Endless romance. Unrivaled food and wine. A rich history of art, religion and civilizations that spans the ages. And breathtaking panoramas from mountain lakes and rolling hills to sweeping and rocky coasts.
This is Italy, one of the world’s most captivating and mesmerizing destinations. There is so much to see and experience here! And when you trust your Italian journey to Gate 1 Travel, we’ll help you make the most of your time. Our Escorted Tours offer the most efficient way to see the highlights of Italy. Our motor coaches whisk you from city to city, so you don’t need to worry about how you’ll get around. Our Tour Managers know the most thrilling and fascinating sites to show you, and are eager to enlighten you about their country’s most beloved treasures. And as you arrive at some of Italy’s most visited museums and landmarks, you’ll bypass the long lines, thanks to our pre-purchased entry.
Welcome to Gate 1’s Italy!
Italy’s Historic Centers: Rome, Venice & Florence
Just as all roads lead to Rome, any discussion of Italy must point to its historic streets. It is, without question, one of the world’s most enriching and fascinating cities. Here, ancient monuments heralding the days of the Roman Empire mingle easily with couture shops and buzzing Vespas. For 2,000 years, the center of Rome has been the mighty Coliseum. Once able to host 80,000 spectators, this was where Romans gathered to witness gladiatorial combat and contests between men and beasts.
Today, Romans and visitors alike are more likely to gather in the city’s charming piazzas. These open plazas embody public art at its finest, adorned with finely sculpted fountains carved by some of history’s greatest artists, from Bernini to della Porta. Piazza Navona is one of the most magnificent. Nearby, on the Piazza della Rotunda, the Pantheon soars to the skies, built by ancient Romans to honor the gods. Its revolutionary dome – still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome – is a masterwork of Roman engineering that has never been duplicated.
The city of Rome embraces another city that boasts an equally astonishing history and soaring architectural and artistic marvels: Vatican City. Surely, St. Peter’s Basilica and its sprawling square is one of the most moving pilgrimage sites in all of Christendom. The Vatican Museum boasts its own sacred calling card: Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, painstakingly painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In total, the artist painted more than 5,000 square feet of frescoes here. Today, they remain a wonder of rich color and sumptuous detail.
The Roman Empire held great sway throughout Europe for many centuries. Another kingdom – much smaller but certainly no less influential – had its center on the northern Adriatic Sea. The Venetian Empire ruled much of the Adriatic region for over 1,000 years from its seat of power on an island just off Italy. Today, with its car-free medieval warrens, endless network of romantic canals, and Old World ambiance, Venice offers more than a spectacular journey back in time; it is a stunning repository of the empire’s prosperity. The glittering domes of St. Mark’s Basilica watch over its namesake square, which Napoleon once called “the drawing room of Europe” for its grace and beauty. The nearby Doge’s Palace was the empire’s center. Here, opulent chambers recall the lifestyles of the rich and regal. And the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the palace to the prison, affords the final view that convicted criminals enjoyed (and “sighed” over) before they were locked away.
The city of Venice is just one of 117 islands that dot the Venetian Lagoon. On the island of Murano, an age-old tradition of glass-blowing lives on. These talented artisans are descendants of the finest glass blowers in history. Their workshops were all moved here centuries ago to prevent the risk of fire on the main island. Its streets and shops are a delight to explore.
Like Rome and Venice, Florence was also an incredibly powerful city. Certainly, the Medici family enjoyed its share of wealth and land – and some would say strong-arming – from the halls of their Palazzo Vecchio in the city center. But Florence is more known as the birthplace of an innovative and creative movement that swept Europe by storm, and ultimately changed the course of the world: the Renaissance. The city, dotted with grand buildings, sculptures, gardens, and the astonishing Duomo of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, is an open-air museum of the period that defined it. Michelangelo’s David is here – the original in the Accademia of Fine Arts and a replica in the Piazza della Signoria. And the medieval-era Ponte Vecchio, lined with jewelry and leather shops, spans the Arno River.
Of course, the Renaissance was not confined to Florence. The creative brilliance of the age spread all over Italy and Europe. One of the most breathtaking places to observe the period’s architecture at its most spiritual is in Pisa in the Piazza dei Miracoli. Here, a great trinity of white-marble buildings – the Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery and the famous Leaning Tower – comprises one of Italy’s great accomplishments. The entire site is considered sacred by the Catholic Church.
Hilltop Wonders Amidst Natural Beauty
Florence and Pisa are the beating hearts of Tuscany, one of Italy’s most breathtaking regions of rolling hills and sprawling vineyards. And they provide just a hint of the country’s Renaissance and natural splendor.
Take the town of Montecatini, for instance. You can literally soak in the beauty here, thanks to its extensive spa facilities fed by thermal springs. Travelers have long come here to “take the waters,” and you may do the same during your free time. Lucca, too, is a gem of medieval architecture. Its spectacularly preserved 17th-century wall is still fully intact and today is home to a public park that’s ideal for strolling and taking in amazing views of olive and fig groves. Within the city, the original Roman street layout reveals layer upon layer of history.
Of Italy’s hilltop wonders, one of its most striking is Assisi. Rising from the countryside of Umbria, the city gloriously straddles a hilltop; from afar, it looks more like a fortress than a major center of the Franciscan Order. The order’s founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, is known as the patron saint of animals, nature and the environment. From its hillside basilica, you can imagine that he would have appreciated the heavenly view.
Equally uplifting vistas can be found at Lago di Como, or Lake Como, in the north of Italy. Long a destination for jet-setters and home to many celebrities, this vast and glistening lake is surrounded by cypress trees, earth-toned villas, lush gardens and spectacular mountain views. It is pure pleasure simply to be here and stroll the scenic lakeside promenade. The quaint village of Bellagio is just a short cruise away, called “The Pearl of Lake Como.” The historic city of Verona – with its remarkably preserved “Arena” amphitheater from Old Rome and its charming balcony on which Shakespeare’s Juliet is said to have swooned over her famous suitor – is also nearby.
Few regions exude as much as beauty as Italy’s western coastal regions. Cinque Terre – a necklace of five villages clinging to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera – is one of the world’s most enchanting destinations. Untouched by the commercial world, the villages can only be accessed by foot or animal trail or by a 19th-century railway. Farther south, Sorrento – famed for its limoncello lemon liqueur and its sweeping views of the Gulf of Naples – is the gateway to the stunning Amalfi Coast. This region is home to one of the world’s most scenic drives, tracing dramatic and rocky shores to quaint seaside villages and colorful houses that seem to spill into the sea, from Positano to Ravello.
Sicily is very much a part of Italy, yet this autonomous island retains its own rustic and lively character. Some have called it the “unspoiled Italy.” You’re sure to call it magnificent.
All things Sicilian converge in the capital, Palermo. The island has been a crossroads of civilizations for centuries and countless cultures have left their mark here – from the hilltop Norman Cathedral in Monreale to the 12th-century Byzantine mosaics within. Today, Palermo’s Old Town is a stunning blend of architectural styles, many of them represented in the Palermo Cathedral, which was built and enhanced over many centuries.
Greeks were among the many people who settled in Sicily, and they left behind a spectacular sampling of their culture in Agrigento. Here, in the Valley of the Temples, are the best preserved temples outside mainland Greece, including the Temple of Juno and incredibly intact Temple of Concordia. Remarkably preserved Roman villas are nearby, providing unique insight into the lives of the empire after it conquered the island.
Taormina, a charming city of gracious squares and structures spanning the medieval and baroque ages, enjoys one of the best views of all the cities in Sicily. Perched on a rocky plateau, it overlooks the Bay of Naxos and the Ionian Sea to the east and the rising cone of Mt. Etna to the west. Etna, the most active volcano in Europe, is a thrill to explore; we follow one of its roads up black volcanic slopes to a safe zone at the Silvestri Craters. In Taormina itself, there are more remains of ancient Greece, this time in the spectacular Greek Theater. The preservation of its stadium and its walls is equaled only by the coastal vista from its hillside setting.
Catania also sits in the shadow of Mt. Etna. Home of the island’s first university, it stood on par with Florence for its cultural and artistic contributions during the Renaissance. Much of the town was destroyed during a 1693 earthquake, and so today it boasts a more baroque flavor, with wide-open piazzas and colorful markets.
Join Gate 1 Travel in Italy to Make the Most of Your Visit, and Your Budget
Earlier, we talked about how Gate 1 provides the most efficient way to see Italy. But visiting Italy with Gate 1 Travel isn’t only about making the best use of your time. It’s also about stretching your travel dollar.
Our fully escorted tours are packed with features and events that showcase Italy’s culture and introduce you to its people during wine tastings, cooking classes, and farm visits. You could never arrange experiences like these on your own. Plus, we have longstanding contacts with all our hotels, which gives us unmatched buying power. You’ll be surprised not only by the central location of your accommodations throughout Italy, but also by their quality and comfort. Simply put, there is no other way to experience Italy to its absolute fullest.
To see the best of Italy at the best value, call Gate 1 Travel!