Italy's Riviera is both a historic destination and a fabulously pleasure-seeking one, where you can explore lavish palazzi and simple village churches but also enjoy good food, sample the local wines, do some gorgeous walks, and gaze at the azure sea. The dramatic coastal topography is certainly impressive but so are its charming towns along the way. Among the Italian Riviera’s culinary delights are a great variety of seafood, fragrant lemons, olive-oil-infused focaccia bread, and most famous of all, that delicious green paste now renowned throughout the world – pesto!
We kick off the week in historic Genoa, which can claim the largest medieval center in Italy. The city was one of the four mighty maritime republics in the Italian Middle Ages (along with rivals Venice, Pisa, and Amalfi). Genoa boasts several eye-popping grand palaces and piazze but also a very extensive jumble of atmospheric, twisting alleys to get lost in. Like all major Italian cities there are also grand churches with lavish art and commendable museums..
We also explore the beautiful promontory that’s named for one of its pretty towns — world-famous and chic Portofino. We’ll circumnavigate the peninsula by boat, stopping in Camogli, Santa Marherita Ligure, and of course Portofino itself.
The Cinque Terre stretch of the Riviera has a whole extensive network of popular and spectacular hiking trails — though they can be strenuous. Ours will be more tame walks combined with sightseeing by boat along the stunning coast, poking around a couple of the Cinque Terre villages, and a fun pesto-making session!
We also take in the “Gulf of Poets,” named in honor of the 1820s resident English poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, the sweet seaside town of Lerici, and a nearby winery.
Tacked on to this itinerary is a slice of Tuscany, too. Everyone’s heard of the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa, surely, but few are aware that it is just one component of a stunning ensemble of medieval buildings, including the 12th-century cathedral and baptistery.
We end in lovely Lucca, an urbane and compelling city that stays in large part off the radar of the main tourist circuit yet is host to numerous attractions, not the least of which is the impressive and intact walls surrounding the entire city on which you can walk, run, or cycle while looking out over the city and beyond to the verdant hills.
Day 1 - Friday, September 9, 2022
Upon arrival in Genoa (by plane or train) make your way to our group hotel where we’ll gather in the early evening for a welcome drink before heading out for the first of many delicious meals!
NOTE: Please see the Arrival & Departure Logistics further on. Also, if you would like to arrive in Genoa a day early we can set you up with an additional night at our group hotel.
Meals: Welcome Drink, Welcome Dinner
Overnight: in Genoa
Day 2 - Saturday, September 10, 2022
Our day will be spent on foot exploring the fascinating center of Genoa. It’s said that this is Italy’s largest historical city center, so be ready for some walking! - possibly adding up to three miles all together throughout the day.
Genoa (Genova in Italian) is the capital of the Liguria region, a narrow crescent-shaped stripon the Mediterranean Sea that stretches from the French border near Nice down to Tuscany and hemmed in by coastal mountains. Italy’s busiest port today, Genoa has evolved over the centuries from when it was a mighty maritime power and one of the wealthiest cities of Renaissance Europe with extensive colonies. Fascinatingly eclectic the city appears a bit rough-and-tumbletoday at first glance, but it has been gentrifying, and many consider it to be an underrated gem when digging below the surface, filled with architectural delights and a sense of “real Italy.”
The old town is a intriguing jumble - a tangle of twisting alleyways called caruggi, majestic old palaces, shabby apartment buildings, artisanal retail shops, churches, graffiti, laundry hung out of windows, monuments, and maybe even prostitutes. We’ll absorb all of this as well as the sprawling Mercato Orientale, Genoa’s boisterous indoor food market that evokes days past when ships brought back commodities from far-flung reaches. Along the Strada Nuova, considered one of the most beautiful streets in Italy, we’ll admire a few sumptuous Renaissance palaces that are now notable museums or municipal offices decorated with sculpted facades, stucco work, and medallions.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Overnight: in Genoa
Day 3 - Sunday, September 11, 2022
Leaving Genoa this morning we proceed down the Riviera di Levante (Shore of the Rising Sun), a ruggedly beautiful coastline hugged by mountains that plunge into the aquamarine sea. Charles Dickens believed that “there is nothing in Italy more beautiful to me than the coast-road between Genoa and Spezzia. ”Think Amalfi Coast - northern Italy version.
First stop is the cute little fishing portof Camogli with its pastel-hued houses. They were originally all painted different colors so that the fishermen would recognize their houses from sea. From here we board a boat (not a private service) that will circumnavigate the gorgeous Portofino Promontory, most of which is only accessible by hiking or boat. From the water we’ll get a good shot of San Fruttuoso, a medieval abbey, and its surrounding hamlet.
Our boat then continues to the internationally famed, chic resort town of Portofino. Too pretty for its own good, some might say. And certainly not off the tourist circuit. But it’s one of those “must-do” stops when in the area. The glitzy town is flooded with wealthy visitors, film celebrities of today and decades past, fancy boats (some with masts taller than the town’s buildings), upscale boutiques, quite spendy hotels, and so forth. (But you might also see laundry hanging out to dry, kids kicking a soccer ball around, neighbors from their windows gossiping across the alley.) We’ll stroll around this charming town, taking in its perfect miniature harbor protected from behind by steep green hills dominated by cypress-and olive-clad slopes.
To round out the day the boat will drop us at yet another lovely little seaside town, Santa Margherita Ligure, imbued with old-world charm, chic but not flashy, making it more appealing to some than Portofino. Nicknamed “the port of Milan,” (it’s popular with well-heeled Milanese) the town is set by a lush bay surrounded by exotic plants.
Then we re-join our bus and head to our hotel in Portovenere where we stay for three nights. Portovenere sits at the tip ofthe rocky promontory that separates the Cinque Terre from the Gulf of Poets.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Overnight: in Portovenere
Day 4 - Monday, September 12, 2022
The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) - a UNESCO World Heritage site - is a string of five little charming villages along the coast tucked into very steep mountainsides and all interconnected with stunning hiking paths. It’s popular with hikers who come here to spend two or three days doing these trails. We won’t be hiking, but we’ll explore a couple of the villages today using a boat (private service) to get us from town to town, then walking through (and up through!) the towns. The Cinque Terre are originally fishing, wine production, and olive oil makingtowns, but tourism has become now a major economic influence.
Note: Our hotel base, Portovenere, is not one of the Cinque Terre villages but has the nicest accommodation option.
Today’s plan is to see Manarola, which we think is one the prettiest of the Cinque Terre towns. It’s a near-vertical cluster of houses that rise up from the harbor one atop the other. The main street was once a river criss-crossed by little bridges. We’ll have time to explore the town and its steeply terraced vineyards, but also on the program is a fun session where we learn to make what is perhaps Liguria’s most prominent culinary claim to fame: real Ligurian pesto! - accompanied by a light lunch and heavy laughter.
We'll also navigate up the coast to Vernazza, another contender for prettiest village in the Cinque Terre. Colorful houses around the harbor; a ruined castle atop a rocky promontory that juts into the sea; a lively waterside piazza; boutiques and gelato shops; only 500 residents - you get the picture.
Later we return by boat to our home base in Portovenere, enjoying the stunning coastal scenery en route, maybe catching some dolphin action if we’re lucky.
Meals: Breakfast, Light Lunch
Overnight: in Portovenere
Day 5 - Tuesday, September 13, 2022
This morning our boat ride (private service) will introduce us to the so-called “Gulf of Poets” where such notables as Lord Byron, the Shelleys (Percy Bysshe and Mary), D.H. Lawrence, and others lived or spent time in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We’ll pass by some of the gulf’s little islands, mussel farms, and the village of Tellaro, disembarking in charming Lerici. Its beautiful historic center is towered over by a huge, well-preserved castle that today is a museum, and there are nice views across the gulf back towards Portovenere. After a short strollin town our bus will collect us for the ride to the Lunigiana, a region between Liguria and Tuscany famous for its impressive castles and its wonderful wine that grows on its smooth hills. Here we’ll visit a family-run wine cellar situatedin a beautiful setting. Our time here will include an explanation of their production process and a tasting of several wines accompanied by some delicious local foods.
Afterwards we’ll see a bit of Sarzana, an attractive little town with a Medici fortress and a beautiful historic center with narrow streets, cozy little shops, antique dealers, and cafes. Its main street follows the old Via Francigena, which ran from Canterbury to Rome and was an important pilgrimage and trade route. You might like to partake of one of the local treats, spungata - puff pastry cake stuffed with jam, dried fruit, pine nuts, almonds, raisins, and spices.
We return by bus to Portovenere for our final evening here.
Meals: Breakfast, Winery Lunch
Overnight: in Portovenere
Day 6 - Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Today we head south into the Tuscany region where our first stop is Pietrasanta, just inland from the Versilian Coast and known for its vibrant arts culture and its jewel of a historical town center. This refined art town is dotted with tiny art galleries, workshops, and fashion boutiques. In the early 16th century the pope put the nearby Carrara quarries at the disposal of Michaelangelo, who came here to source marble for many projects over the years. Artists continue to work here, including sculptor Fernando Botero, some of whose work is on display in the town. The main piazza doubles as an outdoor gallery for sculptures and other generally large works of art.
After lunch we continue to Pisa - made famous, of course, by its “Leaning Tower,” but worthwhile for the entire Romanesque complex of which the tower is but a part. The 11th-century Duomo (cathedral) with its striking green and cream marble led the way for Romanesque churches throughout Tuscany. One highlight inside is the extraordinary octagonal pulpit sculpted from Carrara marble by Giovanni Pisano, son of Nicola Pisano, who was instrumental in the adjacent cupcake-looking Baptistery’s stunning hexagonal pulpit. This father-and-son team holds pride of place among sculptors of the period. The iconic Leaning Tower is officially the cathedral’s bell tower. It took almost 200 years to build and was already leaning when unveiled in 1372
We finish by arriving in lovely Lucca, where we spend the final two nights of the main tour.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Overnight: in Lucca
Day 7 - Thursday, September 15, 2022
It seems that Lucca endears itself to everyone who visits. It’s the perfect size to explore on foot, with its handsome piazzas, beautiful churches, and noble buildings all surrounded by perfectly intact Renaissance-era walls. Lucca’s cuisine leans largely on hearty country fare, drawing from the nearby rugged Garfagnana mountains, and prized olive oil. If you’re familiar with faro, an ancient grain, it features prominently here - something like spelt.
Our walking tour of Lucca will unfold through the city’s medieval streets, past soaring towers, elegant shops, antique stalls, an abundance of beautiful churches with magnificent works of art, through light-filled piazzas (one on the site of an ancient Roman arena), and past the birthplace of legendary composer Giacomo Puccini.
In your free time you might enjoy strolling some of the tree-lined footpath atop the city’s walls, which stand 40 feet high and form a 2½-mile ringin total, looking down on the historic center, botanical gardens, and other sights.
This evening is our farewell dinner.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Overnight: in Lucca
Day 8 - Friday, September 16, 2022
Departure or begin 3-night extension to Florence and environs.
Please see Arrival & Departure logistics for your onward travel options.
• Genoa, known in Italy as La Superba (the proud one), and its eclectic wealth of churches, palaces, galleries, and twisting medieval alleys
• Portofino, a romantic and exclusive jewel of a resort set on a beautiful coastal promontory
• The villages of the Cinque Terre clinging impossibly to their cliffs with vineyards, olive groves, and steeply terraced slopes above, pebbly beaches and tiny coves below
• The Gulf of Poets, host to Lord Byron, the Shelleys, D.H. Lawrence and other notables in the 19th and early 20th centuries
• Pietrasanta, a small-town favorite of modern sculptors, from Botero to Moore to Miró, who came to work with the marble from nearby Carrara and in bronze
• The iconic tower that leans in Pisa, part of a stunning complex of monuments
• Lovely Lucca, completely enveloped by 16th-century walls and boasting a pedestrian-friendly center, abundant Pisan Romanesque architecture, and the home of Puccini
• Accommodations for 7 nights in carefully selected 4-and 5-star properties
• Abundant breakfast each morning in the hotels
• Lunch every day (except the arrival and departure days)
• Welcome and farewell dinners plus one other dinner
• Mineral water and limited regional wines with group meals
• Welcome drink
• Entrance fees for all sights mentioned in the itinerary
• Licensed private tour guides for all locations mentioned in the itinerary
• Pesto making session
• Guided winery visit with tasting
• Ground transportation in private comfortable buses
• Three days with boat transportation of which two days are private
• Venture Out tour escort accompanying the group throughout the trip
• Four dinners
• Gratuities for drivers, porters, and restaurant staff
• Additional hotel nights pre-or post-tour that may be desired or required by flight schedules or other factors
• Airport or train station transfers at the beginning and end of the tour
• Travel Insurance
• Passports and other expenses of a personal nature such as minibar charges, laundry, telephone calls, etc.
The following are the hotels that we plan to use for the tour at the time of publishing this itinerary. We reserve the right to make changes to the accommodations.
Bristol Palace Hotel, Genoa – 2 nights
In the heart of the city, ideally situated for our walking tour of Genoa, this 4-star Art Nouveau-era hotel dating from 1905 has been renovated while respecting its past with antique furnishings, fixtures, and art sprinkled throughout. The elegant dining room, one of the city’s better restaurants, also serves as the breakfast space. Over the years the hotel has hosted numerous famous personages from the worlds of film, dance, art, literature, politics, and royalty. The story has been told that a scene in Hitchcock’s Vertigo was inspired by the hotel’s dramatic elliptical staircase. 130 guest rooms.
Grand Hotel Portovenere, Portovenere – 3 nights
Our selected 5-star hotel (the only 5-star in the region) is located on the most panoramic point of Portovenere, directly overlooking the sea and where the Cinque Terre meets the Gulf of Poets. In the 17th century the structure was home to a Franciscan monastery. After careful renovations with special attention to maintaining the original architectural features, revisiting them in a modern way to provide guests with maximum comfort, the hotel has reopened its doors with its new design and understated elegance. Enjoy a drink on the terrace overlooking the sea, castle, and Palmaria island. The beautiful restaurant serves a refined cuisine blending traditional and contemporary. There are 48 guest rooms, all of which are a little bit different one from the other due to the building’s age.
Palazzo Dipinto Hotel, Lucca – 2 nights
We’ve selected a refined design hotel in the heart of the charming historic center of Lucca. A three-year skillful renovation in 2017 converted this 13th-century building into a comfortable 4-star boutique hotel done up in a contemporary style. A unique combination of tradition, technology, and design has come together while maintaining the old-world style of the building such as the wooden beams, brick walls, stone inserts, and other historical details. The furnishings, selected with fine taste, offer a range of unique products made bythe greatest names in Italian design and among the best local artisans. Weather permitting you can take breakfast in the pretty piazza fronting the hotel. Enjoy a drink in the bar or courtyard with relaxing background music. Guest rooms look out onto city streets, over the rooftops, or into the interior courtyard. There are 17 guest rooms, all of which are a little bit different one from the other due to the building’s age.
Arrival By Plane:
Genoa’s airport (GOA) is served by nonstop flights coming in from Rome, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. Please note, however, that our itinerary is being published during “pandemic times,” so the currently published flight schedules are greatly reduced. By the time this tour happens in September 2022 there are likely to be more flight options. Still, there have rarely ever been nonstop flights from the U.S. directly to Genoa, so a connection somewhere in Europe will probably be necessary.
Arrival By Train:
Italy has an extensive network of high-speed trains, and Genoa is well connected to Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice, etc.
Sample train travel times to Genoa from:
Milan –1½-2 hours
Florence –3½ hours
Rome –4-5 hours
Departure By Plane:
Unless you are doing the extension the tour ends in Lucca. The closest airport is Pisa (PSA), which is about 20 miles from Lucca. We recommend a taxi from the hotel. At the time of writing Pisa’s airport is served by nonstop flights departing to Rome, Frankfurt, and London, from where you can connect onward.
Please note, however, that our itinerary is being published during “pandemic times,” so the currently published flight schedules are greatly reduced. By the time this tour happens in September 2022 there are likely to be more flight options.
Departure By Train:
Lucca is also connected via rail to all points in Italy.
Sample train travel times from Lucca to:
Rome –3½ hours
Milan –3½-4 hours
Florence –1½ hours
The cities and towns that we visit have to be explored on foot. We cannot drive through them on our bus (even on a smaller bus) as the roads in the city centers are from medieval days. In general, adding it all up, you should be comfortable walking a total of about 2-3 miles each day (but not all at once) and standing while visiting many of the sights. Occasionally there are places to take a seat. Please check with us if you have any concerns in this area.
Additionally, please note that the Cinque Terre villages are built into steep mountainsides, which means walking uphill in the towns from where we disembark our boat. We will also encounter steps in some places in these towns.
Our one full day in Genoa will be done on foot, and all together we might clock in at around three miles.
Our costs to operate this tour are tied directly and entirely to the exchange rate between the Euroand the U.S. Dollar. Over the past several years the value of the dollar has fluctuated in quite a volatile manner against the Euro. We reserve the right to alter the trip pricing indicated here should there be a significant fluctuation in the exchange rate from the time this tour is published.
While as accurate as possible at the time of publishing, this itinerary should be considered an approximate indication of the schedule and scope of activities, trip routing, and meals, rather than an inflexible schedule of events; it is subject to change due to circumstances beyond our control. We reserve the right to maintain flexibility in order to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. This trip is subject to the Limitation of Liability and all the Terms and Conditions as detailed in the Trip Enrollment Form.
To realize the maximum enjoyment from your trip, we encourage participants to have flexibility, a sense of humor, curiosity and enthusiasm about new people and places, and an openness to the unexpected. With a spirit of adventure and positive attitude, we’re sure you will have a very special travel experience. If you are uncertain about the level of comfort, difficulty, or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please email us to discuss your concerns.