In the competition for world’s favorite destination, Italy doesn’t play fair. It has relentlessly good food and wine, mild weather year round, and geography ranging from sunny beaches to rolling hills and Alpine lakes. Ancient ruins and UNESCO World Heritage Sites are commonplace, and world-class art adorns ridiculously attractive churches, palaces and piazzas. And who isn’t seduced by Italian natives such as opera, Gucci and da Vinci?
Italian culture varies greatly, owing much to history and location. Venice—built on islands in a lagoon—was once a seafaring republic and terminus of the Silk Road. During the Renaissance, Florence was a major trade and banking center, and many of its art and architecture treasures were commissioned by local merchants. The hill towns of Tuscany developed independently, and each has a unique history drawn from wool trading, banking or farming traditions. The towns of Umbria have been associated with spiritual movements, such as Assisi, home of St. Francis. Rome has been an international city for over 2,000 years, serving as a capital of imperial and Catholic empires. Naples is the city of pizza, with the preserved town of Pompeii (beneath the still-smoldering Mt. Vesuvius) and the dramatic cliffs and islands of the Amalfi Coast nearby. Farther south, in the boot heel of Italy are the white towns and white beaches of Puglia. It may be expressed differently in different regions, but Italians everywhere enjoy la dolce vita.
Italy is a country that embraces its ancient traditions and modern sophistication. The country's design and style, developed over millennia of layered civilizations, is revealed in the aesthetic of its ceramics, leather, jewelry, artisanal traditions, regional cuisine, gardens and villas, modern art galleries, antique districts and fashion showrooms.
Our Luxury Italy Tours
Artisans of Leisure luxury tours in Italy are private and customized, including Italy's most exceptional hotels such as Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Villa San Michele in Florence, Il Pellicano in Tuscany, Palazzo Sasso in Ravella, Il San Pietro in Positano, and Villa D'Este in Lake Como. Whether you're an independent traveler requesting that we take care of your travel logistics (hotel reservations, rental cars, first class train tickets, airport transfers, restaurant reservations, and tickets at cultural attractions), or someone seeking an exclusive, in-depth travel experience by booking day tours with our expert local guides and drivers, our Italy tours offer something for all types of luxury travelers.
We visit major destinations such as Venice, Milan, Lake Como, Portofino and Cinqueterre, Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples, Positano and the Amalfi Coast, and Sicily with Palermo and Taormina. We also recommend incorporating more off the beaten track destinations in Italy such as Genoa, Trieste, Cremona, Bergamo, Mantua, Bologna, Ferrara, Ravenna, Parma, Lucca and the rugged northern Tuscany, Verona, the Lazio region and the island of Ponza, Perugia and Umbria, Lecce and Puglia, Pantelleria.
Our tours emphasize the unique regional aspects of each Italian city and their surroundings: historical castles and farmhouses in Tuscany and Umbria; lush, private, beautiful gardens and villas on Lake Como and along the Brenta River; the winding alleys of old medieval and renaissance towns; spectacular museums displaying the best of Italian art and traditions; local festivals and markets; a variety of dining experiences and venues from small street vinerias and produce market stalls selling regional delicacies, to rustic countryside trattorias, to restaurants in elegant hotels and neighborhoods in Venice, and atop spectacular terraces in Rome or the Amalfi Coast.
Artisans of Leisure Italy tours always stress regional variations, experienced through the landscapes, local arts, traditions, and cuisine. Our Italy tours include sophisticated private guides and drivers so our travelers experience the very best of Italy while tailoring each day to their interests.
In Venice our favorite spots include the neighborhoods of Cannaregio, San Marco, San Paulo, Castello, Dorsoduro, the island of Giudecca, the Lido and the great shopping area known as Mercerie. Recommended day tours include a private boat to the islands of the lagoon - Murano, Burano and Torcello, private and "secret gardens" of Venice, Chioggia, Verona and the Valpolicella region, Vicenza and Palladian villas along the Brenta River, and Padua.
Attractions of interest in Venice include museums such as Ca'Rezzonico ( Robert Browning's former Venetian residence, 18 th Century art), Gallerie dell' Accademia (14th to 18th century art), Peggy Guggenheim Collection (modern art), Scuola Grande di San Rocco (church with stunning Tintoretto paintings), Museo Correr (14th-16th Century art), Cà Pesaro (modern art), Fortuny Museum (textiles), Palazzo Mocenigo (textiles and costumes), Casa Goldoni (birthplace of Goldoni, 18th century playwright; period costumes, a model theater, and marionettes), the Biennale (contemporary arts and architecture), Cà d'Oro (Venetian and Flemish art), the Glass Museum on Murano and the Lace Museum on Burano. Churches and palaces like Santa Maria della Salute, Ducal Palace and Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark's Basilica. Local venues like bacari, informal, tiny bars where locals drink and eat traditional Venetian snacks, the Rialto market, and designer shops selling collectors' Carnevale Masks, Fortuny-inspired velvet and silk accessories, handmade artistic marble paper, and galleries.
Recommended luxury Venice hotels include the incomparable Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca Island, Hotel Gritti Palace and Il Palazzo at the Bauer, both on the Grand Canal.
For art, design, fashion and opera lovers, we highly recommends including at least two days in dynamic and sophisticated Milan. Attractions include the Duomo and the Baptistry, Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Cenacolo with Da Vinci's Last Supper, Sant' Ambrogio Basilica, Brera Picture Gallery, the Ambrosiana Library and Picture Gallery, Museo Poldi-Pezzoli. As one of Europe's top shopping destinations, Milan offers stylish boutiques and designer studios selling clothing, shoes, accessories, linens, housewares, and jewelry. Our favorite shopping spots include Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Via Montenapoleone, Via Della Spiga, Via Sant' Andrea, the Brera district and its side streets - Via Solferino, Via Madonnina, Via Fiori Chiari - and the well known monthly Milan antique fair. Upon request, we are happy to provide the services of a personal shopper who will escort you on an in-depth, personalized tour of Italian designers' private showrooms and Milan's most exquisite boutiques.
Recommended luxury hotels in Milan include the Four Seasons Hotel Milan, Park Hyatt Milan, and Bulgari Hotel Milano.
We highly recommend spending few days in lovely Lake Como: Take a cruise on the blue waters of the lake, explore and then enjoy a meal on Isola Comacina, stroll through the landscaped gardens of Villa Carlotta, Villa Melzi, Villa Balbianello, and Villa Serbelloni. Explore the chic resort towns Bellagio and Cernobbio, visit Como's Silk Museum and shop for luxurious fabrics. Suggested day trips include Bergamo, Lugano, designer outlet malls in Switzerland, and charming medieval hill towns in the Alpine foothills.
In Lake Como we recommend staying at the Villa D'Este or Villa Serbelloni.
In Florence our travelers are immersed in the very best the city offers: historic neighborhoods such as Santa Croce and colorful San Frediano and Santo Spirito; ornate churches, such as the complex Duomo with its majestic cupola, Giotto's Campanile (bell tower), the Baptistery with Ghiberti 's bronze doors; Santa Maria del Carmine and Cappella Brancacci, housing frescos that changed the course of Western art forever. Visit amazing museums such as the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, Opificio delle Pietre Dure, and the smaller and less discovered Museo Horne (former residence of a British arts collector), Museo Marino Marini (modern art; housed in one of the city's oldest churches). Enjoy sweeping views over the city from Forte Belvedere, Piazzale Michelangelo and Fiesole. Our travelers indulge in world class shopping in Via Roma, Via della Vigna Nuova, Via Tornabuoni, in the artisans' shops of the historic center, selling beautiful handmade paper, to cashmere-lined gloves, in the antique dealers' stores of the Oltrarno, and hunt for bargains at nearby designer outlets selling Gucci, Tods, Bottega Venetta, Loro Piana, Ferragamo and other brands at great prices.
Artisans of Leisure clients enjoy meals in countryside trattorias and in world-renowned restaurants; visit food markets such as Mercato Centrale and Sant' Ambrogio; sample local specialties such as cured meats, game dishes, hand made fresh pastas, mushrooms, tartufo, panini, regional pecorino and honeys; and have the opportunity to taste and buy excellent Italian wines.
Recommended day trips from Florence include excursions to the hill towns of Siena and San Gimignano; to charming Lucca, rich with history and landscaped villas;
to the chic resort town of Forte dei Marmi; to Prato with its beautiful historic center and the excellent Museo Pecci (contemporary art); to Pistoia, often overlooked but worth a day of leisurely exploration; to Pisa, to ancient Arezzo (excellent monthly antique market); to splendid Cortona and the Valdichiana; to the Chianti region, its prestigious wineries, ancient castles, and seemingly frozen in time little villages; the hill towns of Southern Tuscany, such as Pienza, Montepulciano and Montalcino; the still unspoiled Maremma, rich with relics of an ancient past and now home to Alain Ducasse's luxury hotel, L'Andana; spas (Terme di Saturnia) and luxurious secluded retreats such as Il Pellicano. Another place of interest includes the rugged, and little known Lunigiana region, with its peculiar geography and cuisine, and the eerie landscapes of Carrara marble quarries. A short distance from the city is opulent Bologna, rich of cultural sights and gourmet delicacies, and Ravenna with its famed mosaics.
In Florence our preferred hotels are the Four Seasons Florence, Hotel Lungarno, Westin Excelsior or Villa San Michele.
Visitors to the "Eternal City" may be overwhelmed by the exuberance of the Romans, the weight of its multilayered past, and of the city's absolute - at times overpowering - beauty. Although we recommend making a wish and throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and visiting the world-renowned monuments, Artisans of Leisure's travelers also enjoy Rome's more off the beaten path sights. Visit the Colosseum, Forums, the Palatine Hill (ruins and excellent views over the Forums, and gorgeous Aventine Hill, filled with beautiful homes and groves of orange and lemon trees. A relaxing stroll away from the traffic), Domus Aurea (Emperor Nero's legendary Golden House), Baths of Caracalla (best preserved imperial bath complexes), Pantheon (experience the true splendor and elegance of Roman architecture), and the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. A great half-day can be spent among the ancient ruins of the Apian Way.
Also visit more hidden masterpieces: our Italy travel experts particularly love galleries and museums such as the Borghese Gallery (intimate Renaissance and Baroque collection) in the gorgeous Borghese gardens, Capitoline Museums (Roman sculpture, and Renaissance and Baroque art), the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia (amazing Etruscan artifacts in a 16th century villa), Galleria Doria Pamphilj (painting collection in a patrician palace that brings the Renaissance lifestyle alive); Scuderie Papali al Quirinale (former papal stables, now housing terrific exhibitions); Museo della Casina delle Civette (Museum of the Owls' House, remarkable for Art-Nouveau stained glass windows and for the restored Villa Torlonia); San Luigi dei Francesi (a church with excellent Caravaggios); and Palazzo Barberini (17th century palazzo turned picture gallery).
Rome mesmerizes visitors with churches and historic palazzi, ancient ruins, tombs and castles, but is also a city best experienced through its sounds, smells and vivid colors. Church bells calling to Mass. Daily neighborhood markets such as Campo dei Fiori - at night it is transformed into a popular spot for Rome's young and beautiful - buzzing with locals loudly haggling over produce. Freshly baked breads, sweets - maritozzo, a sweet bread filled with whipped cream, is a popular choice - and pizzas (particularly delicious, a topping of zucchini flowers stuffed with a melting heart of mozzarella and anchovies). And, of course, the dozens of different flavors of candy-colored gelati. Before touring, we often take our travelers for a quick croissant and coffee breakfast at one of the city's most noted coffee houses.
Stroll along the Tevere (Tiber) River, cross the bridges and, in summer, stop at a kiosk to taste a grattachecca - grated ice mixed with fruit and syrups. Take a wine tasting class overlooking the Spanish Steps. Walk at twilight through the Pincio Gardens and enjoy a dinner in the stylish setting of Casina Valadier. While staying at the Hotel de Russie, enjoy breakfast in its stunning Borghese Gardens. Buy bread, cheeses and a bottle of local wine, and have an impromptu picnic away from the crowds on Isola Tiberina (an island on the river). Enjoy a passeggiata from glamorous Via Veneto to Piazza Navona, a jewel of Baroque architecture. Stroll along the lively neighborhood of Trastevere and Testaccio. Enjoy a rustic meal in a trattoria opening onto a hidden piazza. We also arrange gourmet picnics while on private excursions to nearby ruins or romantic villas, or arrange a driver for transfers to and from a memorable meal at La Posta Vecchia - one of Italy's most exceptional dining experiences.
Our favorites shopping venues in Rome are the designer stores and boutiques on Via Condotti, Piazza San Silvestro to Via della Croce, Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, Via Sistina, Via Cola di Rienzo (boutiques and department stores, as well as gourmet food shops), Via dei Coronari (antiques and home furnishings), Via Giulia and nearby streets (decorative arts), Via del Babuino (exclusive antique stores), Via del Corso (the city's main shopping avenue), and Via Nazionale (trendy fashion stores).
Recommended excursions from Rome include Ostia Antica (remarkable ruins of Rome's ancient seaport); Villa Adriana (Emperor Hadrian's villa - the most majestic of the ancient world) and Villa d'Este (romantic landscaped gardens with baroque fountains) in Tivoli; and Cerveteri and Tarquinia to explore the frescoed Etruscan necropolis. Our travelers can explore the Castelli Romani (Roman Castles) area, where the "castles" are actually hill towns with ancient histories - these towns still produce valued wines and delicacies. Recommended hill towns include Rocca di Papa, the most atmospheric; Frascati offers beautiful patrician villas and well known wines; Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence; Nemi, where Europe's best strawberries are grown; Ariccia, also known for its delicious roasted baby pork; and Genzano, offering some of Italy's best bread. Or visit the hillside town of Palestrina, charming Viterbo, and the nearby villas of Bagnaia, Caprarola, and Bomarzo (an essential part of the old European Grand Tour). La Posta Vecchia, the old Getty estate that is built above an ancient Roman villa (now on view in the hotel's basement museum) is one of our favorite hotels, just 30 minutes from Rome, and highly recommended for a meal or overnight stay while visiting Rome.
Day trips from Rome can also be organized to the Umbria region and its charming cities of Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio and Todi. If you opt to spend a few days in Umbria, we recommend staying at Palazzo Terranova.
Recommended luxury hotels in Rome include the elegant, perfectly situated Hotel de Russie, the classic Hotel Hassler on the Spanish Steps, and the intimate Hotel Eden.
Legend has it that Hercules fell in love with the nymph Amalfi and, when she died, buried her in the most beautiful place then named the region in her honor. Artisans of Leisure's travelers to the Amalfi Coast are immersed in the romantic atmosphere of this magical stretch of coast, dotted with Moorish-style hillside villages perched on rocky cliffs on the Mediterranean Sea. They stay at luxurious resorts, explore the coast by gozzo sorrentino, a traditional boat, drive along the Amalfi Drive to discover little towns set among fragrant lemon, chestnut and olive groves, and enjoy the mouthwatering local cuisine (grilled buffalo mozzarella in lemon leaves, limoncello, pastries, pasta with clam sauce, and more).
In lovely Ravello, visit patrician villas (Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo); in Vietri sul Mare, buy intricately patterned. colorful ceramics; in chic Positano, enjoy the beach and nightlife and shop for colorful handmade sandals, bikinis and summer clothing; in Sorrento, stroll around cobblestone streets and look for cameos hand-carved from seashells and coral, lace, and skillfully embroidered table linens. We particularly love the town of Amalfi, with its small square lined with pastry and gelato shops and excellent restaurants.
Day excursions include the lovely island of Capri, to stroll around the flower-filled narrow lanes, visit splendid villas including Villa Jovis (ruins of the estate of Emperor Tiberius) and Villa Malaparte (a Modernist villa in Pompeian red); explore the Carthusian Monastery, shop for designer wares in Anacapri, or simply soak up the glamorous atmosphere and sweeping views.
We love Naples. Most of our travelers to the Amalfi Coast spend a day or two with a private tour in Naples to visit museums, see the waterfront, sample pizza and pastries, and perhaps shop for ties or custom suits. Naples offers spectacular museums - the National Archaeological Museum (one of Europe's most treasured Greek and Roman archaeological collections) is highly recommended after visiting Pompei and Herculaneum. The National Museum & Gallery of the Capodimonte isamong Italy's finest. Explore lively neighborhoods and one of the beautiful waterfronts (a walk through Santa Lucia at sunset is an unforgettable experience). Naples is very famous for its men's boutiques (E. Marinella, in particular) seling handmade ties and bespoke suits. Visit the amazingly preserved highlights of Pompeii: House of the Vettii, House of the Mysteries, House of the Gilded Cupids, the Forum, Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Jupiter, and ancient, extravagantly decorated bathhouses. Other ruins in the region include Herculaneum and the Greek temples of Paestum.
Recommended luxury resorts on the Amalfi Coast include Hotel Caruso (Ravello), Il San Pietro di Positano, Le Sirenuse (Positano), Palazzo Sasso (Ravello), Capri Palace Hotel and Spa and the Caesar Augustus. Please contact us to discuss which hotel is most suitable for you -- and be sure to plan ahead as these hotels book out far in advance.
In Italy, we regularly design special interest tours, including exclusive honeymoon tours, art and architecture tours, food and wine tours of Italy, Jewish tours, and family tours. Also, we are happy to arrange private guides and drivers in more off the beaten track destinations, such as Puglia.