Take ‘the road less travelled’ through Puglia and Basilicata and on to the stunning scenery and renowned archaeological sites of the Bay of Naples. This 17-day tour begins with the fascinating history of southern Italy, from the cave-dwelling people of Matera to ancient Greek colonies, Norman castles and cathedrals, and elegant Southern Baroque architecture in Lecce. It then continues to the Bay of Naples, justly lauded in antiquity for its superb scenery and relaxed lifestyle, and today a wonderland of art and archaeology, from Pompeii and Herculaneum to Caravaggio and his followers.
The history and classical archaeology of southern Italy, from the Greek colonists at Paestum to the Romans at Pompeii and Herculaneum
Thousands of years of foreign rule and cultural influence, from the Arabs and Normans in the Middle Ages, to the Aragonese, Spanish and Bourbons in the modern era
Distinctive Southern Baroque architecture in Lecce
Stunning natural beauty, from rugged mountain ranges to dazzling Mediterranean coastlines
The prized regional culinary traditions of southern Italy
Explore the medieval castles and cathedrals of Puglia, built by Norman and German rulers
See the battlefield of Cannae, where Hannibal defeated the Romans in 216 BC
Tour the unique ‘sassi’ cave dwellings in the ancient city of Matera, one of Italy’s most remote cities
Discover the hidden artistic and architectural gems of Naples, seen by relatively few tourists
Explore Europe’s premier archaeological sites, including Paestum, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis
Visit Capodimonte, the Bourbon royal palace housing a remarkable collection of fine art
Days 1–3: Take a group flight from Rome. Arrive in Lecce, explore the town, Otranto and Brindisi.
Days 4–5: Tour Taranto and see the ‘sassi’ of Matera.
Days 6–9: In Trani, visit Roman and medieval sites and sections of the Appian Way.
Days 10–12: Travel to Vietri sul Mare and spend a day at Paestum. Drive part of the Amalfi Coast to the hill-top town of Ravello.
Days 13–17: Explore the city of Naples, including the National Archaeological Museum. Visit key archaeological sites at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis, as well as Capodimonte.
Optional post-tour extension to Capri and Amalfi.
A detailed itinerary for this tour is available. Click on the link above to view or download.
Emirates offers the best connections to Rome. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Thursday March 21: Arrival
Meet your tour leader at Rome Fiumicino airport, where the tour begins. There is a group flight to Brindisi and a coach transfer to Lecce, a journey of about 45 minutes. We check into our hotel and, after time to freshen up, meet in the hotel restaurant for a light dinner. Overnight Lecce (D)
Friday March 22: Lecce
After a talk in the hotel, a local guide takes us on a walking tour of Lecce, the crown jewel of the Mezzogiorno. There is a fine range of monuments to visit, including Roman ruins and the exuberant 16th and 17th-century baroque architecture spread throughout the town. There is clear evidence of the Roman heritage of Lecce but it is most notable for its vibrant ‘Southern Baroque’ architecture, an expressive and highly decorative incarnation of the genre replete with gargoyles, asparagus columns and cavorting gremlins. We have our welcome lunch at a local restaurant, then the later afternoon and evening is free to explore or relax. Overnight Lecce (B, L)
Saturday March 23: Otranto
This morning we visit the seaside town of Otranto, home to a superb 12th-century Norman cathedral with spectacular medieval floor mosaics, and an Aragonese castle from the time when this Spanish dynasty ruled southern Italy. We travel south on the Salentine peninsula to enjoy a food and wine tasting in a traditional Masseria farmstead. The area is known for its wine, cheeses and olive oil. As we head back to Lecce we visit a local olive oil farmer to taste the local produce. Overnight Lecce (B, L)
Sunday March 24: Taranto and Brindisi
Today we travel north to Matera, via the town of Brindisi, the end point of the Appian Way; from here Romans, and later pilgrims, set off for the east. Our next stop is Taranto, once a major centre of Magna Graecia and an important port on the Ionian coast throughout the 4th century BC. Taranto was first colonized by the Taras, Spartan Greeks who arrived in Puglia around 700 BC. Tarentum as it was then called quickly grew to become one of the most opulent cities and important ports of ancient Greece. Many objects recovered from the sites and tombs in the region can be seen at Taranto’s National Archaeological Museum. The museum dates from 1887 and its collection of Greek and Roman antiquities is considered to be one of the most important in Italy. This evening we have dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Matera (B, D)
Monday March 25: Matera
Today we take a walking tour of the ancient city of Matera, beautifully situated on the edge of a gully. The town is famous for its unique ‘sassi’, some 1,500 ancient cave dwellings that honeycomb the flanks of a steep ravine. First occupied in the Paleolithic Age, the of myriad natural caves were gradually burrowed deeper and expanded into living spaces by peasants and artisans throughout the classical and medieval periods. Today, these underground residences are being reinhabited by Italians, and staying in one of the sassi cave hotels has become one of Europe’s most exotic new experiences. By contrast, the so-called “New Town,” has many elegant Baroque churches, palazzi, and broad piazzas to explore. Overnight Matera (B)
Tuesday March 26: Alberobello and Egnazia
We leave Matera this morning for Trani, stopping en-route to visit the nearby town of Alberobello. An amalgamation of more than 1,000 trulli, ancient beehive-shaped dwellings huddled together along steep, narrow streets, is a unique and striking phenomenon. These curious structures were built at least as early as the 13th century. We continue on to Egnazia an important Messapian centre during the 5th century BC, fortified with over 2km of walls, large parts of which still stand in the northern corner of the ruined town – up to 7 metres high. It was later colonized by the Greeks and then the Romans (in 244 BC), who built a forum, amphitheatre, a colonnaded public hall and temples. This evening we dine together in a local restaurant. Overnight Trani (B, D)
Wednesday March 27: Trani and Bitonto
This morning we enjoy a relaxed walking tour of Trani. The beauty of this waterfront town derives from the harmonious limestone architecture, a fine Norman cathedral and a large Norman-Swabian fortress lining its two bays. In the afternoon, we travel to nearby Bitonto to visit the largest cathedral in Puglia, not well known but very much worth a visit. It boasts impressive Romanesque architecture and well-presented excavations dating back to the 5th century. Overnight Trani (B)
Thursday March 28: Cannae, Canosa and Venosa
Today we visit a range of sites a short distance inland from Trani. First we stop at the site of the battlefield of Cannae, where in 216BC the Carthaginian general Hannibal routed the Roman army. There is a small museum at the site and a viewing platform which allow for a good understanding of this famous event. We continue on to Puglia’s principal archaeological centre Canosa di Puglia, to visit the ancient acropolis and the hypogeum, first used by Dauni as pagan catacombs. We will also visit Venosa to tour the Aragonese castle. Overnight Trani (B)
Friday March 29: Castel Del Monte and Melfi
Today we make the journey across Italy to Vietri sul Mare, the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. En route we visit Castel del Monte a remarkable octagonal fortress built by the medieval emperor Frederick II and one of the most significant medieval buildings in southern Italy. The design and purpose of the castle is somewhat mysterious, and has been hotly debated for centuries. We continue on to the town of Melfi, home to the National Archaeological Museum of Melfese, with artefacts found in the area, from prehistoric times and all periods of settlement including the Daunian, Samnite, Lucanian and Roman periods. This evening we have dinner in the hotel. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B, D)
Saturday March 30: Magna Graecia – Paestum
Well before the Roman settlement of the Bay of Naples, Greeks had established a network of colonies and trading ports up and down the coast of southern Italy. After a background talk this morning we visit Paestum, the best preserved of the Greek settlements in the region. Here we view the three fine Doric temples, impressive town walls and other structures of the ancient town. In the afternoon, we visit the excellent museum at the archaeological site, containing the famed ‘Tomb of the Diver’ and other important examples of pre-Roman culture. The area around Paestum is also famous for its mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk. We will stop at a dairy and sample some of this local delight. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B, L)
Sunday March 31: Ravello and the Amalfi Coast
Ravello sits high atop a peninsula that offers stunning views of the Mediterranean and the dramatic coastline below, the Villa Cimbrone is the crown laurel of Ravello. Its origins date back to the 11th century, but the villa and the gardens were extensively renovated in the early 20th century. The Villa Rufolo, whose former residents include composer Richard Wagner and film star Greta Garbo, overlooks the Piazza Vescovado and is the historical and cultural centre of Ravello. Afterwards we take the winding road down to meet the famous Amalfi Coast drive, travelling back to Vietri sul Mare where we have the afternoon at leisure to perhaps visit the cathedral to admire the cupola adorned with painted majolica or visit the many ceramic shops. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B)
Monday April 1: Pompeii
We travel to Pompeii, where we spend the day exploring the private and public buildings which have captured the imagination of visitors since the ruins were discovered in the 18th century. Pompeii offers a huge variety of ruins, and there will be some free time for individual exploration as well as the structured visit. Our tour here ends at the Villa of the Mysteries, a large villa on the town’s edge with superb frescoes. We check in to our hotel set right on Naples’ seafront promenade, and stroll to a local restaurant for dinner. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Tuesday April 2: National Archaeological Museum
This morning we visit Italy’s most important archaeological museum with its outstanding collection, housed in a fine Bourbon building, containing a wealth of paintings, mosaics, sculptures and everyday objects from Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Bay of Naples. It also houses the ‘Farnese collection’, Roman works assembled in the Renaissance by the aristocratic Farnese family and acquired through marriage by the Bourbons. The museum itself, housed in a splendid palace, is a testament to the influence of the European Enlightenment in Naples. This afternoon is at leisure. Overnight Naples (B)
Wednesday April 3: Art and artefacts
Naples boasts over 900 churches, testimony to a wide range of architectural styles and repositories of spectacular artworks. This morning we visit just three of these: San Giovanni a Carbonara, a treasure trove of marble sculpture and 15th-century frescoes, coupled with a majolica mosaic floor; the Cathedral, with its fascinating multilayered architecture; and finally, the Pio Monte della Misericordia to view Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy, painted in 1607. We then venture underground to Napoli Sotterranea, to explore the complex layered history of the city, and stroll back through vibrant Spaccanapoli along the decumani, the ancient Greco-Roman thoroughfares. Overnight Naples (B)
Thursday April 4: Herculaneum and Oplontis
Herculaneum is smaller and less visited than Pompeii, but is in many ways a better-preserved site, with mosaics, paintings and even wooden architecture and furniture still to be found in situ. Unlike Pompeii, which was an agricultural centre, Herculaneum was a ‘resort’ town on the coast, and the site features large seafront houses as well as the baths, shops and other public buildings that one expects to find in a Roman town. If possible we will also call in at the Herculaneum Conservation Project, an important international effort to preserve the ruins of one of the world’s leading archaeological sites. In the afternoon, we visit the Imperial ‘Villa of Poppea’ at Oplontis, a massive structure with well-preserved frescoes on the walls. The villa is believed to have belonged to the Emperor Nero and used by his second wife Poppea Sabina. Overnight Naples (B)
Friday April 5: Capodimonte
The Palace of Capodimonte is in the hills above Naples. Once a royal hunting lodge, the palace is today a world-class art gallery, containing paintings by Raphael, Titian, El Greco and Botticelli, as well as fine examples of Neapolitan silver and majolica ceramics. We return to Naples in the afternoon where, time permitting and for those who still have some energy, we stroll up the Via Toledo to view the Caravaggio painting in the Banca Commerciale and the majolica cloister of the Santa Chiara monastery. This evening we enjoy our farewell meal together at an excellent local restaurant. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Saturday April 6: Departure
There is a coach transfer to Fiumicino airport for those on late afternoon flights. (B)
Dr Estelle Lazer
An archaeologist who has worked on site at Pompeii for seven seasons and has an international reputation for her research on the city's skeletal remains.
Dr Estelle Lazer is an archaeologist with an international reputation for her work on the human victims of Pompeii, with more field seasons in the Bay of Naples than she cares to remember! Her PhD studied the site’s human skeletons, and her current project is to CT scan and X-ray the unique casts of these victims. Estelle’s book, Resurrecting Pompeii, was published by Routledge and her work forms a core part of the Ancient History syllabus for the NSW Higher School Certificate.
Estelle is an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney. In October 2017, the University of Sydney and the Pompeii Archaeological Park signed an historic Memorandum of Agreement to partner in an important new scanning project led by Estelle. Her research has received considerable media attention in print, radio and television, with two documentaries (one for the BBC and Smithsonian, and another in production for Britain’s Channel 5) ensuring a wide audience for her fascinating findings.
Her other main field of research is historical archaeology in Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic. Estelle spent four summers working on Mawson’s Huts, and has spent another summer studying evidence of the sealing industry as well as Australia’s first post-war Antarctic base at Heard Island. She has also worked on archaeological sites in Bahrain, south-eastern Italy, Cyprus, the UK and Australia.
In addition to her teaching work at the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney, Estelle gives frequent public lectures at the invitation of universities, schools and museums, such as the Australian National University, Oxford University, the British Museum, University of Trondheim, Norway and the British School at Rome.
Estelle has led tours to Italy and the Mediterranean for Academy Travel since the company’s inception in 2004, and also works extensively with our Academy Schools program for teachers and students. In addition to her obvious archaeological expertise, she particularly enjoys explaining the place of mythology in the landscape – especially in Sicily and southern Italy.
Hotels have been selected principally for their central location. All hotels are excellent four-star properties that are renovated palazzi.
Lecce, Hotel Patria Palace (3 nights)
Housed in an aristocratic mansion dating back to the 18th century and located in the heart of Lecce. www.patriapalace.com
Matera, Hotel to be announced (2 nights)
Trani, Hotel San Paolo al Convento (3 nights)
An old monastery renovated into a 4-star hotel, set in front of Trani’s harbour, offering panoramic views. www.sanpaoloalconvento.it
Vietri sul Mare, Hotel to be announced (3 nights)
Naples, Hotel Santa Lucia (5 nights)
Located on Naples’ seafront promenade, the hotel offers panoramic views across the Bay of Naples and Castello dell’Ovo. www.santalucia.it
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 public transport is 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
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? Open-age 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
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
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
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.