An After-Hours Treat: The Vatican by Night

 

When you arrive in Rome you’ll soon realize that you can choose from a plethora of Vatican tours that are offered to the city’s tourists. While these tours will save you time in the long queues and will give you a structured visit to an overwhelming attraction, you might be looking for something a little more unique and personal. Something that can give you a chance to feel the spiritual power of the Vatican as well as a chance to explore its historical and cultural artifacts.

With this in mind, we approached the church officials to arrange for our guests to have an exclusive, after-hours experience in the Museums, Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms.

Authentic Calm
Seeing the Vatican behind the scenes is the most authentic way to experience the museums and its rooms. While St Peter’s and Bernini’s grand piazza were designed to accommodate and to dazzle the throngs who came to worship, the palace was created as a much more intimate, private space accessible to only the privileged few. When you come on one of our exclusive Vatican tours you get to experience the true function of the architecture and its interior decoration.

You’ll see the Galleries of the Candelabra, of the Tapestries, and of the Geographical Maps. We’ll also show you Raphael’s Rooms, the Sistine Chapel and the Gallery of the Apostolic Library. By sharing unique insights and engaging stories with you, your guide will make sure that you come away from the tour feeling enriched and entertained.

Thriving Spirituality
The complex is first and foremost a functioning religious institution, and often its spiritual agenda can be hard to experience for a tourist who treks through the museums and church armed with rucksack, guidebook and camera.

The beauty of an after-hours Vatican tour is that visitors have a chance to access the spirituality of the site. In the hushed, evocative atmosphere you’ll get to explore the intimate chapels of Urban VIII, of St Peter Martyr and of Pope Nicholas as well as the renowned Sistine Chapel.

If it’s the colourful and turbulent history played out in these buildings that fires your imagination then you’ll be inspired by a glimpse at the stage where secret consistories played out over the centuries: the Room of the Chiaroscuri. Evening visitors to the Vatican have an unrivalled opportunity to feel the presence of the players who filled its rooms with drama and intrigue.

Unique Perspective
There’s no doubt that anyone who looks at Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel or Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican rooms will experience the awesomeness of seeing such masterpieces in the flesh.

However, when you view these rooms in a small, private group you get the unique opportunity to feel the magnificence of these spaces which were designed and decorated in homage to the divine.

There is nothing more awe-inspiring than standing almost alone before the monumental depiction of The Last Judgement on the wall of the Sistine Chapel. You are bound to feel that delicious sense of vertigo that comes with the realisation of how small Man really is in relation to the massiveness of civilisation.

The Practicalities
Vatican tours after hours require special permission and organisation – essentially you are visiting the headquarters of a functioning State so there are formalities that must be met in advance of your visit.

The officials who grant access to our guides for these special groups require 2-3 months’ notice, so please let us know well in advance if you’d like us to arrange a visit for you.

We will need all the names of those attending in advance so that we can submit these to the authorities. Please bring some sort of official ID with you when you arrive for your tour.

Exclusive Indulgence
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most special experiences that we offer visitors to Rome. Those who have booked one of these after-hours Vatican tours have returned home with a unique story to tell and a memory that they will treasure forever.

Posted in Art Tours Italy, ArtViva Exclusive Experiences, ArtViva Recommends, Italy Tours, Rome, Rome Tours, Vatican Tours | Tagged | Comments Off on An After-Hours Treat: The Vatican by Night
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A Vine with Your Name: Adopt a Vine with ArtViva

Some of the most popular tours that we run at ArtViva revolve around wine. The attraction of Italian wines draws visitors to the country from around the globe. Since we witness firsthand the immense pleasure that our guests experience when they taste the product on site after meeting the vintners and exploring the winemaking process, we created a package that makes the perfect surprise gift for the wine connoisseur in your life.

The Experience
Our guests join us at Villa Corsini outside Florence for a truly unique wine tasting event.

Imagine touring the 49 hectares of vineyards that are planted with Sangiovese, the grape variety that the villa owner harvests every year to produce Chianti Classico and IGT Principe Corsini.

You’ll be guided through the historic wine cellar which dates back to 1600, and stands on 3 levels below the ground. This byzantine system of rooms and tunnels beneath the villa and gardens is where the high quality wines are stored while they mature into the world renowned Chianti and IGT Principe Corsini.

The tour also includes a visit to the olive mill and orciaia, a uniquely surviving ancient storage facility for the olive oil produced by the estate.

We’ll take you into the villa itself where you’ll explore the well-preserved seventeenth-century architecture and decoration. At the back of the property you’ll see the historic kitchens which are an original feature of the estate. Its functioning garden still yields the vegetables and produce that will be used to prepare your lunch.

Prince Duccio Corsini
Principe Duccio Corsini, the villa’s current owner, personally accompanies you on your tour of his estates. His enthusiastic and generous hospitality will enhance your visit, and he invites you to join him for a traditional Tuscan lunch set in one of the lovely rooms that are accessed via a delightful courtyard. You can enjoy the view out onto the vast grounds lined with ancient cypress trees.

As the prince’s personal guest, you’ll enjoy the stories and history of his illustrious family, which includes a saint and a couple of popes!

Of course you can expect your meal to be accompanied by the current vintage Don Tommaso Chianti Classico crù. After the tour you’ll return home with two bottles of this signature wine as a gift from your host.

Watch Your Vine Grow
Prince Corsini will offer you your own vine with a plate inscribed with your name. You can watch it grow via regular updates from the estate which will follow its development to the stage when it bears fruit. After its harvest, Prince Corsini will send you 6 bottles of the Don Tomasso vintage that contains your grapes.

A Gift to Remember
This is a particularly special experience that takes the traditional wine tour to another level altogether. It could make the perfect gift or surprise for a loved one on your next trip to Tuscany, so get in touch with one of us to arrange the details of this unforgettable present.

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Christmas in Italy? Our Favourite Destinations

Everyone will tell you that Christmas in Italy is a magical time, and I would not hesitate to agree. Yuletide visitors get to enjoy the twinkling lights and tasteful city decorations that enhance the already charming historic centres.

Italians extend their celebrations through the Feast of Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night), so those visitors who take a post-Christmas break can find themselves immersed in the festive spirit up to 6 January. Epiphany marks the arrival of the Three Kings who brought gifts to the infant Jesus, and the Italians celebrate it through the character of La Befana who brings present to the children. This is an unfamiliar tradition for most visitors to Italy, and it’s a great opportunity for a new cultural experience.

If you’re considering a Christmas stay here, we have highlighted three destinations that are particularly atmospheric at this time of year.

Rome
One would expect the Pope’s city to put on an impressive show at Christmas, and Rome certainly meets and exceeds this expectation. Our walking tours of Rome that are held after the sun goes down offer a particularly magical way to see the streets lit up with lights and decorations. The monuments are illuminated with festive drama, and the piazze sparkle. Our guides will lead you to the best and most impressive illuminations, both in the main thoroughfares and off the beaten path.

It’s also worth popping into the myriad churches that grace almost every street in the city. Each will have set up its own Nativity Scene, often with almost life-size models. We can show you some of the most charming when you join us for one of our Rome tours.

And of course you’ll probably want to attend the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona. The food stalls, ornaments for sale and general atmosphere of festivity make this a magnet for multiple visits.

Naples
The Neapolitan celebrations for the Christmas period are legendary even among Italians. The native passion of the local population culminates in the flamboyant Nativity Crib displays, which the residents of Naples build with exuberant and extravagant dedication.

Any of our tours of the city at this time of year will take you down Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is lined with the shops and workshops of the Nativity Scene makers. They sculpt and sell figurines of the various biblical characters, as well as the more ‘unique’ protagonists such as the miniatures of politicians, football stars, pizzeria chefs and exotic animals who all get cameo appearances in these extraordinary displays. This street has been dedicated to the craft of the Nativity Scene since the 1300s.

If you really get into this, I strongly recommend a visit to the National Museum of San Martino on the Vomero Hill. It houses a famous collection of Neapolitan Nativity Scenes, including the world’s largest, the Presepe Cuciniello, with its 162 people, 80 animals, angels and 450 miniature objects.

At any time of year, but particularly during the festive period, Naples is a city to see on foot. Angelo, our expert guide who leads the Bespoke Naples Walking Tour, will navigate a route with you through the vibrant streets with their enchanting Christmas decorations.

Florence
Florence is also one of my favourite Italian cities for a special Christmas experience. Whether you’re attending midnight Mass in the Duomo or browsing the renowned Christmas markets, you’ll witness how the Florentines approach the festive season with the same elegance and panache that they bestow on anything decorative. It’s hard to surpass the atmosphere of the candlelit Masses that are held against the backdrop of the heavenly Renaissance architecture and accompanied by celestial music.

We hold an evening tour of the city, which is particularly magical during the Christmas season. Your guide will lead you down the illuminated cobblestone streets and take you to those picturesque views that are even more spectacular when lit for the Yuletide celebrations.

If you want to explore the city by day with us, one of our local guides has put together a special off season tour that will show you the main outdoor sights and monuments. After you’ve warmed your hands on the Florentine hot chocolates served at the end of the tour, your guide will leave you at the Via Tornabuoni to do your holiday shopping in style.

Christmas Season Visits
The Christmas season really is a great time to enjoy a city break to an Italian city. It’s a slightly quieter period than the spring and summer seasons, so you have fewer crowds with which to contend.

However, in my mind the real attraction is the opportunity to experience the absolutely unique character of the Italian celebrations. From the beginning of December through to 6 January, the cities are a treasure trove of sparkling lights, cultural traditions and delicious gastronomical delicacies.

Posted in ArtViva Recommends, Cooking, Drink, Florence, Food, Italian Feasts & Festivals, Italian habits & customs, Rome, Travel Tips | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Christmas in Italy? Our Favourite Destinations
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Our Best of Umbria Tour: What to Expect

Assisi, in the heart of Umbria

Italy is comprised of twenty unique regions, from its southernmost Mediterranean island region Sicily up to the northern tip of mountainous Alto-Adige. Nestled in almost the exact middle of the Italian peninsula is Umbria, an extraordinary region offering  something for everyone, whether seasoned Italophile or first-time visitor. Our Best of Umbria tour will introduce you to this area known for its natural beauty, ancient history, religious architecture, and food and wine. Here’s what you can expect.

Take in Some Nature
Umbria is a green pocket tucked into central Italy, being the only region that is both entirely landlocked and without a foreign border. A combination of densely forested hills, high mountains and fertile valleys make a tour of Umbria ideal for nature lovers. Whether walking, hiking or being driven around on our specially arranged tour, wonderful, vast landscapes dotted with olive groves and vineyards await you, and you’ll quickly come to see why Italian writer Giosuè Carducci called this place ‘the green heart of Italy’.

Ancient Roots
Umbria takes its name from the ancient Italic tribe associated with it, the Umbri, who settled in the area. Centuries of warring and invasions by neighboring Etruscans, from about 700 to 500 B.C., left incredible traces of that civiliziation, such as the Cai Cutu Etruscan tomb on display at the Archeological Museum in Perugia. Umbria was later overtaken by ancient Rome, and in Assisi one can witness this legacy in a remarkable example of Roman architecture, the Temple of Minerva, which you will awe at on our Umbria tour.

The Ancient Temple of Minerva in Assisi, today a Catholic Church

Religious Architecture
Some important religious Orders have roots in Umbria, namely the Franciscans, the Domenicans, and the Poor Clares. The most significant religious structure in Umbria is of course the Basilica of  Saint Francis, dedicated to the founder of the Franciscan Order and patron saint of Italy (along with Saint Catherine of Siena). The dramatic, hilltop-perched structure will catch your attention as you approach Assisi. After wandering the enchanting roads and medieval alleyways of town, visit the stunning basilica to view the 13th-century Gothic style architecture of the upper church, and the masterful frescoes decorating the lower church. Here you will see works by Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini and more.

Local Food and Wine
With its lush natural landscape and fertile soil, it’s no wonder Umbria produces impressive wines and an array of gastronomic specialties. What’s more, the town of Perugia has been associated with chocolate for over a century, as makers of Italy’s chocolate candies Baci (‘kisses’), Perugina, are based here. Perugia not only hosts the annual Eurochocolate Festival, it also has a Chocolate Museum!

Moving from sweet to savory, Umbrian cuisine comprises some of Italy’s most delicious cured meats and pork products. In the town of Norcia, producers of all manner of salami and cold cuts abound. This region is also prized for its black and white truffles, those precious tubers so valued by chefs and foodies. In restaurants, try any pasta dish made alla Norcina: a sauce of cream, truffles and sausage. Lentils, spelt, pheasant and wild boar are also popular in Umbria.

Umbrian wines of note include several DOC and DOCG varieties, from reds like Sagrantino di Montefalco and Torgiano Rosso Riserva to the white Orvieto Classico.

Cured meats like salami and prosciutto are specialties in Umbria

Try these specialties and more on our tour of Umbria, which allows you plenty of free time to have lunch on your own and browse local shops for delicacies. Remember to ask your expert local guide for suggestions!

The Practical Stuff

Tour Duration: 11 hours circa

Dates & Times:

  • This tour runs rain or shine on a private booking basis, departing from Florence (other arrangements can be made upon request).
  • Please contact us directly to arrange your wonderful tour of Umbria.

Suitable For:

  • History and Architecture Lovers
  • Nature Lovers
  • Food and Wine Lovers
  • All Ages

To book a place on this magical tour of Umbria, visit our website today.

Posted in Food, Italian Feasts & Festivals, Italian habits & customs, Italy Tours, Umbria Tours, Wine | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Our Best of Umbria Tour: What to Expect
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The Best Time to Visit Sicily: Autumn

Palermo Cathedral, Sicily

I have been running tours in Sicily for years, and there is no doubt in my mind that September through December are the best months to enjoy a visit that focuses on the abundant archaeological and cultural sites of the southern peninsula. Many of the most impressive attractions are situated outdoors: either in the hectic urban centre of Palermo or out at the excavation sites.

If the lure of these attractions is what motivates you to visit the area, you should choose your season carefully when you plan a trip to Sicily. Autumn in this region is characterised by a temperate climate, which makes touring particularly pleasant. You won’t get rained on and you won’t get sunstroke.

In addition, the summer crowds will have packed up and gone back to school and to the office. There’s nothing more delightful than having the opportunity to explore a famous monument in relative peace and quiet. No jostling hoards, plenty of space and plenty of time.

Here are a couple of my favourite tours that I always recommend to those who want to immerse themselves in the vibrant Sicilian culture.

Dabble in Archaeology
Whether you come here specifically for the archaeological sites or you simply want an interesting outing during your stay, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento should not be missed.

As it is the world’s largest archaeological site, there is the risk that you’ll feel overwhelmed, so we recommend a guided tour to get the best out of your visit. Reserved entry means no queuing, and the expertise of the leader will guarantee that you don’t lose your bearings in this immense site. Spend your energy in the company of a guide, who will direct you to the highlights and entertain you with the historical gems – don’t waste it on aimless wanderings and entry queues.

If you plan to include this site on your agenda in Sicily, autumnal tours are best for avoiding the large crowds and intense summer heat.

Some of the Practical Stuff
Duration: 4 hours
Dates and Times: 9am, 10am, 3pm or 4pm upon request
Suitable For: Culture Lovers, Families
Included: Pre-reserved entry, a private guide

Pound the City Streets
Palermo is a city like no other. Part of its unique charm is its chaotic hustle and bustle. We realise that many visitors aren’t able to appreciate these characteristics in a positive way when they find themselves wandering its labyrinthine and hectic streets, so we put together a tour that would help them tap into the city’s vibe without being overwhelmed.

Class and Chaos – A Private Palermo Tour is an ideal opportunity to experience the jumble of baroque and ramshackle architectural styles that compete for attention on the streets. Our expert guides navigate the city streets with panache and infectious excitement, ensuring that you see Palermo’s highlights in a fun and stress-free manner.

As you know, the summer is baking hot in Sicily. Autumn is really the best time to get to grips with Palermo. The heat, which is particularly stifling in the city, has dissipated by then, leaving a dry and mild climate that’s perfect for walking the streets.

Some of the Practical Stuff
Duration: 2 hours
Dates and Times: 9am and 3pm from Monday to Saturday upon request
Suitable For: Culture Lovers, Families, Foodies
Included: Entry ticket to Teatro Massimo and a private guide

Other Autumnal Highlights
The harvest is another delight that shouldn’t be missed in Sicily. Autumn is the season when grapes and olives are ready for picking, and the Sicilians have taken the opportunity to hold festivals and celebrations in honour of the produce.

There are vineyards throughout the peninsula, at which you can help with the grape picking. In October, the town of Zafferana Etnea in East Sicily hosts an autumn festival, where every Sunday is dedicated to a different type of produce: apples, honey, mushrooms and wine.

Over in West Sicily, the Couscous Fest takes place in September. You can join in the celebrations as you feast on tabouleh, couscous and mountains of fresh fish, which is fried publically in the village square.

And there’s more: if you love ice cream, you’ll be thrilled to be in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily. Autumn’s gastronomic highlight here is the Sherbeth Festival, during which 45 master gelatieri transform the historic city into a giant ice cream parlour.

Book Your Sicily Autumn Fun
It’s not too late to get a slice of harvest time in Sicily – there are many last-minute deals that pop up at this time of year, and it’s the perfect destination for an impulse city break. The clement weather will last well into December. If you’re tempted, simply tell us your trip dates and leave the rest up to us! We can organise one – or multiple – of our fantastic tours to show you the cultural marvels of the area.

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Celebrate the Harvest, Italian Style

The autumn in Italy is a particularly magical time for all of us at ArtViva. The harvesting of the grapes, olives and truffles offers opportunities not only to sample the national delicacies straight from the vine and the soil, but also to join the traditional festivities that celebrate these fruits.

Truffle Hunting
The truffle is a globally celebrated fungus – a mushroom that is considered to be a culinary delicacy, thanks to both its rich and pervasive flavour and its rarity. Italy has several regions where the truffle has been traditionally harvested in a manner unchanged since ancient times.

If you’re coming to the Tuscan region in the months of September, October or November, your visit will be perfectly timed to coincide with the peak of the truffle harvest. For those who love to indulge a taste for these pricey delicacies and who harbour a curiosity about how the forest hunt to uncover this elusive mushroom is conducted, we offer truffle-focused Tuscany tours that are led by an expert truffle hunter. After a day of following the dogs through the woods as they seek out the pungent aroma of the fungus, there is a light meal with wine to round off the event.

During the autumn, I always try to attend one or two of the many truffle festivals that take place in Italy, and if your imagination is truly grabbed by your experience of the hunt, then I can recommend a few of my favourites in the Tuscan region.

In late September, the white truffle and porcini festival is held in La Serra-San Miniato. From the end of October to the middle of November, you can head over to San Giovanni d’Asso for the white Crete Senesi truffle market. Around the same time the produce of Volterra, including its white truffles, is displayed and marketed on the streets of Volterra itself. And throughout November, San Miniato holds fairs that are dedicated to the truffle.

Olive Pressing
Almost all of our Tuscany tours that take place during the autumn will introduce you to an aspect of the regional harvest – whether you are foraging in the soil for fungi or picking fruits from the branches of the olive trees, there is abundance at ground level and above.

From early October to mid November, olives are picked and pressed to produce the season’s olive oil. You can’t find a more delightful Arcadian experience than wandering through ancient Tuscan olive groves, and we have added an extra treat to our tours that feature this quintessential Italian harvest.

For those who join us on A Taste of Tuscany, we stop at a historic villa estate, which is one of the few to have an old orciaia that guests can visit. This is where the extra virgin olive oil was stored after it was processed in an on-site mill, which you’ll also get to see. There’s nothing quite like tasting the oil whose origin you have seen with your very own eyes.

Grape Stomping
It goes without saying that our Tuscany tours will take you to estates where you can tour the vineyards and the cellars before you taste the wine. However, we have one attraction that is hard to surpass on an autumnal visit to Italy: Grape Stomping in Tuscany.

The winemaking method to extract the colour, flavour and tannin that combines to make the wines we love is called pigeage. Many smaller, exclusive wineries still practice the manual form of this method, which involves stomping on the fermenting grapes in large vats with one’s bare feet.

If you are joining us during September and early October, you can also have a go at this process, which dates back as far as the 3rd Century AD. It’s mucky, yes, but there’s something rather pleasing about engaging in such an intimate experience in the production of your wine.

Venice
You could be forgiven if you have formed the impression that autumnal produce only grows in Tuscany. There are equally important agricultural traditions in other Italian regions. Indeed one of my favourite centres of viticulture is the Veneto. Given that it’s not particularly well known that this region is the country’s largest wine producing area, we decided that it was time to open the eyes of our visitors to Venice and to offer them a Venetian wine tour that would put the Veneto onto their drinking map.

One of our guides – who is also a professional Venetian sommelier – leads our small group tours on an exploration of the local food and wine. By the end of the session, you’ll have tasted a range of wines, ranging from Soaves to the products of the Lugana DOC and the Bardolino DOC. Never heard of the latter two? Join our tour and you’ll be holding forth on the subject at your next dinner party.

Touring the Italian Harvest
The opportunities to experience the vibrant culture and traditions that have evolved in Italy’s busiest agricultural period are as abundant as the produce that they are gathering in the autumn.

If you join us on one of our Tuscany tours or elsewhere in Italy throughout the months of September to November, we can guarantee that you’ll get a taste (either directly or indirectly) of the region’s harvest celebrations.

Book a place on one of our fantastic tours or get in touch with us to choose the excursion that will offer you the best Italian autumnal experience that you can find.

Posted in Best of Tuscany, Chianti, Cooking in Tuscany, Drink, Food, Tuscany, Venice, Wine | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Celebrate the Harvest, Italian Style
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Our Wines of Nobility Tour: What to Expect

While many tours of Tuscany place a narrow focus on art and architecture, outings that cover more than one area of interest are perfect for making the most of your Italian getaway. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature and a good glass of wine, for instance, you can experience both at the same time – if you know where to look!

After over a decade in this stunning region, I’ve come to know its charming countryside inside out, and could recognise its extraordinary wines while blindfolded. To share my passions with visitors, one of our most popular tours of Tuscany allows you to kill these two birds with one stone: you’ll soak up the beauty of the Chianti firsthand, while tasting – and learning more about – local wines that are sure to tingle your taste buds.

Here’s what you can expect from our Wines of Nobility Tour.

Serene Scenery
Our outing takes place in the afternoon so that you get to see the rolling hills, verdant vineyards and lush woodlands in their full, sunny glow (provided that it’s not raining!). We’ll depart from Florence in a modern and comfortable minivan, whose windows will provide you an unobstructed and blissfully beautiful view of the rural Chianti region. Don’t forget to bring your cameras!

If you’re worried that watching the rural scenery go past your window doesn’t allow you to fully appreciate its splendour, we’re way ahead of you: when we’ve reached what’s arguably one of the most breathtakingly stunning areas, from where you’ll be able to see as far as the eye can see, we’re ready to make our stops.

Tuscan Wine and Olive Oil
Our first stop unites natural beauty with cultural exploration. In addition to admiring the stunning scenery, you’ll get an exclusive glance into two country villas of Italy’s noble families. Both own first-class vineyards and wineries, and one of them boasts an ancient – and functioning – olive mill at its disposal.

While our expert (and English-speaking) guides give you a detailed overview of the villas’ longstanding and momentous histories, you’ll take a stroll through the grounds, including the winery and the olive oil mill, with the estates’ very own wine experts. After gaining an insight into how the villas process their grapes to produce award-winning wines, you’ll be able to sample their matchlessly superior flavours for yourself. Along with enjoying venerated extra virgin olive oil on a piece of crispy Italian bread, you’ll be introduced to the world-famous Chianti wines, whose aroma contains pleasing hints of cherry and nuts. Cin cin!

Nature, History and Culture
Our tours of Tuscany’s countryside are always multifaceted, appealing to a wide array of visitors. Whether you’d like to let your eye wander across the idyllic landscape, want to find out more about the region’s nobility or have always wondered how your favourite Chianti wine and olive oil are produced, you’re bound to learn something new on our popular afternoon excursion. After all, how often do you have the chance to experience glorious scenery, historic sights and fantastic tastes – and all over the course of one afternoon?

The Practical Stuff
Tour Duration: 4 hours

Dates & Times: 1:45pm on Wednesdays from 17 April to 31 October, excluding August

Suitable For: Nature Lovers, History and Architecture Lovers, Wine and Food Lovers

For more information on this outing or on our other tours of Tuscany, please see our website.

Posted in Chianti, Drink, Italian aristocrats, Tuscan experiences, Tuscany, Wine | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Our Wines of Nobility Tour: What to Expect
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Touring Rome’s Iconic Fountains

Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

We have led many tours around Rome over the years, and the city’s artistic and imaginative celebration of running water is one of the universal highlights that guarantees to delight almost every visitor, regardless of age, sex or nationality. In fact, one of the greatest honours that could be given to an artist or sculptor was the commission to build a fountain for the city.

When you join one of our Rome tours, we make sure that you get to see some of the most spectacular (and some of the lesser known but equally imaginative) fountains that elevate Rome’s urban architecture to the stuff of legends.

Fontana della Barcaccia
At some point during their stay in Rome, most visitors will hang out on the Spanish Steps. When you head that way with one of our guides, you will see the extraordinary fountain designed by Pietro Bernini. Our guests usually agree with us that its name, ‘the Fountain of the Ugly Boat’ (Fontana della Barcaccia) is a fitting description for this rather strange monument.

One should not judge the great sculptor and architect Bernini’s sense of aesthetics based on this fountain. It is a monument to the legend of a stray boat that was washed into the Piazza di Spagna when the Tiber flooded the city in 1598.

Regardless of whether you sign up to a short tour to get your bearings in Rome, are spending a full day or two in our company, or are trying out the guided atmospheric jogging session around the Eternal City, our guides will ensure that you get a chance to see this frankly weird urban sculpture.

Fountain of the Four Rivers
Your guide will take you to Piazza Navona so that you can compare the work of father and son.

The fountain here was designed by Pietro’s son Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but I always feel that the only thing that these two monuments have in common is the blood that ran through the veins of their sculptors.

Four regal rivers of the globe, representing the four continents where papal authority had spread, are personified in marble: the Nile (Africa), the Ganges (Asia), the Danube (Europe) and the Rio de la Plata (the Americas).

When you reach Piazza Navona, our guides can cater to any length of attention span, as the symbolism embedded in the elaborate carving is endlessly fascinating.

Trevi Fountain
If you like Rome enough that you plan to come back, then you can’t miss the Trevi Fountain. Legend states that when you throw a coin into the water, you’ll guarantee that one day you’ll return. Almost all of our Rome tours will stop at this momentous monument.

Planned as the largest Baroque fountain in the City, the Trevi Fountain’s commission was the subject of fierce competition between the leading architects of the eighteenth century. The raw energy of the monument is generated by the rushing water that cascades from the centre, coupled with the powerful sculpture of Oceanus sitting astride a horse-drawn shell chariot.

Your guide will give you the lowdown on the many stories behind the bitter artistic rivalries which enveloped this masterpiece, as well as the thrilling legends it depicts.

Off the Beaten Path
Some of our Rome tours will also take you past the less showy but equally impressive fountains that are scattered off the beaten path in the Eternal City.

When you come for a guided jog with us, you’ll run through the Jewish Ghetto, where there is a delightful water-based surprise. The Fountain of Turtles (Fontana delle Tartarughe) is a quirky bronze and marble monument, depicting a group of boys helping turtles climb into a basin over their heads. It’s weird, but still rather charming.

The Practical Stuff
If you are looking for Rome tours that will feature some of these magnificent fountains, we have a selection that will give you the opportunity to enjoy some of the finest monuments.

The Original Rome Walk
Highlights of the Eternal City
Rome by Night
Run & Rome – A Running Adventure
Rome in One Glorious Day or Two

Duration: The length of the Rome tours range from 2 to 6 hours, depending on which one you pick. Check our website for more practical details about each individual tour.

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The Great Grand Canal Expedition: What to Expect

Venice is world-famous for its maze-like streets, glamorous architecture and myriad masks. But, above all, there’s one thing that’ll grab your attention wherever you go: the city’s glistening canals, which twist and turn their way through La Serenissima and radiate an utterly romantic charm.

Although Venice’s extensive aquatic network branches off at every possible opportunity, there’s one canal that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Grand Canal, an all-time favourite attraction among tourists and locals alike. While most Venice tours will tell you about this historic waterway, there’s nothing better than actually getting out on the water and experiencing its captivating allure firsthand.

On our Great Grand Canal Tour, you’ll get to do just that – you’ll hop onto one of the city’s famous gondolas and leisurely cruise through Venice with one of our experienced guides. Let’s talk about what you can expect from this leisurely introduction to the Floating City.

Learn About the Canal
Although we’ll tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Grand Canal on our tour, I’m going to give you a sneak preview here. Perhaps, you’ll even be able to impress your guide and fellow guests with your pre-existing knowledge!

The canal is sixteen feet deep, up to three-hundred feet wide, and two and a half miles long, spanning all the way from the Saint Mark Basin to the lagoon outside Santa Lucia Railway Station. It’s a major landmark today, but that’s nothing new: in fact, it’s been in use since the Roman Age, during which it developed into a popular trading route.

Today, surprisingly little has changed: the canal is still heavily in use, accommodating 60% of the city’s traffic. If watching commercial ships, water taxis and gondolas gracefully glide past sounds like fun, one of our aquatic Venice tours is your best bet.

Discover Famous Monuments
Along with becoming an expert on the canal’s past, you’ll love cruising past the 170 buildings that line the waterfront. Many of these elegant edifices have been around for a huge chunk of Venice’s history, having cast their imposing shadows over the canal for over eight centuries. What’s more, you’ll definitely want to get your cameras out when we take you past the city’s palaces, churches and most celebrated bridges. Our guides will give you an inside scoop on the following miraculous sights – and on many more.

  • Doge’s Palace
  • Accademia Gallery
  • St. Mark’s Basilica
  • Cà d’Oro Palace
  • Cà Pesaro Palace
  • Rialto Bridge
  • Ponte dell’Accademia
  • Ponte degli Scalzi

Get the Gossip
If you want to avoid those Venice tours that are overwhelmingly informative and dense, we have the perfect solution. You can always expect a good dose of fun on our boat trip – that means plenty of gossip and tittle-tattle!

Our guides, who know the city’s cool, amusing and even scandalous stories inside out, will make their historical accounts come alive with plenty of anecdotes about past and present celebrities who live in or have visited this spectacular metropolis. They’ll also point out the locations that were featured in some much-beloved films, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

While our guests are always enthralled by these tales, many have told me that they especially enjoyed hearing our taxi skippers’ personal stories. Many have ferried the world’s super stars over the canal themselves, and one was even a stunt driver for Casino Royale, the film for which Venice is most renowned.

If you’re ready for an outing that strikes the perfect balance between educational and entertaining, why not sign up for one of our Venice tours on the Grand Canal? This unforgettable experience will offer you a comprehensive and unusually fun insight into the wonderful waterway and its surrounding city.

The Practical Stuff
Tour Duration: 1 hour

Dates & Times:

  • From 17 April to 31 July and from 1 to 30 September: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 6:15pm.
  • From 1 to 31 October: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3:45pm.

Suitable For:

  • History and Architecture Lovers
  • Nature Lovers
  • All Ages

To book a place on one of our most sought-after Venice tours, visit our website today.

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How to Visit the Vatican with Kids

Too often I have heard parents lament that cajoling their children through a cultural site is like getting them to visit the dentist: a chore and a necessary evil, but certainly not fun. So we set ourselves the challenge of creating a guided visit of the Vatican highlights that will leave your children asking: “Which tour is next?”

Here’s what we came up with.

No Tired Feet
Our Vatican tours are a great way to beat the queues. As one of the most visited sites in Rome, the line to buy tickets can last for hours in high season. By the time you and your family reach the museum and basilica, everyone is foot sore and resistant to any new experience.

So the first thing we offer on our Vatican tours is a set of pre-booked tickets that you’ll collect when you meet your guide. This ensures that everybody sets off on the right foot, and that youngsters in particular start their Vatican exploration with fully charged batteries.

No Brain Overload
As the centre of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican is one of the richest sources of culture, history and architecture in Europe, and is home to some of the most iconic Renaissance art in the world. While this makes it a perfect place to engage young impressionable minds, it also raises the risk of overwhelming short attention spans.

Our guides are intimately acquainted with the floor plan of the Vatican’s museums, and they can make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of aimless and tedious wandering. The sheer size and scope of the collections – there are over four miles of corridors and galleries – can take a first- time visitor by surprise, so we can’t overstate how important it is for families to have some guidance.

My guides and I also firmly believe that more is not always better: a painstaking visit of the Vatican’s collections is likely to backfire with children. We have carefully chosen a selection of highlights that give everyone the richest experience possible without overloading the senses.

Bringing History to Life
A physical visit to a historical site is an ideal opportunity to bring art and culture to life for young minds. When we designed our Vatican tours, we were determined that this opportunity would never be squandered.

Renaissance art and history are treasure troves of myths and love stories, heroes and heroines, blood and gore, money and intrigue. When we take children around the Vatican, we dwell on the passions and human interest behind the artefacts – an approach that has proven successful in inspiring our younger guests.

Our Vatican tours position the highlights through the eyes of a child.

St Peter’s
Let your child’s imagination take off when our guides introduce them to St Peter’s Basilica by comparing its size to the dimension of no less than 2 football fields!

The Laocoön

 

The Laocoön Statue
While your children stand in front of this ancient and evocative statue, witnessing the agonised contortions of Laocoön and his sons as they thrash in vain against the giant sea serpent, you’ll see their eyes grow big as saucers as a guide describes the gruesome story of this priest from ancient Greece and his unfortunate offspring.

 

 

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling
If your children think that half an hour spent on homework is an injustice on an international scale, our guides will give them something to put that unfairness into perspective. We’ll tell them about how Michelangelo was forced to take on the arduous task of painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, and how it took him 4 years of lying on his back with plaster falling into his eyes to complete it – the worst part is that he never wanted to work on it in the first place!

These are just a few of the highlights that we can share with your family. The stories and fun facts are endless as we encounter icons such as the Apollo del Belvedere statue, the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps and Bernini’s masterpiece in the square outside the basilica.

Prepare in Advance
We’ve found over the years that familiarity is another guaranteed route to your child’s heart and mind. Before you travel to Rome, it’s a valuable investment of your time to use books and videos to introduce your tribe to some of the art that they’ll be seeing in the Vatican. Pay attention to what seems to capture their attention, and be sure to let us know before we meet up. We can make sure that your guide will include some of your children’s favourites on the visit.

Booking one of our organised Vatican tours enables you to eliminate the stress that city visits can generate. With us, the children can focus on the awesome art and architecture of one of the most important historical sites in Western Civilisation.

Some of the Practical Stuff
Duration: 3 hours

Dates & Times: 1 January to 31 March: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9:45am

1 April to 31 October: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9:45am

Suitable For: Children, Art History Lovers, Museum Lovers and History Buffs

Included: Reserved tickets for entry to the Vatican

Sign up your family to join one of our inspiring Vatican tours on your next visit to Rome. Book your tickets here.

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