You simply don’t know Italy if you haven’t experienced its deep south. Colonized by the Greeks and adorned by the Romans, Southern Italy boasts some of the oldest and greatest Greek temples outside of Greece. We will walk along parts of Europe’s most picturesque coast, the Amalfi, winding around the cliffs that stretch into the sea. Along the way we’ll have opportunities to talk to the locals about their farming methods and vineyards as we sample some of Italy’s best pastas and sauces. Capri and Naples offer the most inspiring views of all, and they are also known for their tasty pizza and gelato. Our rambles follow ancient farmers’ paths through quiet countrysides and cover three to six miles each day, with gains of 1,000 feet at the most — a moderately easy trip.
From spectacular, lesser-known wine to hidden artistic treasures and mystical, unforgettable landscapes, Southern Italy is full of surprises. Highlights include a stroll on the edge of Vesuvius, a meandering walk high above the Bay of Sorrento, a visit to the gardens of Ravello (where the locals believe the devil tempted Christ), a visit to the Greek/Roman ruins of Paestum, an adventure in the stone city of Matera with homes built in caves, rural walks in verdant Puglia, a swim in the translucent Adriatic Sea, and two nights in Lecce — the “Florence of Southern Italy.”
This tour across Campania, Basilicata, and Pulgia offers the best that Southern Italy has to offer. We’ll understand why the Italians call it the “mezzogiorno,” or happy land, and appreciate why the Italians themselves vacation in this place of scenic beauty and delicious food. Register today and enjoy our unforgettable itinerary.
We begin our tour of Naples midmorning, walking through the centro storico and the greatest avenues of Naples with an experienced and entertaining local guide. The grandiosity of this city’s countless royal buildings and spectacular churches is a great surprise to the first-time visitor. The Duomo is the spiritual centerpiece of Naples. We will also venture deep into the underground of Naples, visit local markets and ancient neighborhoods, and hear some of the magical tales of Naples’ historical characters. We will sample some of the local specialties of Neapolitan cuisine at our welcome dinner. Sleep in Naples.
Our second day in Naples begins with a custom tour of the National Archaeological Museum, considered one the most important in the world, that lays the historical and cultural foundation for the remainder of our trip. Its extensive collections include antiquities recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum and Pope Paul II’s Farnese Collection which includes the Ptolemaic bowl and classical sculptures of Hercules, Atlas, Artemis and the Bull, the single largest sculpture ever recovered from antiquity. Optional activities, not included in the trip price, include a tour of underground Naples (a labyrinth of catacombs, caves, Roman roads and markets, WWII air-raid shelters, and early Christian burial sites), an evening at the opera in the oldest continuously active venue of its kind in the world or simply wandering on your own. Free evening -- excludes dinner. Sleep in Naples.
No visit to Southern Italy would be complete without a visit to Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. We will start the day with a refreshing hike up the ash maker itself, Mount Vesuvius. A volcanologist will teach us about his trade as we hike up and around the black sand that encircles the crater. Along the way, we will also learn how the legends of Vesuvius dominate local folklore. After lunch, we will make our way to Pompeii, the ancient Roman settlement that was destroyed in A.D. 79 by the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius and remained covered in thick protective ash until its excavation began at the end of the 1700s. Sleep in Sant’Agata.
This morning we will enjoy a short cruise to the fabled island of Capri, where we will drive up the unforgettable winding road to Anacapri, a picturesque town of 5,000 that somehow clings to the mountainside. A short walk brings us to Migliara, where we will enjoy a view of the Punta Carena lighthouse and neighboring Ischia and Procida islands. Those who want to hike farther can climb to Capri’s highest point, Monte Solaro - 1,926 feet above sea level. But don’t worry; there is a chairlift option as well! After enjoying this world-class view, we will return to Anacapri with its fascinating boutiques to enjoy free time and lunch. Later we will visit San Michele, an 18th-century villa built by Axel Munthe with some of the finest examples of Neapolitan Baroque artwork. Sleep in Sant’Agata.
A scenic drive along the coast takes us to Ravello, a town that is known for its ravishing gardens and stupendous views. We will tour Villa Cimbrone, an original 19th-century estate, which boasts lifelike statues, the viewpoint Belvedere of Infinity, and exquisite gardens that hang over the sea. We will then depart on foot along an ancient mule path to the tiny village of Pontone, where we can chat with locals about their ancient farming techniques and their belief that these methods will resist the steamroller of globalization. We end our walk in Amalfi, with time to enjoy a gelato or tour the Catedrale di Sant’ Andrea, which is a combination of Sicilian, Arabic, and Norman architecture on the outside and pure baroque on the inside. Sleep in Paestum.
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Today we will reach the lesser-known, but incredibly beautiful, Basilicata region. In the recent past, this was one of the poorest areas in Italy, but it's also one of the most beautiful. Its Middle Eastern appearance secured it as the setting for Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion” and many other biblical-era productions. Its capital city of Matera will surely be one of the highlights of our journey. The labyrinthine streets combine ancient stone structures with buildings of later eras -– a fascinating blend of old and new, which will take your breath away...especially at sunset. We can tour one of the cave homes furnished exactly as it was before the government moved the people out in the 1950s. The UNESCO World Heritage central city is being redone artistically, all while keeping the historic architecture of the buildings. At dusk, when the city's white stone turns to pink, a quiet walk on its cobblestone streets will take you back in time. Sleep in Matera.
Today we will hike into Parco Regionale delle Chiese Rupestri, “Park of the Rock Churches.” Once home to ancient civilizations, this area today is a nature sanctuary that provides protection to more than 923 plant species, including rare orchids and wild herbs. Our trail leads us through deep gorges with prehistoric caves. We will also visit the incredible Crypt of the Original Sin, a fresco that was painted with astonishing colors and technique 1,300 years ago. In the afternoon, we will have some time in Matera to explore further this magical city before dinner in one of the unique restaurants carved in the rock. Sleep in Matera.
We will travel into the famed trulli area of Apulia and the lush Valle d’Itria. Blanketed with vineyards and olive groves, this valley is dotted with hundreds of trulli, traditional dry stone structures with conical roofs that were used by Apulian farmers. After a demonstration of how these trulli were built, we will walk on an ancient farmer’s path along sturdy stone walls through olive trees and an abundance of oak, cork, and carob trees. We will then take a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage village of Alberobello -- very picturesque with all of its trulli -- and get settled in our special hotel for the next two nights. This is our opportunity to learn to cook a southern Italian meal. Buon appetito! Sleep near Alberobello.
Known for its whitewashed walls, Ostuni overlooks the Adriatic and features a dramatic 15th-century cathedral in its medieval center. We will explore Ostuni before heading to the coast for a stunning walk on a beautiful beach and a chance to swim in the brilliant turquoise water. Sleep near Alberobello.
We will enjoy an unforgettable olive oil tasting on our way to Lecce, the Florence of the south. It is a baroque town full of surprises -- a church dizzyingly decorated with asparagus column tops, decorative dodos, and cavorting gremlins -- inspiring someone to say the façade made him think a lunatic was having a nightmare. We will observe the Spanish influence as we tour the world-famous Church of the Holy Cross and then continue to visit the monuments and buildings that make Lecce one of the most appealing cities in Italy. An outdoor veranda near the main square is the location for a delicious luncheon of many varieties of antipasti. Sleep near Lecce.
This morning we will make our way to Otranto on the Adriatic coast. Otranto is a lovely city with a small harbor, a castle, an incredibly well preserved medieval city center, and a beautiful cathedral that hosts one of the most famous mosaic floors of the South, depicting a stupendous Tree of Life. Tonight we will return to Lecce, where we will feast on a farewell dinner of seafood and local specialties. Sleep near Lecce.
This morning after breakfast, we transfer by bus to the Brindisi airport for your flight home or to other locations.