Travel to some of Italy’s lesser-visited destinations and discover Renaissance princes’ magnificent reinterpretations of ancient Roman glory. From Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan, to Mantegna’s celebrated Camera degli Sposi in Mantua and the enigmatic Piero della Francesca in Urbino, we survey iconic masterworks of the Italian Renaissance. The tour takes in the best of these regions at a gentle pace, including full day trips to enjoy Ravenna’s glittering Byzantine mosaics and historic Ferrara, and meals in some fine gastronomic establishments – all in the beautiful landscapes of northern Italy.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan: The Last Supper, Codex Atlanticus and his impact on subsequent painters
Magical Urbino, perched on a remote hill and proud custodian of three masterworks of Piero della Francesca
The Gonzaga in Mantua, from Mantegna’s Camera degli Sposi to Giulio Romano’s mischievous Mannerism in Palazzo Te
A full day in Ravenna, preserving the best examples of Byzantine mosaic from the 5th and 6th centuries
Northern Italy’s iconic terroir, from the DOC wines of vine-covered hills to truffles, pasta fresca and balsamic vinegar
Days 1–4: Arrive Bologna, explore the Renaissance’s medieval origins, from the splendour of “Dark Age” Ravenna, to the revival of sculpture in Modena and Bologna’s modernday renaissance as Italy’s gastronomic capital.
Days 5–7: Travel to hilltop Urbino in the green heart of Le Marche. Examine Piero della Francesca’s most famous works; discover tiny San Marino and Gradara.
Days 8–11: From Mantua, survey the small but splendid northern courts, from Mantegna and Giulio Romano’s frescoes, to Parmigianino in Fontanellato and elegant Ferrara.
Days 12–15: Travel to Milan, explore Leonardo’s city, including his Last Supper.
The tour begins at our hotel in Bologna and ends in our hotel in Milan. Emirates offers flights into Bologna and out of Milan from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Wednesday 22 September: Arrival
Your tour leader, Dr Kathleen Olive, will meet the group in the hotel lobby at 5.00pm, and there will be a light dinner in a restaurant near the hotel after a tour briefing and orientation stroll. Overnight Bologna (D)
Thursday 23 September: Bologna in the Middle Ages
Today we explore the medieval and Renaissance heritage of Bologna, witnessing the transition between styles in the city’s centro storico, from the splendid complex of the Sette Chiese based on Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre, to the medieval theology of San Petronio’s frescoes and the drama of Christ’s Passion in Santa Maria della Vita’s famed terracotta sculptures. After lunch at leisure, there is the option to continue to San Giacomo Maggiore, in the university district, where we see how rulers in less-important centres, such as Bologna’s Bentivoglio family, used artists like Lorenzo Costa to strengthen their local profile through explicit reference to their grander connections in Ferrara and Milan. This evening we have dinner in one of Bologna’s excellent restaurants. Overnight Bologna (B, D)
Friday 24 September: “Dark Age” Glory in Ravenna
Today we travel to Ravenna, capital of the Byzantine Empire in Italy from the 5th to 8th centuries AD. The churches and baptisteries of this town are decorated with the finest Late Roman mosaics, gorgeous compositions reflecting a variety of religious and imperial themes, and we spend a full day exploring their contexts. We return to Bologna in the late afternoon, and the evening is at leisure. Overnight Bologna (B)
Saturday 25 September: In Modena
Today we make the short journey to Modena, once a trading outpost on a significant medieval road and the eventual base of Ferrara’s Este dynasty. Our walking tour of the historic centre includes the cathedral, where we survey Wiligelmus’s sculptural reliefs on its façade, one of Romanesque art’s most important achievements, and also enjoy a tasting of the certified local product: balsamic vinegar! After lunch in a fine restaurant, we return to Bologna. The later afternoon is at leisure. Overnight Bologna (B, L, balsamic vinegar tasting)
Sunday 26 September: On the Via Emilia
Today we follow an ancient Roman road from Bologna to the Adriatic, stopping in the small town of Cesena along the way to tour an extraordinary monument of the Italian Renaissance. Cesena, now a sleepy provincial town, is part of the region known as the Romagna, hotly contested in the Renaissance by the papacy (particularly Alexander VI’s son, Cesare Borgia) and local lords from the Malatesta and Montefeltro dynasties. In Cesena, the Biblioteca Malatestiana is an extraordinary monument to the humanism of these provincial figures. After visiting the library, we continue to Urbino where we enjoy a group meal near our hotel. (B, D)
Monday 27 September: The Republic of San Marino
San Marino is the world’s smallest and oldest republic. It consists of three ancient castles perched on sheer cliffs rising implausibly out of the flatlands of Romagna, and a tangled knot of cobblestone streets. Today we take a guided tour of the town and enjoy its extraordinary views. We then visit the ancient fortress town of Gradara, with its iconic castle, Dantesque tales of illicit love, and official status as one of Italy’s most beautiful towns (or borghi più belli d’Italia). We return to Urbino in the late afternoon. Overnight Urbino (B)
Tuesday 28 September: Fairytale Urbino
This morning we tour the principal sites of Urbino, a small hill-town which was transformed by the benevolent rule of Federico da Montefeltro. We visit the Palazzo Ducale and its celebrated intarsia-work studiolo, and the Galleria Nazionale, with Piero della Francesca’s tiny Flagellation. In the afternoon we take an optional walk to the Parco della Resistenza for panoramic views over the town. The evening is at leisure. Overnight Urbino (B)
Wednesday 29 September: Piero della Francesca and Rimini
We depart Urbino this morning, bound for Mantua. En route we stop at the coastal town of Rimini. In the 15th century it was ruled by the Malatesta family. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta had a horrible reputation – for poisoning wives and supposedly terrifying his enemy, Pope Pius II, with his cruel rapacity – but he also had Leon Battista Alberti design his classically inspired Tempio Malatestiano, and Piero della Francesca create a fresco for its interior. After exploring Rimini, we continue to Mantua and arrive in the afternoon. There is a light dinner near our hotel tonight. Overnight Mantua (B, D)
Thursday 30 September: Mantegna in Mantua
We spend the morning exploring the early Renaissance monuments of Mantua, including a guided tour of the Ducal Palace. This vast agglomeration of medieval and Renaissance structures now houses fine works of art, including Andrea Mantegna’s celebrated Camera degli Sposi or “bridal chamber”. We also see the early church of Sant’Andrea, designed by Leon Battista Alberti, and the later Teatro Bibiena, which embodies many ideals of Renaissance humanism and scientific endeavour. The afternoon and evening are at leisure. Overnight Mantua (B)
Friday 1 October: In Ferrara With the Este
Perhaps today the least well-known of Italy’s Renaissance centres, Ferrara was the final word in 15th-century innovation. The Este were among the first to invite Flemish artists, such as Rogier van der Weyden, to their court and encouraged Italian artists to perfect the “new” oil medium. At the Palazzo Diamanti, we see how locals such as Cosmé Tura adapted northern models to Italian concerns. The Palazzo Schifanoia is, at the time of writing, closed for earthquake repairs, but should it re-open we will visit it to survey glorious frescoes depicting the court of Borso d’Este, executed by Francesco del Cossa and others. Ferrara has a long Jewish Italian intellectual history (novelist Giorgio Bassani was a local, for example), and in the afternoon we pay a visit to the newly-opened Museo dell’ebraismo italiano. It hosts temporary exhibitions exploring the rich history of Jewish cultural life in the Italian peninsula. We return to Mantua in the late afternoon. Overnight Mantua (B)
Saturday 2 October: Villas and Gardens of Renaissance Mantua
We begin the day with an excursion to the garden of Sigurtà, located outside the town of Mantua. This English-style garden – with roses, tulips and a charming labyrinth – has passed through the hands of a number of patrician families, and has been open to the public since 1978. It has won recognition in recent years as one of the most beautiful parklands in Europe. Returning to Mantua for lunch at leisure, we have a guided tour in the afternoon of the Palazzo Te, an extraordinary pleasure palace on the outskirts of Mantua, near Alberti’s Renaissance temple, San Sebastiano, and Andrea Mantegna’s well-preserved house. The Palazzo Te was decorated by one of the finest Mannerist painters of the 16th century: Giulio Romano, a student of Raphael’s, who plays as easily here with grand mythological narratives as with erotic jokes and manipulations of perspective and proportion. The evening is at leisure. Overnight Mantua (B)
Sunday 3 October: Masterpieces of the Brera
We depart Mantua today by private coach for Milan. In the afternoon, after a break for lunch, we visit the Pinacoteca di Brera, a world-class collection of northern Italian art, bringing together many of the works produced in the Renaissance courts we will visit. We admire Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ and Piero della Francesca’s representation of Federico da Montefeltro’s court in his Holy Conversation, as well as numerous artworks by Bellini, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio and Rembrandt. After your visit, you might like to explore the neighbourhood around the Brera with its many small restaurants. Overnight Milan (B)
Monday 4 October: The Duomo and Milan
This morning is at leisure to enjoy Milan, and you may wish to use this time for last minute shopping. In the afternoon, we meet at the hotel to visit the roof of Milan’s cathedral, which offers spectacular views over the city at sunset and a close appreciation of the wonders of Gothic stone masonry. Overnight Milan (B)
Tuesday 5 October: Leonardo da Vinci At the Sforza Court
This morning we are booked to view Leonardo’s masterly Last Supper at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the heart of the residential district developed by Ludovico Sforza for his courtiers. We continue on to admire Leonardo’s impact on subsequent Lombard artists at San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. After lunch at leisure, we walk to the Ambrosiana, where Leonardo’s lovely Portrait of a musician, along with his Codex Atlanticus and masterpieces by Raphael and Caravaggio, remain at the heart of this dynastic collection. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner together. Overnight Milan (B, D)
Wednesday 6 October: Departure
Our tour concludes this morning, after breakfast in our hotel. Departing group members have made individual arrangements for their onward travel: please check your documentation for more information.
Dr Kathleen Olive
A literary and cultural historian with a PhD from the University of Sydney, with particular expertise in Italy, Spain and Japan.
Dr Kathleen Olive is a literary and cultural historian with close to 15 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Japan and the United States. She has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, interior design, fashion history and contemporary fiction.
Kathleen holds a BA with first class Honours and a PhD, both from the Department of Italian Studies at the University of Sydney. For a number of years she worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney, teaching Italian language, literature and history. Kathleen continues to teach, as a national lecturer for the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (ADFAS), and in adult education courses in Sydney. In 2015, her edition of the Codex Rustici (a 15th-century commonplace book that Kathleen worked on with Nerida Newbigin, for her doctoral studies and for publication) was presented to Pope Francis on his first official visit to Florence.
Kathleen’s historical and artistic knowledge stretches from the Middle Ages through to the early 20th century. In Italy she has led numerous tours focusing on the medieval and Renaissance periods. In Spain she has a particular concentration on the “Convivencia” of Islamic, Christian and Jewish cultures in the south, and on the medieval pilgrimage routes of the north. Her tours of the USA’s north-east have focused on American collectors and their Gilded Age reinventions of European glory days, and in Japan she is particularly interested in contemporary design, from fashion to architecture. Kathleen speaks fluent Italian, is conversant in Spanish and understands French.
Kathleen was first involved on a tour to Italy in 2003 and it sparked her passion for on-the-spot communication of art and history. Since 2010 she has worked exclusively for Academy Travel, leading 6 tours a year. She has designed a number of our popular tours, from the Florence residential, to surveys of the courts of Renaissance Italy and of central Italy’s villas and gardens, as well as “twin city” tours to Palermo and Naples and to Florence and Rome. Closer to home, Kathleen is leading Academy Travel’s inaugural tour to Japan and our popular tours to Tasmania.
We asked Kathleen, what do you enjoy most about leading a group tour?
“I really enjoy travelling with groups who share interests in the history, culture and even food of a destination. It means that those personal connections are there right from the beginning, just waiting to be made.”
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than finding out the particular interests of my fellow travellers – an artist, a dish they love eating, their memories of a particular place – and finding a way to make an experience happen for them. That might mean recommending a particular wine bar, directing them to a museum that features artists they already like, or suggesting the best time of day for a view over a town. It’s so satisfying to be involved in making these kinds of memories for people.”
“Many of the people I travel with comment on my passion for the places I visit. It’s not just that I know my names and dates – it’s that I really enjoy bringing out the connections between history and art, for example, or between landscape and food. I never grow tired of injecting this kind of life into ‘dry’ academic knowledge.”
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