Italy’s Churches: The heart and soul of Italian artistry

Italy’s cathedrals are high on the list of practically every visitor to Italy. No wonder. The most famous are the work of Italy’s greatest artists and architects including Michelangelo and DaVinci. They are museums in themselves, filled with priceless art reflecting Italy’s culture, history and the lives of Italian commoners and royalty alike. Join us today for this armchair tour of Italy’s most beautiful churches, enriched by enticing breaks for Italy’s best coffee, pastries, and meals at our favorite cafes and nearby restaurants. Our adventure starts in Milan…

Milan and Venice

The Symbol of Milan

People travel from all over the world to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper only to miss the fabulous Cathedral! Crowned by the Madonnina, the Cathedral of Milan is a Gothic masterpiece and symbol of the city. Its shear size, its ornate statues, and its playful flying buttresses and pinnacles are stunning tributes to Italian artistry.

When touring on your own an audioguide assures you see and know about what’s important. Be sure to visit the Cathedral’s many terraces with their stunning views and ample photo opportunities.
Want to be sure you don’t miss anything in Milan? Then join the Grand Tour of Milan . Your guide will introduce you to the magic of the Duomo, as well as the beautiful square and its surrounding buildings, the Last Supper, and the Scala Theater , Milan’s temple of music. Milan is also the capital of fashion and a little shopping can be a nice break. Make your time in the stores efficient with our Milano Fashion Tour. Our personal shopper will guide you through the famous Golden Fashion Rectangle up to the Brera district where you will certainly find gifts for yourself and the folks back home.

Whatever you choose to do in Milan, you are certain to enjoy the city’s best coffee at the Marchesi bakery. From Piazza del Duomo, take Via Orefici and turn to the left at Via Meravigli: 200 meters further at Via Santa Maria alla Porta 11 you will find the bakery, an elegant shop full of delicious sweets, croissants, and cookies!


Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold)

From Milan we move on to Venice, just one hour and a half away from Milan by train. Nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro, Church of Gold, Saint Mark's Basilica is the symbol of the city. It is opulent and popular - so popular that getting in can be a pain! Skip the line and join the Golden Basilica tour. Guided by a local expert you will discover the richness of its mosaics and relics. Included is access to the terraces with their spectacular views over Piazza San Marco and the adjacent Doge's Palace!

If you wish to discover St. Mark’s on your own, the audioguide includes entertaining and educational information about the church and the Bell Tower. Refresh yourself with a trip to the world famous Harry's Bar, founded in 1931 and frequented by such personalities as Toscanini, Charles Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway (who became an habitué with a table always reserved). From the square, follow Calle Vallaresso - the street ends at the Grand Canal where you will find Harry’s. Here you can have snacks, drinks, aperitifs, and light lunches with a timeless appeal.

Florence and Pisa

A Dome over Florence

Two hours on a comfortable train from Venice towards Rome will take you to Florence, the capital of Tuscany. Here you will find the huge Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore dominating the medieval center of the city. Brunelleschi’s Dome, the highest structure in the city, crowns the Cathedral. The facade - made of beautiful polychrome marble - is stunning while the interior is a gem of Renaissance art! The audioguide is an easy way to learn about what you see, especially the Last Judgment by Vasari that decorates the Dome (the largest ceiling ever painted). Visit the Dome itself for a breathtaking view of Florence! Love the panorama from the top? Then don't miss the Giotto's Bell Tower dominating the square, and the Baptistery, beautifully decorated inside with golden mosaics.

Another pearl of Florence is the Church of Santa Maria Novella, a few steps from the main train station by the same name. Your Florence churches itinerary is complete only when you admire the church’s facade by Alberti, the cycle of frescoes, and Masaccio's Trinity masterpiece of the prospective technique. For a change of pace, discover the adjacent Antica Officina Profumo Farmaceutica, one of Italy’s oldest pharmacies producing high quality cosmetics and medicines in the same location since the year 1612.

From center city walk along Via dell'Oriuolo and Via dei Benci to window shop and visit the many intriguing leather workshops. Then turn left towards Via Isole delle Stinche. At number 1r you will find the Trattoria Pallottino. For more than 100 years this Florence mainstay has served Tuscan fare such as ribollita – vegetables and dry bread soup – and the typical Florence T-bone bistecca alla fiorentina. Servings are generous and prices are affordable. Wrap up your Florence cathedral tours by heading towards Santa Croce, Temple of the Italian Glories. Santa Croce is the pantheon of Italian geniuses such as Michelangelo and Galileo. While visiting don’t miss the stunning Chapel of the Pazzi family and majestic frescoes.


Pisa “dei Miracoli”

With memories of Florence still on the mind, take a train to Pisa (1 hour and 20 minutes), or for more comfort join our Guided Tour of Pisa departing from Florence. The Leaning Tower is the Pisa Cathedral's freestanding bell tower. The Tower is astonishing, leaning so far it seems it might topple at any moment. Book your ticket to skip the line and climb the 296 steps to reach the top of the Tower, if you dare. Your ticket gives you access to the Cathedral and its impressive mosaic of Cimabue's Christ.

The Tower, Cathedral, and Baptistery – all located in Pisa’s Cathedral Square – have such an astonishing beauty as to be called the Square of Miracles. Start early in the day to avoid crowds and to catch the play of the rising sun against the magnificent structures. It will be a moment you will never forget.

Hungry for more than artistic beauty? Pisa is very close to the sea so be sure to try the delicious seafood at the Osteria dei Cavalieri (Via San Frediano 16, 500 meters from the square), with its homey atmosphere and tasty dishes (pasta with artichokes and squid is our favorite).

Siena and Vatican

Siena, on the road to the Vatican

Our itinerary ends in Rome at the Vatican, but a not-to-be-missed stop is Siena (90 km away from Florence, in the classically beautiful countryside, 1 hour and 30 minutes by train). Siena's downtown is full of narrow, tortuous alleys, historic buildings, and the amazing Piazza del Campo. The diamond of the city is the Cathedral: its beautiful marble facade reminds us of the Florence cathedral, but richer. The incredible marble floor, so complex as to be called a “carpet” by Giorgio Vasari, is thought by many to surpass its exterior beauty. Purchase the OPA SI Pass to gain entry to the best the city offers - the Duomo, the panoramic terraces with the best views over the city, the Baptistery, the Crypt and the Opera Museum.
You can also choose a guided visit to the Duomo or enliven your Chianti experience by joining our tour of Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Chianti. Don’t leave town before experiencing the ancient Siena pastry tradition: panforte (a 13th Century fruitcake) and ricciarelli (soft almond biscuits), excellent at Pasticceria Bini (Via Stalloreggi 91, very close to the Duomo).

Top off this enriching excursion with visit the Vatican, the heart of Rome and the world’s center of Christianity. Rich with amazing works of art, the Basilica of Saint Peter is arguably the most important church in the world. See it on your own or give yourself an affordable treat - a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Michelangelo's masterpiece including a visit to The Sistine Chapel.


Umbria

Half way between Florence and Rome, is the mystic core of Italy and the greenest region. Some of the best Italian delicacies are produced here: truffles, wild mushrooms, wines and olive oil. The area is full of monasteries and abbeys, especially the Basilica founded by Saint Francis in Assisi and the Cathedral of Orvieto, 90 km away from Rome (the most beautiful facade, crowning the ancient village at the top of a flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff). Enjoy these spectacular places and their special cuisine by joining our day tour to Assisi and Orvieto (departing from Rome).

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