Join bestselling author, filmmaker, mythologist, and veteran tour leader Phil Cousineau on an exquisite exploration of Italy, one of the most influential and 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 architecture, artisans' studios and workshops, olive oil mills, cooking classes, the Venice archipelago, Northern Italian hilltop villages, and cities of world-tilting importance, such as Rome, Assisi, Florence, Padua, and Verona. One aspect of our tour will be the framing of each day’s adventures with discussions of "The Great Beauty" that dwells in the heart of Italian culture, which is revealed in its myths, art, literature, fashion, cuisine, crafts, the stunning landscape and the aquamarine sea. You will become a cultural time traveler 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 40 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.”
At a crossroad in my life, I turned to Sacred Earth Journeys for a meaningful travel experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the midst of kind-hearted fellow travelers and most important, a soul guide - Phil Cousineau Jayne Michaud, Old Orchard Beach, ME
“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 sweetness of everyday life. For centuries, Italy has personified the pursuit of the simple pleasures of casual walks along medieval cobble streets, soulful conversation over in historic cafes, live music in centuries-old churches, unforgettable encounters with Italian art, and, of course, delectable food and world-class wine.
The roots of this tour go back to Phil’s own lifelong fascination with Roman culture, art, and mythology. Since discovering the Roman art and myths while growing up in Detroit, he has visited Italy over a dozen times, travelling its beautiful back roads and filming the award-winning documentary film "City 21," and sequences for the PBS series, “Global Spirit.” His goal on this journey is to reveal glimpses of Italy’s glorious history, insights into Roman philosophy, and daily tastes of what the filmmaker Federico Fellini described as la dolce vita, the sweet life, which he believed was possible and desirable even in the most difficult of times. A unique feature is a practice that Phil has developed for his tours since the 1980s, which he calls The Long Conversation, a way of discussion inspired by his years of working with the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell. These exciting informative morning discussions help set the context and mood for each day’s encounters with the widespread beauty and languorous pace of 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 what is arguably the most influential urban center in history, the Roman Forum. We will also take in the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, and enjoy what Romans call veraci, the authentic life, raw and beautiful in all its splendor. While in this city of inexhaustible history, we have been fortunate to arrange a very special visit and demonstration by the master violin maker Michael Eggimann at his studio, located near the Campo de Fiori.
From Rome, we set off on our adventure and begin with an exploration of the majestic hilltop architecture of Italy. First, we journey through Umbria to one of its great hidden secrets, the ancient hilltop town of Perugia, where we will enjoy a visit and demonstration to a few of its world-renown chocolate makers, and then a light lunch at the much-loved La Pasticerria Sandri, founded in 1860. In Assisi we will see the famous Basilica of St. Francis, and the Church of Saint Clare. No journey 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 in a beautifully vaulted underground wine cellar in in his fortress town of Montepulciano, whose exteriors were used in the magnificent twenty-four-part Medici television series.
When in Florence, we will visit the Central Market (Mercato Centrale) for a memorable introduction to the culinary wonders of Florence, and delight in the Street of Booksellers, where the Renaissance was ignited under the guidance of one of history’s least heralded but most vital characters, Vespasiano da Bisticci, considered “king of the world’s booksellers,” and encounter such world treasures as the Duomo, the Baptistery, and the Ponte Vecchio.
In the medieval town of Verona, we will take a literary pilgrimage to the stone balcony of the famed “House of Juliet Capulet,” immortalized in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as he wrote in Sonnet 29, “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,” and enjoy a guided tour to the two-thousand-year-old Roman Arena, which is used now for opera and pop concerts.
Our journey concludes in Venice, with one of the sweetest imaginable evenings, featuring a live Vivaldi concert at the very church, the Ospedale della Pieta, where the great composer played organ, be treated to a private demonstration at the old-world studio of master mask-maker Sergio Boldrin. We will revel in the architectural glories of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and bask in the views, coffee, gelato, and live music of arguably the world’s oldest coffee house, Caffé Florian.
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, life-transforming journey that is designed to turn your Italian dreams into lifelong memories.
* We feel November is a wonderful time to take a vacation to Italy. It is also one of the more intimate months to journey there because the country is far less crowded and the locals even more grateful than usual to have us visiting them. Though the days are shorter and the weather is variable, Italy in November has multiple festivals and cultural events, the very best autumn cuisine, and gorgeous foliage. Plus, it's the cheapest month to fly to this amazing boot-shaped country. We will stay warm in our hearts and our quest for La Dolce Vita will be sweeter than ever!
Sun, Nov 5
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 center of the world.
*Transfer to our hotel. With opulent furnishings in an historical building, the Delle Nazioni is nestled in a perfect location that makes it easy to wander the city centre, while offering a tranquil place to relax. After check-in and a short rest, take a casual walk around this historic district.
This evening, we gather for a Welcome Dinner at a traditional Roman Ristorante Tre Scalini (or equivalent) on the elegant Piazza Navona, where you can get to know your Tour Leader and your fellow travellers while savouring delicious Italian delicacies.
*We strongly suggest arriving on Nov 4 to rest up before the journey starts on Nov 5. You can book your extra night(s) on the hotel website and pay directly to the hotel. Arrival transfers are not included in the tour price, however we can arrange them. Cost is approx. Euro 75 per car (1 or 2 people), or approx. Euro 95 per minivan (up to 6 people). Ask us for details. (Overnight in Rome at Hotel Delle Nazioni or similar)
Mon, Nov 6
Guided Tour of Rome (B)Read more
There is an old Roman saying, “Una vita non basta,” meaning that a single lifetime is inadequate for experiencing the Eternal City.
After a traditional breakfast at our hotel, we will begin our day with a Roman-style morning stop (at own expense) at the beloved La Casa del Caffe Tazza d’Oro, near the Pantheon, the ancient temple founded in 25 BCE and dedicated to “all the gods.” At this typical Roman caffe, founded in 1946, we will enjoy what many consider the finest coffee in Rome, or perhaps the house specialty, granita di caffe con panna, iced espresso with whipped cream. At a meeting room inside the wood-panelled caffe, we will engage in our first “Long Conversation,” an animated discussion to help set the stage for our adventure.
Afterwards, we set out with our local guide for an informative walk through the ruin-haunted Roman Forum, the very center of Rome’s day-to-day life for centuries and one of the most important public places in the history of Western civilization. This is where the English historian Edward Gibbon sat on an ancient pillar while listening to a nearby choir and was inspired to write his magisterial six-volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. On our leisurely stroll we will encounter the moody ruins of buildings, immortalized by the dramatic etchings of Giovanni Piranesi, the Italian archaeologist and artist, that once comprised the political, legal, religious, and economic centre of Roman civilization. These monuments will include the Roman Colosseum, the Via Sacra, Senate House, Temple of Julius Caesar, Theater of Pompey (where Caesar was assassinated), the Arch of Constantine.
After a nearby lunch (at own expense), we visit several of Rome’s famous piazzas and fountains, including the 18th century Baroque Trevi Fountain, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi. Thousands of euros are still tossed every day into the Trevi, which was featured in such legendary Italian movies as Roman Holiday, Three Coins in a Fountain, and La Dolce Vita. Time permitting, we will pass by the Spanish Steps and nearby Keats-Shelley House.
Beyond these marvels of Italian history, the highlight of our afternoon will be a visit to the historical center for Roman arts and crafts, where we will meet the master violin maker Michael Eggimann at his studio, located near the Campo de Fiori, for a brief talk and demonstration on the local history of handmade musical instruments.
Our free evening will begin with a Roman style passeggiata, that marvelous tradition for taking long, slow strolls at twilight that allows Italians to see—and be seen—and end with a typical Roman dinner (at own expense).
After our morning discussion about the essential qualities of La Dolce Vita, we take the two-and a-half-hour drive by coach to the ancient Umbrian town of Perugia, lovingly referred by Italians as the City of Chocolate, with a short coffee break along the beautiful country highway.
We will arrive around noon at our “dolce destination,” and proceed with our local guide on a sweet stroll to the artisanal chocolatiers dotting the streets of the city center, such as Talmone or Agusta Perusia, to help us learn about Perugia’s tasty history.
For a sumptuous sampling of Perugia’s finest chocolates and pastries, we will visit the wonder-filled café-pâtisserie, La Pasticerria Sandri (at own expense), whose origins stretch back to 1860, when it was founded by the Swiss family Schucani. This historic establishment is noteworthy for its gorgeous Art Deco interiors, delectable chocolate pastries, Umbrian-style sandwiches, and world-class coffee.
In late afternoon we will set off for one of Umbria’s most spectacular hill towns, Assisi, the city of St. Francis, one of Italy’s most popular and devoted pilgrimage sites. After check-in at our hotel, we can stretch our legs by taking a casual passiegetta, or stroll, around this UNESCO World Heritage Site, or rest in the hotel before gathering for dinner at one of the city’s exquisite restaurants (at own expense).
After our traditional Italian breakfast, we meet our guide and climb the sloping 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 in the spectacular two-story sanctuary. A pilgrimage site for the last seven hundred years, the revered basilica is perched on a crescent-shaped mountain overlooking the lush valley. Besides paying our respects to the tomb of the beloved saint in the crypt, we will encounter the breathtakingly beautiful frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto, which we can enjoy at our leisure. Afterwards, we will saunter along the beautifully cobblestoned streets of medieval town, with some time for souvenir shopping, en route to the beautiful Basilica de Santa Chiara, the Church of Saint Clare of Assisi, which honors the close friend and follower of Francis. Then we gather in the Palazzo Santa Chiara for a magnificent panorama of the valley below.
Our afternoon features a pleasurable half-hour coach ride through the sun-soaked, winery-charmed, ruin-rich Umbrian hills to the ancient walled town of Spello for a guided tour and tasting visit at the Old Mill, Frantoio di Spello, where we will learn about the stages of production of Umbrian Extra Virgin olive oil, and enjoy some time in their beautiful enoteca, or traditional tasting room.
For our evening, we offer a unique and fun experience: a hands-on cooking lesson guided by Chef Simone Proietti Pesci of the award-winning Delizie del Borgo restaurant, situated in a small park beneath the medieval city walls of Bevagna. Under the tutelage of the chef, each of us will prepare an antipasto, a first and second course, and a dessert, which we will then all eat together at dinner.
Assisi; Montepulciano Wine Tasting (B, L)Read more
After breakfast we depart for the beautiful medieval 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 teems with vibrant life, replete with Renaissance palaces, a beautiful medieval square, and sumptuous wine bars, which offer a world famous ruby red wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, its fruitier cousin, Rosso di Montepulciano, and the robust and wildly popular Brunella.
Here we will visit one of the most stunningly located wine cellars in the world, the De’Ricci Cantine Storiche, built into the side of the mountain, on the original site of the Palazzo Ricco from 1534. An extra highlight will be a brief visit to the pre-Roman Grotta Etrusca deep within the caves. At De’Ricci’s, we will enjoy a tasting of their delicious wines, and samples from their degustation menu.
After lunch, we can take advantage of some free time to wander in magnificent Tuscan town, such as a stroll down Il Corso, the ascending street from the cobbled Piazza Sant’Agnese to the mighty Montepulciano Fortress, used as a location site for the acclaimed, English-Italian production of the Medici television series.
Leaving Montepulciano in mid-day, we drive across the undulating Tuscan hills to Florence, the first Tuscan site to be named a World Heritage Site and arrive around in late afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we can enjoy some time on our own to rest or roam around town, before convening for an early dinner (at own expense), and then attend a musical performance at the Church of Saint Monaca, for either a classical music concert or opera performances, at 9:15 p.m.
Our first activity will be a morning visit with our local Florentine guide to the Central Market (Mercato Centrale), where we will delight in a wonderful introduction to the culinary wonders of Florence. The lure of Tuscany is more than the splendor of its Renaissance art, architecture, and music. The full bounty of Tuscany’s riches includes delectable wines and fragrant olive oils, earthy and hearty foods that feed the soul as well as the body, which we will learn about from our guide and sample some of the local delights as we explore the market.
In late morning, we will embark with our local guide for a Renaissance Walk through the world’s most extensive “Open Air Museum.” For five hundred years, Florence has been 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. Along the way, we will see the dazzling Duomo di Firenze, the Cathedral of Florence, designed by the famous Italian architects Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, the Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio, and a brief visit to the Via dei Librai, the Street of Booksellers, a gathering spot for the literary geniuses who sparked (along with the painters and philosophers) the Florentine Renaissance. The most important figure here was Vespasiano da Bisticci, “king of the world’s booksellers,” provider of beautifully handcrafted volumes for scholars, manuscript hunters, kings, and princes, who gathered at his shop. Time permitting we will pass by the Leonardo da Vinci Museum.
Our late afternoon highlight will be a marvelous visit the venerable Antico Laboratorio Artigianale, originally a bookbinding and restoration bottega, or shop, founded in 1908, by the master papermaker Alberto Cozzi and his wife Nella. Their legacy has endured over the last century and we are fortunate that a member of the family will offer us a private tour and demonstration of their current specialties, handmade marbled paper, leather journals, and stationery.
This evening we will dine together at a local restaurant that specializes in local cuisine, such as Florentine steak, tagliatelle, pappardelle, cooked spinach, crostini Toscani, and Zuccotto.
After breakfast, we check out of our hotel and drive by coach to picturesque Verona. Upon arrival, we will eat lunch together at a typical outdoor restaurant in the heart of town on the Piazza delle Erbe, with a glorious view of the beautifully restored Verona Arena. We will experience the glories of the medieval old town, along the meandering Adige River.
This is followed by a two-hour literary pilgrimage that we are calling “In the Footsteps of Verona’s Chroniclers,” a casual walk that will include Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, and Dickens. Our bookish afternoon will feature a visit to the stone balcony of the famed Gothic-style House of Juliet Capulet, built in the 1300s, and immortalized in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare chose Verona as the setting for three of his works, and we will explore its architectural and amorous charms. After our bow to the world’s most famous lovers, we visit three other great Verona literary sites: the tomb of the Scaligers, patron to Dante, who was exiled here for 7 years, then the Piazza delle Erba, which Charles Dickens immortalized in his book Pictures of Italy, and the Verona Arena, one of Wolfgang von Goethe’s favorite sites, which he describes beautifully in Italian Journey. The ancient open-air amphitheater was constructed in pink marble in 30 CE and used for gladiator contests and medieval jousting matches over the centuries. Restored and reopened in 1913 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida, the Arena is used for large-scale opera, theater, and pop concerts, ranging from performances by Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti to Pearl Jam and Adele.
After our hotel breakfast in Verona, 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 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 fourteenth-century Scrovegni Chapel. These tell the story of the Virgin Mary and Christ and are visually stunning, such as the first representations in Western art of a kiss, in “Meeting at the Golden Gate.”
Our guide will meet us in the gorgeous city center and lead us on a city center walk past the 90,000 square meter elliptical square of famous pools and 78 marble sculptures called the Prato della Valle, through the picturesque city of beautifully arcaded streets, noble villas and dozens of medieval churches, to Giotto’s Chapel. There we are scheduled for a brief but unforgettable 15 minute, which is required to minimize the impact of visitors on the beautiful frescoes.
Following a traditional Padua lunch (at own expense) in the teeming and fresco-rich city center, we transfer to Venice, where a local guide will meet us at the Tronchetto bus terminal and transfer us (and our luggage) via a water-taxi to our hotel. After check-in we will have some free time to explore the neighborhood around our hotel before enjoying dinner together.
Our evening’s highlight will be a concert at the Church of Antonio Vivaldi, the Santa Maria, or Chiesa della Pieta', where he played the church organ and composed much of the music that transformed the history of sacred music, opera, and the concert hall.
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.
Our walk includes a brief visit to St Mark’s Basilica, founded in 852 CE, 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. Our walking tour includes the Rialto Bridge, the Campo de Santa Maria Formosa, the Teatro Malibran, the Basilica of San Giovanni, and and the humble site of the home of the famed merchant-explorer Marco Polo, across from Casanova’s House, on one of the most beautiful canals in Venice.
We suggest lunch (at own expense) in the vicinity of the Rialto Market, which offers a colorful choice of “Bacari” or traditional Venetian bars, which specialize in “cicchetti,” the local tapas that are often paired with a glass of refreshing Prosecco.
After lunch we are blessed by Fortuna, the Roman goddess of good fortune, to be able to visit the studio of Sergio Boldrin, a master mask maker, for a demonstration of this revered aspect of Venetian life. To help celebrate our day, we will cap our visit with a late afternoon stop back on St Mark’s Square for coffee, snacks, and live music, at the world-famous and still-thriving Caffe Florian (at own expense). Founded in 1720, the Florian is often regarded as the world’s oldest café, and we will gather there with the ghosts of those who have gathered here for coffee and inspiration over the centuries, luminaries that range from Madame de Stael and Casanova, to Stendhal, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Thomas Moore, Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, Goethe, Marcel Proust, Mary McCarthy, and most recently, one of the world’s greatest travel writers, Jan Morris.
Our journey concludes in ceremonial style this evening with a Farewell Dinner in a Venetian restaurant, with time for warm conversations and reminiscences.
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.
*We have included 3 transfers on Nov 14 (times TBA). For transfers required outside of these times, the cost is approx. Euro 170 for daytime and Euro 180 for nighttime transfers, per boat.
(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control.
La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life of Mythic Italy with Phil Cousineau
November 5 - 14, 2023
9 nights accommodation in comfortable, centrally located, 4 star hotels
Lunches in Montepulciano and Verona
Welcome Dinner in Rome
Dinners in Bevagno, Florence and Venice
Farewell Dinner in Venice
Ticket to a performance of Italian opera arias in Santa Monaca church in Florence
Visit to a papermaking shop with demonstration
Water-taxi transfer Tronchetto to hotel (including luggage)
Ticket to Vivaldi concert in Venice
Visit to a mask workshop
Water-taxi transfer hotel-restaurant-hotel
Water-taxi transfer hotel to Venice Airport on Nov 14 (3 transfers included)
Bus or minivan transfers as per program
Local guide half day in Perugia, Verona and Padua
Local guide full day in Rome, Assisi-Spello-Bevagna, Montepulciano, Florence, and Venice
Assistant on arrival in Venice
Entrance fees to: Roman Forum, Juliet’s house and Verona Arena, Scrovegni Chapel, St.Mark Basilica
Hotel city taxes
Tour Does Not Include:
Airfare to Rome and return from Venice, Italy
Airport transfers on arrival in Rome. We can arrange: Euro 75 per car (1 or 2 people), or Euro 95 per minivan (up to 6 people)
Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for details)
Meals and drinks not specified
Cost to obtain a valid passport
Items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks, telephone calls, personal expenses
Tips and porterage
Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website
Travel with author, filmmaker, and veteran tour leader Phil Cousineau
“Long Conversations” to illuminate the spiritual, cultural, and historical elements of the journey
Demonstration on the art of violin making in Rome
Light lunch and wine-tasting in cellar in Montalcino