Culture

From the Vatican to Tuscany

2 to 9 October
Italy

Rome and Tuscany provide an embarrassment of riches. The Eternal City has so much to see, while the wonderful light and delightful countryside of Tuscany has been attracting tourists since the British aristocracy started going on the ‘Grand Tour’.  A highlight will be a short railtour ending in the Vatican City, the world’s smallest independent state, reached by the world’s shortest international railway! A fast run on Italy’s first high speed line whisks us to Florence, once the home of the infamous Medici family and the ideal place for a day trip with a steam locomotive into evocative Tuscan landscapes. We enjoy sightseeing in Florence, Pistoia and the gem of a city that is Lucca, but there are rail options throughout including a visit to the old depot at Pistoia, now the main centre for the Italian State railways heritage collection of locomotives.

Highlights

  • Private charter train into the Vatican
  • Steam train in Tuscany countryside
  • Rome, Florence, Lucca and Pisa
  • Sistine Chapel
  • 3 nights in Rome, 3 nights in Florence, 1 night in Pisa
Itinerary

Day 1 Wednesday 2 October (D) Several flight options from the UK with direct flights from a number of UK airports to Roma Fiumicino airport. Overland travel is possible too. Coach transfer to the hotel in Rome and welcome dinner.

Day 2 Thursday 3 October (B) This morning we have a two hour guided city tour of Rome visiting the Piazza di Spagna, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and many more iconic sights. After lunch we continue sightseeing with an open top bus tour lasting an hour and forty minutes, but with your ticket you can hop on and off at any of the eight stops around town. You see the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo and Piazza Venezia. The Forum was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome, but the largest buildings were the Basilicas, where legal cases were heard. As Rome’s population boomed the forum became too small and in 46 BC Julius Caesar built a new one, setting a precedent that was followed by Emperors from Augustus to Trajan. As well as the Forum, Emperors also erected triumphal arches to themselves, and just to the east Vespasian built the Colosseum, which became the centre of entertainment. The rest of the day is free to explore Rome on your own.

Train option. After lunch we take service trains on the three short lines from Rome to the “Castelli Romani”: Frascati (famous for the wine), Velletri and Albano. Night in Rome

Day 3 Friday 4 October (B) Today sees a highlight of our tour, the world’s shortest international railway, the 800 metre long line to the Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world. Thanks to a special agreement with the Vatican City Governorate we can go inside with a charter train. Our train, a diesel railcar, will travel Roma Ostiense – Roma Trastevere – Ponte Galeria – Maccarese-Fregene –  Roma San Pietro -Vatican City. Ponte Galeria to Maccarese-Fregene is normally almost entirely freight traffic.

Once in the Vatican City we will have a guided visit of the Gardens and Saint Peter’s Basilica. The gardens, which were established during the Renaissance and Baroque era, are decorated with fountains and sculptures while Saint Peter’s Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.

After lunch we visit the Vatican Museum to see the Capella Sistina frescoes by Michelangelo.

Train option.  After lunch we take a service train on the branch to Nettuno, which passes through Anzio. Night in Rome.

Day 4 Saturday 5 October (B)

This morning we leave Rome behind and travel north to our next base, Florence, on a “Frecciarossa” (Red Arrow) high-speed train that runs over the first high-speed line built in Italy. The train follows the valleys of the Tiber and Arno rivers.

Florence, sometimes called  “the Athens of the Middle Ages”, was a centre of medieval European finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. The language spoken in the city during the 14th century was, and still is, accepted as the Italian language. Starting from the late Middle Ages, Florentine money, in the form of the gold florin, financed the development of industry all over Europe. Florence is known as the “cradle of the Renaissance” (la culla del Rinascimento) for its monuments, churches, and buildings. The best-known site of Florence is the domed Cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo, whose vast dome was built by Filippo Brunellschi. The nearby Campanile (designed by Giotto) and the Baptistery buildings are also highlights.

The river Arno, which cuts through the old part of the city, is as much a character in Florentine history as many of the people who lived there. One of the bridges in particular stands out, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), whose most striking feature is the multitude of jewellery shops which line it. In the afternoon we have a two hour guided tour of the city centre. Night in Florence.

Day 5 Sunday 6 October (B, L) This morning we transfer by coach to Siena where we board an historic steam train with “centoporte” coaches to travel from Siena to Buonconvento, Monte Antico, Asciano and back to Siena. This train is called “Treno Natura” and runs every Sunday in spring and autumn. It crosses the hilly Tuscan countryside and the “Crete Senesi” area where in some places there are no roads, only the railway, and you can see only crops and sheep: time has really stopped here. On the way we have a typical local meal in a restaurant. Night in Florence.

Day 6 Monday 7 October (B) Today we have a sightseeing tour with an open top bus. The two hour tour will take you up to Piazzale Michelangelo from where you have a magnificent view of the city and to Fiesole, on a scenic height above Florence. By the 14th century, rich Florentines had countryside villas in Fiesole, and one of them is the setting of the narrative of the Decameron, Boccaccio’s famous poem. The rest of the day is free to explore Florence on your own.

Train option In the afternoon we take service trains on the scenic “Faentina line” from Florence to Borgo San Lorenzo, returning to Florence via Pontassieve. Alternatively explore the cities three tram lines.  Night in Florence.

Day 7 Tuesday 8 October (B, D) Today we take a service train to Pistoia with our luggage travelling by coach to our Pisa hotel. Pistoia is particularly rich in Romanesque and Renaissance monuments (especially churches), but its crowning glory is one of the most evocative squares in Italy, the Piazza del Duomo. This was the centre of both civil and ecclesiastical power and is dominated by the Cathedral of San Zeno (inside which is the silver altar of San Jacopo, a masterpiece of sacred jewellery), the Cathedral bell tower and the Gothic-styled Baptistery of San Giovanni.

Cultural option: walking tour of Pistoia city centre.

Train option: Pistoia has the main depot for historic trains of the Italian State Railways, now preserved by the Fondazione FS. An essential visit for those interested in railways.

After a well deserved  lunch break we take a service train to Lucca for a walking tour of the city centre. Lucca is one of the most loved cities of Tuscany. Its origins are in the  Etruscan period, but the Romans left their mark, and the shape of their Amphitheatre is obvious at the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. The medieval city has winding streets with towers and and villas from the 12th to 16th centuries and other attractions include the Piazza of San Michele with its beautiful Church of San Michele in Foro, the Cathedral of San Martino, the Basilica of San Frediano as well as the Clock Tower and Guinigi Tower, to name just a few.

Extraordinarily, as the city grew and modernised, the walls that surrounded the old town were not demolished and as they lost their military importance, the top of the walls became a pedestrian promenade, the “Passeggiata delle Mura Urbane”, today one of Lucca’s main attractions. Have a stroll while enjoying a gelato or simply a period of rest from sightseeing on one of the many shaded benches that line the main walkway. You may find it difficult to leave old Lucca and return to the station to continue to Pisa by train. In the evening we have a farewell dinner. Night in Pisa.

Day 8 Wednesday 9 October (B) We take the People Mover from the station to the airport for flights back to the UK, or continue on our Pisa and Corsica tour.

 

Hotels

Hotel Mercure Roma Piazza Bologna – Rome (3 nights)
Hotel Mercure Firenze Centro – Florence (3 nights)
Hotel Pisa Tower – Pisa (1 night*)

* 3 nights if staying on for our Pisa and Corsica trip

 

Flights

BA2540 12.00 London Gatwick to Rome (arr 15.30)
BA0605 15.15 Pisa to London Gatwick (arr 16.40)

FR3072 13.20 London Stansted to Rome Ciampino (arr 16.45)
FR0589 18.00 Pisa Ciampino to London Stansted (arr 19.25)

FR3204 06.30 Manchester to Rome (arr 10.10)
EZ1848 11.50 Pisa to Manchester (arr 13.20)

Place(s) available

Holiday prices (per person)

  • Full 8 holiday including flight from London Gatwick or Stansted: £1,750
  • Own travel to Rome and back from Pisa: £1,590

Options

  • Single room supplement: £385
  • A supplement might apply to flights from airports other than Gatwick and Stansted
  • With flight price might increase for late bookings

Deposit

  • £600 with flights, £300 joining in Italy

Price Includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Good quality en-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary: B = breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our Tour Manager. Holiday is escorted from Rome to Pisa
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