Spend your free time in Barcelona visiting Gaudi’s modern basilica, La Sagrada Familia – a Gothic masterpiece that embodies the city’s artistic and progressive heart.. Hike in the majestic Spanish Pyrenees mountains, revelling in the fresh air, panoramic views and an exhilarating sense of freedom.. Explore the idyllic Provencal landscapes of southern France and gain an understanding as to why this part of the world is so adored by artists.. The Leaning Tower may be Pisa’s most iconic image, but there’s so much more to discover – The Piazza dei Miracoli and Pisa Baptistry are masterpieces in Medieval-Italian architecture.
Lose yourself in three of Europe’s most enchanting countries. From the vibrant streets of Barcelona, travel into the heart of the picturesque Spanish Pyrenees, then discover Provencal food and world-class wines as you frolic with Europe’s high rollers in the French Riviera. Feast on breathtaking sights in the cliff-top towns of the Cinque Terre, see master works of art in Florence and marvel at the leaning Torre de Pisa. Call into beautiful Siena then conclude this European adventure in the ancient city of Rome.
Welcome to Spain! Barcelona's quirky character and fabulous Catalan cuisine mixes seamlessly with a ground-breaking art scene, Gothic architecture, superb dining and a non-stop nightlife, making it a city you won't soon forget. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 7 pm today – you can arrive at any time before this. If you arrive early, use free time to get your bearings of Barcelona. There are plenty of galleries, cafes and historic corners to keep you busy. Gaudi's bizarre La Sagrada Familia Basilica is not be missed. As there's not much time in Barcelona, we suggest you arrive a few days early so you can get under the skin of this great city. The heart of Catalonia prides itself as a gastronomic centre and so this evening, perhaps venture out to taste the reputation for yourself. You could take a tapas crawl through rustic Catalan dishes in the funky neighbourhood of El Born.
Pyrenees / Ribes de Freser
Travel north today by train and climb into the Spanish Pyrenees, which form a mighty barrier between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe, arriving in the small town of Ribes de Freser (approximately 2 hours). This is your base for next two days. Beautifully placed Ribes de Freser is a low-key town situated at the confluence of three different rivers; Freser, Rigard and Segadell. The town is not only an important tourist centre in this part of Pyrenees, but it’s also well known for its mineral water and milk products. Make sure you sample these, perhaps in your free time during the rest of today. The town is a great place to relax with the views of beautiful Pyrenees Mountains in the background. In the evening, perhaps head out for dinner with the group.
Pyrenees / Ribes de Freser
Today, enjoy stunning views from a cogwheel train ride into the Nuria Valley. This train line was first opened in the 1930s and connects Ribes de Freser with Queralbs, making a spectacular and magical snaking journey up to the small ski town and pilgrimage site of Nuria. It crosses viaducts, travels past dramatic cliffs, through tunnels, forest and waterfalls, finally arriving at 2000 metres above sea level after one of the most magnificent rides in the Pyrenees. Along with the cogwheel train journey, you will find time to stretch your legs on a hike in the scenic surrounds. Take to the hills for a day of hiking in the Pyrenees and be prepared for some steep ascents. Climb up through the forest to a fantastic viewpoint of the mountain peaks (weather permitting). Don't forget your camera, as the alpine scenery is spectacular. Return to Ribes de Freser in late afternoon. Tonight it's time for an included paella dinner.
Continue your adventure across the French border today with a combination of a train journey and private transfer to Carcassonne (approximately 4.5 hours). The stunning medieval French city of Carcassonne looks like it's straight out of a classic fairytale and is famous for its 53 watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman style with later additions made in 13th and 14th centuries, making it the biggest and most beautiful medieval construction in Europe. For good reason, this World Heritage-listed fortress is the second most visited tourist site in France after the Eiffel Tower. There’ll be plenty of time to explore and uncover the memorable castle and ramparts, crossing the medieval stone-arched bridge and navigating the cobbled streets that form a spider’s web through the town. You'll have plenty of time to explore and uncover Carcassonne’s secrets. Chateau Comtal, a 12th-century fortress within Le Cite, which offers archaeological exhibits and a tour of the inner ramparts, is certainly an interesting option for a free afternoon. This evening, if weather permits, watch a golden sunset over this medieval landscape.
Provence / Arles
Leave Carcassonne behind today and take the train into the French region of Provence, through heartland scenery that has long attracted the brushes of Impressionist painters, settling in the town of Arles (approximately 3 hours). Once a provincial capital of ancient Rome, Arles is now famed for inspiring the paintings of Van Gogh, which can be seen at the local gallery that takes his name. On arrival, take a walk around this town stepped in Provençal culture and immerse yourself in the picturesque landscapes that surround you. There’s also an included trip to see the beautiful double rows of arches of the Arles Amphitheatre in the afternoon, an ancient Roman arena still in use after 1000 years. Later, what better way to round off the day than a leisurely stroll, relax, and a coffee or ‘pastis’ at the shaded terraces of the atmospheric outdoor cafe that once paid host to the famous painter.
Provence / Arles
Enjoy a free day in the town of Arles. Perhaps follow the Van Gogh trail to see sites that the artist drew on as subjects for his paintings, finishing at the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation to browse the changing exhibitions of the Post-Impressionist painter, as well as temporary exhibitions of other famous artists. Discover Gothic architecture in a walled city where the Pope once took refuge, uncover an ancient Roman necropolis and theatre, or stroll past an ancient multi-storey aqueduct. You could also head outside of the town to the Camargue Nature Park, a beautifully bio-diverse region, and cycle among pink flamingos that frolick in sandy reed beds. The Antiques Museum, Arlaten Ethnographic Museum and Reattu Museum back in town also provide lots of culture to discover. Otherwise, you might simply relax by the Rhone River and watch the world go by. A wander around the town at night becomes an art history lesson, with scenes recognisable from famous artworks like ‘Cafe Terrace at Night’.
Take the train to Nice today, which should take you around five hours. The star of the Riviera and a great base from which to explore the rest of the Cote d'Azur, Nice boasts both public and private beaches, with countless opportunities to relax. Your afternoon and evening are free but try not to miss the flower and evening markets on Place Saleya. Take some time to explore Nice’s old centre, walking its maze of staircases and lanes, fine Baroque churches, and the famous Promenade des Anglais – a hot spot for street theatre and local artists. The Old Quarter is a warren of alleyways, boutique shops, cafes and restaurants just waiting to be discovered.
Today is free for you to further explore Nice as you like, there's even the option of taking a day trip to the glitzy city of Cannes, which only costs around EUR14 by train. The famed film festival host is a place of sun, sand, style and shopping, while the old town still maintains a Provencal feel. You might like to visit the cliff-top village of Eze, known as 'The Eagles Nest' which is just a few kilometres outside of Nice. This medieval town is a true gem – it’s vaulted, narrow streets are filled with art galleries, workshops and gastronomic restaurants and at the top is a ruined medieval castle commanding one of the most beautiful panoramas on the Cote d'Azur. Back in Nice there are museums to explore, tiny shops in the retro neighbourhood of Vieux to browse, beaches to lounge on, scenic gardens to discover, and delicious French fare to feast on.
This morning after breakfast, spend the day travelling by train across the Italian border to the once important naval base of La Spezia, now the gateway to the gorgeous Cinque Terre, or ‘Five lands’ in English (approximately 6 hours). The name comes from the five tiny villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – whose position, wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs, makes it one of the highlights of the whole of Italy. On arrival in La Spezia there won't be too much time to explore yet, but after checking into your hotel perhaps get your bearings of the area with a short walk around the pedestrian zone on Via del Prione to the gardens along the harbour, or head out for dinner with the group. Afterwards, you might like to relax and rest up before the walk along the famous Cinque Terre route tomorrow.
Cinque Terre / La Spezia
This morning venture out on the footpaths of Cinque Terre (Five Lands), a region of Italy famed for its coastline and pastel villages. The footpaths that run between the villages were once the only way to travel in the region, and take you through olive groves, vineyards and on to idyllic vistas. Walking the entire network of paths can take around five hours (12 kilometres in total) and you will need a good level of fitness. You can also choose to walk just a few sections, which will still unveil a great amount of majestic scenery. Some sections of path can be difficult, as there are challenging uphill stretches, narrow paths, steep cliffs and foot bridges. Please remember to bring comfortable footwear such as trainers or light hiking shoes. It's also possible to take the train between any of the villages or back to the group's base whenever you want. After working up an appetite, take advantage of the foods of the Liguria region with a pesto class – focaccia is also a speciality in this area and makes a great start to lunch. The rest of the day is free for you to enjoy at your own leisure. In the evening, there's no better way to recover from your day of walking with more indulgence in delicious Mediterranean food.
Pisa / Florence
Depart Cinque Terre today and catch a train to Pisa (approximately 1 hour). Divided in two by the River Arno, the heart of Pisa is the Santa Maria quarter on the north bank. Here there'll be ample time for you to visit the world-famous Leaning Tower, as well as the Duomo (Piazza dei Miracoli, once the largest in Europe) and Pisa Baptistry. Please note that it's not always possible to climb the tower, although you'll have plenty of time to take pictures and explore the city. The tower was built in the 12th century, but its foundation was on shifting sand and clay, meaning that it now leans at an angle of 4 degrees (after restoration and stabilising work). Wander the shopping streets, from high-end boutiques to speciality book and antiques stores, and perhaps enjoy lunch and an aperitif in a backstreet restaurant before returning to the station in the afternoon and taking the train to Florence (approximately 2 hours). After checking in to your hotel, join your leader for quick orientation walk. The rest of your evening is free to explore the city of the Renaissance.
After breakfast head out into Florence, one of the most culturally rich and beautiful cities in Italy, known to many as the beating heart of Tuscany. The Medicis, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli, Donatello and Michelangelo all lived in Florence at the height of their creative reign. It's impossible to see everything in this Renaissance wonderland, so take your time and enjoy it. Perhaps visit the Uffizi, one of the world's oldest art galleries, or walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is set on a hill on the south bank of the Arno River, to take in beautiful views of the city – a lovely way to while away the day. There are plenty of sights to see during your time in Florence – don't forget to visit Michelangelo's David, housed in the Galleria dell'Accademia. As the evening comes around, join the locals in taking a passeggiata, a leisurely socialising stroll, perhaps between piazza Beccaria and piazza della Repubblica.