Umbria and southern Tuscany are home to some of Italy’s most beautiful medieval towns, such as Montefalco and Pienza, and elegant regional centres, including Perugia, Arezzo and Spoleto. The region brims with history, from Etruscan and Roman archaeological sites to magnificent Renaissance masterpieces by Giotto, Perugino, Piero della Francesca, Benozzo Gozzoli and Filippo Lippi. Discover Italy’s green heart and enjoy its rich artisanal and culinary traditions on this new 14-day tour, taking in the best this less-touristed region has to offer the cultural traveller.
Beautiful medieval hill towns, including Spoleto, Orvieto and Montefalco
Roman Carsulae and Etruscan Rosselae, splendid ancient towns off the tourist track
The rich artisanal traditions of Perugia, from stained glass to textiles, and Deruta’s renowned Majolica pottery
Italian art from medieval masterpieces to Renaissance gems, many of which are still in situ
Elegant regional centres and wonderful wine regions, from the soft, rich reds of Montefalco to the acclaimed wines of Montalcino
Vision and vitality, from Renaissance Pienza to Iris Origo’s garden at La Foce
Days 1–3: Transfer by coach from Rome to Spoleto, discover Umbria’s ancient heritage and medieval and Renaissance life in Spoleto.
Days 4–7: Explore medieval hill towns, including Spello, Montefalco and Assisi, and their Renaissance masterpieces. Discover the artisanal traditions of Perugia and Deruta: ceramics, textiles and stained glass.
Days 8–10: Visit Lake Trasimene and Cortona, explore Arezzo and encounter the art and life of Piero della Francesca at Monterchi and Sansepolcro.
Days 11–14: Visit Iris Origo’s La Foce, Etruscan Rosselae, Renaissance Pienza and Orvieto. Transfer to Rome airport for departure.
The tour begins and ends at Rome Fiumicino airport. Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines offer the best connections to Rome from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Saturday 7 May: Arrival
The group gathers at Rome Fiumicino airport in the mid-afternoon for a coach transfer to Spoleto. On arrival in Spoleto, we take time to freshen up before taking a short walking tour of the city followed by dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Spoleto (D)
Sunday 8 May: Ancient Umbria
Umbria was one of the first territories conquered by the Romans, and its rich agricultural lands and reserves of metal would fuel the expanding republic. Indeed the road to Umbria – the Via Flaminia – is still used in Umbria and in Rome, where it runs all the way to the Capitoline Hill. Today we explore Umbria’s Roman past, first by taking a guided tour of Carsulae, one of central Italy’s best preserved Roman archaeological sites, and the Roman cisterns beneath the town of Amelia, a testament to Roman engineering. After lunch at a fine local restaurant, we continue exploring Rome’s legacy with a visit to Marmore Falls, a large mountain reservoir made in the Roman period to regulate the flow of water in Umbria and modernised in the 20th century as a dam and hydroelectric station. Our tour continues to the Nera Valley, which was a key border in the early Middle Ages when Spoleto became a Lombard duchy, to visit San Pietro in Valle, a quiet Romanesque abbey where the Lombard dukes retired. Returning to Spoleto, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Spoleto (B, L)
Monday 9 May: Spoleto
Spoleto’s strategic importance – on a high hill guarding the southern entry to Umbria – has resulted in it having rich layers of history, preserving the many different ages of its inhabitation. Today, after a talk in the hotel, we take a walking tour of the city, exploring its Roman remains through to its glorious medieval churches and Renaissance masterpieces, including Filippo Lippi’s last work – it is thought he was poisoned in Spoleto in the late 1400s. After a break for lunch, we visit Monteluco, the mountain behind Spoleto which has had spiritual significance to the Umbrians, Romans and Franciscans. On reaching the summit by minibus, we visit the Sacred Wood, the Franciscan hermitage and enjoy the panoramic views across the Valley of Umbria. Returning to Spoleto, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Spoleto. (B)
Tuesday 10 May: Spello and Montefalco
Umbria’s smaller hill towns are among Italy’s best-preserved medieval towns, and their location well off the highway between Florence and Rome keeps tourist numbers down. This morning we visit Spello, to take a walking tour of the town, including the frescoes by Pinturicchio – Raphael’s master – in the Collegiate Church, and the Villa of Mosaics, which houses extensive Roman floor mosaics discovered by accident in 2005. We continue by coach to Montefalco, where we enjoy lunch together, before visiting the Museum of St Francis, a former church with spectacular frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli. After some free time in Montefalco, we continue by coach to Perugia, our base for the next four nights. Overnight Perugia (B, L)
Wednesday 11 May: Perugia
Perugia guards the northern pass into Umbria and has a fascinating history, from Etruscan origins to a bustling medieval city state, and its renewal as a contemporary centre of culture. This morning we explore the city’s history on foot, including visits to the Collegio di Cambio – a medieval guildhouse with Renaissance frescoes by local boy Perugino – and the Gothic Cathedral of San Lorenzo. After a break for lunch, we visit the National Gallery of Umbria, with its masterpieces of medieval and Renaissance art. The later afternoon is at leisure, and you may wish to visit the National Museum of Umbria to see its archaeological collection. Overnight Perugia. (B)
Thursday 12 May: Assisi
In spite of its fame, Assisi retains a strongly spiritual atmosphere which gives it a special place among medieval Italian hill towns. In Assisi we tour the Basilica of St Francis, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with frescoes, some of which are attributed to Giotto and others by the Sienese artists Lorenzetti and Martini. We also view some other highlights of the town, such as the 1st-century AD Roman temple in the main square and the ancient Roman forum. After some free time for lunch and independent exploration – you may like to take the steep walk to the Rocca to enjoy the fine views over the valley – we visit the church of Santa Chiara, before returning to Perugia. Late afternoon and evening at leisure. Overnight Perugia. (B)
Friday 13 May: Artisanal Umbria
Umbria modernised much later than other parts of Italy, and traditional techniques have continued to be handed down through the ages. Today we explore Umbria’s artisanal heritage in the decorative arts, visiting a handloomed textile centre in a former church and the workshop and museum of a traditional stained and painted glassmaker, whose family’s works adorn the churches of Umbria. After a break for lunch, we take the short coach journey to Deruta, a small town which has been almost entirely devoted to the production of some of Italy’s most sought-after majolica for centuries. After touring the town, we return to Perugia, stopping to visit Solomeo – a largely abandoned medieval hamlet that was restored to become the centre of production for Brunello Cucinelli’s cashmere. Returning to Perugia, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Perugia. (B)
Saturday 14 May: Lake Trasimene and Cortona
This morning we depart Umbria by coach for Arezzo. On our way, we stop to visit Lake Trasimene – the site of one of Hannibal’s crushing victories over the Romans – to visit its peaceful monastic islands. After a lunch break, we continue north to Cortona, a walled medieval town made famous by Under the Tuscan Sun, where we take a walking tour, enjoy the romantic streets and see a beautiful altarpiece by Fra Angelico in the civic museum. Continuing by coach to Arezzo, we check in, freshen up and then enjoy dinner together in a fine local restaurant. Overnight Arezzo. (B, D)
Sunday 15 May: Arezzo
Arezzo is one of Tuscany’s most refined cities, and it has a long history of producing great writers, artists and musicians, including Guido d’Arezzo – the 12th-century inventor of modern musical notation – Petrarch, and Giorgio Vasari. Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful was filmed there and continues to inspire visitors. This morning after a talk in the hotel, we undertake a walking tour of Arezzo exploring its art and history, including a visit to the spectacular frescoes by Piero della Francesca in the Church of San Francesco. Later afternoon and evening at leisure, and you may wish to enjoy the passeggiata. Overnight Arezzo. (B)
Monday 16 May: Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca’s art is characterised by his ability to capture a calm stillness and refined beauty through his exceptional understanding of mathematics, perspective and geometry. Today we follow the Piero della Francesca trail through southern Tuscany to Monterchi and Sansepolcro, where we see some of the artist’s most celebrated works, including the recently restored Resurrection, and enjoy these quiet Tuscan towns. In the afternoon, we return to Arezzo via a winery, where we enjoy a tasting. Overnight Arezzo. (B)
Tuesday 17 May: La Foce and Pienza
We depart Arezzo by coach this morning for Pienza. On our way through the Tuscan countryside, we stop to visit La Foce, the garden of writer and historian Iris Origo. Origo’s attachment to the Val d’Orcia is not only evident in her literary accounts of the area during the rise of Italian fascism and World War II, but also in the huge efforts she made throughout her life to transform the land from barrenness to abundance. After a guided visit of the garden, we enjoy lunch together at the nearby restaurant, Dopolavoro, before continuing to Pienza. After checking in to our hotel, we take a walking tour of Pienza, a town laid out precisely according to new Renaissance principles by Pius II. Evening at leisure. Overnight Pienza. (B, L)
Wednesday 18 May: Rusellae and Grosseto
This morning we travel to south-western Tuscany to visit Rusellae – an Etruscan town that prospered on the Tuscan trade route. The archaeological site reveals both the Etruscan city and its redevelopment in the Roman period. In the early Middle Ages, however, the town was abandoned in favour of nearby Grosseto. After a guided tour of Rusellae and a break for lunch, we explore Grosseto. In the mid-afternoon, we return to Pienza, stopping to visit the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, whose original Carolingian elements are preserved in the later, 12th-century building, and for a wine tasting in the Montalcino region. Overnight Pienza. (B)
Thursday 19 May: Orvieto
Orvieto, perched high on an escarpment on the border of Umbria and Lazio, was one of the Etruscans’ main urban centres, and its importance continued through into the Renaissance when it was one of the papal summer residences. On our way to Orvieto this morning, we stop to visit Bolsena whose principal church has a fascinating history, and whose sunny lakefront is ideal for morning tea. In Orvieto, we explore the city on foot, including a visit to the cathedral, for its phenomenal Romanesque facade and for the idiosyncratic Renaissance frescoes of Luca Signorelli inside. We return to Pienza in the late afternoon, relax, and enjoy dinner in a fine restaurant. Overnight Pienza. (B, D)
Friday 20 May: Departure
This morning we transfer by coach from Pienza to Rome Fiumicino Airport, in time for mid-afternoon international flights. (B)
Dr Nick Gordon
A cultural historian with a PhD in History, and practicing painter who brings this passion to the visual arts.
Dr Nick Gordon is a cultural historian and artist, with over 10 years of experience leading tours to Europe. He has strong interests in art, history, philosophy and architecture, from the ancient world to the present.
Nick holds a University Medal and PhD in history from the University of Sydney. He taught medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Sydney, the history of political thought at the University of Western Sydney, and architectural and Australian history elsewhere. He continues to teach at the Centre of Continuing Education, and gives occasional lectures on topics ranging from Classical Rome through to Australian and contemporary art. Nick has lead tours for Academy Travel since 2007, and designs study tours, residential tours and art-focussed tours, such as the Venice Biennale, Art Along the Rhine, Art Basel, and Amsterdam to Paris: Van Eyck to Van Gogh.
Nick is also an artist and his firsthand experience of art complements his academic expertise, through his knowledge of materials and the processes behind how an artwork is made, and his well-practiced eye for reading art.
We asked Nick, what do you enjoy most about tour leading?
“One of the things I enjoy most about touring is helping people understand more about what they’re seeing. This happens through a combination of background lectures exploring different contexts, cultural commentary on the road, and especially by being able to explain what is going on in an artwork with the artwork in front of us.”
“The aim of all of this is to help people see more for themselves, independently, both on tour and beyond. Some of the best moments for me on tour are when this happens, and you get to be part of something bigger as people start adding their own knowledge and experience to what we’re looking at. It makes each experience unique.”
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