Maureen's Suitcase

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Italy: A One-Week Itinerary in the Italian Riviera

Below is a one-week itinerary for the Italian Riviera that my husband and I followed in April 2016.  Part 2 of our trip can be found at: Italy Itinerary: Lake Como, Venice, Rome, Pompeii .  Before you go, consider reading up on the history and politics of Italy.  You can find my recommended reading list here .

Where is the Italian Riviera?

The Italian Riviera is located in the Liguria region of Italy.  The Riviera is part of the Italian coastline, and it begins at the border with France in the northwest corner of Italy and stretches down to Tuscany.  To further break it down, I explored the Riviera di Levante, which is the eastern half of the Italian Riviera.  During the course of the week, we visited the towns of Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, Genoa, the Cinque Terre villages, Portovenere, and Camogli.

Image of boats in Camogli

Is April a Good Time to Visit?

I was a wee bit concerned that April would be too cold, but the weather was practically perfect for sightseeing the entire trip.  We also experienced fewer crowds, lower costs, and spring flowers.  I read that one should not plan a trip during the two weeks surrounding Easter unless you enjoy crowds.  For packing this time of year, think in terms of light layers.

Image of Portovenere

Portovenere

Day 1: Rapallo

We stayed in an apartment for the entire week in Rapallo, which is on the Portofino Peninsula.  If you are an American, you are now musing that you have never, ever heard of Rapallo.  I know this because we did not meet any fellow Americans in Rapallo, and I have not met any Americans who have ever heard of Rapallo.  Not one.  Do I just seek out locations that will elicit blank stares from my friends in an effort to be contrary and elitist?  No.  I simply found a good deal in Rapallo and decided to visit.  Sometimes, the best vacations are created on a whim.

We arrived in this lovely seaside town at sunset by train and settled into our apartment.  This is the view from my balcony.

Image of Italian Coastline

View From My Apartment

Day 2: The “Enchanted April” Hike

Have you ever tricked your husband into taking an entire vacation because you wanted to visit the filming site of one of your favorite movies?  I adore the movie, Enchanted April , which was released in 1992 and filmed at a small castle in Portofino called Castello Brown .   Enchanted April is the story of four women in post-World War I London who seek respite from their unsatisfying lives in a peaceful castle in Italy.  At some point in 2015, I discovered that this castle was open to the public and in hiking distance from the apartment I was thinking about renting in Rapallo.  Joy.  Rapture.

Image of Castello Brown

Castello Brown

Fast forward to April 2016.  Our apartment was situated on a hill on the border between Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure.  Both are attractive seaside towns that cater to tourists, but still retain a heavy presence of locals.   Although you can travel quickly between these towns via train or bus, we walked from Rapallo down a path of stairs near our apartment to Santa Margherita Ligure.  We then had lunch in a delightful town square.

Image of Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure

It was about this time that we realized many people in this area did not speak English.  Luckily, I had learned a teeny-tiny bit of Italian that helped us through the breach.  I described these developments in  How To: Speak a Foreign Language for Travel .

While researching my trip, I found instructions for a hike from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino on a website called A Path to Lunch .  The directions for the “Overview Hike” were excellent, and there is no need for me to recreate them.  The website is a veritable font of information about Liguria, and I highly recommend it.  The hike was breathtaking and uncrowded, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Image of trail to Portofino

Trail to Portofino

At the end of our scenic journey, we arrived in Portofino, which is an expensive, refined, and touristy destination.  I admired every pricey inch of it.  We enjoyed the views of the water at the  Winterose Wine Bar.  We then walked up from the main town square to Castello Brown, the filming site of Enchanted April .  The movie was a feast for the soul, and its filming site was a treat for the eyes.

Image of Portofino

View of Portofino from Castello Brown

Day 3: Genoa

Genoa is an easy, one-hour train ride from Rapallo.  Really, everything on the Italian Riviera is an easy train ride from Rapallo, which makes it a great base for exploration.

I had done a ton of research on whether or not we should visit Genoa.  Some tourists love it, and many others do not.  I felt it was worth one of my precious, American days of vacation to find out more about this important port city.   Genoa, after all, was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and a mighty sea power in Europe.  The “Strade Nuove” (New Streets) section of Genoa with its gorgeous palazzi from the 16th and 17th centuries has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The  city held the World Pesto Championships the day we arrived.  What’s not to love?

Genoa 1

We visited all the sites recommended in guide books and took historic walks.  My conclusion is that Genoa is beautiful, but gritty.  I have never had this particular experience before–knowing that a city should be magnificent, but realizing that it somehow wasn’t for me.  It seemed as if we were looking at a black and white photo of something that should be bursting with color.

For instance, Genoa has the largest medieval center of any city in Europe.  This sounds like a tourist’s dream, but these dark passageways felt a bit menacing in Genoa.  Indeed, most of the research I did before the trip advised tourists not to enter this section of town after dark.

Image of Genoa

Architecture in Genoa

Genoa does not cater to tourists.  Real people live and work in this city, and I know they are fond of it from the posts they have written.  I do not regret visiting Genoa, and I probably would return if the opportunity arose.  Next time, I would leave my picture-postcard, tourist mindset at home and dig into the city with more realistic expectations.  I also would approach the city by boat rather than train.  I had read that one better understands the vertical nature of the city with an arrival by sea.

Day 4: Rapallo

Image of Rapallo

As noted earlier, we did not know much about Rapallo before traveling here.  Although undiscovered by Americans, the town attracts many Italian and German tourists.  Santa Margherita and Portofino appear to appeal to a ritzier crowd, but Rapallo was a lovely place to call home for a week with charming streets, strolling pedestrians, and great food and wine.  I write about some of the fun things I learned about Italian culture in Rapallo and other Italian cities in  Italy: Everyone Enjoys a Good Potato Chip .

Image of Rapallo

Rapallo, like other towns in the area, backs up into the side of a mountain.  We rode up this mountain in a cable car to the Santuario di Montallegro, a church built in the 1500s approximately 2000 meters above the sea in a lush, mist-covered forest.

Image of Santuario di Montallegro

Santuario di Montallegro

We found a nice hotel and restaurant at the top where we sat outside, drank wine, and soaked in the views.  We then walked behind the sanctuary, and we climbed a path through the woods that led to Stations of the Cross (the story of the crucifixion of Jesus).  Regardless of whether you are religious, I would recommend making this short “hike,” but wear shoes with a grip, as the path can be slippery.

Image of Santuario di Montallegro

Santuario di Montallegro Grounds

Upon our descent from the mountain, we walked along the seafront in Rapallo and then enjoyed some pesto, one of the specialities of the Liguria region.  If you think you love pesto, but have never tasted it in Liguria, then you must stop reading this website and book a flight there immediately.  We ate every combination of pesto in a week that one can imagine.  I would have drunk glasses of pesto if anyone had served it as a beverage.  Pesto pizza, pesto pasta, pesto on bread, pesto on sandwiches, etc.  Americans make pesto all wrong.  ALL WRONG.

Image of Pesto

Day 5: Cinque Terre & Portovenere

In case you have never heard of the Cinque Terre…just kidding.  Apparently, the entire world has heard of the Cinque Terre, a series of five scenic fishing villages in the Italian Riviera.  In fact, I think 90 percent of the world’s population was there the day we visited, lovingly eating gelato and posing for pictures.  If my issue with Genoa was that it was a bit too rough for tourists, then my problem with the Cinque Terre is that tourists have ransacked the place.  Obviously, I am impossible to please.

Image of Vernazza

Cinque Terre Village – Vernazza

We took a two-hour hike between two of the villages, Monterosso and Vernazza.  It was so crowded that it reminded me of a Los Angeles highway at rush hour.  I would provide more detailed information on how to hike between the villages, but I really don’t think you should do this hike.  I refuse to encourage you.  Find a less crowded neighborhood.

Image of Cinque Terre Hiking Trail

Cinque Terre Hike

You can travel by either train or boat between the Cinque Terre villages.  Late in the afternoon, we boarded a boat to a neighboring village.   As it turned out, we boarded the wrong boat.  It was a bizarre feeling to be in a foreign country and have no earthly idea where we would disembark.  I could have asked someone, but, instead, I helpfully had the following text exchange with my sister:

Maureen: “We got on a boat thinking we were going to another one of the Cinque Terre towns.  Unfortunately, we just passed the last one.  This is just a little adventure. Or, we are being hijacked.  No one else on the boat seems concerned about a hijacking.” Maureen’s Sister: “Ah, Italy!  Please let us know where to send the ransom money.” Maureen: “I would like you to be our spokesperson for the media imploring the U.S. government not to forget about us.” Maureen’s Sister: “I will get right on that.”

I expended a small amount of anxiety wondering where we would land.  It was worth the angst, because I finally was able say “Land, ho!” for the first time in my life when I spotted our destination.  We arrived in Portovenere on the last boat of the day.  The boat immediately turned around and returned to the Cinque Terre.  My husband and I decided to look around Portovenere knowing it would be a challenge to get home that evening.  Portovenere can only be reached by bus and boat–no train.

Image of Portovenere

Portovenere at Dusk

It was a glorious town, with a historic center and a beautiful church, San Pietro, perched on top of the sea.  At the end of the evening, we took a bus to La Spezia and then a train back to Rapallo.  Sometimes, the best journeys are the unplanned kind.

Image of Portovenere

Day 6: Camogli

We expected to spend two full days in the Cinque Terre.  Out of an abundance of sympathy for the overcrowded villages, we decided to take our touristy selves elsewhere.    My first rule of travel is that if you aren’t having fun, do something else.  I had read that Camogli was a fantastic fishing village, and it was located only a 9-minute train ride from Rapallo.

Image of Camogli

I hadn’t done much research on Camogli.  We simply walked down from the train station in search of a waterfront, and we found it!  We ate Italian food, drank Italian wine, and took some lazy walks to absorb the scenery.  As you may discern, we were finally getting into the slow-paced swing of things in Italy.

Image of Camogli

Camogli Harbor

While it may not be as famous as the Cinque Terre, Camogli is just as beautiful, and certainly less crowded.  Spending an afternoon in Camogli was an absolute pleasure.

Image of Camogli

Final Note on the Italian Riviera: Trompe L’oeil and Door Knockers

There were two architectural/design elements that intrigued me in this area.  Many buildings throughout the Italian Riviera are painted with the trompe l’oeil art technique.  This painting style is centuries old, and creates a three-dimensional decorative facade on the buildings.  I delighted in this technique, and marveled at the care it must take to maintain them.

Image of Trompe L'oeil

Trompe L’oeil

I also appreciated the ornate door knockers of the area.  I hadn’t read anything about them in advance, but we ended up having a bit of a treasure hunt for them in every town.  The door knockers could be found on public buildings as well as private residences.  I want one for my house.

Image of door knocker in Genoa

Door Knocker in Genoa

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Lake Garda, Venice and Verona

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At a glance

Request brochure - lake garda, venice & verona, lake garda, venice and verona, 8 days - classic escorted tours, holiday highlights.

  • Happy by day two or we'll bring you home with a full refund
  • Full day tours to both Venice and Verona, including a choice of a ‘Classic’ or ‘Undiscovered’ tour, accompanied by a local guide
  • Full day exploring beautiful Lake Garda
  • Marvel at the breathtaking alpine scenery of Dolomites on a full-day tour
  • Visit a local vineyard, with a guided tour of the cellars and a tasting of the superb wines
  • Enjoy a free day to explore further at your leisure or relax and take in the incredible scenery
  • Seven nights in a choice of conveniently located accommodation rated three to four-star superior, including all local taxes, with breakfast and dinner. (Stays at the Hotel Portici and Antico Borgo are on a bed-and-breakfast basis)
  • The Signature Tour option includes all of the above as well as:
  • Enjoy an enhanced wine tasting experience with additional wines and a superb rustic lunch with local ingredients in an authentic traditional restaurant
  • Absorb Verona’s unique and breathtaking atmosphere over an aperitivo, against a memorable backdrop of its extraordinary amphitheatre
  • Cruise Venice’s iconic canals in the style and elegance of yesteryear, aboard a traditional gondola

What's Included

  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms and Lake View rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement. The price includes:
  • Return flights
  • Seven nights’ accommodation in a three to four-star superior hotel of your choice
  • Daily breakfast and dinner (Stays at the Antico Borgo and Portici Hotels are on a bed-and-breakfast basis)
  • All local taxes and transfers
  • All tours as mentioned
  • The services of a Riviera Travel tour manager
  • Not included is the optional cable car ride during the Dolomites tour. The approximate cost is €20 which is payable locally.

You should arrive at the airport to take your flight from your selected airport. On arrival a coach will take you to the delightful lakeside resorts of either Malcesine or Riva del Garda, both beautifully surrounded by lofty peaks, situated at the more scenic north end of the lake. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure, allowing you time to settle into the hotel and start exploring if you wish.

Lake Garda first came to fame in the latter days of the 19th century when visitors came to the clean mountain air and it has been famous as an area of outstanding natural beauty ever since. Today we will have a tour of the lake, passing through some lovely, typically Italian villages complete with tiny harbours clinging to the shoreline with the mountains behind. We call at Salò, famous as Mussolini’s last Republic after he had been captured by Italian partisans. However, we live in more peaceful times now, and there are some 15th century buildings and an art-rich cathedral to see before we continue our journey to the delightful Sirmione at the lake’s southern tip. Today we also see lush groves of olives, citrus trees and of course vines used for making the famous Bardolino wines. Scenically the shore varies from the rich vegetation of the middle reaches, to the more rugged north covered with pine trees whose unmistakable scent hangs heavy in the air.

Today we head north to the stunning Dolomite Mountains the result of geological activity some 230 million years ago, giving them a gorgeous pink and lime-green hue. The foothills are strikingly green pastures studded with the occasional small shepherd’s house, a few sheep and goats here and there with pine forests stretching into the distance. Autonomous since the 12th century, today you would believe you were in another country. The houses in the picturesque tiny hamlets resemble Swiss or Austrian style chalets, low with gently sloping roofs and enormous window boxes crammed with flowers of every imaginable colour. The people are different too, taller than Italians and speaking a dialect of German! We have plenty of stops today as well as the opportunity to ascend on a cable car (subject to seasonal operation) to enjoy panoramic views of the whole area. There are not enough words to describe the awesome splendour of this rugged landscape and its clean, crisp and invigorating mountain air – it really will take your breath away. Due to its remote situation, it is home to a huge amount of rare and unique wildlife, so if you are lucky you could see chamois, ibex and golden eagles and various deer.

Today is a free day to explore at your leisure. Riva del Garda has been welcoming visitors since the 19th century and today the old town is a collection of typically Italian buildings painted the enticing pastel shades of cream, peach, magenta and ochre so reminiscent of Mediterranean countries. It has several harbours with boats rising and falling with the gentle waves and is dominated by a medieval fortress. Nearby is a most attractive square, beautifully lined with pavement cafés which all blends together to make Riva one of the most attractive towns on the lake.

After an early breakfast we take the drive to Venice, unique, caught in a time warp and as culturally rich as any city can be. We will take a walking tour during which we will see St Mark’s Square and its Basilica, the Campanile, Doge’s Palace together with countless other places of interest. Venice first came to prominence in the 10th century and grew in wealth and power on gaining its independence from Byzantium, reaching its zenith during the 15th century. It was then that many of the fantastic buildings you see today were built. Venice at the time was the greatest power in the Mediterranean with an empire encompassing Crete, parts of Turkey and a huge portion of Northern Italy and it soon created a capital to match. Situated between east and west, trading quickly grew and innumerable merchants made fortunes manifesting this new found wealth, just as people do today, in the arts and property, private and municipal. St. Mark’s Basilica is a must: built to house the relics of St. Mark himself, it is Europe’s most exotic cathedral with the decoration inside certainly being very opulent. The statistics are staggering – there are over 40,000 square feet of detailed mosaics of every colour of the rainbow covering the entire interior. The blend of coloured marble columns, gold and red painting, and bas-reliefs combine to create one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. Adjacent is the Doge’s Palace, home of the most powerful man in Venice who, incidentally, was elected for life. The Palace was also the seat of government councils and courts, as well as the prisons. Obviously the government of a great power had to be accommodated appropriately and so, as a visit will reveal, it houses the most amazing wood carvings and one room alone has four Tintorettos in it. The floor is a revelation too, inlaid with exotic woods from all over the known world from as far afield as Japan. The walls and ceilings are exquisitely decorated with paintings, frescoes and gold leaf. St. Mark’s Square is a must too, and the focal point of the city since its foundation. Today though, visitors have replaced merchants, and to sip a coffee in one of the pavement cafés and absorb the beauty around you must rank as one of life’s great pleasures. To see it all at once, why not take a trip up the Campanile, the imposing tower, originally built as a lighthouse and where Galileo demonstrated his telescope to a sceptical public. For art lovers there is Accademia, housing one of the finest collections in the world with superb examples of Renaissance work, or there is the Guggenheim with exhibits by Miro, Picasso, Chagall and Léger among others. One thing that really strikes you about Venice is that it is not nearly as expensive as you might believe. Away from St. Mark’s Square, small restaurants offer three course meals at reasonable prices. But Venice is not just art and monuments – fantastic though they are the city really needs to be seen from the water too, and what better than by taking a trip on a gondola. These beautifully made boats are crafted from 300 individual pieces of wood. A short ride on one of them is a lovely and peaceful way to explore the backwaters of the city. You will have sore feet when you return to the hotel but everyone at least once in their lives should visit this wondrous city. If you've been to Venice before, perhaps join us on our tour of 'undiscovered' Venice with a local guide and explore the less-visited places that are just as intriguing. See the Santa Maria della Pietà church and the adjacent orphanage where Vivaldi taught music. Tucked away nearby is a modest Greek settlement, where we find the beautiful Greek Orthodox church with its classically Venetian exterior. A short walk takes us down the narrow alleys so typical of the city to Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, one of Venice's most significant squares with several spectacular highlights: the imposing Dominican church here boasts even more impressive interiors, and the majestic Scuola Grande di San Marco houses many of Tintoretto's masterpieces. Signature Experience: No visit to this city of canals is complete without experiencing it from the water. After our guided tour, immerse yourself in one of the world’s most romantic and inspiring locations, as you drift along Venice’s iconic waterways aboard a traditional gondola, capturing the mesmerising views at every turn that so inspired countless artists, poets, and writers through the ages.

This morning you’re free to explore your surroundings as you wish. So what’s it to be? A stroll around the port is a charming way to spend your time, perhaps indulging in a little shopping or simply relax. Vineyards abound in this area thanks to the favourable climate, so this afternoon we will visit a small family run wine estate located in the fertile valley of the Trentino region, where we will have a guided tour of the cellars, followed by a tasting of some of the wines produced by the family. Signature Experience: Sample some of the finest wines of the region, savouring the flavours of a selection of superb produce on this enhanced wine tasting experience. Sit down to a hearty rustic lunch lovingly created from the finest local produce, in the delightful authentic ambience of the owner’s traditional restaurant where you’ll be made to feel like one of the family.

Verona is one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities in Italy and today we have a guided walking tour in order to appreciate it at its best, discovering its hidden side too. We approach through the centuries-old city walls – when you enter the old town you cannot help but admire! Medieval pink-hued buildings complete with contrasting frescoes underneath archways unchanged for centuries. Typical pavement cafés abound, some with violinists serenading their clients whilst they take a refreshing drink, enjoying the shade from the warm sunshine. It has tiny narrow streets, complete with the tasteful shops, so typical of Italy, and then there is the market place dating from Roman times, with interesting reminders of the city’s past. The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona and when you experience the atmosphere here you can see why. The two great lovers from rival families have inspired countless films, poems and dramas. You can actually see the balcony where the immortal words “O Romeo, Romeo” were reputedly spoken. The Roman arena is awe inspiring but there are also countless medieval and Renaissance squares and courtyards to explore, as well as a superb 12th century cathedral which houses a work by Titian. The Roman Theatre is a must too, as is one of the Renaissance’s finest gardens with clipped box hedges and a dazzling display of colour. Another interesting site is San Zeno – arguably the finest Romanesque church in northern Italy. One of the most delightful things about Verona is that although being close to Venice it receives fewer visitors. This afternoon is free so you can explore as you wish, or you could go shopping. Italy is inextricably linked with fashion, style and chic, and Verona has some lovely shops with prices not nearly as expensive as you may imagine, with leather ware being particularly good value. For those who have been to Verona before, our ‘undiscovered’ tour is the best way of seeing a different side of this city, including many hidden cultural and architectural gems that most visitors never see. Signature Experience: After our guided tour of Verona, take stock and reflect on this legendary city’s ethereal beauty over a refreshing aperitivo just like a local. Soak up the atmosphere and views of its magnificent architecture and Roman amphitheatre as the echoes of history ring out over the exquisite domes and spires of this magical place.

Today the coach will take us to the airport, at the appropriate time, to take our return flight home after a really memorable tour.

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  • Lake Garda, Venice & Verona

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

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An astonishing blend of spectacular alpine scenery reflected in tranquil lakes, Verona’s Roman remains and the medieval world’s richest city - remarkably unique Venice. For centuries, Italy has drawn visitors in search of culture and romance, with few countries comparing with its enormous classical origins, its art, architecture, music, design, scenery, food and wine. Italy’s contribution to European painting and sculpture surpasses that of any other nation. Blend this with the magnificent scenery of its lakes, one of the world’s great cuisines and the Italian attitude of living life to the absolute maximum, and you have a superb destination for a tour.

Italy is blessed with some fantastic scenery and some of the finest is to be found as you approach the Alps around Lake Garda where images of the abundant flowers and trees which cover the banks, are reflected in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour. The picturesque lake with gentle waves lapping slowly onto the shingle shoreline, the stunning snow-capped Alps in the background and a scattering of picturesque villages, all fit together in a beautifully balanced mosaic of harmony.

Further north, we see the Dolomite Mountains- some of the most spectacular alpine scenery on earth. It is only in the past 150 years that Italy has come to exist as a nation state formed from a collection of largely independent cities, often separated by almost impenetrable marshes or mountain ranges. They then evolved totally independently and on this Italy tour we shall visit two of them - the very different but very classic cities of Verona and Venice.

Verona is without doubt one of the most attractive cities you will ever see and appropriately well known as the setting for the legendary story of Romeo and Juliet. It has been important since ancient times and in fact has more ancient remains than any city in Italy except Rome itself. Its most striking monument is the arena – the third largest ever built – where a range of entertainments were presented, including gladiatorial combat. Enclosed by massive and extremely well preserved ramparts, the city has a lovely medieval feel to it with pink-hued buildings, lovingly restored, lining the streets.

All the photographs and pictures you have seen of St. Mark’s Square and Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal have simply been telling the extraordinary truth: that Venice is a stunning city. You cannot walk for more than a few minutes without stopping to see something which demands admiration.

One of the greatest joys of visiting Italy is, of course, being amongst the Italians themselves. Stylish, always ready to help and, if there is a single national characteristic, it is living life to the full, which creates a fantastic atmosphere so much in evidence everywhere – so come with us and see.

What’s Included:

  • 7 nights in three to four-star superior accommodation
  • Return flights & transfers
  • Programme of daily tours & visits
  • Breakfast & dinner
  • Expert Tour Manager
  • Checked luggage

Highlights:

  • Full day tours to both Venice and Verona, including a choice of a ‘Classic’ or ‘Undiscovered’ tour, accompanied by a local guide
  • Full day exploring beautiful Lake Garda
  • Marvel at the breath-taking alpine scenery of Dolomites on a full-day tour
  • Visit a local vineyard, with a guided tour of the cellars and a tasting of the superb wines
  • Enjoy a free day to explore further at your leisure or relax and take in the incredible scenery
  • Seven nights in a choice of conveniently located accommodation rated three to four-star superior, including all local taxes, with breakfast and dinner. (Stays at the Hotel Portici and Antico Borgo are on a bed-and-breakfast basis)

Full Itinerary

Day 1: arrival in lake garda.

You should arrive at the airport to take your flight from your selected airport.

On arrival a coach will take you to the delightful lakeside resorts of either Malcesine or Riva del Garda, both beautifully surrounded by lofty peaks, situated at the more scenic north end of the lake. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure, allowing you time to settle into the hotel and start exploring if you wish.

Day 2: Tour of Lake Garda

Lake Garda first came to fame in the latter days of the 19th century when visitors came to the clean mountain air, and it has been famous as an area of outstanding natural beauty ever since. Today we will have a tour of the lake, passing through some lovely, typically Italian villages complete with tiny harbours clinging to the shoreline with the mountains behind.

Today we also see lush groves of olives, citrus trees and of course vines used for making the famous Bardolino wines. Scenically the shore varies from the rich vegetation of the middle reaches to the more rugged north covered with pine trees whose unmistakable scent hangs heavy in the air.

Day 3: The Dolomites

Today we head north to the stunning Dolomite Mountains the result of geological activity some 230 million years ago, giving them a gorgeous pink and lime-green hue. The foothills are strikingly green pastures studded with the occasional small shepherd’s house, a few sheep and goats here and there with pine forests stretching into the distance.

Autonomous since the 12th century, today you would believe you were in another country. The houses in the picturesque tiny hamlets resemble Swiss or Austrian style chalets, low with gently sloping roofs and enormous window boxes crammed with flowers of every imaginable colour. The people are different too, taller than Italians and speaking a dialect of German!

We have plenty of stops today as well as the opportunity to ascend on a cable car (subject to seasonal operation) to enjoy panoramic views of the whole area. There are not enough words to describe the awesome splendour of this rugged landscape and its clean, crisp and invigorating mountain air – it really will take your breath away.

Due to its remote situation, it is home to a huge amount of rare and unique wildlife, so if you are lucky, you could see chamois, ibex and golden eagles and various deer.

Day 4: Free day

Today is a free day to explore at your leisure. Riva del Garda has been welcoming visitors since the 19th century and today the old town is a collection of typically Italian buildings painted the enticing pastel shades of cream, peach, magenta and ochre so reminiscent of Mediterranean countries.

It has several harbours with boats rising and falling with the gentle waves and is dominated by a medieval fortress. Nearby is a most attractive square, beautifully lined with pavement cafés which all blends together to make Riva one of the most attractive towns on the lake.

Day 5: Venice, classic or undiscovered

After an early breakfast we take the drive to Venice, unique, caught in a time warp and as culturally rich as any city can be. We will take a walking tour during which we will see St Mark’s Square and its Basilica, the Campanile, Doge’s Palace together with countless other places of interest.

Venice first came to prominence in the 10th century and grew in wealth and power on gaining its independence from Byzantium, reaching its zenith during the 15th century. It was then that many of the fantastic buildings you see today were built.

Venice at the time was the greatest power in the Mediterranean with an empire encompassing Crete, parts of Turkey and a huge portion of Northern Italy and it soon created a capital to match. Situated between east and west, trading quickly grew, and innumerable merchants made fortunes manifesting this newfound wealth, just as people do today, in the arts and property, private and municipal.

St. Mark’s Basilica is a must built to house the relics of St. Mark himself, it is Europe’s most exotic cathedral with the decoration inside certainly being very opulent. The statistics are staggering – there are over 40,000 square feet of detailed mosaics of every colour of the rainbow covering the entire interior. The blend of coloured marble columns, gold and red painting, and bas-reliefs combine to create one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.

Adjacent is the Doge’s Palace, home of the most powerful man in Venice who, incidentally, was elected for life. The Palace was also the seat of government councils and courts, as well as the prisons. Obviously, the government of a great power had to be accommodated appropriately and so, as a visit will reveal, it houses the most amazing wood carvings, and one room alone has four Tintorettos in it. The floor is a revelation too, inlaid with exotic woods from all over the known world from as far afield as Japan. The walls and ceilings are exquisitely decorated with paintings, frescoes and gold leaf.

St. Mark’s Square is a must too, and the focal point of the city since its foundation. Today though, visitors have replaced merchants, and to sip a coffee in one of the pavement cafés and absorb the beauty around you must rank as one of life’s great pleasures.

To see it all at once, why not take a trip up the Campanile, the imposing tower, originally built as a lighthouse and where Galileo demonstrated his telescope to a sceptical public. For art lovers there is Accademia, housing one of the finest collections in the world with superb examples of Renaissance work, or there is the Guggenheim with exhibits by Miro, Picasso, Chagall and Léger among others.

One thing that really strikes you about Venice is that it is not nearly as expensive as you might believe. Away from St. Mark’s Square, small restaurants offer three course meals at reasonable prices. But Venice is not just art and monuments – fantastic though they are the city really needs to be seen from the water too, and what better than by taking a trip on a gondola.

These beautifully made boats are crafted from 300 individual pieces of wood. A short ride on one of them is a lovely and peaceful way to explore the backwaters of the city. You will have sore feet when you return to the hotel but everyone at least once in their lives should visit this wondrous city.

If you've been to Venice before, perhaps join us on our tour of 'undiscovered' Venice with a local guide and explore the less-visited places that are just as intriguing. See the Santa Maria della Pietà church and the adjacent orphanage where Vivaldi taught music. Tucked away nearby is a modest Greek settlement, where we find the beautiful Greek Orthodox church with its classically Venetian exterior.

A short walk takes us down the narrow alleys so typical of the city to Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, one of Venice's most significant squares with several spectacular highlights: the imposing Dominican church here boasts even more impressive interiors, and the majestic Scuola Grande di San Marco houses many of Tintoretto's masterpieces.

Day 6: Free morning & vineyard visit

This morning you’re free to explore your surroundings as you wish. So, what’s it to be? A stroll around the port is a charming way to spend your time, perhaps indulging in a little shopping or simply relax.

Vineyards abound in this area thanks to the favourable climate, so this afternoon we will visit a small family run wine estate located in the fertile valley of the Trentino region, where we will have a guided tour of the cellars, followed by a tasting of some of the wines produced by the family.

Day 7: Verona, classic or undiscovered

Verona is one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities in Italy and today we have a guided walking tour in order to appreciate it at its best, discovering its hidden side too. We approach through the centuries-old city walls – when you enter the old town you cannot help but admire!

Medieval pink-hued buildings complete with contrasting frescoes underneath archways unchanged for centuries. Typical pavement cafés abound, some with violinists serenading their clients whilst they take a refreshing drink, enjoying the shade from the warm sunshine. It has tiny narrow streets, complete with the tasteful shops, so typical of Italy, and then there is the marketplace dating from Roman times, with interesting reminders of the city’s past.

The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona and when you experience the atmosphere here you can see why. The two great lovers from rival families have inspired countless films, poems and dramas. You can actually see the balcony where the immortal words “O Romeo, Romeo” were reputedly spoken.

The Roman arena is awe inspiring but there are also countless medieval and Renaissance squares and courtyards to explore, as well as a superb 12th century cathedral which houses a work by Titian. The Roman Theatre is a must too, as is one of the Renaissance’s finest gardens with clipped box hedges and a dazzling display of colour. Another interesting site is San Zeno – arguably the finest Romanesque church in northern Italy.

One of the most delightful things about Verona is that although being close to Venice it receives fewer visitors. This afternoon is free so you can explore as you wish, or you could go shopping. Italy is inextricably linked with fashion, style and chic, and Verona has some lovely shops with prices not nearly as expensive as you may imagine, with leather ware being particularly good value.

For those who have been to Verona before, our ‘undiscovered’ tour is the best way of seeing a different side of this city, including many hidden cultural and architectural gems that most visitors never see.

Day 8: Return home

Today the coach will take us to the airport, at the appropriate time, to take our return flight home after a really memorable tour.

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Additional Information

  • Date:  Various departures for 2024 & 2025
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  • Duration:  7 nights
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VENICE - CLASSIC AND UNDISCOVERED

General information.

Day 1 Venice

Arrival in afternoon in Venice. Check-in at your hotel, then you are free to soak up the atmosphere, perhaps starting with a peaceful jaunt in a Venetian gondola on Venice’s backwaters Dinner and overnight stay in Venice.

Day 2 Venice

Our guide will introduce you to some of its most famous sights of this extraordinary city built on a maze of more than 150 canals and 400 bridges studded with palaces and Renaissance architecture. In St Mark’s Square you will find two of the most important buildings in Venice, the Doge’s Palace, once home to the Venetian rulers, with its well-known Bridge of Sighs, the Clock Tower and the Campanile, and the other one is Basilica di San Marco with its Romanesque carvings and beautiful mosaics. We have a ‘timed’ entrance here before taking a walk over the Rialto Bridge, one of Venice’s most famous sights, to watch the activity of the boats on the Grand Canal below. You are free to do as you please after the guided tour, you can explore the maze of canals and bridges without any specific destination or take a seat in a local café and watch the world go by. Alternatively, you could visit Academia or Peggy Guggenheim museum opened in a mansion, her old home on the Grand Canal, and the big city churches: the Church of San Zaccaria with Bellini's, Tintoretto’s and Tiepolo’s paintings, Santa Maria Formosa with its Bell Tower and the Church of Santa Maria della Salute. Dinner and overnight stay in Venice.

Day 3 Venice

Away from the bustle though, is another equally fascinating Venice - endless quiet corners waiting to be discovered, washing stretched high across narrow canals between picturesque yet crumbling buildings, locals chatting in tiny bars and local shops dotted here and there. It is remarkable how close these wonderful quarters of the city are to the classic ‘sights’. This morning we take a tour of the city’s undiscovered face. We see the old Jewish quarter – the original ‘ghetto’ now wonderfully restored, the house of Tintoretto and where Marco Polo used to live, plus much more. Your guide will enhance the tour with anecdotes and stories bringing the city of the more humble Venetians to life before ending at the traditional Rialto market. You could round the morning off with a leisurely lunch in one of the charming cafés and restaurants of all styles to be found everywhere in this fascinating city – the choice is yours. Dinner and overnight stay in Venice.

Day 4 Murano

This morning commences with a boat ride across the lagoon to the smaller island of Murano, famed across the world for its exquisite coloured glass, produced here for centuries. The glassblower’s skill is just mesmerising and we see a demonstration of this ancient art. Each artisan has their own individual style with some making jewellery, others vases, bowls and some even complete chandeliers. After this captivating display you are free to explore the rest of the island as you please. Murano is far quieter than Venice itself and is representative of how the city was decades ago, or should you wish you can return to Venice. Dinner and overnight stay in Venice area

Day 5 Venice

Breakfast and departure for return journey. End of our services.

Price includes

Accommodation, depending on your option, in good 4* hotels centrally located or 3* not centrally located hotels, double occupancy rooms, as described: 4 night accommodation in hotel in Venice area on a half-board basis, drinks not included Local English speaking guide Entrance to Basilica San Marco Boat ride to the Island of Murano Demonstration of glass making in a workshop in Murano

Price does not include

City tax Bus GT for the entire tour with arrival and departure from Venice airport, including all expenses (check point and parking fees, board and lodging for driver) Optional visits

Accommodations provided in each place

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Hidden gems in Italy – off the beaten path from north to south

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Discover Italy off the beaten track and you can experience a whole new world of culinary, historical, cultural and scenic delights. There’s a well-worn path to Rome , Florence , Venice and the Amalfi and Cinque Terre coasts but venture a little further and you’ll discover another side of Italy.

From exploring the sunny southern coastal towns and dramatic alpine landscapes to uncovering the rich tapestry of Italian history or sampling local dishes, these hidden gems will ensure your trip to Italy is a memorable one.

Article contents

Northern Italy

The north of Italy offers fascinating landscapes and diverse culture. Explore Liguria’s glittering coastline, the shimmering lakes of Piedmont and Lombardy and the lofty hills and mountains dotted with vineyards in the Veneto . In this region, you can experience the Dolomites Alpine vistas as well as discover unique regional food and wine from the regions bordering Austria to the north and Croatia and Slovenia in the east.

Lago di Orta – or Lake Orta – lies close to the Swiss border, among the green forest and rocky foothills of the Alps in Piedmont. This is a great example of undiscovered Italy, as it is lesser known than other northern lakes like Como , Garda and Maggiore. Highlights include the historic town of Orta San Giulio – with Baroque and Medieval architecture, cobbled streets and Piazza Motta – as well as the shimmering waters of the lake itself. But the biggest surprise is the mysterious island in the lake’s center, a place for quiet contemplation for its resident nuns.

LISTEN: To our podcast episode on Picturesque Piedmont .

Treviso is one of Veneto’s least visited cities, yet it is full of genuine northern Italian charm. Think narrow cobbled lanes, canals, churches with frescoes and medieval city walls. You could easily spend a day or two in Treviso exploring its waterway, Venetian city walls and charming restaurants. Found at the edge of the Prosecco wine region, there’s always an excuse for aperitivo with a glass of Italy’s most famous sparkling wine in this pretty city.

LISTEN: To our podcast episode on Treviso – Home of tiramisu & prosecco .

Aosta Valley

The tiny mountainous region known as the Aosta Valley shares borders with Switzerland and France. Known for spectacular alpine scenery and castles perched on rocky outcrops, this area sees few visitors outside the ski season but is well worth a visit all year round. In the spring and summer months walking trails are popular and this is when you’ll also find festivals celebrating folk traditions dating back to Medieval times and of course the local cheese fontina .

Nestled among the vineyards of the Langhe Hills is one of Italy’s finest foodie destinations. Once decorated by 100 towers, it has a charming rural feel. Famed for its autumn truffle festival, Alba is also renowned for dark chocolate, hazelnut groves and white truffles as well as wineries. Barolo, one of Italy’s coveted red wines, comes from this region.

A typical and colorful Italian seaside village, Camogli lies on the Ligurian Riviera di Levante. Tall, brightly painted homes dominate the town, that is sought out by visitors from around the world seeking great beaches, Ligurian cuisine, the rustic fishing marina, Italian culture and its relaxing, natural setting. Camogli is famed for its fish and seafood – anchovies and tuna in particular – as well as pesto – a sauce made with basil and pine nuts.

Brescia is another example of hidden Italy that will delight history lovers. In Brescia there is a fascinating combination of buildings to see, including relics from Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Romantic eras all the way to the 20th century Art Deco. You can literally walk through history in this small city close to Lake Garda . Make sure to visit beguiling Piazza della Loggia framed by a stunning Venetian-style palace at the center of it all.

LISTEN: To A love letter to Brescia , our podcast episode about this amazing city.

Trieste is refreshingly different – an Italian city close to the Slovenian border with its own unique dialect – a combination of Austrian-German, Greek, Croatian and Italian. The neoclassical waterfront is stunning, featuring a marina packed with stylish, glimmering yachts. Clear blue skies, broad sandy beaches, city lidos and surrounding vineyards help to make Trieste an Italian city a must on any Northern Italian itinerary

 Modena

Modena is most famous for its balsamic vinegar – as well as Pavarotti, the Romanesque cathedral and nearby Ferrari museum. The town is a favorite with those who want to discover Italy off the beaten path – as well as its impressive range of restaurants. Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana has been listed as one of the world’s 50 top eateries twice, and other local specialties include huge, stuffed tortellini and sparkling Lambrusco.

Chiusa / Klausen

On the banks of the Isarco River is one of Italy’s most beautiful villages – Chiusa (also known as Klausen). This South Tyrolean town close to the Austrian border is surrounded by chestnut groves, green fields, vineyards and farmsteads. In the village itself visitors are charmed by the narrow alleys, coats of arms, vast bay windows, crenellated facades and the two main squares.

Gastronomy, music, art, culture, history, beaches, wine and mosaics, in particular, are among Ravenna’s attractions. Here you can explore eight UNESCO-listed sites, attend a music festival that lasts for two months, visit Dante Alighieri’s tomb, enjoy local food and wine, visit a nearby beach resort or ride through a pinewood forest. The mosaics the city is famous for date from the fifth and sixth centuries, and are dotted all over town.

Central Italy

You’ll find many of the best-hidden gems in Italy in the country’s central region. Tuscany is well known to international visitors but there remain pockets of undiscovered beauty. Scenic, fertile Umbria, is rich in ancient history and architecture, sparkling lakes and hill towns. To the east, Le Marche is home to diverse landscapes, a stunning coastline and charming towns. Closer to Rome, the coastline and countryside of the Lazio region is well worth exploring.

The region of Garfagnana is nestled in a picturesque Tuscan valley to the north of Lucca . It is traversed by the Serchio River, and the landscape is characterised by fertile greenery, rugged mountains and pretty villages. Outdoor pursuits such as walking, hiking and mountain biking are popular, while other highlights of the area include a ghost town, a wind cave and the Devil’s Bridge at Borgo a Mozzano.

LISTEN: To our podcast on Garfagnana, undiscovered Tuscany .

Umbria hides many treasures but a particular favorite is the Medieval hilltop town of Gubbio – one of our favorite hidden places in Italy. Perfectly preserved, it is a maze of cobbled streets and stone buildings with pathways and staircases leading to the summit of Monte Ingino. Peek inside to see the embalmed remains of patron Sant’Ubaldo who has been resting in peace there for almost 1000 years.  If you want to save your legs you can take the birdcage-like chairlift to the top of the mountain for sweeping views of the valley below and descend back into the town to explore fascinating churches and try the local cuisine among the locals.

DISCOVER: The Best Agriturismo in Umbria .

Porto Ercole

On Tuscany’s Argentario Promontory lies Porto Ercole, a small seaside port that functions as both a resort and a fishing village. An impressive Spanish fortress dominates the settlement, and Etruscan, medieval, Byzantine, gothic and Roman relics can also be seen. The port here is of historical significance, and it is said that the painter Caravaggio passed away in the village during the early seventeenth century.

Ascoli Piceno

Nicknamed the ‘City of Travertine’, Ascoli Piceno occupies a position at the junction of the Castellano and Tronto rivers. Rising above the city are almost 50 Medieval towers, just one example of the architectural wonders that can be found here. In the evenings, the city’s squares come alive, as sociable Italians and visitors congregate to share wine, conversation and the famous stuffed olives – olive ascolana . Piazza Arringo and Piazza del Popolo are fine examples of Renaissance design, giving Ascoli Piceno a refined air.

Parco del Conero

Imagine azure Adriatic waters, limestone cliffs and white pebble beaches fringed with fragrant woodland, and you can picture the fertile, natural setting of Parco del Conero. Close to Ancona, this regional park occupies an unspoiled, tranquil site of 60 square kilometers. Walking the trails, sampling the local Rosso Connero red wine and gazing at Monte Connero and the vineyards below are popular pastimes here.

On the south side of Umbria’s Mount Subasio is Spello, a truly splendid Italian destination. It is characterized by medieval and Roman architecture and is a place of artistic, cultural and environmental significance. The city gate, frescoed churches, twisting medieval streets, Roman villa and Villa Fidelia Park are highlights, as are the bars and restaurants around the Piazza della Repubblica. 

DISCOVER: Spello and other romantic destinations .

Perugia in central Umbria , is a walled university town abundant in medieval, Etruscan and Roman buildings. The city has a lively food scene, and is famous as the birthplace of Baci chocolates. Whether you prefer to discover history, explore culture, sample great food or shop till you drop, Perugia offers a wealth of intriguing and enjoyable opportunities. 

Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio is positioned just under 450 meters above sea level, which contributes to the stunning setting of this central Italian gem. Bordered on either side by the dramatic, striped Rio Chiaro and Rio Torbido ravines, you can only reach this village by the pedestrian bridge. Inhabited since the Etruscan era, this beautiful village has been shaped by Gothic, Roman, Frankish, Lomardian and noble Italian influences.

Santa Severa

Santa Severa is located on the Tyrrhenian Coast, and is a small, peaceful resort by the sea. It makes a great destination for those seeking relaxation in the sun as well as those in search of culture and history. An original, well-preserved medieval castle overlooks the swaying palms and golden sands at the water’s edge.

Lake Trasimeno

One of the best Italian lakes for lovers of wildlife, Trasimeno can be found at the heart of Umbria. Resident birdlife includes kingfishers, cormorants, kites and wild ducks, which can be spotted flitting around the reed beds and white water lilies. Around the lake are vineyards, olive groves, sunflower fields and woodland, with gently rolling hills forming the backdrop. Local food, wine and crafts are popular in the area, and there are several picturesque towns by or near to the lake.

Remains of the pre-Roman Etruscan era make Tarquinia an important UNESCO World Heritage site. The original burial mounds found within the necropolis contain frescoes depicting the day-to-day life of this vanished urban civilization. Some of the most famous frescoes date back to as early as the fourth century AD, including the Hunter’s Tomb and the Tombs of Hunting and Fishing or Lionesses.

Southern Italy 

Italy’s sun-drenched south has a charm all of its own. Whether you want to discover Greek temples, experience an authentic Italian town, delve into history or relax on a glorious beach, this part of Italy is as colorful as it is cultural. 

If you’d like to experience a southern Italian fishing town, then the Pugilan town of Monopoli should be top of your list. With fishermen sorting the catch of the day, and locals gathering in bars and restaurants and doing their weekly market shop, a stay in Monopoli offers a genuine, Southern Italian experience. There’s the colorful old town, charming piazzas, old churches, the Lungomare promenade, sandy coves and a promontory castle to discover.

DISCOVER: More Perfect Puglian towns .

Paestum and the Cilento Coast

Not one but three ancient Greek temples can be found in Paestum – and they are some of the best-preserved to boot. Established by the Greeks and once ruled by the Romans, Paestum’s UNESCO world heritage site includes ancient artifacts, tombs and frescoes, the best of which can be seen at the museum.

Close to Paestum is the Cilento Coast, home to some fine Italian beach resorts, charming seaside villages and a fabulous food scene. Don’t miss the delicious, locally-produced buffalo mozzarella – it’s life-changing!

LISTEN: To our podcast on The captivating Cilento Coast .

Palace of Caserta

North of Naples is the extraordinary Royal Palace of Caserta , an eighteenth-century creation of tremendous importance. At twice the size of the more famous Versailles site in France, this is surely one of the best Italy hidden gems. Built to rival Madrid’s Royal Palace as well as that at Versailles, the Palace of Caserta is a breathtaking example of the Enlightenment tradition of harmonizing a structure with its natural surroundings. 

LISTEN: To our podcast on the glittering Caserta Palace .

The city of Maratea in the Basilicata region occupies a lofty position, with panoramic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Policastro. Maratea’s own 72-foot-high Christ the Redeemer statue dominates the landscape from a mount that is over 2,000 feet high, rivaling the more famous version found in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Other highlights of Maratea include clear waters fringed by fine sandy beaches and the city’s 44 historic churches.

LISTEN: To our podcast episode focusing on Basilicata – Ancient region of the south .

Tratturi of Molise

The network of tratturi that traverse the Molise region are grassy, mountain paths formerly used by shepherds. They were used bi-annually for ‘transhumance’ at the start of spring and the end of summer, when flocks were moved between mountains and plains. The routes were used for transporting cows and donkeys as well as sheep, and the landscape traversed by the tratturi is dotted with woodland, villages, plains and archeological sites including Roman, religious and artistic relics.

Trabocchi Coast

The Trabocchi Coast of the Abruzzo region is named for unique wooden fishermen’s dwellings, built on stilts that stand directly over the sea. These trabocchi are connected to land via wooden boardwalks and allowed those who could not sail, to suspend a fishing net from the antennae which extend over the ocean. Many are now converted into restaurants with spectacular views. As well as these fascinating structures, visitors to the area can experience sandy coves, fruit orchards and olive groves as well as an elevated, ancient abbey, winding coastal paths and superb seafood.

LISTEN: To our podcast to learn more about Amazing Abruzzo – from coast to mountain peaks .

Santa Severina

Santa Severina is positioned between the Ionian Sea and the mountainous Sila region in Calabria southern Italy. This ancient, medieval Italian village has an archeological museum within its castle, where visitors can see evidence of Byzantine, Norman and Swabian rule. Key sites of historical interest in this hilltop village include a necropolis, caves and a Byzantine church.

Reggio Calabria

Reggio Calabria is the biggest city in the region of Calabria, yet is bypassed by many who are traveling towards Sicily. Yet it is well worth a visit, and located just ten miles from the main route. Straddling the Strait of Messina, Mount Etna can be seen across the sea from Reggio. The waterfront is a very special spot, decorated with fig and palm trees, curvaceous street lamps and elegant buildings with Neoclassical and art nouveau features.

LISTEN: To our podcast introducing this region in Getting to know Calabria .

The Puglian hilltop town of Oria is nestled among the fertile vineyards and olive groves of the region. It is characterized by gleaming white houses with colorful window boxes, cobbled medieval lanes and convivial piazzas. According to local lore, the town was established by shipwrecked Cretans before falling under Roman rule. The distinctive triangular castle, Rococo-style cathedral and Jewish quarter are among the most intriguing sights.

Gargano area

The Gargano area occupies a spur-shaped promontory in Apulia. Forming part of a national park, the Gargano coast offers visitors opportunities to enjoy culture, nature, history and a seaside lifestyle. Inland, the Umbra Forest offers rich biodiversity, with many native species of animals and birds. Historic monuments and churches, two coastal lakes and various settlements and resorts ensure this region has lots to offer.

LISTEN: To Foodie adventures in Puglia – our podcast on the delicacies of the region.

Islands – Sicily and Sardinia

Often overlooked in times gone by, Sicily and Sardinia have become popular with those in search of sunshine, history and great Italian cuisine. Sicily has beautiful, absorbing villages and towns as well as other nearby islands to explore, while beautiful La Caprera is a scenic Sardinian wildlife sanctuary with shipwrecks and Garibaldi’s former home.

Ortigia is a small island and the old town of the city of Siracusa, joined to the mainland by a bridge that connects the two. It is home to some of the most historic sites in Sicily , as well as twisting, narrow lanes and one of the grandest Italian piazzas. The Baroque cathedral with Greek columns, Jewish ritual baths and catacombs are highlights. The nearby archeological park has the remains of a Roman theater – and also a Greek one where plays are performed during spring. Ortigia’s fresh food market and restaurant scene are also must-sees.

LISTEN: To our podcast Exploring Sicily’s Val di Noto to find out more.

This UNESCO-listed Baroque town is small, but packed with interesting sights. Detective Montalbano hails from here, the police station being something of a mecca for fans. Other highlights include the ornamental Palazzo Beneventano, the Nativity scene model at Chiesa San Bartolomeo and Gli Aromi, a herb farm offering olfactory tours as well as a chef-prepared gourmet lunch.

Aeolian Islands

Another of Italy’s 55 UNESCO world heritage sites, the volcanic Aeolian Islands comprises a collection of seven islands off the Sicilian coast. They were formed by the Vulcano and Stromboli volcanoes, both of which are still active. From the largest, Lipari, with a Greek acropolis and Norman cathedral to the smallest, Panarea, which is known for lively nightlife, these islands have volcanic phenomena such as underwater vents, craters and eruptions plus sulphuric mud, vapor spouts and steam clouds.

LISTEN: To our podcast on Discovering the stunning Aeolian Islands .

Bosa, Sardinia

The setting of Bosa could hardly be more spectacular, with a golden hilltop castle and pastel-colored homes, tumbling down to palm trees and fishing boats on the Temo river. Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Tuscans have all had a hand in creating this stunning Sardinian town. Bosa Marina is just a mile and a half away, with its broad beach and Aragonese tower dating from the 1500s.

LISTEN: To our podcast to learn more about Sunny Sardinia .

Caprera is linked to north-eastern Sardinia via a bridge or can be accessed by boat from La Maddalena. As a wildlife sanctuary, the number of visitors is strictly controlled. Garibaldi’s home, boats and other belongings can be seen at the museum. From pink granite rocks to fjord-like Cala Cotticio and shipwreck remains, there are some stunning sights to savor in this Sardinian beauty spot.

Which hidden gems in Italy will you seek out?

Which of these hidden gems in Italy will you explore first? Discovering Italy off the beaten track opens up a smorgasbord of culinary, historical, natural and cultural delights. Do make sure to include some of these hidden highlights in your itinerary if you really want to live La Dolce Vita on your next Italian vacation.

If you like Italy’s untold places and stories then check out these articles for going off the beaten path in the major cities:

  • Rome off the beaten path
  • Hidden gems in Florence
  • Secrets and the hidden gems of Venice

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The Hidden Gems of the French Riviera

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

I grew up in the Loire Valley , so when I was young, my family tended to go to the Normandy coast or to beautiful Saint-Malo in Brittany for our summer vacation. I was in my late 20s the first time I visited the Côte d'Azur. My husband Guillaume and I had just started France Just For You and we wanted to visit the regions in France that we hadn't been to before. It was a long, scenic road trip through the winding mountain roads as we headed to the warmth of the Mediterranean. 

In Nice that first night, the silvery sea beckoned, inviting me to discover its secret - that even in this part of France in October , the sea is warm enough for a peaceful moonlit swim.

The French Riviera stretches from the Italian border, through the microstate of Monaco , to the glamorous beach resorts of Nice , Cannes and St Tropez . Historically and presently, the French Riviera is known as the playground of the rich and famous. The Côte d'Azur has been the destination of choice for royalty from Britain to Hollywood for more than 100 years. For me, the glitz and glamor of the French Riviera had always seemed quite far removed from the reality of everyday life in France.   

But the secret I discovered on that first trip to the region is to delve a little deeper. I found that the most beautiful and authentically French places in the French Riviera lie beyond the big resorts. At the bottom of a mountain gorge , for example, or in a centuries-old hilltop village square, surrounded by bright, sun-bleached buildings. You just have to know where to find these off-the-beaten-track hidden gems, towns and villages . Here are some of my favorites:

We warmly invite you to browse our self drive French Riviera tours

With the dramatic backdrop of the Alps on one side and gorgeous panoramic views of the Mediterranean on the other, Mougins is a village for art-lovers and only half an hour by car from Cannes. It is filled with independent, upscale art galleries , including work by local artists and by the Masters (Picasso, Cézanne and Dalí among others). If you're tired of the crowded museums, these galleries offer a more intimate experience away from the tourist crowds. 

Keep your eyes peeled during the Cannes Film Festival, as many Hollywood stars choose Mougins as their haven when they're not needed on the red carpet. For an exquisite dining experience , order the Saint Pierre fish and some rosé wine from the Place de Mougins restaurant and get a real taste of the French Riviera.

Mougins - where to go in French Riviera

The picturesque village of Mougins (Rinaldi CC by SA 3.0)

If you're looking for a quintessentially French town, the beautiful market town of Vence is where you need to head. This old town receives fewer visitors than its famous neighbor Saint Paul de Vence, and its medieval features have been beautifully preserved. Wander the narrow, cobbled streets on foot, discover charming little squares and boutiques, and finish the day with some al fresco dining at one of the town's many fantastic restaurants.

Explore France by car at your own pace on one of our French towns and villages tours

Vence France

Vence, France. ( Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tourrettes-Sur-Loup

Tourrettes-Sur-Loup is a peaceful, quaint French village where passers-by will greet you with a friendly 'bonjour' and a smile. The town is a real gem, with spectacular views of the Mediterranean in the distance, the sound of the Loup river trickling below, the smell of jasmine in the air and a splendid Michelin Star restaurant , 19 du Clovis . 

The local artisans are happy for visitors to come into their studios to find authentic French souvenirs . Candied fruits are a regional specialty and make great gifts. However, you might prefer to keep them for yourself to enjoy during the rest of your trip!

We can customize our Riviera sceneries, hidden Provence & majestic Paris tour (or any other tour) to suit your preferences

Tourrettes Sur Loup - where to go in French Riviera

The hill-top village of Tourrettes-Sur-Loup on the French Riviera

The road from Tourrettes-Sur-Loup to Gourdon has some magnificent views, so it's well worth making a few photo-stops along the way. Gourdon is a small village just above the Gorge du Loup and also has some spectacular scenery . The town is full of little boutiques, perfume shops , and floral patios to explore. 

More adventurous travelers should absolutely try canyoning in the Gorge du Loup. Experiences are available for all levels of skill and confidence, so it's a fun activity for families or groups of friends.

We invite you to see our Paris to Nice tour , which will help you explore France by car at your own pace

Gourdon - where to go in French Riviera

The gorgeous village of Gourdon

The Lérins Islands

Just a 15-minute boat ride away from Cannes are the islands of Saint Marguerite and Saint Honorat.  A day trip to the Lérins Islands offers a peaceful break from the tourist crowds of the Riviera. On Saint Marguerite, the larger of the two islands, the Fort of St Marguerite, now a museum, contains the cell of the 'Man in the Iron Mask' . You'll also find relics from archaeological discoveries on shipwrecks off the coast of the island.

Saint Honorat perhaps has more charm than Saint Marguerite. It receives fewer tourists and a community of monks has resided there for over 1,500 years. Lérins Abbey and the 15th-century fortified monastery are open to visitors, and the gift shop sells wine and honey produced on the island. These make great gifts to bring home from the French Riviera. Both islands boast unspoiled natural settings with some lovely walking trails and secluded creeks perfect for a picnic and a swim.

Get a taste of France on this customizable tour of Paris, Provence and the French Riviera

Lerins Islands - where to go in French Riviera

From Saint Marguerite Island, you can see Cannes in the distance

Just next to the Italian border, this sleepy, picturesque town is brought alive by the vibrant colors of its buildings. It is more affordable than its glamorous neighbors on the Côte d'Azur, and its beautiful setting makes it just as desirable. Menton is also a great foodie destination proud of its French-Italian cuisine and its citrus fruits. If you're in France in February , be sure to experience the annual Lemon Festival at the end of the month.

You can visit Menton on any of our French Riviera tours

Menton - where to go in French Riviera

The vibrant pastel colors of Menton

Cavalaire-Sur-Mer

Cavalaire is St Tropez's more laid-back neighbor with something to offer thrill-seekers and those who just want to chill. You may like to book a boat trip down at the port or try paragliding and other watersports at the beach. The bars and restaurants by the marina are perfect for relaxing with a drink and doing some people-watching. 

To escape the town for a bit, stroll down to the Plage de Bonporteau, a small, sandy beach nestled between two cliffs and surrounded by greenery, but bring an umbrella, as there's very little natural shade.

We invite you to explore the hidden beauties of the south of France on this 10-day tour

Cavalaire Sur Mer - where to go in French Riviera

Cavalaire-Sur-Mer, one of the most beautiful French Riviera beaches

Paloma beach, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat

This upscale resort has a pebble beach with beautiful views of the mountains and luxury yachts in the harbor. It is also a good place for snorkeling . Paloma beach is lined with sunbeds and tables from the seafood restaurant, a convenient dinner option if you're not on a budget. In the summer, French Riviera beaches get busier as the day progresses, so try to arrive early or make a dinner reservation beforehand. 

Take a scenic hike along the nearby Cap Ferrat coastal path for gorgeous views across the bay towards Monaco.

We would love to plan your French Riviera road trip . To find out more, contact us , your trip planners Emilie, Laura and Clelia.

Paloma Beach - French Riviera beaches

The enclave of Paloma Beach on the French Riviera

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Just a ten-minute drive away from Paloma beach is one of the most photogenic places on the French Riviera, Villa Ephrussi . It is one of my favorite places on the French Riviera and I warmly recommend blocking out some time to visit it. Banker Maurice de Ephrussi had the villa built for his wife, Béatrice de Rothschild, in the early 20th century. She filled it with antiques, paintings, tapestries and sculptures, as well as an extensive collection of rare porcelain that she collected on her travels.

There are nine gardens surrounding the villa, and each have a theme. My favorites are the French, Florentine, and Japanese gardens. Strolling from one garden to the next feels like you're stepping into another country and culture altogether. There are lovely sea views from the villa and the cool shade provided by the pine trees will provide respite from the heat of Nice during the summer months.

If you like visiting gardens, you may like to read our post on the best gardens in France

Villa Ephrussi - where to go in French Riviera

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild with the stunning backdrop of the Mediterranean

Monaco's Exotic Garden

After trying your luck in the casinos and doing a bit of celebrity-spotting (I once passed by the Prince of Monaco outside the palace!), discover another side of Monaco. Monaco's Exotic Garden is the perfect location for capturing some incredible panoramic shots of Monaco. The garden itself is colorful and - true to its name – exotic. Take the time to get lost among the cactuses before stopping for an impromptu picnic.

We can help you drive through the French Riviera and explore at your own leisure

Exotic Garden of Monaco

Panoramic views from the Exotic Garden of Monaco ©CRT Cote d'Azur 

Verdon Gorge

Between Provence and the French Riviera, the Verdon Gorge is a dream location for canoeing or climbing . Crystal-clear water flows through the canyon, and the aquamarine color of the water is striking even on a cloudy day. Many choose to make the 2-hour car journey from Cannes and explore the area from above by car taking route D71 or D23. If you do this, be sure to visit outside of peak season or early in the morning , as the roads can get congested with other cars and tour buses. The last thing you want is to be stuck behind a tour bus as it tries to navigate a hairpin bend. 

The best way to explore the gorge is from below. Take a hike along one of the hiking trails or hire a kayak or pedalo and take to the water.

You can visit the Verdon Gorge on any of our self drive tours of the French Riviera

Verdon Gorge - where to go in French Riviera

Kayaks in the Verdon Gorge  © Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho, Flickr

Port Grimaud ('Little Venice')

The French Riviera's ' Little Venice ' is in the bay of St. Tropez, and is a purpose-built copy of Venice, constructed in the 1960s. While it shouldn't be compared to the real Venice (it is a modern interpretation, after all) Port Grimaud is a lovely area with colorful riverside buildings lining the waterways. You could easily spend a day exploring its charming quaysides and small boutiques and cafes . A pleasant way to experience Port Grimaud is to take a boat ride through the waterways , and then catch the Petit Train from the port up to the medieval town of Grimaud.

Climb the castle tower once you're up there and enjoy the views over the town and the sea.

We - Emilie, Laura & Clelia - invite you to contact us with your questions about our tours!

Port Grimaud in France

 Port Grimaud (Photo: Unsplash)

I hope these hidden gems give you some inspiration for your trip to the French Riviera. If you book with us, we'll help you discover even more beautiful but less well-known French towns and villages !

RELATED: See our post on the best time to visit the French Riviera

Are you tempted to book one of our tours on the French Riviera ? If you would like to include visits to any or all of these places, please let us know! 

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My husband and I just returned from two magnificent weeks in France that included four nights in Paris, four nights in the Loire Valley, two nights near Mont Saint Michel, three nights in Bayeux, near the WWII Landing Beaches and one night at a CDG airport hôtel. We stayed in charming B&Bs with equally charming hosts who recommended great places to …

My husband and I just returned from two magnificent weeks in France that included four nights in Paris, four nights in the Loire Valley, two nights near Mont Saint Michel, three nights in Bayeux, near the WWII Landing Beaches and one night at a CDG airport hôtel. We stayed in charming B&Bs with equally charming hosts who recommended great places to eat and were very knowledgeable about the local area. Emilie provides exceptional services that includes a guidebook, complete with GPS coordinates for all accommodations, activities, restaurants and even parking! We could not have had a more perfect experience and heartily recommend Emilie's services at France Just For You!

We used France Just For You to make all the arrangements so we could travel without having deal with all the details, and they did a beautiful job of doing so- our lodging, car rentals, entry vouchers, everything! We saw a lot in eleven nights, and France Just For You made it seamless- Thanks so much!

The team created an amazing trip. We gave them the nick name “travel fairies” All was just magical.

This trip was amazing, and Laura did such a fantastic job at planning it for us, with us. Wow, the detail and care the whole team put into our package was astonishing.

A great team of Professional, Friendly people who really know France ! The team at France Just For you are Fantastic. From the first introductory email to the last farewell, they listened, planned, helped and crafted a brilliant trip around Bordeaux, Medoc and Dordogne. They responded immediately to questions as if we were the only people they had …

A great team of Professional, Friendly people who really know France ! The team at France Just For you are Fantastic. From the first introductory email to the last farewell, they listened, planned, helped and crafted a brilliant trip around Bordeaux, Medoc and Dordogne. They responded immediately to questions as if we were the only people they had to deal with. Their choice of places to stay and things to do were perfect. Faultless. Thank you All so much.

We had the most amazing trip to France which was so carefully curated by Laura at France Just For You. All of our interests were catered for with a fun and interesting itinerary! Laura took the time to find out where we wanted to travel in France and what we wanted to do there and made sure there were plenty of options. Everything was taken care …

We had the most amazing trip to France which was so carefully curated by Laura at France Just For You. All of our interests were catered for with a fun and interesting itinerary! Laura took the time to find out where we wanted to travel in France and what we wanted to do there and made sure there were plenty of options. Everything was taken care from car hire to accommodation and everything in between. The only thing left for us to do, was to experience France! Even with a few small hiccups along the way, Laura was there to provide solutions. I would not hesitate to recommend France Just for You for anyone who wants to experience a wonderful stress free holiday in France!

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Puglia, Lecce and Vieste - Undiscovered Italy

8 days from only €1,689pp

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riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

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Experience more with so much included

  • Guided tour of Lecce, one of Italy's finest baroque towns, often compared to Florence
  • Visit Alberobello with the unique trulli houses, set amidst stunning Tuscan-like countryside
  • Guided tour of Matera, the amazing medieval cave village and UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Guided tour of Bari’s old town, once home to ancient Greeks, Saracens and Normans, with a remarkable Romanesque cathedral
  • Learn the fascinating craft of pasta-making and enjoy a light lunch at a family-run osteria

As you explore, it becomes evident that Puglia is not the Italy of the north. Its rugged limestone landscape is carpeted with olive groves and dotted with villages of white, flat-roofed houses resembling those of Greece and its islands, while the beauty of the forested Gargano Peninsula stands comparison with the more famous Amalfi coast. But there are many features unique to this area, none more so than the trulli, the cone-shaped houses that have become unofficial symbols of Puglia.

Here in the deep southeast of Italy, nature and history are powerful influences, the locals still wink cheekily at authority and the relaxed and communal way of life is in harmony with the sunny climate. Famed for its passionate embrace of life, simple cuisine, flavoursome wines, historic cities and charming coastal villages, it’s a delightful place to get away from it all.

Your Itinerary

  • Day 1 Arrival in Lecce
  • Day 2 Tour of Lecce
  • Day 3 Olive Oil Mill & Alberobello
  • Day 4 Matera
  • Day 6 Free day in Vieste
  • Day 7 Peschici & rustic lunch
  • Day 8 Return home

Arrival in Lecce

Arrive at the airport for your flight. On arrival, we transfer by coach to the four-star Hilton Garden Inn in Lecce for two nights. This fine modern hotel is a short walk from the Old Town and features a restaurant, bar, outside terrace and spa. Its elegant rooftop swimming pool (open in the summer months, weather permitting) has panoramic views over Lecce.

Italian Commune - Lecce, Italy

Tour of Lecce

Lecce is known as the ‘Florence of the South’ for good reason – its architecture is outstanding and around every corner are buildings of beauty and interest waiting to be discovered.

Our walking tour begins at the imposing Porta Napoli gate, where we meet our local guide, and from there we explore the vibrant Jewish quarter before taking in the Basilica di Santa Croce. A remarkable example of creativity, this Baroque church has an intricate facade, and there are so many beautiful details in the stonework you could lose hours gazing at them.

The tour continues through the Old Town, rich with history, and we pause at a bank that has more to its history than money – it was once used to store olive oil. Another surprise awaits at the picturesque Piazza Sant’Oronzo, a bustling square set on the site of a partially exposed Roman amphitheatre. Built in the 2nd century, the amphitheatre seated over 25,000 people and it’s possible, looking down across the sweeping bleached stone seating, to envisage crowds gathering two millennia ago to enjoy all sorts of entertainment.

We then amble down shop-lined streets to the elegant Piazza Duomo, where Lecce’s cathedral awaits. Built in 1144, its imposing exterior is only matched by its breath-taking interior featuring 12 side chapels containing paintings by a variety of artists.

This afternoon you are free to explore. Lecce hums with life with a distinctly southern Italian feel, so soak up the ambience of its streets, relaxed cafés and refi ned boutiques while taking in all its baroque magnificence. In the evening we dine in an excellent restaurant, once a Roman granary, where you can enjoy the local cuisine.

+ Included experience - Guided walking tour of Lecce

Piazza del Duomo and Campanile - Lecce, Italy

Olive Oil Mill & Alberobello

Olive Oil Mill

Puglia is renowned for its olive oil production, and we see olive trees everywhere in the region when travelling, so we explore a small, family run olive oil mill and find out more about olive oil production and enjoy a tasting.

As we continue our drive, you’ll begin to notice whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs – these are trulli, Puglia’s signature dwellings. In this corner of Puglia, the countryside blooms with patches of oak forest bisected by dry stone walls – almost reminiscent of rural Tuscany.

Alberobello

We arrive in Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remarkably, some parts of Alberobello are almost exclusively composed of trulli, creating an otherworldly feel – no wonder some compare it to a ‘hobbit’ town. For many, this is a highlight of the tour, and we have time to explore, discovering how trulli were built, their intriguing origins and why many are adorned with Christian, pagan or celestial symbols. 

We then continue to Matera, where we stay two nights with breakfast and dinner at the four-star MH Matera.   + Included experience - Tasting at Olive Oil Mill and visit Alberobello

Trulli Dwellings of Alberabello - Bari, Apulia, Italy

This morning we have a guided tour of Matera, which is notable as one of the first permanently inhabited places in Italy and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. At its heart are the original troglodyte cave dwellings dating back over 9,000 years; astonishingly, people still live in them today. Everything you would expect in a conventional town is here, with churches, shops and artisan workshops all hewn from the naked rock. Is there anywhere else you can walk along a street that is the roof of the house below? 

This afternoon you can return to the hotel to relax – the perfect opportunity to sun yourself by the pool. Or if you wish you can explore Matera further and take advantage of our later shuttle service back to your hotel. This gives you more time to visit its many fascinating buildings – the 13th-century Romanesque cathedral is well worth your time. This evening, we complete a memorable day enjoying regional dishes at our dinner in a restaurant in Matera’s Old Town.

+ Included experience -  Guided tour of Matera

Matera, Italy

Nestling on the Adriatic, Bari was a thriving walled port even before the Romans arrived and was briefly the capital of Byzantine Italy. During Norman times it was thought to be as significant as Venice.

This morning we have a guided tour of the Old Town where there is so much to discover, such as the imposing medieval fortress and the massive Romanesque cathedral with its 11th-century frescoes, while opera lovers may know that Bari is home to the magnificent Teatro Petruzzelli.

For many, though, the focal point is the Basilica di San Nicola, whose 900-year-old vaulted crypt is the final resting place of Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Russia – better known to us as Father Christmas.

As we explore Bari’s tightly knit streets, look down its side streets to take in other aspects of traditional life, from shops displaying freshly caught sea bass, cuttlefish or lobster to stalls creaking under the weight of locally grown olives, tomatoes and peppers, and families eating meals with their windows and doors open. Here and there, you may come across chattering matriarchs sitting outside their doorsteps making, hand-rolling and cutting different types of pasta, a practice unchanged through time.

Leaving Bari, we call at the picturesque fishing port of Trani, then the landscape changes as we climb the Gargano peninsular coastal road. The warm air is heavy with Mediterranean aromas of pine and wildflowers, and we soon arrive in the coastal town of Vieste. We stay for three nights with breakfast and two dinners, at either four-star hotel – the Palace Hotel Vieste or the Hotel Degli Aranci, both situated a short stroll from the beach next to the Old Town. + Included experience - Guided tour of Bari

Baia dei Mergoli - Apulia, Italy

Free day in Vieste

Phoenician in origin, Vieste is one of Italy’s most attractive coastal towns, situated on a rocky promontory overlooking turquoise waters with beaches either side. An enchanting jumble of white, flat-roofed buildings perched on cliff edges and dominated by its simple 13th-century cathedral, it’s an ideal place for your free day to relax.

You may choose to amble through ancient alleyways, walk barefoot along the beach past the giant chalk stack – a remarkable geological landmark – enjoy a lunch of local seafood or just find a quiet spot to wile away the hours with a book.

Vieste, Italy

Peschici & rustic lunch

This morning we take drive to nearby Peschici, a small fishing village located on a promontory overlooking the Bay of Peschici. The walled old town, with its whitewashed buildings, is a maze of narrow streets lined with small shops, perfect for a leisurely stroll. The Medieval Castle, dating back from 970, has panoramic views over the surrounding coastline.

We have free time here to explore and perhaps have a coffee whilst enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. We will then continue to a rural restaurant located just outside Peschici, where we will enjoy a light lunch of rural specialities typical of this part of Puglia and discover the art of hand making pasta in a short demonstration by an expert.

We return to Vieste in the afternoon with the rest of the day at leisure. + Included experience -  Visit Peschici and learn the art of hand making pasta

Monte Sant' Angelo, Italy

Return home

Transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Return home

The price of this multi center European holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement. The price includes: 

  • Return flights
  • Seven nights’ accommodation
  • Daily breakfast, one light lunch, and six dinners (including two at local restaurants)
  • All local taxes
  • All tours as mentioned
  • The services of a Riviera Travel tour manager

Along with your experienced and knowledgeable Tour Manager and local experts, you’ll discover so much on our award-winning Classic tours, offering the best value-for-money way for you to explore the world.

Our Tour Managers have been rated as the best in the business for their knowledge and experience and will go above and beyond to ensure every aspect of your holiday runs smoothly – so all you need to worry about is your packing.  

Included on all tours

  • Insightful guided tours & fascinating visits
  • Return flights or rail from the UK
  • Hand-picked hotels

Useful Information

  • Currency: Euro
  • Flight time: Approximately 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Language: Italian
  • Time zone: GMT+1
  • Country: Italy

Itinerary Information

Please note, on some dates this tour may operate in a different order, staying in Matera first, followed by Lecce and Vieste. You will experience the same tours and visits.

Visa Information

Irish citizens do not require a visa to enter Italy. However, you must have a valid passport. For the most up-to-date passport and visa information visit  https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/

We are unable to accept responsibility if you are unable to travel because you have not complied with any passport/entry/immigration requirements.

Hotel Information

  • The use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.
  • Where hotels feature a swimming pool, it will be open during the summer months depending on weather conditions.

We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns.

Transfer Times

All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependant on the number of hotel stops and traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us . 

Ariel view of MH Matera Hotel

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Puglia, Lecce and Vieste - Undiscovered Italy

What's included.

  • Dates & Prices

Accommodation

8 days - classic escorted tours.

  • Day 1 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day Arrive at the airport for your flight. On arrival, we transfer by coach to the four-star Hilton Garden Inn in Lecce for two nights. This fine modern hotel is a short walk from the Old Town and features a restaurant, bar, outside terrace and spa. Its elegant rooftop swimming pool (open in the summer months, weather permitting) has panoramic views over Lecce.
  • Day 2 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day Lecce is known as the ‘Florence of the South’ for good reason – its architecture is outstanding and around every corner are buildings of beauty and interest waiting to be discovered. Our walking tour begins at the imposing Porta Napoli gate, where we meet our local guide, and from there we explore the vibrant Jewish quarter before taking in the Basilica di Santa Croce. A remarkable example of creativity, this Baroque church has an intricate facade, and there are so many beautiful details in the stonework you could lose hours gazing at them.  The tour continues through the Old Town, rich with history, and we pause at a bank that has more to its history than money – it was once used to store olive oil. Another surprise awaits at the picturesque Piazza Sant’Oronzo, a bustling square set on the site of a partially exposed Roman amphitheatre. Built in the 2nd century, the amphitheatre seated over 25,000 people and it’s possible, looking down across the sweeping bleached stone seating, to envisage crowds gathering two millennia ago to enjoy all sorts of entertainment. We then amble down shop-lined streets to the elegant Piazza Duomo, where Lecce’s cathedral awaits. Built in 1144, its imposing exterior is only matched by its breathtaking interior featuring 12 side chapels containing paintings by a variety of artists.  This afternoon you are free to explore. Lecce hums with life with a distinctly southern Italian feel, so soak up the ambience of its streets, relaxed cafés and refi ned boutiques while taking in all its baroque magnificence. In the evening we dine in an excellent restaurant, once a Roman granary, where you can enjoy the local cuisine. Signature Experience: Experience the real Lecce on a morning’s walking tour with a local guide who will provide a fascinating insight into local life, customs and history – from the morning coffee ritual to the ‘pasticciotto’, the local custard-filled pastry typical of Lecce traditionally eaten in the morning. Plus, you’ll sample some of Lecce’s very best local delicacies, with our tour culminating in an authentic coffee shop where you can relax over a ‘café leccese style'.
  • Day 3 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day Puglia is renowned for its olive oil production and we see olive trees everywhere in the region when travelling, so we explore a small, family run olive oil mill and find out more about olive oil production and enjoy a tasting (Classic Tours only). As we continue our drive you’ll begin to notice whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs – these are trulli, Puglia’s signature dwellings. In this corner of Puglia, the countryside blooms with patches of oak forest bisected by dry stone walls – almost reminiscent of rural Tuscany. We arrive in Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remarkably, some parts of Alberobello are almost exclusively composed of trulli, creating an otherworldly feel – no wonder some compare it to a ‘hobbit’ town. For many, this is a highlight of the tour and we have time to explore, discovering how trulli were built, their intriguing origins and why many are adorned with Christian, pagan or celestial symbols.  We then continue to Matera, where we stay two nights with breakfast and dinner at the four-star MH Matera. Signature Experience: On our drive to Alberobello, we call at a historic masseria, one of Puglia’s traditional farmhouses, once a stable, and after the history of this beautifully restored ancient building is revealed, you’ll be served a selection of delicious local dishes, all created with ingredients (including the wine and olive oil) produced directly on the farm. Please note guests on our classic tour will enjoy an oil tasting at a traditional olive oil mill.
  • Day 4 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day This morning we have a guided tour of Matera, which is notable as one of the first permanently inhabited places in Italy and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. At its heart are the original troglodyte cave dwellings dating back over 9,000 years; astonishingly, people still live in them today. Everything you would expect in a conventional town is here, with churches, shops and artisan workshops all hewn from the naked rock. Is there anywhere else you can walk along a street that is the roof of the house below?  This afternoon you can return to the hotel to relax – the perfect opportunity to sun yourself by the pool. Or if you wish you can explore Matera further. This gives you more time to visit its many fascinating buildings – the 13th-century Romanesque cathedral is well worth your time. This evening, we complete a memorable day enjoying regional dishes at our dinner in a restaurant in Matera’s Old Town.
  • Day 5 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day Nestling on the Adriatic, Bari was a thriving walled port even before the Romans arrived and was briefly the capital of Byzantine Italy. During Norman times it was thought to be as significant as Venice. This morning we have a guided tour of the Old Town where there is so much to discover, such as the imposing medieval fortress and the massive Romanesque cathedral with its 11th-century frescoes, while opera lovers may know that Bari is home to the magnificent Teatro Petruzzelli. For many, though, the focal point is the Basilica di San Nicola, whose 900-year-old vaulted crypt is the final resting place of Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Russia – better known to us as Father Christmas.  As we explore Bari’s tightly knit streets, look down its side streets to take in other aspects of traditional life, from shops displaying freshly caught sea bass, cuttlefish or lobster to stalls creaking under the weight of locally grown olives, tomatoes and peppers, and families eating meals with their windows and doors open. Here and there, you may come across chattering matriarchs sitting outside their doorsteps making, hand-rolling and cutting different types of pasta, a practice unchanged through time.  Leaving Bari, we call at the picturesque fishing port of Trani, then the landscape changes as we climb the Gargano peninsular coastal road. The warm air is heavy with Mediterranean aromas of pine and wild flowers, as we head towards the coastal town of Vieste. We stay for three nights with breakfast and two dinners at the Hotel Degli Aranci.
  • Day 6 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day Phoenician in origin, Vieste is one of Italy’s most attractive coastal towns, situated on a rocky promontory overlooking turquoise waters with beaches either side. An enchanting jumble of white, flat-roofed buildings perched on cliff edges and dominated by its simple 13th-century cathedral, it’s an ideal place for your free day to relax. You may choose to amble through ancient alleyways, walk barefoot along the beach past the giant chalk stack – a remarkable geological landmark – enjoy a lunch of local seafood or just find a quiet spot to wile away the hours with a book. Signature Experience: Sit back and soak up the dazzling seascapes, glistening water and bracing air as we cruise along the scenic coastline of the Gargano National Park, home to magnificent UNESCO-protected ancient pine forests. Explore the spectacular caves nestled amongst sheer white limestone cliffs and golden sands and savour the views as we enjoy some refreshments and antipasti.
  • Day 7 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day This morning we take drive to nearby Peschici, a small fishing village located on a promontory overlooking the Bay of Peschici. The walled old town, with its whitewashed buildings, is a maze of narrow streets lined with small shops, perfect for a leisurely stroll. The Medieval Castle, dating back from 970, has panoramic views over the surrounding coastline. We have free time here to explore and perhaps have a coffee whilst enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. We will then continue to a rural restaurant located just outside Peschici, where we will enjoy a light lunch of rural specialities typical of this part of Puglia, and discover the art of hand making pasta in a short demonstration by an expert. We return to Vieste in the afternoon with the rest of the day at leisure. 
  • Day 8 Arrow up click to collapse day Arrow Up - Click to expand day Transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Holiday Highlights

  • Guided tour of Lecce, one of Italy's finest baroque towns, often compared to Florence
  • Visit Alberobello with the unique trulli houses, set amidst stunning Tuscan-like countryside
  • Guided tour of Matera, the amazing medieval cave village and UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Guided tour of Bari’s old town, once home to ancient Greeks, Saracens and Normans, with a remarkable Romanesque cathedral
  • Learn the fascinating craft of pasta-making and enjoy a light lunch at a family-run osteria
  • Seven nights in conveniently located 4-star accommodation inclusive of all local taxes, plus breakfast, one lunch, and six dinners (two dinners at carefully selected local restaurants)
  • The Signature Tour option includes all of the above as well as:
  • Explore Lecce like a local through an insightful expert’s eyes stopping to enjoy typical specialities along the way then soaking up the authentic ambience of a traditional café over a real Italian coffee
  • Relax on a cruise along the dramatic shores of the Gargano National Park, soaking up the spectacular sea views over a refreshing drink and antipasti
  • Visit a beautiful traditional Puglian farmhouse for a delicious lunch showcasing the region’s most typical dishes with fresh ingredients sourced directly from the farm

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

Our Price Includes

  • The price of this multi center European holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement. The price includes: 
  • Return flights
  • Seven nights’ accommodation
  • Daily breakfast, one light lunch, and six dinners (including two at local restaurants)
  • All local taxes
  • All tours as mentioned
  • The services of a Riviera Travel tour manager

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

The Mail Travel Travel Experience

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riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

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riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

4* Hilton Garden Inn - Lecce -

This modern hotel is located in a residential area approximately a 20-minute walk from the Old Town and features a restaurant, bar, outside terrace and spa. Its elegant rooftop swimming pool (open in the summer months, weather permitting) has panoramic views over Lecce.  Please note the use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

4* Palace Hotel Vieste - Vieste -

The Palace Hotel Vieste is a four-star rated and fully air-conditioned, situated about 250 metres from the beach. The Palace Hotel Vieste, located in the atmospheric old town, is a tasteful conversion of a 15th Century noble’s house in to a lovely classic hotel. With high ceilings and plaster coving throughout creating a wonderful atmosphere of yesteryear, coupled with the comforts of an elegant and modern hotel. All rooms have a TV, safe, mini bar, telephone and hairdryer. There is a bar and restaurant plus free use of the private beach with two sun beds and an umbrella per room.  Please note: Where hotels feature an outdoor swimming pool, this will be open summer months, weather permitting. Please note the use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

UnaHotels MH Matera -

This contemporary hotel is located in the quiet Borgo Venusio area, a short coach or bus ride from the centre of Matera, with its intricate cave dwelling system only accessible on foot. The hotel is set in landscaped gardens with views over the surrounding countryside and features an indoor pool, a relaxing spa (local charges may apply) as well as an outdoor pool (generally open between June and September, weather permitting), in addition to comfortable patio and lounge areas.    Please note the use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.

riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

4* Hotel Degli Aranci - Vieste -

The Hotel Degli Aranci has been the lifelong project of its owners; it boasts a homely atmosphere thanks to the genuine warmth of its staff. The rooms are simply furnished and air conditioned. There is free use of the hotel’s private beach plus two sunbeds and an umbrella (June to September) per room. The Palace Hotel has been converted from a 15th-century noble’s house into a classic town-centre hotel. All rooms are traditionally decorated and air-conditioned. There is a bar and restaurant, plus again free use of the private beach with two sunbeds and an umbrella (June to September) per room.   Please note the use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.

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riviera travel venice classic and undiscovered

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