The mountains and foothills of northeast Italy have long served as a natural frontier between northern Europe and the Mediterranean, yet the diverse and proudly distinct cultures that have emerged from this history remain relatively unknown. From prehistoric Otzi the Ice Man to the Lombards in Cividale, the emergence of the Renaissance in Venetian art and architecture, and the tragedy of World War I, go beyond the well-worn tourist trails of Italy on this 16-day tour to Friuli, the Dolomites and the Veneto.
Undiscovered history in north-east Italy, from Otzi the prehistoric Ice Man to Lombard Cividale
Giotto’s technical brilliance and colourful innovation in Padua’s Scrovegni Chapel
Villas and gardens of the Venetian terraferma, from Palladio and the Brenta Canal to baroque exuberance at the Villa Barbarigo Valsanzibio
Spectacular scenery around Cortina d’Ampezzo and Bolzano, two charming towns nestled in the Dolomites
On the trail of Venice’s greatest painters: Titian in Pieve di Cadore, Giorgione in Castelfranco, Tiepolo in Udine
Iconic Italian gastronomy, from prosecco and prosciutto to the northern cuisine of the Dolomites
Days 1–4: Arrive in Venice and transfer to Udine. Discover Tiepolo in Udine and “Austria by the sea” in Trieste.
Days 5–6: From Cortina, trace Titian’s origins and encounter the tragedy of World War I in the spectacular Dolomites.
Days 7–9: In Bolzano, marvel at Otzi the Ice Man, a mummy preserved for millennia by glacial ice. Explore Trento.
Days 10–12: Marvel at modern art in Rovereto, traverse the “Prosecco Road” and follow Palladio along the Brenta Canal.
Days 13–16: From Padua, meet Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, Galileo at the university, and Petrarch in the Euganean Hills.
We gather in the early afternoon at Venice airport, in time to meet recommended flights, and board our private coach for a group transfer to our hotel in Udine. On the way, we have a brief stop in the extraordinary town of Palmanova. Rebuilt in the 16th century by the Venetians, it is an iconic example of Renaissance planned towns and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2017. We continue on to Udine and check in to our hotel. There are welcome drinks this evening, followed by a light dinner in our hotel. Overnight Udine (D)
Thursday 9 September: Tiepolo in Udine, Prosciutto in San Daniele
After a morning talk in our hotel, we depart for a walking tour of central Udine. The town came to prominence as the second largest city of the Venetian state, and central Piazza Libertà has been called the prettiest Venetian square on the terraferma. We survey the elegant buildings of the historic centre, including those redesigned by Andrea Palladio, and encounter the exuberance of Tiepolo, whose masterpieces here are considered among his most important. We then meet our coach and travel out to the San Daniele area for a welcome lunch, followed by a tasting of one of the region’s most celebrated products: prosciutto! Returning to our hotel, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Udine (B, L, prosciutto-tasting)
Friday 10 September: The Longobards in Cividale
Italy’s north-eastern border has long been contested, from the arrival of ‘barbarians’ in the late Roman Empire to the fierce fighting of the Austro-Italian front in World War I. This morning we have a guided tour of Cividale del Friuli, a beautifully preserved city on the hill guarding the mountain passes into Italy, which became the first duchy of the Longobards. There is still much to learn about this mysterious group of Dark Age power players, and we survey their oldest surviving art and architecture at Santa Maria in Valle and the National Archaeological Museum. On return to our hotel, the later afternoon and evening are at leisure. Overnight Udine (B)
Saturday 11 September: Trieste and Miramare
This morning we meet our private coach for an excursion to Trieste. This city only became part of Italy after World War I; before this it had been the main Adriatic port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It retains its ‘Austria by the sea’ feel, although the fusion of Germanic and Italian cultures is equally present. With our guide, we explore the lingering sense of Trieste as an international city, influencing generations of authors, from James Joyce to Jan Morris. Returning to Udine, we stop to visit Miramare Castle, where we learn the personal and sometimes tragic histories of Trieste’s Habsburgs. The evening is at leisure after a talk. Overnight Udine (B)
Sunday 12 September: Into the heart of the Dolomites
This morning we check out of our hotel in Udine and travel into the Dolomites. Along the way, we call in at Spilimbergo. This town has long been in the orbit of more significant regional centres and the extraordinary frescoes in its 13th-century cathedral are testament to this history. Painted in the middle of the 14th century, they show key episodes from the Old and New Testaments. After lunch at leisure, we continue our journey into the mountains, with a scenic stop to admire the extraordinary Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Now one of the symbols of this World Heritage-listed Dolomite landscape, these “three peaks” are the focus of Alpine climbing and are particularly beautiful when seen across Lake Misurina. We then continue on to Cortina, a beautiful village nestled among the mountains, celebrated in the 20th century as one of Europe’s most glamorous – yet discreet – ski resorts. It offers a pleasant base for our time exploring the heart of the Dolomites. We enjoy a group dinner tonight. Overnight Cortina d’Ampezzo (B, D)
Monday 13 September: In the Clouds with Titian
We depart our hotel this morning and travel to Monte Rite to visit the staggering Messner Mountain Museum in the Clouds. Reinhold Messner, who made the first documented ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen, has founded six museums in the region – each boasting an extraordinary location and exploring the history of mountaineering. The Museum in the Clouds enjoys a 360-degree panorama and the founder personally narrates the modern museum installations. We continue to Pieve di Cadore for a later lunch at leisure, followed by a survey of the sites associated with this pretty town’s most famous son: the painter Titian. We visit the Casa di Tiziano, dating from the 15th century, and the church of Santa Maria Nascente, which still preserves a number of works associated with the family (including Titian’s own Madonna and Child with Saints). We return to Cortina in the afternoon, where the evening is at leisure. Overnight Cortina d’Ampezzo (B)
Tuesday 14 September: World War I and the Dolomites
After we check out of our hotel this morning, we travel to Lagazuoi. At an altitude of over 2,800 metres, this mountain is honeycombed with tunnels used for mine warfare during World War I. Ascending by cable car, we tour the mountain’s Museo all’aperto (Open Air Museum), where the stunning views belie the sober history of conflict in these borderlands. Lunch is at leisure in the mountain rifugio, a simple Alpine restaurant, before we descend with the funicular and continue on to Bolzano. After checking in to our hotel, there is a light dinner. Overnight Bolzano (B, D)
Wednesday 15 September: Ötzi the Iceman
Bolzano, in Italy’s Trentino Alto Adige region, lies close to the borders of Switzerland and Austria, and has long been a multicultural crossroads. Even today it boasts three common languages: Italian, German and the fiercely-protected local Ladin. In the afternoon we enjoy an optional walking tour of the town’s pleasant centre, but the highlight of the day is our morning visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. The museum’s star is Ötzi the Iceman, the remains – found by chance in 1991 – of a man who lived between 3,400-3,100 BCE. Naturally mummified by glacier ice, Ötzi’s tissue, organs, bones, clothing and even possessions were preserved, with scientific analysis strongly suggesting that he was murdered up on the mountains. The evening is at leisure. Overnight Bolzano (B)
Thursday 16 September: Trento
At the meeting place of the Mediterranean and of the Germanic lands to the north, Trento’s past is more cosmopolitan than its present quiet streets would suggest. Today we have an excursion by private coach to this town, the 16th-century location of one of the most important church councils for Christianity. The Council of Trent was convened by Pope Paul III in order to address the rise of Protestantism, and its cultural policy saw the introduction of both the Roman Inquisition and the language of Christian art that gave birth to the new baroque style. On a tour with our local guide, we explore the Prince Bishops’ castle, with the medieval frescoes depicting the calendar of the year in the Torre dell’Aquila, and the cathedral, its presbytery the site of the Council’s meetings and its façade adorned since the 13th century with an unusual sculpted rose window. Returning to our hotel, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Bolzano (B)
Friday 17 September: Modern Art in Rovereto
Today we check out of our hotel and travel by private coach to Rovereto, a town that grew up around a fortress on the border between the Republic of Venice and the medieval Bishopric of Trent. Today it is home to MART, an impressive new modern and contemporary art gallery with works by de Chirico, Morandi, Carrà and others. After a break for lunch at leisure, we continue to our next base in the pre-Alps of the Veneto, with a stop along the way to admire the scenery and perhaps take an afternoon coffee. After arriving at our hotel, located along the so-called Strada del Prosecco (or Prosecco Road), we enjoy a fine dinner together. Overnight Follina (B, D)
Saturday 18 September: Palladio and Prosecco
After a morning talk, we meet our coach to travel to Villa Emo, the most perfectly conceived of Palladio’s villas and built for an experimental patrician farmer in charge of the Venetian Empire’s food supplies. We then continue into the Valdobbiadene in order to enjoy the excellent food and wine culture of these Veneto hills. This string of valleys along the Piave River is now famous for prosecco, but its unique terroir has also allowed for the production of distinctive local cheeses. We enjoy lunch in a restaurant overlooking the valley’s vineyards, where we have the opportunity to sample a number of different prosecchi. We then continue on to Asiago, for a tasting of the local cheese named for the town. Returning to the hotel, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Follina (B, L, cheese-tasting)
Sunday 19 September: Giorgione and the Brenta Canal
After checking out of our hotel, we meet our coach and travel to Castelfranco Veneto. This town was the birthplace of Giorgione. One of Titian’s peers and rivals, only a small number of works by the painter remain, and we survey his fine Madonna with St Francis and Liberalis in the cathedral. At the Casa Giorgone, we examine a very early work, before continuing to the Brenta Canal. This waterway connected Venetian patricians to their mainland villas, and we survey a number of villas inspired by Palladio’s work before following the Brenta into Padua, as the nobles of old did! After check-in, we enjoy a light dinner together. Overnight Padua (B, D)
Monday 20 September: Pilgrims & Science in Padua
For centuries, Padua has been the intellectual centre of northern Italy. From Giotto’s impact on local painters in the baptistery to the heart of medieval pilgrimage at the basilica di Sant’Antonio (known locally as “Il Santo”), after a morning talk our walking tour surveys the growth of the city in the 13th and 14th centuries. After lunch at leisure, we have a guided tour of the university, where Galilei was chair of mathematics, and its 16th-century Anatomical Theatre. The evening is at leisure. Overnight Padua (B)
Tuesday 21 September: From Giotto to Mantegna
The most important – and influential – artwork to survive in Padua is Giotto’s cycle of frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, executed in the 1330s. This morning we have booked a double session, in order to enjoy the technical and emotive innovations of the chapel at greater leisure, before continuing into the museum and then the Eremitani Church next door. Almost entirely destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II, the church preserves a fascinating, though damaged, cycle of frescoes by Andrea Mantegna. These herald the advent of Renaissance painting in Padua, and attest to the impact of Donatello’s equestrian monument outside the Basilica del Santo. There is the option, after lunch, to continue with your tour leader to the Palazzo Ragione, for an interior visit of the medieval calendrical frescoes, and then on to the Botanic Gardens, the world’s first! The evening is at leisure. Overnight Padua (B)
Wednesday 22 September: In the Euganean Hills
We spend our final day in the Euganean Hills, a verdant, rolling landscape formed by volcanic action millennia ago. These origins have blessed the region with fine soils, and its local wines are rising to prominence. These pleasant surrounds were also used by Paduan nobles for villa-building and relaxation, and we begin the day with a visit to the 17th-century Villa Barbarigo Valsanzibio. This baroque villa and garden were constructed with a complex symbolism in mind, as our guide explains. We then continue to Arquà Petrarca for our farewell lunch. This charming town still preserves the medieval aspect that attracted the poet Petrarch during the last years of his life: renamed for him in the 19th century, it has repeatedly been awarded the prize of “Most Beautiful Town in Italy” (borgo più bello d’Italia). In the afternoon, we return to Padua and gather for a drink in the hotel. Overnight Padua (B, L)
Thursday 23 September: Departure
Our tour ends this morning after breakfast in our hotel. Group members will have various departures, according to their onward travel plans, but a group transfer to Venice airport will be available in the late morning.
Dr Nick Gordon
A cultural historian with a PhD in History, and practicing painter who brings this passion to the visual arts.
Dr Nick Gordon is a cultural historian and artist, with over 10 years of experience leading tours to Europe. He has strong interests in art, history, philosophy and architecture, from the ancient world to the present.
Nick holds a University Medal and PhD in history from the University of Sydney. He taught medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Sydney, the history of political thought at the University of Western Sydney, and architectural and Australian history elsewhere. He continues to teach at the Centre of Continuing Education, and gives occasional lectures on topics ranging from Classical Rome through to Australian and contemporary art. Nick has lead tours for Academy Travel since 2007, and designs study tours, residential tours and art-focussed tours, such as the Venice Biennale, Art Along the Rhine, Art Basel, and Amsterdam to Paris: Van Eyck to Van Gogh.
Nick is also an artist and his firsthand experience of art complements his academic expertise, through his knowledge of materials and the processes behind how an artwork is made, and his well-practiced eye for reading art.
We asked Nick, what do you enjoy most about tour leading?
“One of the things I enjoy most about touring is helping people understand more about what they’re seeing. This happens through a combination of background lectures exploring different contexts, cultural commentary on the road, and especially by being able to explain what is going on in an artwork with the artwork in front of us.”
“The aim of all of this is to help people see more for themselves, independently, both on tour and beyond. Some of the best moments for me on tour are when this happens, and you get to be part of something bigger as people start adding their own knowledge and experience to what we’re looking at. It makes each experience unique.”
Throughout the tour, we stay in well-located 4-star hotels. The hotels will been chosen to facilitate our excursions into the mountains and foothills of north east Italy.
Udine, To be advised (4 nights)
Cortina d’Ampezzo, To be advised (2 nights)
Bolzano, To be advised (3 nights)
Follina, To be advised (2 nights)
Padua, To be advised (4 nights)
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity