Almost 50 million international tourists descend on Italy each year, and it’s no wonder. The country offers an exquisite feast of culture, food and landscapes that hooks its visitors, and leaves them longing for more.
Travel the Way We Do and take advantage of insider knowledge and luxury touches. Here is our account of Insight Vacations’ 12-day Ultimate Italy Luxury Gold Tour.
ART AND HISTORY
How can one country be home to so many of the world’s great masterpieces? In Rome, there’s Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel and, in Florence, crowds flock to see his towering statue of David as well as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. But who wants to spend all day queueing to see them?
Not us. Luckily, we’re on a coach tour that comes with a luxurious twist: we can jump the queues everywhere from the Vatican in Rome to Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, where we’re also treated to another VIP experience. Few visitors get the chance to step inside the kilometre-long Vasari Corridor (its unmarked door is opened only to reserved groups). This private elevated passageway across the Arno River, built for the Medici family in the 16th-century and featuring a window enlarged for Hitler’s viewing pleasure in the 20th, is lined with paintings, including a collection of self-portraits by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Delacroix.
We swan into other places, too, as though we’re something special. Hello, express entry into Rome’s Colosseum and Venice’s Doge’s Palace, home to the world’s biggest oil painting – Tintoretto’s final masterpiece, Paradise. Really, one could become used to this.
Our tour also includes art and craft of a more modern kind. In Perugia, we visit the textiles workshop of Marta Cucchia, who continues a long family tradition of weaving on antique looms. In Venice, we watch a glass-blower at work. In Rome, there’s free time to see modern masterpieces such as William Kentridge’s
Triumphs & Laments, a half-kilometre-long mural trailing along the Tiber’s travertine walls that portrays 80 key moments – mythological, factual and cinematic – from Rome’s extraordinarily long history.
WINING AND DINING
Perhaps the only thing more pleasurable than gawking at masterpieces old and new is eating your way around Italy. After settling into our Tuscan home-away-from-home, Villa Le Maschere, we tuck into a rustic dinner – handmade pappardelle with duck, wood-fired pizza and more – at Rivasud, a cosy stone barn a few kilometres away.
We also taste our way through the region’s wines at an outdoor lunch at Ristorante Le Maschere, just across the road from our villa. My favourite drop is the strawberry-coloured rosé – Il Poggione’s Lo Sbrancato – that makes a terrific match for a trio of soft cheeses (ricotta crowned with walnut, pecorino with prune and a disc of goat’s cheese skewered with tomato).
There’s more wine to be enjoyed during a cooking class at Villa Dianella where we also tour the wine estate’s barrel room. There are plenty of laughs as we make pasta from scratch and chop vegetables for the bolognaise sauce that will later become part of our in-house dinner. The menu also includes peposo – a peppery Tuscan beef stew.
Our tour wraps up in Venice with a memorable dinner on the fisherman’s island of Burano. Our arrival is perfectly timed to catch the sunset glowing on the multi-coloured, picture-postcard houses. As a finale, fisherman Mario ‘Bepi’ Bressanello sings us songs of the sea.
With hotels in excellent locations, we make the most of free time built into the tour. In Rome, the Baglioni Hotel Regina sits on the serpentine Via Veneto – a hop and a skip from the Trevi Fountain and Via Condotti, the famous fashion street that could put a serious dent in your credit card. In Tuscany, the 16th-century Villa Le Maschere is 32 kilometres from Florence. There’s time to explore the 18-hectare property with two outdoor pools and walking trails.
Venice’s Bauer Palazzo features a waterfront terrace that is the perfect spot to sip a bellini – the cocktail invented at nearby Harry’s Bar. If you have a hankering for a secret garden, take the hotel’s speedboat across to sister property, Bauer Palladio, on Giudecca island. There’s no hint from the former convent’s austere façade what lies beyond: a garden that’s a little bit wild and just as stunning as Venice itself.