Highlights

The Grand Canal – Venice

No matter how many times Venice has been seen in pictures and film, nothing can detract from the impact of the visitor’s first journey down the Grand Canal. The overwhelming beauty of this famous waterway lined on both sides by palaces, churches and museums is truly breathtaking. Disembarking in front of the Doge’s Palace visitors are further enthralled by the elegant majesty of St Mark’s Square with its basilica filled with Byzantine mosaics.

 

Vatican Museums – Vatican State

In the centre of Rome, housed in parts of the papal palaces, is this outstanding collection of sculptures, paintings, books, furniture, and tapestries. The museums are divided into specific areas housing the various papal collections, including the Etruscan collection, Roman sculptures, and Old Masters. For many the highlights are not the collections housed in the museums but the actual buildings themselves, which include the Sistine Chapel complete with Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes.

 

The Uffizi Gallery – Florence

Opened at the end of the 16th century, this is one of the world’s truly great collections of paintings. Housed in a 16th-century palace, originally designated for public office, the list of artists exhibited reads like a Who’s Who of art history. The Uffizi collection includes masterpieces by Botticelli, Canaletto, El Greco, Giotto, Goya, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci amongst others.

 

The Basilica of St Francis – Assisi

Standing on an escarpment to the western end of the medieval town of Assisi, the basilica of St Francis, on which work started in 1228, is one of the greatest glories of medieval architecture. There are, in fact, two churches – one having been built directly over the other. In the lower church is the tomb of St Francis. The ceilings and vaults are covered with 13th-century frescoes, including works by Cimabue and Simone Martini. The Gothic basilica above, recently restored following a devastating earthquake, is filled with Giotto’s great frescoes depicting scenes from the life of St Francis.

 

Siena

In a country in which every region is filled with small, historic towns, Siena is still something special. At the heart of Tuscany it is simply one of the most beautiful cities in the whole of Italy. The city owes much of its splendour to the local bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which for centuries has plied its profits into the conservation and enhancement of the town. A perfectly preserved medieval settlement retaining its original walls, the town is criss-crossed by small alleys and streets lined with Gothic palaces and houses.

 

Amalfi Coast

South of Naples the short stretch of coast between Positano and Amalfi, known to locals as the “Costiera Amalfitana”, is one of the most beautiful coastlines in Europe. Mountains plunge vertically into the azure sea and, at intervals, small bays and creeks provide secluded beaches and intriguing inlets for exploration. The brightly coloured towns and villages that cling precariously to the mountainsides enhance the outstanding natural beauty of the area.

 

Pompeii

In 79AD the city of Pompeii was completely covered by lava following the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Since the mid-1800s organised excavation of the site has revealed perfectly preserved sections of this once thriving Roman city that has been buried under feet of ash and dust for centuries.

Among the highlights are the House of the Vetti family with its pillared central courtyard, the House of Mysteries with its astonishingly vivid frescoes, and the amphitheatre. It is a fascinating opportunity to see a genuine Roman city almost 2000 years on.

 

The Valley of the Temples – Agrigento

It is said that even the Greeks themselves are envious of this astonishing collection of wonderfully preserved temples, all dating back to Greek rule in the area in the 5th century BC. Set in a verdant valley in the south of Sicily, the extensive complex includes the ruins of the Temple of Juno, the Temple of Zeus and the Temple of Vulcan. Perhaps the most important and inspiring of the many temples is the Temple of Concordia, which ranks as one of the finest examples of ancient Greek architecture in the world.

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