Just Add Land: Ultimate Italy

Explore more on Italian shores during a luxury land tour

By Judi Cuervo

It is morning and I am in the Tuscan countryside, gazing through the French window of my room at Villa Le Maschere, a 16th-century luxury property that Caterina de’ Medici, Queen of France, once called home. A dramatic stone staircase below leads to a gurgling fountain and a sparkling emerald swimming pool beyond, while acres of gently rolling hills and lush greenery provide a stunning frame for the tranquil panorama.

I am midway through an 8-day sampler of Insight Vacations’ Luxury Gold Ultimate Italy, a sumptuous 13-day escorted journey from Rome to Venice — the ideal pre- or post-cruise extension or, in its own right, an extraordinary way to delve deeper into the Italy you came to love during a previous but all-too-short sailing.

Luxury Gold Ultimate Italy

Luxury Gold Ultimate Italy is not unlike a sea voyage aboard a small, ultra-premium ship, minus the sea of course. Largely all-inclusive, expect exquisite ideally located accommodations, superb dining (some in Michelin-starred restaurants), extraordinary service, unrivalled access to the world’s most iconic attractions, and occasional “flourishes,” delightful surprises with a decidedly “wow” factor.

Expect to share this remarkable experience with an average of 30 guests (maximum of 40) led by an expert “travel concierge” who not only shares his or her vast knowledge of the area, its culture, and its people, but also ensures that even the smallest detail is meticulously attended to.

When in Rome

My Luxury Gold journey began in Rome where I was greeted at the airport by an Insight Vacations representative and whisked away to the elegant, five-star Baglioni Hotel Regina, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and within walking distance of the Borghese Gardens and Spanish Steps.

Dinner that evening was a nod to the jetlagged condition of the group: A casual evening at San Marco, a boutique pizzeria that allowed us to get to know our fellow travelers and feast on a seemingly endless selection of innovative thin crust pizzas, appetizers, cheeses, and delectable Ascoli-style olives, which are pitted green olives stuffed with seasoned cheese, breaded, and deep fried. And, of course, the heady Italian wine flowed freely.

While a “relaxed” (9 a.m. or later) start is pretty much the norm during a Luxury Gold escorted journey, there are some experiences worth waking early for, and one of them is private access to the Sistine Chapel. After a 6:30 a.m. breakfast, the group boarded its coach for the short ride to the Vatican Museums, bypassing the crowds already in line. Our group alone was admitted to the serene chapel, leisurely marveling at Michelangelo’s frescoed ceiling instead of being ushered through quickly, as I had been on past visits.

Following our visit, we were informed that tickets for the day’s Papal Address had been secured. (Wow!) We were guided the short distance to St. Peter’s Basilica, admitted to the square, and stood in awe as Pope Francis addressed the crowd from the altar, large screens providing a close-up look at an event most of us never dreamed we’d ever be part of.

Free time or a visit to the Colosseum were our afternoon options on this very full day that was capped off with dinner — and a show — that evening at Rome’s Le Volte Ristorante. The charming dining room was ours for the evening for a lavish dinner with entertainment provided by two engaging opera singers and their pianist.

RELATED: Heading Ashore: 9 Things to Do in Rome

North to Florence

The next morning we boarded our coach and set off north toward Florence, Italy, a three-hour journey that included a stop at the scenic cliffside artist community of Calcata. As part of Insight Cares (a program dedicated to projects that support cultural heritage and local communities), we also visited the Umbrian workshop of Marta Brozzetti, the fourth generation of Brozzetti women to pass down the art of hand-woven textiles. By mid-afternoon we had arrived at the breathtaking Villa Le Maschere.

A word about our coach. Think very ample legroom, plush seats, comfortable temperatures, and Wi-Fi. Best of all, on lengthy journeys like ours through Italy, Insight includes hourly comfort breaks as well as captivating stops along the route so that the….

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