Experience the culture of the unspoilt 'heel' of Italy
Immerse yourself in culture on the unspoilt 'heel' of Italy, a rugged, rural and breathtakingly beautiful area. We tour the ancient city of Rome before travelling through the olive groves, vineyards and almond trees of a region referred to as 'the breadbasket of Italy' on a wonderful adventure exploring Puglia & Basilicata.
We meet our Tour Manager at Great Rail Journeys' dedicated departure office in London St Pancras today, departing by Eurostar for Paris. On arrival in the French capital, we cross the city by coach, and join our onward high-speed rail service to Chambéry, where we spend the night. On Day 2 we continue our scenic journey south to Italy, travelling via Milan to Rome. Our hotel is the 4-Star Hotel Universo, located close to the railway station and Rome's historic centre. We enjoy dinner together this evening in a local restaurant - a fitting way to start our explorations of the 'Eternal City'.
On our guided tour of the ancient city of Rome we explore some of the many fantastic sights and monuments in this remarkable city. Rome's architecture charts the passage of time as clearly as anywhere in Europe; with preserved monuments from the early Romans and buildings with medieval, Renaissance and Baroque features. We pass the incredible Colosseum, Italy's most famous classical sight, and the Roman Forum, the ancient power centre of Rome, as well as the Piazza Venezia and the vast St Peter's Square. This afternoon you are free to savour Rome's seductive beauty.
Leaving Rome, we travel across Italy by high-speed rail - a fantastic journey which takes us through Foggia and along the gorgeous Italian Adriatic coastline. We travel into Puglia, the 'heel' of Italy - a wonderful, rustic, rural region which has an incredibly undiscovered feel, even in the more developed areas. Puglia is known as the 'wine cellar of Italy', where the railway lines run through the middle of vineyards and among the olive groves which produce more than half of Italy's olive oil. The region's rugged, bright coastline is home to secluded, deserted beaches - landing points for 2,000 years of invasions by Greeks, Romans, Turks and Venetians. The unhurried and relaxed way of life, practiced by friendly locals, has an irresistible charm. You will soon find yourself drawn in to the fashion for long, lazy lunches and gentle evening strolls, thanks to the appeal of the local atmosphere, climate and cuisine.
We arrive in the town of Lecce in southern Puglia. Home to a quaint, compact Old Town and boasting elaborate Baroque architecture, Lecce has been dubbed 'the Florence of the South'. Here we transfer to the 4-Star Hotel President. Our early afternoon arrival gives you time at leisure - the city centre's narrow alleys are ideal for exploring on foot.
This morning we enjoy a guided walking tour of Lecce, during which we see many fine examples of Baroque architecture and beautiful sandstone buildings. We visit the decorative Chiesa di Santa Croce, with its intricately carved rose window and grand, elaborate chandeliers, and the Piazza del Duomo, the main square dominated by the bell tower of Lecce's cathedral. In the afternoon you are free to continue exploring Lecce. Perhaps visit Lecce's Roman amphitheatre - an archaeological treasure excavated in 1938.
This morning we travel to Otranto, a town which lies at the most easterly point of the Italian mainland, whose 15th century walls surround a tightly packed, car-free historic centre.
Otranto has long since expanded beyond its walls, creating a lovely, seaside resort with a small fishing harbour and palm tree lined promenade. We enjoy a guided tour of the walled town before continuing into the countryside to sample one of Puglia's most renowned products - olive oil. This afternoon, we take a tour of an olive mill, gaining an insight into how the famous oil - used all over the world - is created. Following the tour, we enjoy a tasting of authentic local produce.
Our full-day coach tour takes us to explore some of the region's most fascinating heritage destinations. We travel first to Matera, located in Basilicata. The town sits in a small canyon and is most famous for its 'sassi', a collection of ancient cave dwellings that have UNESCO World Heritage status. Inhabited until as recently as the 1950s, the sassi have become a site of fascination for visitors, drawn by the elaborate maze of winding streets, Paleolithic-era abodes and delightful frescoes, some of which date back to the 8th century. Used as a backdrop for the 2004 Mel Gibson film, 'The Passion of the Christ', the town has a timeless, rugged charm that is hard to overlook.
We continue to Alberobello, a enchanting town packed with as many as 1,400 'trulli' - peculiar cone-shaped houses built from limestone. Whilst the history of these incredible structures goes back as far as the 14th century, the current examples in Alberobello are thought to date from the 18th to the 20th century, the area is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. After time to explore here, we return to our hotel by coach in time for dinner this evening. Day 8 is free to spend as you wish.
We leave Lecce this morning, travelling along the picturesque Adriatic coastline to Foggia. From here we transfer by coach to the old town of Vieste, located on the Gargano Peninsula.
On Day 10 we visit the fascinating Gargano Peninsula by boat - a fantastic opportunity to see this incredible stretch of coastline and national park from a different perspective. Our boat trip passes the many caves cut into the cliffs and the idyllic, secluded coves that feature regularly on the shoreline. We also see many of the picturesque villages that are perched on the cliff tops.
Today you have the chance to relax at the hotel or explore Vieste and its ancient city centre. Perched on the cliff-tops, Vieste overlooks turquoise waters and boasts two sandy beaches, perfect for a stroll along the shore.
We transfer to Turin, where we overnight. If you have chosen to take advantage of our fly return option, you will transfer to Bari airport for your flight to the UK today. On Day 13 we travel by high-speed to Paris. Here we connect with the Eurostar to London.
For this tour, we recommend arriving to, and departing from, London Gatwick or London Heathrow airport (LGW or LHR). London Gatwick is approximately 30 miles from your start and end point, and London Heathrow is approximately 19 miles from your start and end point.
It is your responsibility to check and fulfil the passport, visa, health and immigration requirements applicable to your itinerary. We do not accept any responsibility if you cannot travel, or incur any other loss because you have not complied with any passport, visa, immigration requirements or health formalities. You agree to reimburse us in relation to any fines or other losses which we incur as a result of your failure to comply with any passport, visa, immigration requirements or health formalities.
Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.
An escorted experience and travel during your tour
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
Experience the culture of the unspoilt 'heel' of Italy