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 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 medieval castles and cathedrals of Puglia, built by Norman and German rulers
The battlefield of Cannae, where Hannibal defeated the Romans in 216 BC
The unique ‘sassi’ cave dwellings in the ancient city of Matera, one of Italy’s most remote cities
The hidden artistic and architectural gems of Naples, seen by relatively few tourists
Europe’s premier archaeological sites, including Paestum, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis
Capodimonte, the Bourbon royal palace housing a remarkable collection of fine art
Days 1–3: Group flight from Rome and arrive in Lecce, explore the town, Otranto.
Days 4–5: Tour Brindisi and Taranto, see the ‘sassi’ of Matera.
Days 6–9: In Trani, visit Roman and medieval sites including Barletta. Visit Cannae and Castel del Monte and enjoy a full day excursion to Barrie and Bitonto.
Days 10–11: Visit Venosa and Melfi as we travel to Vietri sul Mare and spend a day at Paestum.
Days 12–16: Explore the city of Naples, including the National Archaeological Museum. Visit key archaeological sites at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis, as well as Capodimonte. Coach to Rome.
The tour begins and ends at Rome Fiumicino airport. Emirates, Etihad, 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 March 11: 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 March 12: 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. 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. 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 March 13: 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 canesranto 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 March 14: 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. 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 15: Matera
The UNESCO town of Matera was awarded by the European Union, the title of the European Capital of Culture in 2019. This award is an opportunity for the city to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits and it can help foster urban regeneration and raise its visibility and profile on an international scale. Today we take a walking tour of the ancient city, 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 March 16: 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 trulli, ancient beehive-shaped, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs. Huddled together along steep, narrow streets, the trulli are a unique and striking phenomenon. These curious structures were built at least as early as the 13th century. 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. 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 17: 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. This afternoon is at leisure to explore Trani Overnight Trani (B)
Thursday March 18: 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 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 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 March 19: Bari and Bintoto
This morning we visit the town of Bari, a port city on the Adriatic Sea and the capital of southern Italy’s Puglia region. See Bari’s narrow streets and its maze-like old town. In the afternoon we travel to nearby Bintoto, to visit the largest cathedral in Puglia, now 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 March 20: Venosa and Melfi
Today we make the journey across Italy to Vietri sul Mare, the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. En route we visit the unassuming town of Venosa, once a thriving Roman colony of Venusia, which owed much of its prosperity to it’s position on the Appian Way. The poet Horace was born there in 65 BC, and many of his poems mention places in the vicinity. 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, that is believed to date back to the 8th century. We continue 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 a local restaurant. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B, D)
Sunday March 21: 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. Enroute we visit Tenuta Vannulo, an organic farm producing buffalo milk mozzarella. 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. We enjoy a light lunch here before we continue to Paestum. 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. Overnight Vietri sul Mare (B, L)
Monday March 22: Herculaneum and Oplontis
Today we travel to Naples, stopping en route in Herculaneum to relish in the wonderfully well-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. In the afternoon, we visit the Imperial ‘Villa of Poppea’ at Oplontis, a massive structure with stunning frescoes on the walls. The villa is believed to have belonged to the Emperor Nero and used by his second wife Poppea Sabina. Early evening, we check in to our hotel located in the heart of the city. This evening we stroll to a local restaurant for dinner. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Tuesday March 23: 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 March 24: 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 see too, 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 March 25: Art and Artefacts
Naples boasts over 900 churches, testimony to a wide 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, placed at the centre is one of the world’s most remarkable sculptures, the statue of the veiled Christ. Finally, 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. Once a royal hunting lodge, today it is home to southern Italy’s largest and richest art gallery. Its vast collection, much of which Charles VII of Bourbon inherited from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese, was moved here in 1759 and ranges from exquisite 12th century altarpieces to works by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Titian and Warhol. We return to Naples early in the evening. We finish our tour with a farewell meal together at an excellent local restaurant. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Friday March 26: 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 Estelle Lazer
An archaeologist with an international reputation for her work on the human victims of Pompeii in southern Italy.
Estelle has also worked on archaeological sites in the Middle East, Italy, Cyprus, the UK, Antarctica and Australia.
Estelle is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Sydney. Her work on the human victims from Pompeii has been published, most notably, in an academic volume, Resurrecting Pompeii. Estelle is currently heading a project to examine the casts of the Pompeian victims for the first time, using digital X-ray and CT scanning technology. Estelle’s research has been included in three documentaries over the past few years: Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed with Mary Beard for the BBC (and the Smithsonian and Arte), Pompeii’s Final Hours: New Evidence (a three-part series for Channel Five in the UK) and a soon to be released documentary for National Geographic.
She has been invited to deliver lectures on her research at a number of international institutions, including the National Museum of Singapore, Oxford University and the British Museum in the UK, Lund University, The Italian Cultural Institute, Stockholm and Stockholm University in Sweden, Trondheim University in Norway and the Getty Villa Museum in the US.
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.
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.
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