Join bestselling author, filmmaker, mythologist, and veteran tour leader Phil Cousineau on an exquisite exploration of Italy, one of the most sensual cultures in the world.
Phil will lead you on an adventure through one of the most artistic cultures in the world, where we will visit great art masterpieces, brilliant public architecture, artisansâ€™ studios and workshops, the Venice archipelago, Northern Italian hilltop villages, and the medieval cities of Rome, Assisi, Florence, and Parma. Our tour will be framed by daily discussions of â€œThe Great Beautyâ€ that is at the heart of Italian culture, in its myths, art, literature, fashion, and crafts. You will become a cultural time traveller on a quest for la dolce vita, the sweet life. READ MORE
Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 30 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”
“Italy and the spring and first love altogether should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” ~ Bertrand Russell
Our journey will focus on those elusive ingredients that make for la dolce vita, the sweet life: the simple pleasures of walks along medieval cobble streets, soulful conversation over cappuccinos in historic coffee shops, live music in centuries-old churches, unforgettable visits to museums and art galleries, delectable food and wine.
The roots of this tour go back to Phil’s own lifelong fascination with Roman culture, art, and mythology. Since discovering the Roman myths with his father as a child, he has visited Italy over a dozen times, travelling its beautiful back roads and filming award-winning documentaries "City 21" and sequences for “Global Spirit,” the PBS and LINK-TV series he hosts and co-writes. His goal on this journey is to reveal not only Italy’s glorious history, but its philosophy for the well-lived life. A unique feature is a practice that Phil has developed for his tours since the 1980s, which he calls The Long Conversation: exciting morning discussions designed to set the context for each day’s encounters with Italian life.
Our journey begins in one of the most magnificent and influential cities in the history of Western civilization, Rome, where we will visit the Coliseum and the Roman Forum as well as the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps. We then explore the majestic hilltop architecture of Italy on our journey through Umbria to Orvieto, located on breathtaking tufa cliffs. In Assisi we will see the famous Basilica of St. Francis, then visit the first-century BCE Roman Temple devoted to Minerva, goddess of music, poetry, medicine, weaving, and wisdom. No trip devoted to the Sweet Life would be complete without tasting the flavourful wines and olives oils of the region, and we will do just that, first in Montepulciano at the underground cathedral wine cellars and then at an estate en route to Florence.
In Florence, we will visit the home of the father of the modern Italian language, Dante Aligheri, stroll along the Ponte Vecchio, and revel in the genius of Leonardo da Vinci in a museum dedicated entirely to him. In the medieval old town of Verona we will take a literary pilgrimage to the stone balcony of the famed “House of Juliet Capulet,” immortalized in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. The Gastronomic Capital of Italy, Parma, will be our next stop, where we will indulge in a delicious lunch and walking tour of the Piazza del Duomo and Palazzo della Pilotta. On the way to Venice, we will pause at Padua to visit the glorious Scrovegni Chapel with frescoes by Giotto.
Our journey concludes in Venice, with an evening of music in one of the plethora of popular churches now devoted to art exhibitions and concerts. We will also be able to revel in the glories of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Vivaldi church and museum at the Ospedale della Pieta.
In the words of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” Join us on this culturally-rich journey to turn your own Italian dreams into lifelong memories.
Sun, Apr 3
Arrive Rome (D)Read more
Our tour begins in Rome, the Eternal City, the vibrant capital and cultural juggernaut of Italy. With a population of nearly three million people, and mythological roots reaching back to the eighth century BCE, Rome has embarked on a centuries-long effort to become the artistic and cultural centre of the world. You will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. After check-in and a short rest, take a casual walk around this historic centre. This evening, we gather for a Welcome Dinner at a traditional Roman restaurant where you can get to know your Tour Leader and fellow travellers while savouring delicious Italian delicacies.
After a traditional Roman breakfast at our hotel, we take a morning guided tour of ancient Rome’s classical sights, including its legendary foundation by Romulus and Remus, from whence the city gets its name. Our visits will include the Roman Coliseum, one of the most visited sites in the world, and the Palatine Hill, plus a languorous walk through the Roman Forum, the monumental ruins of magnificent buildings that comprised the political, legal, religious, and economic centre of Roman civilization.
In the afternoon we visit several of Rome’s famous squares and fountains, including the Trevi Fountain, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi, and made famous in Jean Negulesco’s 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain as well as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Thousands of euros are still tossed every day into the Trevi Fountain, the proceeds of which now help subsidize a food market for the city’s neediest citizens. To round out our tour we will visit the Piazza Navona, the site of an ancient Roman stadium and the Spanish Steps of Rome, where we will enjoy traditional gelato (at own expense).
After our sumptuous Roman breakfast, we depart by coach for a spectacular drive through Umbria to the hilltop city of Orvieto, which was founded by the Etruscans, perched on volcanic tufa cliffs, with magnificent views of the cypress-studded countryside. Here we will visit the beautiful fourteenth-century Duomo di Orvieto, which features a golden mosaic façade, and take a guided walking tour of the upper town’s winding streets, including the art-rich complex of medieval palaces called the Palazzi Papali.
There will be time for lunch before driving to one of Umbria’s most spectacular hill towns, Assisi, the city of St. Francis, and the site of one of Italy’s most popular and devoted pilgrimages. After check-in at our hotel, we can stretch our legs on a casual walk around the town or rest a while before gathering for dinner at one of the city’s exquisite restaurants (at own expense).
After breakfast we climb the precipitous cobblestone streets of Assisi to the Basilica of St. Francis (1182–1226), the Patron Saint of Italy and one of the most beloved spiritual leaders in history, to spend some contemplative time. The spectacular two-level basilica is perched on the crescent-shaped mountain, and features frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto, and the saint’s tomb in a stone sarcophagus, in the crypt. We continue to the saint’s birthplace and childhood home, then the bustling Piazza del Comune, or Townhall Square, and finally to one of Italy’s most important goddess sites, the Roman Temple devoted to Minerva, goddess of art, music, and commerce.
After time for lunch, we take our coach to the beautiful Tuscan hill towns of Umbria region, such as Montefalco and Bevagna, with visit to an olive-oil farm with tasting.
Travel to Florence; Montepulciano wine-tasting; Montalcino (B, L)Read more
After breakfast we depart for the beautiful Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano, founded according to legend by the Etruscan king Lars Porsena of Chiusti, and named after the Torre di Pulcinella, a clock tower featuring a sculpture of the beloved commedia dell’arte character. The medieval town is replete with Renaissance palaces, café-clogged squares, and sumptuous wine bars. We will visit the unique underground cathedrals and wine cellars where we will be treated to a wine-tasting.
Continue your pleasurable coach journey through the sun-soaked, winery-charmed, ruin-rich Tuscan hills to the area of Montalcino. Here, we'll stop for a light lunch in a wine estate, and also visit their interesting wine cellars. Before arriving in Florence, we will make a scenic stop in Piazzale Michelangelo to take in a heart-stopping view of the city and the winding Arno River.
After breakfast at our hotel, we will take one of the great and eventful walking tours in the world, often given the moniker of a Renaissance Walk, as Florence is regarded as the city where scholars, artists, and scientists rediscovered the glories of the classical world. This led to the ferment of cultural, political, spiritual, and economic “rebirth” between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. The tremendous growth in wealth saw a commensurate desire to pursue and enjoy the myriad pleasures of life, arguably one of the roots of our own pursuit of la dolce vita on our tour.
Our stops today include the Duomo di Firenze, the Cathedral of Florence, designed by the famous Italian architects Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, and constructed between 1296 and 1436, when the spectacular dome by Filippo Brunelleschi was completed. Afterwards, we follow in the footsteps of Dante Aligheri, the father of the modern Italian language and author of the Divine Comedy, by visiting his thirteenth-century home-museum, where he met the love of his life and his muse, Beatrice Portinari, who inspired his book Vita Nuova, and appears as one of his guides in The Divine Comedy."
We will then stroll through the Piazza della Signoria and along the Ponte Vecchio. After time for lunch, we will conclude our day with a pilgrimage to the Museo da Leonardo da Vinci, the very personification of the Renaissance. This evening we will dine together at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we check out of our hotel and drive by coach to picturesque Verona. Upon arrival, we will eat lunch at a restaurant in the heart of town (at own cost) before embarking on our next cultural adventure. To experience the glories of the medieval old town, along the meandering Adige River, we will visit the Arena with its magnificently restored first-century Roman Amphitheater. This is followed by a literary pilgrimage to the stone balcony of the famed Gothic-style House of Juliet Capulet, built in the 1300s, and immortalized in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. We then journey to Parma, nestled in the charming Po Valley, which has been considered since Roman times the Gastronomic Capital of Italy.
After breakfast, we explore Parma, which has been recently recognized for its culinary heritage by UNESCO as a “Creative City for Gastronomy.” Besides its delectable parmesan cheese, prosciutto ham, balsamic vinegar, tortelli, and local wines, the city is famed for its architecture, music, art, sculpture, automotive engineering, and boisterous festivals. This morning we will take a guided visit around the centre of this teeming university town, enjoying the Piazza del Duomo, the Palazzo della Pilotta, which houses works by Canaletto and Correggio, and the scintillating pink marble Baptistery.
After a delectable lunch together, enjoy a free afternoon to wander this beautiful city.
After our hotel breakfast in Parma we take our coach to the medieval town of Padua, which was founded, according to legend, by Antenor, one of the heroes of the Trojan War. Its first historical mention dates back to 302 BCE and its major claim to fame came fifteen centuries later when Giotto painted his transcendent frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the Scrovegni Chapel, which will be our first stop of the day.
Following a traditional Padua lunch (at own expense), we transfer to Venice, where a local guide will meet and assist us to our hotel via the People Mover and a short walk. After a free afternoon to explore the city, we will enjoy dinner together at the hotel. Our evening’s highlight will be a Baroque or Renaissance concert at one of the many churches in Venice that specialize in music and art exhibitions. A water-taxi will take us to and from our hotel.
After breakfast we will enjoy a morning walking tour of the city, whose inhabitants were once described as not just tasting their pleasures but swallowing them whole! We begin in the fairy-tale splendour of St. Mark’s Square, the true heart of Venice, and our cultural pilgrimage includes a visit to St Mark’s Basilica, founded in 852 as the burial site of St. Mark himself, whose body had been pilfered from Alexandria, Egypt. The basilica is a treasure trove, including the Bronze Horses of St. Mark, brought from Turkey after the Sack of Constantinople, and a beautiful mosaic of The Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Afterwards we visit the Doge’s Palace, built in the Venetian Gothic style, and enjoying a panoramic view of the lagoon. During our tour we will see the white limestone Bridge of Sighs, which crosses the Rio di Palazzo and connects with the former interrogation rooms in the palace.
Following time for lunch, we resume our walking tour with a visit to the Antonio Vivaldi Church and Museum, located in the complex of the Church of the Pieta, where we can explore the genius of the prolific Baroque composer. Our journey concludes in ceremonial style this evening with a Farewell Dinner in a Venetian restaurant, with time for warm conversations and reminiscences.
Depart Venice for Onward Flights Home (B)Read more
After our final breakfast in Italy, we will enjoy a morning at leisure before our transfer by water-taxi to the airport. As you say a fond ciao to the land of la dolce vita, you will carry the knowledge and wisdom garnered from the journey’s “long conversations” and stimulating visits with you as you prepare to voyage home.
La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life of Mythic Italy with Phil Cousineau
April 3 - 13, 2022
Arrival airport transfer to hotel in central Rome on Day 1
10 nights accommodation
Welcome Dinner and Farewell Dinner
Breakfast daily, 2 other dinners, 2 lunches
Transportation to all sites as per itinerary
Entrance fees to all sites on the itinerary
English-speaking local guide for guided tours as per itinerary
Earphones in Assisi and Venice Basilica
Assistance and baggage transfer in Venice
Departure airport transfer in Venice on Day 11
People Mover and water-taxi transfers, Venice
Hotel city taxes
Travel with author, filmmaker, and veteran tour leader Phil Cousineau
“Long Conversations” to illuminate the spiritual, cultural, and historical elements of the journey
Light lunch and wine-tasting in cellar in Montalcino
Olive oil tasting near Bevagna
Vivaldi (or similar) concert in Venice
Travel with like-minded companions
Tour Does Not Include:
Airfare to Rome and return from Venice, Italy
Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote)
Meals and drinks not specified
Cost to obtain valid passport
Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls
Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final retreat itinerary