Northern Italy and nearby France have been home to humans for tens of thousands of years. Each era has left behind its particular traces: Paleolithic stone tools, Neolithic petroglyphs and bronze age ruins making a striking contrast to medieval castles, picturesque contemporary villages, and the elegant villas of Lake Como. We’ll be investigating all of these, primarily the petroglyphs, with a little bit of the rest and, of course, contemporary life, culture, conservation, and food.
We meet near Milan and go directly to the Val Camonica, a UNESCO site inhabited for millennia and containing thousands of petroglyphs. After a day and a half in this low mountain environment, we go on to Lake Como for two days to cruise on the lake, visit a castle, some villages, and a beautiful villa with its awesome botanic garden. We then visit several small villages in a wide variety of landscapes, including lakes, mountains, hills, and seaside. We will take moderate walks in these varied terrains, stopping at organic farms, visiting a castle, and delving into prehistoric cave sites.
Next we go the Piemonte region to hike in the hills and visit organic farms, wineries, and local cheese producers. After two days here, we continue on to Finale Ligure, a seaside village in a less frequented part of Italy. Our two days here include hiking with views of the sea and visiting prehistoric caves.
Moving on to France, we will spend two days in Valee des Merveilles (Valley of Wonders), visiting some more prehistoric sites with petroglyphs and enjoying beautiful mountain views. Finally, we drive to the French coastline, where we will enjoy visiting coastal villages, and we end our trip in Nice.
We meet this morning at a hotel near Milan's Malpensa Airport. You can stay the night before at the hotel or you can bus out from the city. We encourage you to arrive a day or two early to overcome jet lag and allow any delayed baggage time to catch up to you. After an orientation meeting, we board the charter bus we'll be using for the trip and transfer to the Val Camonica. Leaving our baggage at the hotel, we take a short, easy walk amongst some of the petroglyphs found throughout the area.
Today we make a more extensive exploration of the petroglyphs while enjoying the beautiful scenery. Walking will be easy, and the pace will allow for studying what we see. Val Camonica is on the UNESCO World Heritage list owing to the presence of one of the world's greatest collections of prehistoric petroglyphs -- more than 140,000 symbols and figures carved in the rock over a period of 8,000 years, depicting themes connected with agriculture, navigation, war, and magic. We will try to rediscover the most significant and meaningful ones on this very special exploration.
We begin today with a transfer to Lake Como, one of Italy's largest lakes and one of the most beautiful sights in Italy. Breathtaking views will be our background today, offering an incredible combination of colors and shapes: the blue of the water and the sky, the green of the trees, the majesty of the villas and gardens with silhouettes of their ancient statues overlooking the water. Here we hike along a path overlooking the lake and end our day at the ruins of Castle Vezio, where we may attend an interesting falconry training program, weather permitting.
Taking full advantage of our lake stay, we will walk, ride a local ferry, explore pretty Bellagio, and visit beautiful Villa Carlotta with its 17-acre botanical garden. The villa itself is a very special museum that houses, among others, masterpieces by Canova and Hayez. The setting is extremely interesting as it is all in a 17th-century building, splendidly refurbished by the eccentric Giovanni Battista Sommariva, whose mysterious fortune was tightly tied to Napoleon. The garden is especially known for azaleas and rhododendrons.
Again boarding our bus, we transfer to the Piemonte (Piedmont) region. Piemonte means “at the feet of the mountains,” referring to the neighboring Alps. Some of the best wine in Italy is produced here, where vintners have been working for many years at developing sustainable farming of high-quality vineyards. Our hike through the vineyards will be scenic and informative, as we learn more about the different varietals planted here and how the soil influences the flavors and properties of the grapes, and ultimately the wine. We can also sample some of the wines at a family-owned winery, where we will also learn about family ties and traditions.
We'll take a longer hike today, meandering through the farmlands and stopping for lunch at an organic cheese farm, where they also raise their own sheep and grind their own grains for the bread. The owner is a very special character who will explain how he wants to become fully self-sustainable. We will learn about Slow Food, a movement started nearby in 1986 when Carlo Petrini founded a non-profit association to support and promote the local food and flavors so tied to local culture and traditions. If we still have energy after the hike and lunch, we can visit a small village and castle.
Today we move to the Finale Ligure area, a less visited corner of Italy, but surely one of the most beautiful parts of the Riviera. We'll take a hike with views over the sea to visit the charming and colorful village of Final Borgo with its interesting archaeological museum, and then end the day near Sanremo. Time permitting, we may also jump in the ocean for a refreshing swim!
We start today with a visit to the Toirano caves, where traces of prehistoric settlements and 10,000 year-old footprints have been found. We will then hike in the environs of the village of Triora, famous for its witch trials 100 years before Salem's. We will learn more about the trials and the Inquisition, and look for some of the places where the so-called witches used to meet. We will then return to our lodging near Sanremo.
Saying arrivederci to Italy, we drive into France, where we settle into new lodgings in the Vallee des Merveilles. It will be a very dramatic change of scenery as we will definitely be in the mountains today. Short walks take us to a few of the many rock art sites here.
We continue exploring the valley today. More than 30,000 petroglyphs have been found and catalogued after their first discovery in the 19th century by the amateur archaeologist, Clarence Bicknell. We will hike to find the most famous ones, depicting horned animals, daggers, axes, suns, stars, spirals, and other symbols, which we will try to decipher.
Transferring to Nice, we have options today to explore the town and enjoy some of the pretty villages of the coast, or take a last hike in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea before our farewell dinner.
The trip ends after breakfast with a transfer to Nice's airport.