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Trip Logs

Italy Cruise: Hidden Treasures from Florence to Venice Trip Log: September 9–20, 2023

Trip Logs

Italy Cruise: Hidden Treasures from Florence to Venice Trip Log: September 9–20, 2023

Photography by Jacqueline Deely | September 9, 2023

September 9, 2023 | Florence, Italy

We arrived in Florence, with time to settle into our luxurious hotel, a former 14th-century palace.

Later, everyone gathered at the nearby St. Regis ballroom, where we enjoyed cocktails and met our Expedition Team. Our Expedition Leader, Suzana Machado D'Oliveira, welcomed those of us who had come from a prior extension in Rome and introduced us to those of us starting the journey in Florence, orienting everyone for the expedition to come.

September 10, 2023 | Florence

Those who opted to take a walking tour began at Basilica di San Miniato, a former Benedictine monastery with magnificent views of Florence’s old town and the Ponte Vecchio. From there, we enjoyed refreshments at nearby Piazza Michelangelo, with its elegant statue of David — a replica in bronze — overlooking the city.

Leaving the piazza behind, we ventured to the Duomo, its stunning Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. There, we explored the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, its original works of art created for the cathedral.

One of the delights of the day was walking across the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge across the Arno in Florence until 1218. As we learned about its fascinating history, we observed the city’s still-active jewelry shops and impressive window displays. Our day concluded with a refreshing treat from a beloved, local gelateria.

Others who instead chose the art tour were whisked through the narrow streets of Florence’s historic heart. Arriving at the Uffizi Gallery, we feasted our eyes on some of Italy’s most beloved pieces, including works from Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio. Not to be overlooked was its magnificent collection of ancient Greek and Roman statuary, such as the Venus de' Medici and Doryphoros of Polykleitos.

Upon leaving the Uffizi’s vaulted halls, we zipped through the bustling streets to the Accademia Gallery, where Michelangelo’s incredible David and Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women are housed. There we also viewed several of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures and the breathtaking Gipsoteca Bartolini (Hall of Models). Its collection of plaster models by Bartolini and Pampaloni reveal the museum's origins as a teaching gallery. A perfect end to a lovely day, we then sat down to a delightful local lunch at a nearby cafe.

September 11, 2023 | Tuscany

Some of us began the day with a truffle-hunting excursion deep within the Pisa countryside. Guided by a family of fourth-generation experts and their trained-from-birth truffle dogs, we learned that both black and white truffles are found underground and out of sight in these woods, growing on the roots of the mature forest trees. Much to our delight, the trained canines found several black truffles to complete our mission.

In another corner of Tuscany, some of us explored historic Lucca, one of Italy’s four walled medieval towns. Featuring ramparts that are 90 feet wide — among the widest in existence — it felt as though we were strolling along a wide boulevard.

Descending the walls, we walked around the city's cathedral with its beautiful white, green and orange marble façade. After a brief coffee break at a local café, we meandered through the narrow streets to the Chiesa di San Michele in Foro, known for its ornate exterior and soaring pillars. We then ventured to the old, circular marketplace, built on the ancient ruins of a Roman amphitheater. After pausing for a leisurely lunch at a lovely restaurant, we noted the city’s war towers, a few of which still stand today.

Meanwhile, our Pisa group arrived in the city just in time to hop on a trolley that whisked us to the city’s historic center. One of three structures in the Pisa's Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) is the stored Leaning Tower of Pisa, the freestanding bell tower of Pisa Cathedral. After observing the unique shape and construction of the landmark, we admired the cathedral’s Romanesque architecture, coffered ceiling, 16th-century frescos and marble details. From there, we visited the Baptistery di San Giovanni for a musical performance that showcased the building's acoustics. The day concluded with a stroll along Pisa's streets or time to climb the leaning tower at leisure.

Ready for our next adventure, we boarded our luxury vessel, ‘Le Bougainville,’ setting sail for Corsica.

September 12, 2023 | Corsica, France

We awoke aboard ‘Le Bougainville’ transported from Italy to France.

A few intrepid souls disembarked early for a panoramic point 3,280 feet above sea level. After taking in vistas of the coastline and Corsican hills, we began our four-hour descent amid stunning flora and fauna. Accompanied by a local guide, we listened to tales about Corsica; learned the island’s history; and enjoyed wild-picked blackberries straight from trailside bushes. As the cool breeze of higher elevations was exchanged for coastal heat, we also observed a change in flora. Before returning to our ship, we walked past the mayor’s fine residence and through narrow local streets.

Others instead took a walking tour of Bastia, visiting stately St. Nicholas Square with its statue of Napoleon Bonaparte as a Roman emperor. We continued through the city streets, admiring the 18th- and 19th-century architecture and pausing to appreciate the frescos within dramatic, twin-towered Église Saint Jean-Baptiste church. There, we enjoyed a musical performance by our Corsican guide. Continuing onward, we paid a visit to the Musée de Bastia — a chance to explore local history — and Saint-Florent Cathedral, a former Roman Catholic church in the town of Saint-Florent. After a musical performance by Corsican polyphonic singers, we had lunch at a charming seaside café.

Our final group — which also visited Église Saint Jean-Baptiste church and Saint-Florent Cathedral — explored the distinct Oratoire de l'Immaculée Conception and Oratoire de la Confrérie de Saint-Roch. After pausing for a tasting of local sheep cheeses, pork delicacies and wine, we proceeded to the Citadelle de Bastia for a walking tour, taking in spectacular city views from its ramparts.

September 13, 2023 | Rome

Not only did some of us cook in the kitchen of the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo — we also strolled through its stunning Giardino Barberini. Situated on the remains of a massive Roman palace, ruins throughout the gardens speak to that fact.

Using ingredients from the on-site farm — and visiting some of its animals — we prepared herbaceous, deliciously sauced pasta and tiramisu. After enjoying a glass of prosecco with cheese, bread, salami and salad, we sat down to the meal we helped prepare. A perfect ending to a perfect day, we toured the papal residence, appreciating its ornate interior; took in views over Lake Albano; and saw the popemobile firsthand.

Others first paid a visit to the triumphal Arch of Titus and saw the Roman Forum and elliptical Colosseum. Admiring the multi-leveled amphitheater, we explored it first at ground level and then from above. Reflecting on the time of gladiators, we paused pasta at a restaurant in Trastevere and saw the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, noting its gorgeous Byzantine mosaics.

Another group of fellow travellers began the day at Piazza Navona, a vast, open space with tranquil fountains, built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian. Upon viewing the Palazzo Colonna with its lavishly decorated rooms and frescoed ceilings, we refueled over regional coffee at a storied café. Strolling onward through narrow streets, we appreciated Rome's incredible architecture. Arriving at the Pantheon, we basked in the beauty of its ancient dome and then concluded the day at 18th-century Trevi Fountain, erected on the site of an ancient Roman water source.

Meanwhile, our final group made their way to the Circus Maximus and saw the ruins from Palatine Hill, including Flavian Palace and Stadium of Domitian. Then, we set off on private cars across Rome, zipping to the Colosseum, Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore and Palazzo Giustiniani. Finally, we explored the fantastic Vatican museums; viewed Michelangelo's magnum opus, the Sistine Chapel; and saw Bernini's sculpted bronze canopy over the grave of Saint Peter.

After this whirlwind of art and culture, we returned to the ship happy and awestruck.

September 14, 2023 | Naples

This morning, our first group strolled through the bustling cobblestone streets of Naples to sample and learn the history of local cuisine, a focal point of Italian culture.

Others ventured a bit further out, visiting the historic Dimora Doria d'Angri. From its balcony, Giuseppe Garibaldi announced the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the Kingdom of Italy. Continuing onward, we strolled past several of the city’s churches, including the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary with its fantastic baroque sculptures and paintings. Capping the day, we stepped inside a Lombardi pizzeria, were we enjoyed four kinds of Neapolitan pizza.

Still others followed the Amalfi Coast to Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. Intersecting its chariot-rutted streets and squares, we visited the theater and numerous food stands, pausing to view ornate residences and its infamous brothel. We were then whisked from the slopes of the slumbering volcano to the Cantina del Vesuvio for a wine tasting.

Our final group began the day at a lovely family winery, where we tasted several of the vineyard’s vintages — as well as made-on-site olive oil and vinegar. Paired with charcuterie, pasta, meatballs and dessert, it was a delightful meal. Happy and satisfied, we toured the winery, learning about its production processes firsthand.

Back aboard our floating home, a talk on Italy’s food culture complemented the day’s experiences.

September 15, 2023 | Syracuse

Arriving in Syracuse, the food-enthused among us stook a walking tour, first paying a visit to Ortigia to view the historic Greek ruins. Continuing along narrow streets and through majestic squares, we paused to sample iconic Sicilian specialties, including four types of arancini, cannoli, nougat, almond biscuits, Moscato wine and granita.

Another group embarked on a scenic drive to picturesque Feudo Bauly, a 150-acre property with an ancient forest, dozens of Sicilian black pigs and other farm animals. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the farm owner and his dog, Siri, who provided a truffle-hunting demonstration. We then enjoyed a typical Sicilian meal consisting of black pork sausages and arancini. Our edible adventure ended with a cooking class that incorporated the some of the farm’s ingredients.

Others set out on a scenic, 90-minute drive to the hilltop town of Taormina, its narrow, lively streets full of local color. We meandered along its main road toward Greek Teatro Antico di Taormina, where our guide explained the importance of the majestic, ancient structure. After appreciating the spectacular vista of the ocean below, we benefitted from some retail therapy. Between the breathtaking views, gelato and cannoli, an incredible afternoon was had by all.

The rest of us walked Syracuse’s picturesque cobblestone streets to the island district of Ortigia, where we strolled through its quaint streets, which were lined with colorful boutiques, spice markets and salons. Pausing at the Apollonion (the ancient Temple of Apollo), we continued to the baroque-style, Roman Catholic Church di Santa Lucia alla Badia and the Arethusa Spring, an aquifer that also feeds the Ciane River.

We ended the day at the Palazzo Beneventano Del Bosco. Seeing its incredible collection of lithographs, manuscripts and art, while hearing tales about the Knights of Malta — a Catholic lay religious order — before winding our way back to ‘Le Bougainville.’

September 16, 2023 | At Sea

We had the pleasure of sleeping in this morning. We then made our way to the theater for a discussion on how modern Italy was formed. Next up were informative talks on the Bai bombing and mysteries of the Mediterranean.

After pausing for lunch, our cultural expert discussed the Eternal City of Rome.

Dinner tonight was followed by a dance performance inspired by the life and works of Leonardo DaVinci, courtesy of our talented Expedition Team.

September 17, 2023 | Bari

Disembarking in Bari, the capital of Italy’s Puglia region, we explored the region in ways that interested us most.

Some of us chose to visit the history-rich city of Matera, tasting the local bread at a traditional bakery before exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site on foot. After a stroll through one of the city’s four districts, we made our way to Sasso Caveoso, known for its cave dwellings. Here, we visited Antica Matera Casa Grotta and an enclosed cave, with time to explore the town at leisure.

Others ventured into Puglia’s countryside for a three-mile hike through mixed terrain. As we traversed tilled soil, followed a winding trail and observed stands of oak, our guide shared details about local flora and the raptor circling overhead and enlightened us about 13th-century Castel del Monte and the mortarless trullo (stone huts) dotting the landscape.

Others drove passed through the scenic countryside to reach a lovely local farmhouse, where we learned to make mozzarella, orecchiette and cavatelli. We then enjoyed the fruits of our labor, along with bruschetta.

Our last group set out to explore Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site perched atop a hill in Andria. A unique piece of medieval military architecture, its architecture melds elements from classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient and north European Cistercian Gothic.

Regardless of how we spent the day, we all returned to our ship enriched by the experiences we had.

September 18, 2023 | Ancona

After a scenic drive through the Italian countryside, we some of us arrived at the stunning Villa Imperiale of Pesaro, where we toured its gorgeous Italian garden and woods. We then wandered through the rooms of this 16th century residence, which has been restored to its original splendor. Before returning to our ship, we paused for cappuccino and gelato in Pesaro.

Our second group ventured to the picturesque hill town of Jesi to explore its rich history on a guided tour. After a coffee stop at Piazza della Repubblica, we took a scenic drive to a local winery. Greeted by its owner, we then took a guided tour and enjoyed a tasting near the vineyard.

The rest of us headed to the walled city of Urbino, known for its turreted, 15th-century Palazzo Ducale and National Gallery of the Marche features paintings by Titian and Raphael, a native of Urbino, which we saw firsthand.

September 19, 2023 | Venice

Some began the day on a walking tour through Venice’s winding, narrow streets, passing the 16th-century, Roman Catholic Church of Saint Sebastian and the Gothic, Roman Catholic Santa Maria dei Carmini (Santa Maria del Carmelo). Arriving at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, we marveled at the tomb of Antonio Canova; the statue of Titian, crowned with laurel; and Titian’s altarpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. We continued through the bustling city to lunch at a lovely local restaurant. We then viewed Saint Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace, where we took a guided tour and visited the accompanying museum.

Another group instead boarded water taxis for a panoramic tour of Venice by water, disembarking at Piazza San Marco to see the Doge's Palace. Then, we returned to our craft, continuing to the Rialto neighborhood for refreshments and a tour of the fish and vegetable markets followed by a stop in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo (Jewish Ghetto) with its old synagogues, art galleries and the Jewish historical museum.

The rest of us embarked on a private boat tour across the Venetian Lagoon. On the island of Sant'Erasmo, we visited a natural winery, followed by a tasting of four organic vintages. Next, we cruised to Murano, renowned for its glassmaking tradition. After a fascinating glassblowing demonstration, we strolled along a canal to a local restaurant for a leisurely seafood lunch. Then it was on to the island of Burano. Once a small fishing village, it is now noted for its lacework and colorful homes. After this crescendo, we returned to ‘Le Bougainville’ for our final evening aboard.

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