Italy – Amalfi Coast Tour!

Day 1    Depart USA for Venice, Italy

We depart the USA today for our Best of Italy Tour!

Day 2    Arrival Venice

We arrive at Marco Polo International Airport, where we meet our tour guide and USIT tour conductor. A private launch will take us directly from the airport to our hotel.   Dinner is provided at the hotel this evening.

Day 3   Venice

After breakfast, we walk to the Piazza St. Marco, the famous central square of Venice.  Our guide will take us into both the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica.  The Doges Palace, the Palazzo Ducale, was the Venetian rulers’ palace from the time of the 9th century, and this architectural masterpiece is filled with amazing artwork.  St. Mark’s Basilica, with its four domes and thirteen spires, is a blend of East and West, with a 4th century Egyptian sculpture of the Tetrarchs, 13th century bronze statues, 15th century statuary, and 17th century mosaics.   The history of its construction is fascinating, as you will hear on our guided tour .  The famous square provides many places to eat lunch, and the shopping district is centered here as well. We also enjoy a visit to the Murano glass-blowing demonstration and showroom.  The afternoon is free for you to shop and to explore the city on your own.  You might want to consider a gondola ride under the Rialto Bridge and along the Grand Canal!  Shop and enjoy Venice!  Dinner is on our own tonight.

Day 4    Venice to Lucca via Verona

An early departure from Venice takes us by boat to our coach as we travel to Verona, where we’ll stop for an early lunch on our own with time to see Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, the cathedral, and the local market—not to mention the upscale shopping street that runs to the main square and coliseum.  Then on to Lucca, where we arrive late afternoon at our four-star hotel.  We can then enjoy the ambiance of Lucca in the evening.  Lucca is situated on the river Serchio in a fertile plain near the Ligurian Sea, famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls.  Dinner is included at the hotel tonight.  If you’re an opera lover, you might enjoy a performance at the Lucca Puccini Opera Festival.

Day 5    Lucca, Pisa, and Siena

After breakfast at the hotel, we have the morning to explore delightful Lucca, an ancient walled city off the beaten track for tourists, largly pedestrian, full of interesting shops, bakeries, restaurants, and cafes. The rectangular grid of its historical center preserves the Roman street plan, and the Piazza San Michele occupies the site of the ancient forum.  Enjoy the narrow streets, small shops, and an espresso in a quiet cafe.  We depart Lucca around noon for Pisa, stopping for lunch at a remote vineyard between Lucca and Pisa (incl.).  Pisa was the dominant naval power in the western Mediterranean for much of the Middle Ages, and its trading links with Spain and Africa formed the basis for its wealth at the time.  This is reflected in the splendid duomo (cathedral), baptistry, and campanile, which we know as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on the Campo di Miracoli.   We leave Pisa mid-afternoon for our next destination.  Siena is a delightful hilltop town with a maze of narrow streets surrounding the fan-shaped Piazza del Campo, considered by many to be Italy’s loveliest piazza, the setting for bullfights, executions, and a festival centered around a bareback horse race. Shops, cafes, and restaurants line the surrounding area. The cathedral is unique, as you will see, and is considered one of Italy’s finest.  Dinner is on our own in Siena tonight.

Day 6   Siena and Florence

After breakfast at the hotel, we drive the short distance to Florence and start our day’s tour by seeing the old city center.  While much of Florence (Firenze) was rebuilt during the Renaissance, the eastern part of the city is still largely medieval. Rising above the center of the city, we find the richly decorated Duomo, or Cathedral, the Santa Maria del Fiore, with its famous terra cotta dome.  The 4th century Baptistery is famous for its bronze doors and for the many famous Florentines, including Dante, who were baptized here.  We also enjoy an in-depth exposure to some of the finest artwork in the world at the Uffizi Museum with a guided tour to include viewing The Birth of Venus by Botticelli and The Annunciation by Da Vinci.  We also enjoy a visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce.  Then we return to Siena for the remainder of the afternoon and evening for time on our own.  Dinner on our own.

Day 7    Siena to Sorrento via Assisi

After checking out of our Siena hotel, we continue travelling South.  The highlight of the day is our visit to Assisi.  Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy, founder of the Franciscan order, and one of the most popular Catholic saints in history.  Assisi’s focal point is the 13th-century Basilica di San Francesco, which contains the sacred relics of St. Francis and beautiful frescoes of his life.  Lunch is on our own in Assisi.  Then we depart for Sorrento, arriving at our hotel early in the evening.  Dinner is included at the hotel.

Day 8      Sorrento and Capri

Today we have a full day excursion to the Island of Capri, including the Blue Grotto, which we reach from Sorrento by boat. Capri is an Italian island off the Sorrentine Peninsula on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, and it has been a celebrated beauty spot and resort since the time of the Roman Republic.  We’ll visit the famous Blue Grotto on the way, weather permitting.  In the 1950s, Capri became a popular destination for the international jet set.  The central piazzetta of Capri, though preserving its modest village architecture, is lined with luxury boutiques, restaurants, and paparazzi chasing celebrities.  Lunch in on our own in the town of Capri.  After our return to Sorrento, we have free time for shopping and browsing, and dinner is on our own.

Day 9    Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

After breakfast, we depart for our drive down the Amalfi Coast.  The narrow and twisting Amalfi Drive in Italy is arguably the world’s most beautiful and thrilling sightseeing road.  It stretches 50 kilometers (30 miles) between Sorrento and Amalfi, the village that gave the coast its name.  Small villages cling precariously to steep sea cliffs with breathtaking rocky shoreline vistas.  At Positano, we transfer to vans that will take us down to the village for a stroll on the beach and some shopping. We see colorful flowers and inhale the coastal air, rich with the smell of ocean spray and lemons.  We continue down the coast to Amalfi for a brief visit and then return to Sorrento.  Dinner is on our own in Sorrento.

Day 10    Sorrento to Rome via Pompeii

We leave Sorrento after breakfast for Rome, but shortly after leaving, we stop for a morning tour of the ancient city of Pompeii, frozen in time in 79 AD by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  When excavations were begun in 1748, this Roman city was found as it was on the day it was buried in ash and stone, including paintings, sculpture, and even graffiti.  This is an extensive site of many acres—a whole city preserved in its sudden extinction under volcanic ash, and includes two amphitheaters, shops, villas, marketplace, the temple, the baths, and more.  In the bakery of Modesto, carbonized loaves of bread were found.  Our local Pompeii guide is there to make it come alive for us.  After the tour we depart for Rome, and on arrival, we have time for lunch on our own before checking into the hotel.  Then we board the coach for the short transfer to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, Catholicism’s most sacred shrine and home to hundreds of precious works of art.  After some time on our own in the area, we return to the hotel and enjoy dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Day 11    Rome

This morning we continue our tour of Christian Rome with the ancient Appian Way and the Catacombs of St. Callisto (dating to AD 50), hollowed out of volcanic rock, where early Christians prayed and were buried.  We descend into the tombs with a guide for a close look.  From there, we enjoy a tour to include the famous Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.  The afternoon is free for exploring on your own.  Dinner is on our own tonight.

Day 12    Rome

Today is a half-day sightseeing tour, beginning with the the impressive Coliseum, the most famous symbol of Rome.  Commissioned in the year 72 by Emperor Vespasian, it was the site of deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights, all for the entertainment of the masses.  While there, we walk the Via Sacra to the Roman Forum.  Next comes the Circus Maximus and the redbrick ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, which could accommodate 1600 bathers at once when completed in AD 206.  We continue our tour to visit the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona with its three flamboyant fountains and luxurious cafes that are the social center of the city, and Trevi Fountain, the famous Baroque masterpiece by Nicola Salvi.  Then on to Piazza Barberini at the foot of the Barberini Palace and the Triton Fountain by Bernini, Piazza della Repubblica, and the Fountain of the Nayads.  Lunch is on our own, and the afternoon is at leisure.  Our “Arrivederci Dinner” (incl.) is celebrated in a typical Roman restaurant, where we enjoy some of Italy’s great food and famous music.  Return to the hotel.

Day 13   Departure

Depart by coach for Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for our return flight home, as we say our final farewell to Italy!

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