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Beauty of Northern Italy, the Lakes and Switzerland

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** All Price are per person and land only **
Tour start at$5,390
** All Price are per person and land only **
Tour start at$5,390
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14 Days – 12 Nights
Availability : Always available
Any
Milan
Tour for: SmallGroup, Family/Friends
Max People : 40
Please, submit the request form on the right for a group quotation with your travel dates.
Tour Details
Places you'll go
  • Milan
  • Stresa
  • Isola Bella
  • Isola Madre
  • Isola dei Pescatori
  • Domodossola
  • Locarno
  • Lugano
  • Menaggio
  • Como
  • Tremezzo
  • Cadenabbia
  • Bellagio
  • Sirmione
  • Gardone Riviera
  • Riva del Garda
  • Bardolino
  • Verona
  • Mantova
  • Maranello
  • Parma

Escape to a place of your dreams – Northern Italy! Spend a few days in fashionable Milan before venturing north into the spectacular Italian Lakes region. These desired destinations of aristocrats, celebrities and VIPs are yours to discover as you explore Lakes Maggiore, Lugano, Como and Garda. Experience two side trips into Switzerland and take in the beauty of Verona, Mantova and Parma. A once in a lifetime visit to the Ferrari Museum and a taste of the culinary specialties of Parma make this an unforgettable journey into the true beauty of Italy.

Tour Inclusions

  • English speaking tour escort beginning upon arrival at Milan Airport
  • 4* Hotel in Milan for 3 nights ~ Hotel Bianca Maria Palace or similar
  • 4* Hotel in Lake Maggiore area for 2 nights ~ Grand Hotel Bristol in Stresa or similar
  • 4* Hotel in Como for 2 nights ~ Hotel Metropole Suisse or similar
  • 4* Hotel in Lake Garda area for 2 nights ~ Hotel Savoy Palace in Gardone Riviera or similar
  • 4* Hotel in Verona for 1 night ~ Grand Hotel des Arts or similar
  • 4* Hotel in Parma for 2 nights ~ Hotel Palace Maria Luigia or similar
  • Private Motorcoach services upon arrival in Milan
  • Boat excursions or transfers on Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Garda
  • Scenic Centovalli train excursion from Domodossola to Locarno
  • English speaking local guides where necessary
  • 12 Buffet breakfasts at hotels
  • 9 Lunches at local restaurants (beverages included as per itinerary)
  • 1 Cheese tasting at a Parma dairy
  • 1 Light lunch with prosciutto, cheese and bread tasting in Parma
  • 1 Light aperitif on boat tour of Milan’s Navigli canals
  • 1 Wine tasting in Lake Garda – Lugana area winery
  • 3 Dinners at local restaurants (beverages included as per itinerary)
  • 3 Dinners at hotels (beverages included as per itinerary)
  • 1 Dinner at Lake Garda area agriturismo (beverages included as per itinerary)
  • 1 Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant in Parma
  • Hotel porterage (1 piece per person)
  • All city taxes

Tour Excludes

  • Flights
  • Meals and Drinks where not specified
  • Tips to tour escorts, local guides and tour driver
  • Insurance
  • Everything else not mentioned in "Tour Inclusions"
Itinerary

Day 1Overnight Flight to Milan

Departure from the United States on your overnight flight to begin your discovery of the Beauty of Northern Italy, the Lakes & Switzerland.

Day 2Milan Malpensa airport - Milan

Upon arrival in Milan, you and your English speaking tour escort will meet your private motorcoach driver for a direct transfer to your 4* hotel in Milan. Relax and make yourself comfortable for the remainder of the day. Meet your fellow travelers and tour leader for a Welcome Dinner tonight at a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 3Milan

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart from your hotel with your private motorcoach and English speaking local guide for a tour of Milan – the capital of the Lombardy region and the center of Italian finance, industry, fashion and design. Although it’s the 2nd most populous city in Italy, Milan is Italy’s modern economic engine with its own colorful history. Your local guide will bring you on a panoramic tour of this vibrant city rich in culture and the arts. Your tour will begin with a special visit to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church (subject to reservation availability) and a viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. This church, also a Dominican convent, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Last Supper was painted on one of the convent’s refectory walls in the late 15th century. Due to the fragility of da Vinci’s masterpiece, only 30 people at a time will be allowed to view the painting for a maximum of 15 minutes. Your tour continues with a stroll to the Sforza Castle – an imposing red brick castle built in a medieval Renaissance style and located next to Milan’s historic park, Parco Sempione. The castle today houses many historical museums with art by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Explore the castle’s public areas before passing through the Brera neighborhood – home to the Palazzo Brera which was once a Jesuit college, but today houses Milan’s main art academy and its gallery, an observatory, a botanical garden and a National Library. Next, you’ll walk to see the nearby La Scala Theatre, perhaps the world’s most-famous opera house. The first incarnation of La Scala was built in 1778; but it was rebuilt and remodeled after both fire and war. Home to famous conductor Toscanini, this classic opera house staged the world premieres of operas by Rossini, Verdi and Puccini among others. The theatre’s museum has a 100 year history itself and contains hundreds of pieces of art, musical instruments and artifacts from numerous composers, musicians and performers all connected with La Scala. Perhaps you’d like to visit the Palazzo Sforza, Palazzo Brera or the La Scala Theatre tomorrow during your free day to further explore these treasures of Milan. Enjoy your lunch in a local Milanese restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person). Next, you’ll visit the iconic Duomo – Milan’s cathedral. This centerpiece of the city is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the 3rd largest church in the world. It took over 600 years to complete with more than 75 architects and engineers contributing. With this many people involved, you see the result is a Gothic style heavily influenced by Renaissance features. The interior will impress you as well with its tri-colored marble floor and some of the highest stained glass windows in the world. An audioguide is included with your entrance ticket to the Duomo. Next door to the Duomo, you’ll see the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – the beautifully designed 19th century shopping arcade that connects both La Scala and the Duomo. Stroll through the Galleria with its luxury outlets and take in all the chic Italian goods on display. In the late afternoon, you’ll be taken to the lively Navigli district of Milan which is a series of interconnected canals. Enjoy a 40 minute boat ride on the canals with a complimentary light aperitif. Tonight, have a local dinner in a Milanese restaurant on the Navigli canals (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 4Milan

Breakfast included at your hotel. Full day of leisure. Spend the day exploring the city on your own. Perhaps you’ll want to return to an area you discovered on your tour yesterday or partake in Milan’s world-class shopping or simply relax at your hotel. Lunch and dinner today are both at your leisure.

Day 5Lake Maggiore - Isola Bella - Isola Madre - Isola dei Pescatori - Stresa

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart with your motorcoach for a transfer north to the magnificent Lake Maggiore, Italy’s 2nd largest lake, located on the southern edge of the Alps. Lake Maggiore is 40 miles in length and it ranges from 2 to 6 miles wide at various points. The northern tip of the lake is located in Switzerland and the central and southern areas of the lake are split between 2 Italian provinces – the western part is in Piedmont and the eastern part is in Lombardy. Arrive in the picturesque lakeside town of Stresa, known as the “Queen of Lake Maggiore”. After several years of Austrian rule, the region was given to the Savoy dynasty and it exudes an air of luxury and elegance with many aristocratic mansions along the lake’s shores. Stresa’s beauty and atmosphere served as literary inspiration to many renowned authors: Stendahl, Dumas, Dickens, Lord Byron and Hemingway. The Borromean Islands are located in the bay off of Stresa and have been owned by the Borromeo family since the 16th century. The family were aristocratic merchants who eventually produced numerous Roman Catholic cardinals and archbishops from the 14th through the 17th centuries. Depart via boat from Stresa to visit Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori. Your English speaking local guide will accompany you as you visit the 17th century Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella. Completed in 1671, this grand Baroque palace contains its original furniture, tapestries, sculptures, weaponry and paintings from the 16th through the 19th century. Marvel at the ballroom, the throne room and the underground grottoes covered in mosaics. The impeccable terraced gardens were designed in a pyramid formation which is filled with its own unique statuary. The next part of your tour of the islands is to Isola Madre. Although Isola Madre has its own palazzo, it’s most famous for its stunning botanical gardens. Your private guide will accompany you as you learn about the 18th century ‘English style’ gardens and take in its rare flora and fauna: cypress, rhododendrons, magnolias, maples, dogwoods, camellias, pampas grass, bamboos, citrus trees, lilies, lotus flowers, parrots, peacocks, pheasants and an impressive collection of palm varieties. Based upon the season, it’s an always changing display of unique biodiversity and an ecological wonder. Don’t miss the scali dei morti, staircase of the dead, which is dedicated to the 9th century cemetery that once inhabited the island and is now covered in a beautiful canopy of colorful wisteria. You’ll next travel to the Isola dei Pescatori, Fishermen’s Island, where you’ll have a group lunch in a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person). This island is the only inhabited island in the group with a small village and a variety of restaurants and accommodations for visitors. After lunch, return to Stresa by boat and enjoy some free time the rest of the afternoon. This evening, you’ll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant in the Lake Maggiore area (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 6Domodossola - Centovalli Train - Locarno - Stresa

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart with your motorcoach for today’s excursion into Switzerland. Travel north past the mouth of the Toce River, which empties into Lake Maggiore, and follow its path as it winds through the beautiful Ossola Valley to the region’s main town, Domodossola. Upon arrival in Domodossola, you’ll embark on a scenic train journey through the Vigezzo Valley on the Centovalli train; thusly named after the hundred valleys viewed on the train’s route. Jointly operated by the Italians and the Swiss, construction on the rail line first began in 1918 and crosses numerous bridges, viaducts and gorges. This magical train journey will bring you into Switzerland and to the small city of Locarno, on the northern shores of Lake Maggiore. Locarno, located in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, is a picturesque lakefront town famous for its world-renowned Locarno International Film Festival held every August. With its Mediterranean-type climate, it’s the warmest town in Switzerland and has been a haven for visitors for centuries. Share a group lunch at a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person), followed by some free time to explore Locarno’s charming Old Town, the promenade and the Piazza Grande. Your private motorcoach will meet you in Locarno for the drive back to Stresa. The lakeside route offers unparalleled views of the mountains, Lake Maggiore and the small towns that dot its waterfront. Relax and enjoy dinner tonight at your hotel (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 7Lugano - Lake Como - Menaggio - Como

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart Lake Maggiore with your private motorcoach for the drive north into a different area of Switzerland to visit the captivating city of Lugano. Situated on Lake Lugano and surrounded by beautiful mountains, Lugano is the largest city in the Italian-speaking Swiss state of Ticino and the 3rd largest financial center in all of Switzerland. You’ll spend 2 hours with your English speaking local guide on a pleasant walking tour of this small, yet charming city with lush mountain and lake views. See the newly opened Lugano Art & Culture Center with its striking architecture on the lakefront and then stroll down Nassa and Pessina Streets, the main shopping, commercial and market streets in Lugano. See the main square – Piazza Riforma – with its blend of Swiss and Italian styles. Go to the city’s main park – Ciani Park – with its manicured flower gardens and Villa Ciani and then walk along the waterfront to the 16th century St. Mary of the Angels Church. Next, you’ll drive along the edge of Lake Lugano and return back into Italy through the small mountainous valley that connects Lake Lugano and Lake Como. You’ll stop at the beautiful lakeside town of Menaggio, located on Lake Como’s western edge. Here, you can relax and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person) before continuing your drive south along Lake Como. Famous for its stately villas, manicured gardens and celebrity ‘VIP’ status, Lake Como has been an idyllic retreat for years. Shaped like an upside down ‘Y’, Lake Como has breathtaking vistas, countless inlets and quaint lakefront villages all worth exploring. Arrive in the city of Como where you’ll be staying for the next 2 nights. Before checking into your hotel, enjoy a short city tour with a local guide to get acquainted with this historic hub on the southern tip of Lake Como. In the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar first established Como as an Alpine outpost and designed Como’s town center in the area that’s now the central pedestrian zone. The original walled city plan survives to this day with segments of the walls and imposing watchtowers still intact after centuries of various battles and invasions. The European silk industry got its start in Como in the 16th century and accounted for over 70% of all silk production in Europe – this gave the city its nickname as the “World’s Silk Capital”. The wealth generated by the silk industry brought money into the area and saw the construction of numerous Italian Art Nouveau villas and palatial estates along Lake Como. This dominance in the textile industry helped in propelling Italy to the forefront of pattern and fabric design. This eventually led to the highly successful Italian fashion design industry centered in and around Milan today. The 18th century Austrian rule over the region brought an orderly air to the city as well as Central European café culture. Discover this charming yet compact city known for its lakefront square – Piazza Cavour, its 14th century Duomo, the Broletto – Como’s medieval town hall and for the Tempio Voltiano – a museum with lush public gardens on the lakefront. This museum is dedicated to Como’s own Alessandro Volta who invented the electric battery in 1800. Tonight, you can relax with a group dinner at your hotel (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 8Lake Como - Tremezzo - Cadenabbia - Bellagio - Como

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart your hotel with your private motorcoach to explore the beauty found in some of the towns and villages around Lake Como. The first stop is in the town of Tremezzo to visit the spectacular Villa Carlotta. Known as the gem of Lake Como, Villa Carlotta today is a museum with an impressive botanical garden. The Clerici family were successful Como area silk merchants who eventually rose to positions of senators and marquises. Giorgio Clerici began construction on the family villa at the end of the 17th century. Over time, various owners of the villa amassed great collections of art and sculptures. In 1843, Princess Marianne of Nassau, Prince Albert of Prussia’s wife, bought the villa as a wedding gift for her daughter Carlotta for whom the villa is now named. Her marriage to Duke Georg II, a Saxon (present day German) duke, was short-lived as she died during childbirth at the age of 23. Duke Georg remained the sole owner of the villa and found passion in transforming the gardens into botanical wonders by adding exotic varieties to the garden. The composer Johannes Brahms even visited the duke many times at the villa prior to the duke’s death. After World War I, the villa was confiscated by local administrators and the ownership was turned over to the state. Since then, the villa has been in the care of a charitable foundation which oversees the maintenance of the villa, the museum and the gardens. The museum houses numerous paintings and sculptures by artists such as Canova, Tadolini, Hayez and Thorvaldsen. You’ll also see an extensive collection of over 400 unique cameos, Princess Carlotta’s bedroom designed in the late Baroque style and other furniture and objects dating from the 19th century. Spend some time exploring the romantic lakeside gardens and discover the azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, the bamboo garden with 25 species of bamboo, the fern valley and the rock garden decorated with various succulents. This picturesque botanical garden covers approximately 20 acres and also offers breathtaking views across Lake Como to the eastern shore of the lake. Depart Villa Carlotta for the next town over, Cadenabbia, from where you’ll take a ferry across the lake to the captivating town of Bellagio. Located at the crux of Lake Como’s upside down ‘Y’ shape, Bellagio is surrounded by water on 3 sides. This beautiful village has been a popular holiday destination for over 2 centuries. Here, you’ll enjoy lunch in a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person) and take in the beauty of the quaint waterfront and the narrow cobblestone streets that climb up the hill in the town’s center. Take the return ferry back to Cadenabbia where your motorcoach will meet you for your transfer back to Como. The remainder of the afternoon and dinner tonight is at your leisure.

Day 9Sirmione - Lake Garda area

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart from your hotel with your private motorcoach and head east through the Italian region of Lombardy to arrive at Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. The lake’s southern area is wide and surrounded by hills that were left behind after Paleolithic glaciers had receded. The lake’s northern area is narrow and surrounded by mountains that create its fjord-shape configuration and provide a very mild Mediterranean climate. Lake Garda is 34 miles in length, 11 miles at its widest point and 2 miles at its narrowest point. With its temperate climate, majestic landscapes and flourishing vegetation – mainly olive and lemon groves, palms, cypresses, oleanders and orange trees – the Lake Garda area is one of the most charming in Italy. Arrive at the town of Sirmione where your English speaking local guide will share the history of Sirmione, once called “the pearl of the islands and peninsulas” by Latin poet Catullus. Located on the southern shore of Lake Garda, Sirmione’s city center is characterized by its narrow alleys and stone walls and was made popular by writers such as Stendahl, Lawrence and Goethe. Your short guided walking tour will highlight some of the town’s main attractions for you. See the beautifully impressive Scaligeri Castle – a unique medieval fortress built by the ruling Scaligeri family in the 13th century to protect the port. Sirmione is famous for its thermal baths which still draw people to this medieval village. If time allows you can see some of the following: the house that famous opera singer Maria Callas lived in for 9 years in the 1950s, the Santa Maria Maggiore Church was built in the 15th century on the site of an earlier built 8th century church. See the ruins of the original church dedicated to San Salvatore which was built in the 8th century by the Lombard queen. Also, perhaps you’ll see where the San Pietro in Mavino Church is located – Sirmione’s oldest church has frescoes dating back from the 12th through the 16th centuries. Your guided tour also includes a 30 minute boat excursion that will give you panoramic views of the peninsula. Your cruise will depart from the dock located on Lungolago Diaz. Sail around the peninsula and view the castle, the thermal spa, the villa of Callas, the caves of Catullo (the warehouses of the Villa Romana di Catullo), the sulfur spring source “boiola” and then return by passing under the drawbridge inside the walls of Sirmione. Enjoy a local lunch in a restaurant in the historical center of Sirmione (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person). Following lunch, depart by motorcoach for a wine tasting at a local winery. The small Lugana wine region, just south of Lake Garda, has just over 100 producers of mostly white wine made from the Turbiana grape. Finally, drive to your hotel in the Lake Garda area (in Gardone Riviera or similar) and relax for the remainder of the day after checking in. Your group dinner tonight will be at your hotel (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 10Lake Garda - Riva del Garda - Bardolino - Lake Garda area

Breakfast included at your hotel. Today is dedicated to exploring the towns and villages that dot the shores around Lake Garda. Depart from your hotel with your private motorcoach and drive north along the western shore of Lake Garda to Riva del Garda – the northernmost town at the tip of the lake and located in the Trentino Alto Adige region of Italy. Riva’s marvelous location is exactly where Lake Garda ends and the Brenta Dolomite mountains, part of the Southern Alps, begin. The 2nd largest city on Lake Garda, Riva has historically been a strategic point for invading foreigners from the north and has been ruled by many, including the Venetian Republic. It became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1815 for 100 years and still retains a very calm and Germanic feel, if compared to other parts of Italy. Its atmosphere even differs from other lake resorts you’ve already visited on your tour: simultaneously alive, yet staid. Relax and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person). After some time in Riva del Garda, continue your drive down the eastern shore of Lake Garda. You’ll drive through a few of the lakeside towns in the Veneto region such as Malcesine and Bardolino. Malcesine is in the foreground of the Monte Baldo mountain range and is known for its stunning lakeside 13th century castle. Bardolino is another charming lakefront town, but is uniquely known for its winegrowing and for the variety of red wine named after the town. Stop in Bardolino for a visit to the Olive Oil Museum which has been run by the same olive oil producing family on Lake Garda for over 30 years. Tonight, you’ll have dinner at a local agriturismo in the Lake Garda area. An agriturismo is a working farm or winery that often provides accommodations on a small scale (like a B&B), but also provides truly authentic meals using products harvested on their farms. Experience this uniquely Italian dinner tonight in a charming farmhouse setting (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person) before returning to your hotel for the remainder of the evening.

Day 11Verona

Breakfast included at your hotel. Say goodbye to the beautiful Italian Lakes region. Depart from your hotel with your motorcoach to drive to the nearby city of Verona – named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Meet with your English speaking local guide to discover Verona’s Roman, Medieval and Renaissance history. The first part of your tour will be on your motorcoach as you drive along the Adige River and the city walls. Drive to see the most important church in the city – the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore. Built in the Romanesque style with its famous rose window on the facade, this specific basilica was featured in both Romeo and Juliet and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Continue your drive to the Victory Bridge which was built to commemorate the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I. Your walking tour will begin here near the Porta Borsari, the 1st century Roman gate that was the city’s main entrance. Walk to the Piazza Erbe which was once a forum during Roman times, but is now a vibrant square with a daily market. Go to nearby Piazza dei Signori – famous for its magnificent palazzos that line the square and its imposing statue of Dante. Next, walk over to Juliet’s House. Entrance included to the restored 14th century house that has Juliet’s famous stone balcony. This house is thought to have once belonged to the Capulet family – on whom Shakespeare based his story. Finally, the focal point of the city of Verona is the spectacular Arena located at the Piazza Bra. This Roman amphitheater was built in the first century and still serves as the city’s open-air opera house and also hosts other musical concerts. Enter the Arena and see where gladiators fought during Roman times and where games and tournaments were regularly held during medieval times. After your tour, enjoy a group lunch at a local Veronese restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person). After checking into your hotel this afternoon, you can relax and enjoy the remainder of the day and dinner tonight at your leisure.

Day 12Mantova - Maranello - Parma

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart Verona with your motorcoach for an exciting day with visits to the city of Mantova, the world-famous Ferrari Museum and finally to the city of Parma. Enjoy the short drive through the Italian Veneto region before approaching the city of Mantova whose historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famous for its artistic and cultural heritage, Mantova is known for its Renaissance architecture and influence on opera. Under the rule of the Gonzaga family, it had one of the most important courts of the Renaissance and is surrounded by three artificial lakes – created in the 12th century as part of the city’s defense system. Meet your English speaking local guide and begin with an entrance to the Ducal Palace – the seat of the Gonzaga court for more than 4 centuries. This palace complex of buildings, courtyards and gardens is one of the largest residences in Europe with over 950 total rooms. The magnificent St. George’s Castle, built in the late 14th century, is one of the many structures within the palace complex. The highlight of the palace is the “Bridal Chamber” room, painted entirely with 15th century frescoes by Mantegna. They depict Ludovic Gonzaga’s life in the court and use witty trompe l’oeil painting techniques (optical illusions). Entrance to the Palace apartments is also included which houses a set of nine 16th-century Flemish tapestries reproduced from Raphael’s original designs for the Sistine Chapel. Other artistic masterpieces on display include works by Rubens, Morone, Pisanello, Giulio Romano and Lorenzo Costa. After your Ducal Palace tour, stroll into Mantova’s historical center and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person). After lunch, depart on a drive toward the small town of Maranello, located just outside the city of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s here that you’ll have a tour of the famous sports car manufacturer at the Ferrari Museum. Learn about the history of this iconic auto brand and see the largest display of Ferraris. Learn about the technical innovations first created by Ferrari that have since been adopted for use in the average automobile. You’ll also see displays on Italian motor car racing with historic photographs and trophies. Continue your drive to your final Italian destination, the city of Parma which has been granted the special UNESCO designation of ‘Creative City of Gastronomy’. Check into your hotel and enjoy the remainder of your day and dinner tonight at your leisure.

Day 13Parma

Breakfast included at your hotel. Depart from your hotel with your motorcoach and your English speaking local guide for a day of culinary experiences coupled with exploration of this magnificent city. Someone once said that if reincarnation exists, pray you come back as a citizen of Parma. With its slow-paced city life, exquisite prosciuttos and cheeses, local Lambrusco wines, beautiful cafes and opera houses, art, history and culture – for some it’s heaven on earth. The day begins with a visit to a local Parma area dairy (caseificio) where traditional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is produced. Using centuries old cheese-making methods, learn about the steps taken by the cheese manufacturers to produce this iconic cheese and about the natural aging process without the use of preservatives or anti-fermenting agents. The authenticity of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is protected and granted special designated status under Italian law. Each large wheel of parmesan cheese weighs around 80 pounds and over 3.5 million are produced in Parma each year. Enjoy a special cheese tasting after the tour and taste the differences between the various ages of cheese. You’ll next have a guided tour of the traditional curing methods for prosciutto di Parma or Parma ham at a local Parma area manufacturer (prosciuttificio). The prosciutto’s authenticity is also protected and has specially designated status under Italian law. You’ll be shown the transformation from fresh pork hindquarters kept in the cold temperature cellars to the warmer final aging cellars where thousands of perfectly cured hams await inspection and branding for authenticity. This aging process takes approximately 18 months. After your tour, enjoy a light lunch at the prosciuttificio with a tasting of prosciutto, cheeses and bread (water included). Return to the Parma city center with your English speaking local guide for a tour of a few main sights of the “Small Capital”, as Parma is called. Discover how the history, art, culture and traditions were changed from the Middle Ages, through the rich legacy of art during the Renaissance, the era of the Farnese family, the Bourbon influence, the happy times under the rule of Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria and up to present day Parma. Begin with a visit to the Piazza del Duomo, where you’ll get to experience Parma’s grand Cathedral and adjacent Baptistery – the most important examples of Romanesque architecture found in the Po River valley. Original construction began in the 11th century with various architectural styles added throughout the centuries, especially after a devastating earthquake in the 12th century. The façade is constructed of local sandstone and is decorated with three levels of symmetrical loggias. Note the two marble lions that greet you at the entrance. These were sculpted by da Bissono in 1281 and have become famous symbols of the Duomo. Once inside, you can see the famous bas-relief sculpture, The Deposition of Christ by Benedetto Antelami, made in 1178 and an early example of Gothic Art. Marvel at the astounding cycle of frescoes that line the nave and depict Biblical stories and the life of Christ. The masterpiece of the Duomo is the Renaissance fresco, The Assumption of the Virgin by Antonio da Correggio in 1530, that shows Mary’s ascent into heaven and her reconnection with her son, Jesus. This kaleidoscopic swirl illusion shows the angels and cherubs carrying Mary as she ascends into heaven and perfectly represents the belief of the time that a church’s dome was “a vault into the heavens”. Correggio was able to transform the structure of the Duomo’s dome into heaven itself. A walk across the Piazza will bring you to the Baptistery. This is considered to be one of the most important Medieval monuments in all of Europe as it captures the transition from Romanesque to early Gothic architecture. It was also designed by Benedetto Antelami in the late 12th- early 13th centuries. The octagonal structure, in pink Verona marble, includes four tiers of open loggias with portals. Don’t miss the 75 panel band of sculpted creatures, both mythological and real, that circle around the baptistery’s exterior. The interior is particularly stunning with its marble columns, marble baptismal font and richly colored 13th century frescoes that adorn the dome. Modeled after Byzantine iconography, the frescoes are each individually sectioned by the design and construction of the umbrella vault. A few blocks away is the monumental palace, Palazzo della Pilotta, which was originally built in the 16th century for the Farnese family. This aristocratic family produced a Pope, cardinals and many dukes – including 8 sons who held the title of Duke of Parma during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, this palace complex houses the Palatina Library, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Art Gallery of Parma and the famous Farnese Theatre. First built in 1618 by Giovanni Battista Aleotti, you’ll see this stunning structure that was entirely made of wood and plaster and then painted as to appear to be made of marble. The first event that took place in the theatre was 10 years later when a Farnese family Duke married a member of the powerful Medici family of Florence. The performance staged for them included a naval battle scene in which an area of the stage was flooded with water from a series of pumps built under the stage – very advanced theatre techniques for the 17th century. The theatre featured a private balcony for the Dukes which many say was a precursor to the ‘Royal Box’ later designed into state theatres. The Farnese Theatre was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during WW II, but was rebuilt using the original materials and reopened in 1960. Stroll by the impressive Regio Theatre – Parma’s famous opera house and home to the annual Giuseppe Verdi festival that honors their local composer. Your tour will end with a visit to the city’s main square, Piazza Garibaldi. Built on the site of the ancient Roman Forum, this piazza serves as the governmental and commercial hub of Parma. Enjoy a little free time this afternoon before your Farewell Dinner tonight at a local Parmesan restaurant (including ½ liter water and ¼ liter wine per person).

Day 14Milan Malpensa airport

Breakfast included at your hotel. Transfer with assistance by your private motorcoach from your hotel in Parma to Milan Malpensa Airport. Say “Arrivederci!” to the Beauty of Northern Italy as you return home with cherished memories of your Italian experiences.

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