, you’ll be within easy reach of many main attractions, as well as in close proximity to the railway station. Your air-conditioned room features a TV, wireless Internet access, balcony, and safe.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2295
w/ standard air $3395

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Italian With & Without Words language lesson. Learn some basic Italian—both verbal and non-verbal—with your Program Director.
  • The Art of the Renaissance discussion. In Florence, learn about the artwork created during this explosion of artistic, cultural, and political ideas.
  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Savor native cuisine at a local family's home, and enjoy lively conversation and camaraderie.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Rome
  • Florence
  • San Gimignano
  • Siena
  • Pisa
  • Verona
  • The Dolomites
  • Venice

10 reasons to experience Italy: Tuscany, the Alps & the Riviera—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. Sun-soaked vineyards, medieval cities, and extraordinary artistic achievements greet visitors at seemingly every turn on our tour to Italy. Here are some of the memorable experiences that they have shared with us.

Bolzano, Italy
"The town of Bolzano is charming. We had a terrific local guide. Don't miss the Iceman [Archaeology] Museum. It sounded a bit odd to me until I went through it and saw everything they discovered with him. Honestly amazing! Had some great food, of course. I highly recommend the cable car ride, the train through the mountains, and the additional trip through the Alps. Breathtaking! Nothing like it and the sights into the Alps were just beautiful."
A 4-time traveler from Woodridge, IL

Program Directors
"... Giulio was the tops as far as we are concerned. He added so many special experiences to our trip to Italy, Tuscany, the Riviera, and the Alps that we were totally astounded by the breadth of his knowledge and sharing. Everyone should be so lucky to have him as your first-time guide through Italy!"
A 6-time traveler from Franklin, TN

Siena optional tour
"We took the optional tour to Siena. What a joy that was. Our local guide was outstanding. The small church and museum were unexpected and gave us more of an idea of the life in the area. The Duomo was one of the best that we saw. The library inside was outstanding with the old manuscripts and frescoes, the mosaic floors in the nave were amazing. I could have spent a half day there."
A 3-time traveler from Hebron, MD

Local cuisine
"Loved the trip. The food and wines everywhere were spectacular! ... Rome has a pizza shop on every corner; Florence has gelato shops; Bolzano has bakeries. Good choices."
A 2-time traveler from Healdsburg, CA

Florence, Italy
"Florence (my favorite) was a great walking city—I was really tired after covering most of the city one day on foot but what an experience. Our walking tour guide explained Michelangelo's David in the Accademia with such expertise. I had seen it before but on my own, and this was a much more complete experience."
A 7-time traveler from Oxnard, CA

Santa Margherita, Italy
"Spending the day in Santa Margherita Ligure, strolling the town and the waterfront, the churches and the gardens was a joy. This was the perfect town for a home base on the Riviera!"
A 2-time traveler from Norridge, IL

Venice, Italy
"We took the post-trip to Venice. I thought it was beautiful and very romantic ... We learned to use the vaporetto to get around, using the 72-hour pass given us by GCT."
A 7-time traveler from Carmichael, CA

Home-Hosted Dinner
"One reason I'm a fan of GCT is that it gets us into places that I'd never discover on my own ... we sampled homemade wine and watched dinner being prepared. A memorable experience!"
A 16-time traveler from Athens, GA

Treasures of Tuscany optional tour
"A trip to see the hilltop village of San Gimignano, 'the town of towers,' was an excellent experience, one of the highlights of the trip."
A 7-time traveler from Sioux City, IA

Rome, Italy pre-trip extension
"I found that you don't have to be Catholic to appreciate Rome; it is a fabulous city and truly eternal."
A 8-time traveler from Beverly Hills, FL

For reservations and information about our tour to Italy, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

Pay Early & Save up to 10% with our Good Buy Plan

It’s simple: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on any 2015 departure of Italy: Tuscany, the Alps & the Riviera

  • Enjoy the best value by reserving and paying in full as far in advance of your departure as possible—see below for an example of how your savings can add up
  • By paying in full early, you’ll protect your investment from fuel surcharge increases, currency increases, or other unexpected costs
  • You’ll also save up to 10% on your air add-ons, and pre- and post-trip extensions, maximizing your value even further

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 9/7/15 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve by 9/7/14
SAVE 7%
when you reserve by 10/7/14
SAVE 5%
when you reserve by 12/7/14
Land Tour only price: $3395 $3056 $3157 $3225
Add a 3-night Venice, Italy extension: $795 $716 $739 $755
Add international airfare out of New York: $1100 $990 $1023 $1045
Total price per person $5290 $4761 $4920 $5026
Total savings per couple   $1058 $741 $529

Maximize your value by using the money you save for an optional trip extension

Call Now 1-800-221-2610

Terroir, Italian Style

Northern Italy’s culinary complexity

by Julia Chrusciel, Grand Circle associate

Regional culture can sometimes trump national affiliation in Italy ...

When you think of Italian food, what comes to mind? Pasta in marinara sauce, eggplant Parmesan, and other dishes swimming in olive oil may be among the first … but all of these popular menu items in the U.S. actually belong to the southern Italian cookbook. When you travel to Northern Italy—a land of mountainous terrain, and shared borders with Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, and France—prepare yourself for a different experience … and a decidedly different meal.

Genoa

Though Genoa doesn’t get much publicity in terms of its regional cookbook, the city has boasted a bustling maritime trade since the 12th century AD. The Ligurian region boasts many seafood dishes such as burrida, a soup with white fish, shrimp, and mussels. These offerings pair well with Cinque Terre, an internationally lauded local wine produced from the Italian Riviera. For those who prefer the terrestrial to the aquatic, Genoa is the birthplace of pesto, the basil-and-pine-nut sauce that has recently enjoyed a revival among foodies in the United States. Sample the pesto atop corzetti, a round pasta imprinted with a design. The practice derives from the Middle Ages when wealthy merchants would eat their corzetti stamped with their family crest.

Venice

Another northern Italian city with a culture revolving around its relationship to the water, Venice’s many canals served as a bustling center for trade from the ninth to 15th centuries AD. A distinctive Venetian dish, baccala mantecato, fittingly features dried salted cod imported from the Baltic Sea which is then rehydrated and prepared with olive oil, garlic, and parsley. The creamy entree pairs well with Pinot Grigio, a wine produced widely in this region. A more recent addition to the Venetian menu (and quickly after that, to dessert plates around the world) is tiramisu, the origins of which are debated. While some stories claim the dessert first appeared on the plates of rich Italians in the 17th century, most believe that the recipe’s birth can be traced back to the late 1960s.

Bolzano

The Italian city of Bolzano has perhaps the most unpredictable bill of fare, as it often seems more Bavarian than Italian. The Austro-Germanic influence on the city (which is called “Bozen” in German) extends to language, architecture and food. Not surprisingly in this city where 26% of the population speaks German, apple strudel is one of Bolzano’s specialties. Another treat that reflects German and Italian Christmas traditions is called zelten di Bolzano. Unlike its reviled cousin, the American fruitcake, zelten di Bolzano carries connotations of local flavor and freshness. The sweet bread is typically made with produce such as figs, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and oranges and then spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and honey. The finishing touch for zelten di Bolzano is a splash of red wine or brandy in the batter.

Speck, another local delicacy, sways more towards the Italian side of the spectrum. A type of cured ham, speck is prepared by seasoning a piece of ham with a mixture of spices including salt, juniper, laurel, pepper, pine, and cinnamon.  After the encrusted piece of ham is slowly smoked over many months, it is thinly sliced to produce a product similar to prosciutto. Sample speck with grappa, a stiff grape brandy common in the colder mountainous regions of Italy.

Bolzano’s mix of influences may seem out of sync with the rest of Italian culture—though often overlooked for the climate and attractions of the Mediterranean South, northern Italy surprises most travelers with its diversity. Regional culture can sometimes trump national affiliation in Italy, a facet of Italian existence which manifests itself strongly in food culture. From canals to winding mountain passes to shorelines, any way you travel to northern Italy will lead you to a meal to please the gourmet within.