Discover the enchanting sites of northwestern Italy, where snowcapped mountains give way to delightful seaside towns, and soaring cathedrals lie untouched by crowds. Travel from the lush Aosta Valley—home of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps—to flower-filled San Remo on the Italian Riviera, discovering the majestic city of Turin on the way. Stroll through little-known Roman ruins; hunt for treasured truffles in the Piedmont countryside; and descend into the otherworldly Toirano caves with a speleologist, looking for the footprints of our prehistoric ancestors.
Arrive in Milan and settle into our hotel, located steps away from the breathtaking Duomo. Head out on a walking tour of the city, and enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
This morning, drive to Aosta, a picturesque mountain town nestled in the folds of the Western Alps. Explore Aosta’s imposing Roman ruins with a local archaeologist, visiting Porta Praetoria, a stone gateway dating to 25 BC; the remains of a striking Roman theatre; and the Cryptoporticus, a semi-subterranean network of passageways whose original purpose remains a mystery. After lunching on Italian fondue—made with local fontina cheese—continue to charming Cogne and meet with park representatives at the visitor center of Gran Paradiso National Park. Once the private hunting ground of the Italian royal family, this natural reserve is home to a large number of protected species, including the Alpine ibex.
Head to Courmayeur, an Alpine resort located at the foot of Mont Blanc—the highest mountain in the Alps. Ride the spectacular Skyway Monte Bianco gondola to Punta Helbronner, an 11,300-foot-high peak straddling the border between France and Italy. Take in panoramic views of the craggy giants—including the iconic Matterhorn—and hear our guide tell tales of the conquest of Mont Blanc, first summited in 1786. Continue to the village of Introd for lunch. Share a delicious spread with the friendly residents, chatting about Alpine life; then visit Maison Bruil, a centuries-old wood-and-stone home that reflects the customs of people who inhabited the area in ancient times.
Today, we make our way to the magnificent Sacra di San Michele, a mist-shrouded monastery perched on a rocky crag and surrounded by soaring snowcapped peaks. An important example of Romanesque architecture, this ancient abbey inspired Italian novelist Umberto Eco’s murder mystery novel, The Name of the Rose. After a guided visit, continue to Turin, the first capital of Italy. Delve into this elegant city with an art historian as your guide, tracing its glorious 2,000-year-old history. Discover the ancient Roman Quarter, baroque palaces, medieval churches, and stately squares; then enjoy dinner at a private home. Check in to our quaint countryside hotel this evening, situated in the village of Monforte d’Alba.
Spend some time relaxing at our hotel, or step out to explore the cobbled streets of Monforte d’Alba. Then head to a family-owned winery in Langhe, an under-the-radar wine region that produces some of the finest vintages in Italy. Enjoy a tour and tasting, learning about the local Nebbiolo grape, then sit down for a delightful picnic lunch amid the rolling hills of the vineyard. This afternoon, venture to the hamlet of Canelli, nicknamed the capital of Spumante—or sparkling wine. Here, an expert guide joins us for an exploration of Canelli’s renowned wine cellars. These “underground cathedrals,” known for their architectural beauty, extend about 12 miles and were built in the early 19th century to conserve locally produced wine.
Today we’ll get acquainted with Asti, home of Italy’s earliest recorded Palio. Dating to the 13th century, the Palio is a bareback horse race celebrated locally on the third Sunday in September. Enjoy a special meet and greet with local politicians at the Asti town hall, and learn about the historic sporting spectacle for which the town is known. Then set out on a tour of an organic cheese farm and discover the art of truffle hunting with a local tartufaio, or truffle expert.
Drive along the Mediterranean coast to the town of Albenga, situated in Italy’s Liguria region. Set out on a walking tour of the city’s outstanding medieval center; and stop by the fifth-century baptistery, an octagonal building adjacent to the Albenga Cathedral where baptisms were typically performed. Wander by the well-preserved Via Julia Augusta, an ancient Roman road running from Piancenza to the French city of Arles; and sample delicious Ligurian recipes at a local restaurant for lunch. Continue to San Remo, an attractive coastal town dubbed the “city of flowers.”
Spend the day traversing the Ligurian countryside, discovering enchanting storybook villages that retain their medieval charm. Visit Dolceacqua, a romantic cluster of stone homes and narrow alleys divided by a river. Continue to lively Apricale, exploring its 10th-century castle and winding your way through hilly streets to the sunny main square for lunch. Return to San Remo for an evening at leisure.
Rise early to travel to the harbor city of Imperia, where we’ll meet with local fisherman and hear about how fishing practices in Liguria have changed over the years. Buy fresh fish and pick up other ingredients from a farmers market in time for our cooking class at a local farmhouse. Learn the secrets of Ligurian cuisine, and feast on your creations for lunch. This afternoon, explore Toirano’s extraordinary caves with a speleologist. This karst cave system harbors fascinating geological formations, footprints of prehistoric humans, and a repository of 25,000-year-old bear skeletons. Toast to your Italian journey tonight during a farewell dinner at our hotel.
Following breakfast, transfer to the Nice international airport and connect to your flight home.