The soaring Cathedral of Trani in its waterfront location
The soaring Cathedral of Trani in its waterfront location

Alternative Italy – A New Way To Experience This Country In 2020

Thinking of treating yourself to an Italian escape in 2020, but don’t want to visit the usual tourist hotspots of Rome or Venice? Well, we’ve rounded up a selection of our Italian tours that visit cities, towns and sites that are considered somewhat lesser-known. There is so much more to this magnificent country than the icons of archaeology it’s known for – join us there next year to see for yourself just what it has to offer.

Puglia & Basilicata

A region in southern Italy – and one whose ancient name is Lucania – Basilicata is home to outstanding monuments that date from the Neolithic period right up to the modern age. On this 9-day tour, you’ll spend an entire day in Matera, where a phenomenal network of rock-cut dwellings and frescoed Byzantine churches await discovery. There will also be a visit to the lesser-known city of Massafra to explore its cave dwellings and frescoed churches, time to explore the 12th century abbey of the Holy Trinity in Venosa with its important Norman tomb, and a private visit to the Roca Vecchia Archaeological Park near Lecce, which was excavated to reveal ruins of gigantic fortifications of a Bronze Age settlement.

Syracuse & Ortygia

With a history stretching back almost 3,000 years, the Italian city of Syracuse has the rare accolade of being classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety. At the heart of the ancient city is the island of Ortygia, painstakingly and dazzlingly restored. Flying into Catania, you’ll enjoy leisure time to explore Ortygia – and there is much on offer here, from Caravaggio’s Burial of St. Lucy painting housed within the Church of St. Lucia to the ruins of the Temple of Artemis. Elsewhere, there will be visits to the UNESCO-listed city of Noto with its well-preserved Baroque architecture, a chance to admire stunning mosaics at Piazza Armernia, and a visit to the catacombs of San Giovanni in Syracuse. Finally, there will also be a visit to Megara Hyblaea, an ancient city on Sicily’s eastern coast that was founded in around 728 BC by colonists from Megara in Attica.

Ravenna & Aquileia

The Emilia-Romagna region may be best known for its gastronomic prowess, but it is also home to the city of Ravenna – and incredible mosaics. Flying into Venice from London, the first part of this 8-day tour will be spent exploring nearby Aquileia and its surrounding area, with visits including the Tempietto Lombardo (and exquisite ducal chapel with wonderful stuccowork) and its National Archaeological Museum. In Ravenna, there will be visits to the Abbey of Pomposa with its 14th century frescoes, the Arian Baptistery and the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra – home to the famous Dance of the Seasons mosaic. The highlight of this tour is undoubtedly our very special private visit to the Basilica of San Vitale and the mausoleum of Gallia Placidia.

The Etruscans

Flying into Pisa but bypassing the Leaning Tower in favour of more intriguing sites, we make our way to the Acropolis in Volterra and explore Etruscan temple foundations, and then head on to the Porta all’Arco – an ancient city gate, created by the Etruscans. The next stop on this tour, after Florence’s Archaeological Museum, is Chiusi – In Tuscany. Here, we are treated to special private access to the Tomb of the Lion and Tomb of the Pilgrim – both of which are characteristic Etruscan painted tombs. Finally, there are also visits to the Monterozzi cemetery, which is one of the largest burial grounds of the ancient world, and the Banditaccia cemetery at Cerveteri. The latter is a truly extraordinary Etruscan site with rock-cut tombs under tumuli and arranged in rows along ruined streets.

The Ice Man & his World

The alpine valleys of Val Camonica hold one of the largest collections of prehistoric rock art in the world, where images depict every facet of life from Neolithic right through to Roman times. Our arrival airport for this tour is Milan, but we drive away from this world-famous city and into the lesser-known Darfo Boario Terme, a municipality in the province of Brescia. From here, we begin a two-day exploration of Val Camonica’s incredible history. We spend time at Naquane Park, we visit the Copper Age engraved boulders at Massi di Cemmo, we explore rock art sites in the archaeological park of Seradina-Bedolini, and we gaze upon reconstructed prehistoric houses at Foppe di Nadro. Another highlight of this Northern Italy tour is our visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, home to Ötzi the Iceman, who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE.

So, why not explore a different part of Italy next year?

From prehistoric rock art and artefacts left behind by the Etruscans, and from Roman mosaics to rock-cut dwellings in an area that has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period, there really is a wealth of history, archaeology and heritage to be experienced here.

However, if you've been dreaming of returning to Rome, we have a fantastic way to do it… This destination in particular is one that keeps on giving!

Hidden Rome

If you’ve already toured Rome, but feel the need to return – this is the tour for you. It will take you to some of Rome’s greatest monuments, because you can’t miss them no matter how many times you’ve visited in the past, but it will also take you to some of the city’s most secret sites, which include tombs and temples, as well as villas and catacombs. This is an Imperial City tour from a new perspective. This tour also has a plethora of special visits. We have gained access to some of the most exquisite and important monuments. Explore the tombs of the Scipiones – the family that produced Hannibal’s nemesis, Scipio Africanus. Tour the catacombs of Saint Agnes on the Via Nomentana, built adjacent to one of the great churches of the age of Constantine. Elsewhere, we also explore the Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus, created literally beneath the stairs of the great altar of Hercules. The pièce de résistance, perhaps, is our visit to the extraordinary Domus Aurea – Nero’s Palace, which was built on four hills and is now covered by later imperial projects.