Walk along Cinque Terre’s rocky coastal pathways, calling into the sleepy pastel villages of Monterosso, Corniglia and Vernazza, and work up an appetite for incredible feasts of delicious local ingredients. Wander around Rome’s famous landmarks including the Colosseum, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica and much more. This is a city that bucket lists were made for. Savour fine French fare in Dijon and taste the local wine in a famous vineyard of Burgundy, a place where wine is so much more than just a drink. Be awed by the picture-perfect setting of Interlaken, with the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps as a backdrop
Put your finger on the pulse of Europe’s beating heart on this memorable tour through Italy, Switzerland and France. From ancient wonders on the bustling streets of Rome, to high fashion in Milan, traditional folklore in the Swiss Alps and champagne tours in Reims – this trip truly captures the spoils of Europe. Travel through the charming hillside villages of the Cinque Terre, get close to nature amid the grandeur of Lucerne and fall in love with romantic Paris – each day brings a fascinating new discovery.
Buongiorno! Welcome to Italy. Crowded with ancient ruins and religious monuments, Rome still pulses to the beat of modern life and is packed with designer shops, restaurants, cafes and exciting nightlife. There are no activities planned before tonight's group meeting, so if you arrive early there are plenty of things to keep you busy. Maybe save the unmissable sights for tomorrow morning and today do as the Romans do – sip an espresso at one of the tiny streetside cafes and sample the many flavours of gelato that colour the city. For those captivated by the 'Eternal City', throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return visit to Rome. No visit would be complete without a trip to Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica. Entry to the Basilica is free and there's a small charge to climb the dome for a breath-taking panorama over Bella Roma. If there's time, visit the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.
Rome / Lucca
Enjoy some free time in Rome or, if you wish, your group leader will be available for an orientation walk, taking in some of the best-known sights of Rome like the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and the Roman Forum. In the afternoon, you'll travel by train from Rome to Lucca (approximately 4 hours). Lucca is one of Tuscany's real hidden gems, with centuries-old buildings, beautiful churches, charming piazzas and narrow streets within the ancient city ramparts. You’ll be captivated by this medieval town, which simply radiates charm. In Lucca, you’ll stay in some unique accommodation – your own private apartments. There are several separate apartments located near the city centre so you may be a short walk away from your other group members and your leader. The apartments are a real treat. Staying in the city centre allows easy access to all the sights, restaurants and bars, all an easy stroll from your front door. Each apartment has 2-3 rooms with a shared bathroom.
Lucca / Pisa
Set off on a cycling tour following the scenic Serchio River through the Tuscan countryside (4 kilometres round the walls that are now a tree-lined avenue, and 14 kilometres by the river, approximately 3-4 hours). There are cafes and plenty of spots for a Tuscan picnic along the route. Your base in Lucca provides you with the perfect opportunity for a later outing to the nearby city of Pisa (approximately 30 minutes by local train). Here there'll be ample time for you to visit the quirky 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). 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 an aperitif. Back in Lucca, the kitchen apartment is fully equipped and you can choose to buy your own beautiful local ingredients and supplies for meals. During their stay, some of our groups make Italian feasts with produce from around the area. Our apartments are not hotels, so there's no reception, WiFi, room service or cleaning service every day, but plenty of charm and you just cannot beat the location.
Lucca / Florence
Today, hop aboard a local train for a day trip to Florence, Italy's ‘outdoor museum’ (approximately 1.5 hours). Florence, the cultural heart of Tuscany, bursts with religious treasures and Renaissance masterpieces. It's been said that during the second millennium, a third of Europe's most important artists lived in Florence. The minds and talents of the Medicis, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli, Donatello and Michelangelo all flourished here. It's impossible to see everything in this Renaissance wonderland, however, so take your time and enjoy it. The principal sights are easily discovered on foot – the Pitti Palace, the Ponte Vecchio, the Arno River front, the many statues and monuments of the Piazza della Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio, the 13th-century Duomo (with its fiery depiction of the Last Judgement), the Baptistry and the Belltower, and the Santa Croce Church. There’ll be time to visit the Uffizi, one of the world's oldest art galleries and a work of art itself, see Michelangelo's famous statue of David in the Galleria dell'Accademia, shop in the many markets and chic boutiques. Back in Lucca, a way to end the day is to head to a local bar for a refreshing Prosecco and a delicious focaccia with finocchiona salami and pecorino cheese, in the shadow of the Palazzo Pretorio.
Today is a free day in Lucca to take in all the sights that this city has to offer. Wander to the former Roman amphitheatre found off Via Fillungo. The remains of the amphitheatre are gone, but the medieval houses now standing in its place follow the outline where the spectator stands once were. Here, in what’s now called Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, there are many outdoor cafes where you can sit down and see the world go by and do a spot of people watching. Also here, 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus formed a coalition government to rule Rome. Make sure you also head to Foro Square to see the majestically constructed San Michele church, built over the ancient Roman forum and rich in artwork, and make a stop at the 14th century Duomo di San Martino, a splendid example of Romanesque architecture. Inside you’ll find the tomb of and monument to Ilaria del Carretto, carved by Jacopo della Quercia – it’s a masterpiece that dates back to the 15th century. Also, it might be 25 flights of stair to climb to the top of the Guinigi Tower, but the views are worth it. The tower also makes for a great sight in itself as it has trees growing on its roof!
Travel by train to La Spezia (approximately 3 hours), an important naval base that’s now the gateway to the gorgeous Cinque Terre, or ‘Five lands’ in English. A medieval port town whose name is derived from its historic importance in the spice trade, La Spezia is your base for exploring the nearby stunning stretch of coast known as the Cinque Terre (approximately 30 minutes by train). 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. After lunch, explore the city or perhaps head out by ferry or bus to the pretty seaside town of Portovenere, known for its colourful houses straddling the waterfront. Return to La Spezia and walk around the pedestrian zone on Via del Prione to the gardens along the harbour. Or opt to take another ferry to Lerici, another small village across the Bay of Poets dominated by its castle, for dinner.
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 on mountains that plunge into the sea. 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, breath-taking vistas. If you're feeling energetic, walking the entire path (12 kilometres, approximately 5 hours) will give you the best taste of the villages and countryside, though will require 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. In the evening, there's no better way to recover from your day of walking with more indulgence in delicious Mediterranean food.
Milan / Stresa
Travel by train to Milan (approximately 3 hours), Italy's second largest city and the capital of Lombardy, Italy's wealthiest province. You’ll stop here for a few hours. In this most fashionable of cities, this is the place for stylish shopping and cafes – Milanese specialities! Explore the city's historic centre, visit the city's most famous building, the Gothic Duomo, and walk between its rooftop sculptures, admiring the views and the stunning Gothic terrace. Most will want to visit Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece, The Last Supper, if there's time – see below for details. In the afternoon, leave Milan by train for your next destination, Stresa (approximately 1.5 hours). Charming 19th-century Stresa is a town that boasts all the amenities of both a traditional seaside resort and a winter ski resort. The Italian lakeland scenery is beautiful with blue waters, soaring mountains, woodlands, exotic gardens, Victorian-style resort towns, historic hamlets, traditional Italian fishing villages and reminders of a bygone era in every direction.
Lago Maggiore / Stresa
Today board a local ferry for a scenic trip on Lake Maggiore to the enchanting Borromeo Isles. On Isola Bella the Borromean family employed the most talented architects and gardeners to transform a rocky crag into the setting for a magnificent baroque palace and Italianate gardens. Visit the romantic palatial residence, built in the 17th century by Carlo III in stunning Lombard-Baroque style, and wander through its wonderful hanging gardens. Try cooling yourself, as the original inhabitants did, in the ornately decorated caves. You can lunch on the islands in one of the traditional fishing villages, like Isola dei Pescatori, and if there's time to spare, visit the markets and churches in one of the lakeside hamlets. Later in your free time, you can ride the cable car up to the top of Mount Mottarone, the winter ski centre, from where there are wonderful views of the Lakes Region, the Swiss Alps and the Monte Rosa Massif. Evenings in Stresa are best spent strolling the quaint streets of the town, people-watching from the pavement cafes or enjoying Italian food at one of the many lakeside restaurants.
Farewell Italy and take a spectacular train journey to Lucerne in Switzerland (approximately 6 hours). Explore the medieval city of Lucerne, located on the edge of a mountain-locked lake with plenty to do and see. This historic old town is famous for 15th century frescoed houses and impossibly quaint covered wooden bridges. There are also a number of medieval defensive towers along the city walls that can give you great views over this picturesque town and its surroundings. In the tiny streets of old town (Altstadt), there’s often a craft market and dozens of shops full of unique handmade goods. The bridge that crosses the Reuss River is known as the Kapellbrücke, and if you look up while crossing it, you’ll see fascinating 400-year-old triangular roof panels painted with mythical and historical scenes. When you arrive, you can walk along the bridges, stroll eastwards along the Rathausquai and the Schweizerhofquai, and admire the setting sun over the lake. This evening, maybe enjoy an aperitif with a view of the lake and seek out classic Swiss cuisine in some traditional surroundings.
Today is a free day to explore the area around Lucerne. Perhaps begin with a walk up Lowenstrasse (Lion Street) to visit the Lion Monument, a touching rock-face carving of a dying lion that commemorates the 800 Swiss mercenaries who were killed defending Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Explore the old town streets or take a walk along the lakeside paths – one leads to the villa of famed 19th century composed Richard Wagner, now a museum. If you’d like to take things a little easier then there are numerous ferries that criss-cross the lake and dock at scenic stops along the shore. To explore the wonderful alpine scenery that surrounds the city maybe take the world’s oldest cog railway up the 1,800-metre Rigi Mountain, or take the world’s steepest cog railway to 2,100-metre Pilatus peak. Also known as Dragon Mountain because the sunset behind the peak often glows like dragon’s breath, Pilatus peak has magnificent views on a clear day that reveal most of Switzerland. You can hike various trails around the summit and then take the cable car back down. For something different, there’s the quirky exhibits of the National Transport Museum – don’t be fooled by the dour sounding name, this is one of Europe’s most popular and fun museums.
Interlaken / Swiss Alps
A train journey through villages and spectacular alpine scenery today brings you to the Bernese Oberland and the town of Interlaken (approximately 4 hours), a pretty town that sits between lakes Thun and Brienz. Upon arrival, travel to nearby steep-cliffed valley in Lauterbrunnen and enjoy a walk through characteristic Swiss countryside to view the magnificent Trummelbach Falls. Here 10 glacier waterfalls meet in one spot to produce 20,000 litres per second of water that corkscrews through the mountain. You can visit underground galleries and climb up steps that trace the path of the mountain stream that has carved a waterfall inside the rock walls. There's plenty of time to wander the beautiful walking paths of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and to visit nearby villages where you can enjoy excellent traditional Swiss cheesecake and hot chocolate. Otherwise, sample some traditional Swiss food at one of the local restaurants – fondue and rosti are specialities.