This tour takes the ‘road less travelled’ through the regions of Puglia and Basilicata and on to the famous archaeological sites of the Bay of Naples. Along the way we encounter a wealth of little-visited classical, Byzantine, medieval and Baroque sites set among rugged mountains and Mediterranean scenery. We also enjoy the fine food and hospitality traditional to southern Italy, a region still pleasantly free of mass tourism. Using the characteristic towns of Lecce, Matera and Trani as our base for the first part of the tour, we explore settlements on the Adriatic coastline, ranging from the troglodyte dwellings of Matera to ancient Greek colonies. We’ll admire fine Byzantine and Norman castles and cathedrals, and the dramatic countryside of the Salentine peninsula.
The latter part of the tour explores both the history and natural beauty of the Bay of Naples. Our sightseeing here will showcase an impressive line-up of world-class archaeological sites, as well as some of the outstanding art and architecture to be found in this exciting region.
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Visit key sites including the ancient Greek colony of Paestum, with its well-preserved temples, as well as the Roman settlements of Pompeii and Herculaneum, where domestic structures were encapsulated in volcanic debris.
Lecce’s Baroque Splendour
The city of Lecce is renowned for its exuberant Barocco Leccese architectural style. As a fine example, we’ll visit Basilica di Santa Croce, its façade a riot of sculptured saints, angels and columns, all in the local honey-coloured stone.
Castel del Monte
A striking 13th-century citadel and castle situated on an isolated hill in Andria, Castel del Monte is a sophisticated, geometrical fortress and one of the most intriguing secular buildings of the Middle Ages.
Italy’s Secret Caves
At least 9,000 years ago, humans settled in caves in the canyon walls of Matera, extending them until thousands of grottoes honeycombed the town. These hauntingly beautiful sassi make up Italy’s oldest continually inhabited dwellings, sprawling below the rim of a ravine like a giant nativity scene.
The tour begins and ends at Rome Fiumicino airport. Emirates, Qatar and Singapore Airlines offer the best connections to Rome for our continuing group flight to Brindisi, and with our return coach from Naples. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Thursday 2 March – Arrival
Meet your tour leader at Rome’s 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, enjoy dinner in the hotel. Overnight Lecce (D)
Friday 3 March – Lecce
After a talk in the hotel, we set out on foot with a local guide to explore 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. While Lecce’s Roman heritage is evident, 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. The afternoon is free to explore independently or simply relax, then in the evening we have our welcome dinner at a fine local restaurant. Overnight Lecce (B, D)
Saturday 4 March – 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 tasting of Pugliese cuisine at a traditional Masseria farmstead. The area is known for its excellent primitivo wine and delicious canestrato cheese, among other delights. Olive oil is considered ‘Apulia gold’ with the region producing almost two-million tons of oil annually. En route back to Lecce we visit a local olive oil farm to sample the home-grown produce. Overnight Lecce (B, L)
Sunday 5 March – Brindisi and Taranto
Departing Lecce today we travel north to Matera via the harbour 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. 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 6 March – Matera, 2019 Capital of Culture
Today we take a walking tour of the ancient UNESCO town of Matera, dramatically 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 myriad natural caves were gradually burrowed deeper and expanded into living spaces by peasants and artisans throughout the classical and medieval periods. Nowadays these underground residences are being reinhabited and staying in one of the sassi cave hotels is a popular and unique experience. By contrast, the so-called ‘New Town’, has many elegant Baroque churches, palazzi, and broad piazzas to explore. Overnight Matera (B)
Tuesday 7 March – Alberobello and Egnazia
Departing Matera this morning we travel north to Trani, pausing first to visit the nearby town of Alberobello, an amalgamation of more than 1,000 ancient trulli: beehive-shaped, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs, huddled together along steep, narrow streets. We continue 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. This evening we dine together in a local restaurant. Overnight Trani (B, D)
Wednesday 8 March – Trani
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. Free time this afternoon to explore Trani at your leisure. Overnight Trani (B)
Thursday 9 March – Barletta, Cannae and Castel del Monte
Today we visit a range of sites a short distance inland from Trani. First, we stop at the neighbouring town of Barletta to view the Colossus of Barletta, a large bronze statue of an Eastern Roman Emperor, nearly three times life size. We then visit the site of the Battle of Cannae, where in 216 BC the Carthaginian general Hannibal routed the Roman army. A small museum and viewing platform at the site allow for a good understanding of this famous event. We continue on to 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. Overnight Trani (B)
Friday 10 March – Bari and Bitonto
This morning we visit the town of Bari, a port city on the Adriatic Sea and the capital of southern Italy’s Puglia region to explore Bari’s narrow streets and its maze-like old town. 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)
Saturday 11 March – Venosa and Melfi
Today we make the journey across Italy to Vietri sul Mare, gateway to the Amalfi Coast. En route we visit the unassuming town of Venosa, once the thriving Roman colony of Venusia. Venosa’s main square, Piazza Umberto I, is dominated by a 15th-century Aragonese castle, containing a small Archaeological Museum. We also see the ruins of the Abbey of Santissima Trinità, believed to date back to the 8th century. We continue to the town of Melfi to visit its National Archaeological Museum, which contains artefacts from all periods of settlement, including the Daunian, Samnite, Lucanian and Roman periods. This evening we have dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B, D)
Sunday 12 March – Magna Graecia – Paestum
After a background talk this morning we visit Paestum, the best preserved of the ancient Greek settlements in the region. En route we visit Tenuta Vannulo, an organic farm producing buffalo milk mozzarella to sample some of this local delicacies. After enjoying a light lunch here, we continue to the ancient town of Paestum to view the three fine Doric temples, impressive town walls and other structures. 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. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B, L)
Monday 13 March– Herculaneum and Oplontis
Today we travel to Naples, stopping en route in Herculaneum to relish the wonderfully well-preserved site, with mosaics, paintings and even wooden architecture and furniture still to be found in situ. Herculaneum was a ‘resort’ town on the coast, and the site features large seafront houses, baths, shops and other public buildings typical of Roman towns. In the afternoon, we visit the Imperial ‘Villa of Poppea’ at Oplontis, a massive structure with stunning frescoes. The villa is believed to have belonged to the Emperor Nero and been used by his second wife Poppea Sabina. After checking in to our hotel, we stroll to a local restaurant for dinner. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Tuesday 14 March – Pompeii
Today, we travel to Pompeii to explore this remarkable archaeological site. We tour the site, which was buried for centuries beneath metres of volcanic debris, to survey the spectacular relics of the private and public buildings that have captured the imagination of visitors since the ruins were discovered in the 18th century. Our tour includes the Villa of the Mysteries, a large villa on the town’s edge with superb frescoes. Overnight Naples (B)
Wednesday 15 March – Archaeology and Art
This morning we venture underground to Napoli Sotterranea to explore the complex layered history of the city. Later in the day we visit Italy’s most important archaeological museum to see its outstanding collection of paintings, mosaics, sculptures and everyday objects from Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Bay of Naples. We also see 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. Overnight Naples (B)
Thursday 16 March – Art and Artefacts
Naples’ 900 churches boast a range of architectural styles and repositories of spectacular artworks. This morning we take a walking tour of Central Naples and stroll back through vibrant Spaccanapoli along the decumani, the ancient Greco-Roman thoroughfares. We visit Museo Cappella San Severo, at the centre of which is a remarkable sculpture of the veiled Christ. Finally, we walk to the Pio Monte della Misericordia to view Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy, painted in 1607. Later in the day we travel to the hills above Naples to the grand Bourbon palace of Capodimonte, home to southern Italy’s largest and richest art gallery. It includes a range of works, from exquisite 12th-century altarpieces to works by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Titian and Warhol. We finish our tour with a farewell meal together at an excellent local restaurant. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Friday 17 March – Departure
The tour concludes this morning after breakfast. There is a coach transfer to Rome’s Fiumicino airport for those on late afternoon flights. (B)
Dr Eireann Marshall
Dr Eireann Marshall is an Honorary Research Associate and Associate Lecturer with the Open University.
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. 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
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, 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.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.