Take a step back in time and explore medieval Italy through its beautifully preserved towns, abbeys and hidden gems. This 17-day journey follows the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage and trade route linking Europe to Rome, from the shores of Lake Geneva, across the spectacular Great St Bernard Pass and into the Val d’Aosta. As it continues to Rome through Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano and Orvieto, the path, once travelled by the pilgrims and merchants of the Middle Ages, has been largely bypassed by modernity, allowing a unique view on medieval and Renaissance Italy.
Medieval masterpieces in little-visited sites, from the Abbey of St Maurice to Pisa’s Museo di San Matteo
Sublime alpine scenery at Lake Geneva, the Great St Bernard Pass and Val d’Aosta
The great artists of the Italian Renaissance: Duccio in Siena, Benozzo Gozzoli in San Gimignano, Signorelli in Orvieto
Historic Rome beyond the tourist trail, from Roman ruins and medieval mosaics at San Clemente to the spectacular Museum of the High Middle Ages
The hill towns and landscapes of southern Tuscany: Siena, Pienza, San Gimignano
Days 1–4: Arrive Geneva and transfer to Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. Explore lakeside towns, then cross the Great St Bernard Pass to the Val d’Aosta.
Days 5–7: Explore the Val d’Aosta, visit Pavia, and enjoy the medieval hamlets and cuisine of Emilia-Romagna.
Days 8–13: Travel through the landscapes and towns of medieval Tuscany, from our bases in Pisa and Pienza. Enjoy the glories of Gothic Siena.
Days 14–17: Visit Orvieto’s splendid cathedral and discover the less-visited sites of medieval Rome, including San Clemente and the Museum of the High Middle Ages.
The tour begins at Geneva airport and ends at Rome Fiumicino airport. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways offer the best connections to Geneva and home from Rome. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Sunday May 31: Arrive
Meet your tour leader Jeni Ryde at Geneva airport to commence the tour. Take an afternoon transfer by coach to Montreux on Lake Geneva. The afternoon is free to explore the lakeside promenades and art nouveau buildings of Montreux. This evening we have dinner in the hotel. Overnight Montreux (D)
Monday June 1: Lake Geneva
After a morning talk we travel by ferry to the Château de Chillon, the best preserved medieval castle in Switzerland and the inspiration for Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon. Scenically and strategically located on the lake just beneath the Alps, the castle lay directly on the route of the Via Francigena. Today it contains an outstanding collection of furnishings and decorative arts from the Middle Ages. We then enjoy a lunchtime cruise on the lower reaches of Lake Geneva. The later afternoon is free. Overnight Montreux (B, L)
Tuesday June 2: The Swiss Alps
This morning we take the spectacular rack railway from Montreux to Rochers-de-Naye. The steep climb takes us 1600 metres above the lake. From here, there is a fine view across both Lake Geneva and to the highest peaks of the Alps. This afternoon there is the option of travelling to Lausanne by train to explore this historic city and to visit the Olympic Museum, on the shores of Lake Léman. In the early evening, there is a talk in the hotel. Overnight Montreux (B)
Wednesday June 3: The Great St Bernard Pass
Today we cross the Great St Bernard Pass, the pass between Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, which has been used since the Bronze Age. We visit the abbey of St Maurice with its extraordinary treasury of decorative arts from late antiquity to the Middle Ages, which including some of the finest examples of Carolingian gold and enamel ware. Crossing over the pass, we continue on to visit the Pierre Gianadda foundation, whose permanent collection includes works by Chagall. Descending into Italy we stop at Aosta. Founded by the Romans to control the southern side of the pass, Aosta has an important cathedral and many Roman and medieval ruins. This evening we have dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Aosta (B, D)
Thursday June 4: Aosta
This morning we have a walking tour of Aosta, followed by an excursion to the Castello di Fenis, a good example of the medieval castles which dot the landscape in this part of Italy. We enjoy lunch in a restaurant near the château. If the weather is good, we will also travel to the nearby Swiss Alps this afternoon, to take in the magnificent view of the Matterhorn. Returning to Aosta, the evening is at leisure after a talk in the hotel. Overnight Aosta (B)
Friday June 5: Pavia
Today we travel to Pavia, the former capital of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy and now a quiet university town. We first visit the spectacular Certosa of Pavia, a Renaissance masterpiece built by the Dukes of Milan, and then take a walking tour of Pavia, visiting St Augustine’s tomb in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. The precious relic was brought to this church, established in the 7th century, after its resting place on Sardinia was threatened by Saracens. The beautiful tomb, or arca, in which the Saint lies is a delicate work of 14th-century sculpture. In the mid-afternoon, we continue on to Salsomaggiore, a turn-of-the-century spa town nestled in the foothills of the Apennines in Emilia-Romagna, a region boasting Italy’s most highly prized cuisine. This evening we have dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Salsomaggiore (B, D)
Saturday June 6: Apennine Hill Towns
The Apennines are a natural barrier to political ambition in Italy: the few passes through them are easily guarded and control of them was central to reaching Rome. Today we explore the region’s history, art and gastronomy, visiting Vigoleno and Castell’Arquato – two exceptionally well-preserved fortified hamlets with beautiful Romanesque churches and views across the countryside. After lunch at an excellent country restaurant, we continue to Chiaravalle della Colomba, a 12th century Cistercian monastery-come-hospice, and Fidenza whose beautiful cathedral is adorned with sculptures by Antelami, widely regarded as the Michelangelo of the Middle Ages. Overnight Salsomaggiore (B, L)
Sunday June 7: Magnani-Rocca Foundation
This morning we step into contemporary Italy with a visit to the villa of the Magnani Rocca Foundation, to visit its wonderful art collection, including masterpieces by Monet, Titian and Durer and an excellent collection of modern Italian artists, including de Chirico, Morandi and Fontana. After lunch at a country restaurant, we visit Torrechiara, a magnificent castle complex with frescos by Cesare Baglione. We then cross the Apennines into Tuscany. After checking into our hotel, there is the option of travelling the short distance to Lucca, to witness the annual procession of the Sacro Volto, a crucifix that has been in Lucca since 742 CE and was believed to have been sculpted by Nicodemus, one of the men who buried Christ. Overnight Pisa (B, L)
Monday June 8: Pisa
Pisa was one of the leading maritime powers of the Middle Ages and the wealth and power of its citizens was expressed through their innovative art and architecture. This morning we have a guided visit of the Romanesque cathedral and baptistery, which contain some of the finest sculptures of Nicola Pisano, a 13th-century sculptor who is credited with creating the first ‘Renaissance’ works of art. We then visit the Camposanto – a cemetery filled with earth from the Holy Land brought back on Pisan ships – whose Roman sarcophagi inspired Pisano’s work. In the afternoon, we visit the excellent but little visited Museo di San Matteo, and stroll the banks of the Arno River in the historic city centre. Overnight Pisa (B)
Tuesday June 9: Lucca
Like Pavia, Lucca was a major Lombard town which later became an important stopping-point for travellers on the Via Francigena. The remains of its Roman amphitheatre, superb Romanesque churches and complete Renaissance walls indicate the ongoing importance of the city. After a tour of the city, the afternoon is free, with the option of ascending the Torre Guinigi, a distinctive medieval family tower with holm oaks growing on its summit! Lucca is also an excellent shopping place, with a reputation for fine cotton products stretching back 12 centuries. Overnight Pisa (B)
Wednesday June 10: San Gimignano
Medieval Tuscany was home to numerous independent city states, fiercely competing with each other for territory and trade. This morning we visit San Gimignano, a city-state that grew wealthy because of its location on the Via Francigena. This hill town is well known for its medieval towers and fine works of art by artists such as Benozzo Gozzoli. In the afternoon we stop at Abbadia a Isola, a fortified medieval monastery surrounded by fields of sunflowers just north of Siena, and Monteriggione, a fortified hamlet made famous by Dante’s Divine Comedy. We continue to Pienza, where our base is a 15th-century convent converted into a hotel. This evening we have dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Pienza (B, D)
Thursday June 11: Pienza and Southern Tuscany
After a morning talk we take a leisurely stroll around Pienza, remodelled in the 15th-century on Renaissance principles when local boy Aeneus Silvius Piccolomini was elected Pope Pius II. We then travel around the UNESCO World Heritage-listed countryside of southern Tuscany. We tour Spedaletto, a 12th-century fortified refuge for pilgrims, and Bagno Vignoni, whose thermal springs were known to the Romans and medieval travellers on their way to and from Rome. We then visit Monte Oliveto Maggiore, the largest Benedictine abbey in Tuscany. We tour the monastery with its beautiful fresco cycle by Renaissance artist Il Sodoma. Overnight Pienza (B)
Friday June 12: Siena
Siena suffered a major decline after the great plague of 1348, and its historical centre has changed little since then. More than any other city we visit, it retains the appearance it would have had for medieval pilgrims. The fine medieval buildings of Siena are a result of the prosperity brought about by its location on the trade route and the development of banking. We spend the morning in and around the Campo, the main square of Siena, visiting the very fine town hall. The first work of secular fresco after Antiquity is still preserved here, Lorenzetti’s cycle on Good and Bad Government. After lunch we visit the cathedral and the museum of the cathedral, containing a masterpiece of medieval art, the Maestà by Sienese artist Duccio. We also visit the pilgrim hall opposite the cathedral, whose frescoes and treasury reflect the wealth of the citizens who patronised it. Overnight Pienza (B)
Saturday June 13: Orvieto
We travel south from Pienza this morning. We break our journey at Acquapendente, whose cathedral has fine Romanesque carvings in the crypt. Travelling onward to Rome, we stop at Orvieto. Founded in Etruscan times and with strong links to papal Rome, Orvieto has a wealth of interesting sites. A highlight of our visit is Orvieto’s splendid Gothic cathedral, with its magnificent Renaissance frescos by Luca Signorelli. We continue to Rome and dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Rome (B, D)
Sunday June 14: The Layers of Rome
Rome’s history, art and culture extends well beyond the tourist hotspots. Today we explore medieval Rome, with a guided visit of the extraordinary collection at Rome’s Museum of the High Middle Ages, which contains sculpture, jewellery, mosaics and decorative arts from the 4th to 12th-centuries. In the afternoon, we continue our exploration at early medieval church of San Stefano in Rotondo and San Clemente, where a sense of the layers of Roman history is given with its beautiful 13th-century mosaics in the church’s apse, and the archaeological excavation of the 4th-century church and 2nd-century mithraeum below. Evening at leisure. Overnight Rome (B)
Monday June 15: The Ancient Churches of Rome
Rome thrived in late antiquity as a centre of Christianity, and although its most famous late antique building – Constantine’s Basilica of St Peter – was built over in the Renaissance, there are numerous other places to explore Rome’s art and history from late antiquity to the Middle Ages. These include the 3rd-6th century catacombs of Sant’Agnese and the nearby mosaic mausoleum of Constantine’s daughter, Santa Costanza, which we visit this morning. We then visit two of Rome’s oldest churches with their spectacular mosaics from the 4th and 8th-centuries. In the afternoon, there is the option of take a walking tour to visit masterpieces by Caravaggio and others, before sharing a farewell meal at one of Rome’s finest restaurants. Overnight Rome (B, D)
Tuesday June 16: Departure
The tour ends this morning after breakfast. Please consult your individual travel documents for your outbound journey. (B)
Dr Jeni Ryde
A linguist and art history specialist, with a PhD focusing on Tourism, Heritage and Renaissance Studies.
Dr Jeni Ryde is a linguist and art history specialist with over fifteen years experience leading tours to Italy, Spain and Portugal. She is passionate about art, design and architecture both ancient and modern and particularly enjoys how both complement each other. Her special interests are the simplicity of the Romanesque and the breadth and depth of the Renaissance. When she is not traveling with Academy Travel she is able to indulge her interests in drawing, music and teaching the less fortunate.
Jeni holds two undergraduate degrees with majors in Anthropology and French and Interpreting and Translation with NAATI qualifications, two Masters degrees in Italian Linguistics and TESOL and a cross disciplinary PhD in Renaissance Art History, Tourism and Museum Management.
After an early career as an assistant director in film and television both for the ABC and BBC, she worked as an interpreter and translator and then as a senior lecturer at Western Sydney University with a focus on Italian language, history and culture. She was also head of the postgraduate programs in Languages and Interpreting and Translation. Teaching in Adult Education has included several courses in Renaissance Art History, the Italian language and Italian Cinema for U3A and other community organizations. Jeni speaks fluent Italian and Spanish and has an understanding of French and Portuguese.
Jeni first began designing and leading tours to Italy with her own company in 2002 in response to requests from travelers searching for small group tours with specific themes. She joined Academy Travel in 2009 and has since led many tours to various regions of Italy as well as Spain and Portugal.
We asked Jeni, what motivates you as a tour leader?
“I delight in being the catalyst for showing our travelers beautiful places and works of art and especially seeing their reactions – a tear in the eye before a moving painting, a sigh of wonder on entering a beautiful building, a gasp at the beauty of an exquisite landscape. This for me is the great privilege and reward of being an Academy Tour Leader.”
“Many travelers comment on my boundless energy and curiosity for paths less travelled. I like to think that people who travel with me are swept along by my waves of enthusiasm and are inspired to go beyond the obvious to explore and learn with me. I’m known for introducing many little surprises along the way! An added bonus for me is the shared experience of like-minded people enjoying each other’s company while traveling together.”
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.