Off the Beaten Path of Italy Tour 2019

A 12 day trip to Italy 
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Authentic culture and fascinating history accentuate the beauty of the Adriatic coastline during your custom-tailored tour of Italy that will immerse you in the true beauty of the land and sea. Experience the splendor of the preserved heritage in the trulli of Alberobello and the intriguing antique design of Castel del Monte. Indulge in the flavors of wines produced in Abruzzo and rustic cuisine capturing the hearts of the Pugliese. Antique fishing methods retain their intrinsic value, and gilded mosaics in fascinating cave dwellings bring indelible wonder. Castles, medieval towns, ancient grottoes, and heartwarming locals touch on the authentic life of Italy.

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Sulmona, Vast, Conversano, Lecce, Otranto, Galatina, Matera, Alberobello, Castel del Monte, Trani, Aderci Nature Reserve, Polignano a Mare

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Sulmona – Arrive in Rome and Transfer to Sulmona, Abruzzo

The city of Rome acts as your initiation into Italy with a skyline that boasts remarkable bell towers, spires, tiled rooftops, and the magnificent domes of the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica. Upon your arrival at Rome Fiumicino Airport, your private transfer greets you and escorts you out of Italy’s capital city to reach the charming, underappreciated city of Sulmona. The medieval streets wind along the slopes and summit of a mountain plateau overlooking the three national parks of Majella, Gran Sasso, and Abruzzo National Park.

The foundations of the city date back to the Roman settlement of Sulmo, birthplace of the famous epic poet Ovid. The more contemporary city invented the celebrated candy known in Italy as confetti, a sweet made from almonds and treasured for its bright, festive colors resembling the confetti scattered at festivals and celebrations. The antique factory in town continues to fill the streets with the decadent aroma of caramelizing sugar. After settling into the comforts of your luxury accommodations in the heart of Sulmona, the remainder of the day is yours to embrace the distinct pleasures of town.

A marvelous set of arches decorates Piazza Garibaldi reflecting the remains of the 13th-century aqueduct. Water trickles down the Renaissance fountain at the heart of the piazza. The hermitage of Sant’Onofrio al Morrone clinging to a cliff above town dates back to the 14th century and is dedicated to the hermit friar who once lived on the hillside until a vision in 1294 told him he would be pope. 15th-century frescoes depicting St. John the Baptist and Madonna with Child. The heavy scent of the stone overtakes the subtle aroma of frankincense.

What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation

Day 2: Sulmona – The Joys of Sulmona before a Wine Tasting Class

Sulmona is one of Abruzzo’s prettiest towns emanating from the charming main street leading to both the Cathedral of San Panfilo and the main square. Cafes open for locals eager to enjoy a morning espresso and quick cornetto. The Cathedral was erected in the 11th century over the foundations of a Roman temple venerating Apollo and Vesta. After an earthquake in the 18th century, the cathedral was rebuilt with a Baroque aesthetic. After breakfast, your guide will greet you in the hotel lobby happy to lead you through Sulmona on an introductory tour of a city and region often overshadowed by its neighbors.

The impressive Palace of the Annunciation was erected as a hospital in the 14th century but was rebuilt over the centuries above a 1st-century villa with a blend of Gothic and Renaissance architectural style. The interior hosts the Civic Museum, which displays artifacts of the former Roman villa, the culture of Abruzzo and neighboring Molise, and religious art. You can enter the museum dedicated to local confetti located inside the antique factory established in the 18th century. The scent of sugar lingers in the air as you troll past the antique confectionary equipment. The reconstructed scenery resembles more of a vintage science laboratory than a sweets factory.

The art of making sweets dates back to the Middle Ages and was exported to various countries around Europe. Wood panels line the shop while butting against the large pots stuffed with colorful candy amid aromas like caramel and vanilla. After sampling the delightful tastes of Abruzzo’s famous confection, your guide takes you to the city center to meet with a sommelier specializing in wines from the region. The sommelier pours three different wines taken from local vineyards accompanying specialty items like cheese, and salami meant to enhance the flavors of each ingredient. You notice the strong aroma of black cherry emanating from the glass with a hint of dark chocolate and oak.

If you can visit in July of 2019, the town erupts in celebration during the last weekend of the month when reenacting a medieval tournament, Giostra Cavalleresca. Knights dress in accordance with their neighborhood and battle during the two-day competition for a rare canvas painting made by a different artist each year. A procession of 500 figures dressed in historical garments stretches through the streets before the tournament begins. The knights must circle the piazza while inserting particular rings into three targets. The knight with the most points wins.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Vasto – Charming Villages and Traverse the Historic Center of Vasto

In the morning, aromatic cheeses made from grazing sheep along the Abruzzo countryside graze the table alongside freshly brewed espresso and delicious fruits like persimmons. Your private transfer greets you after breakfast eager to escort you through the countryside on the way to the town of Vasto. Before reaching the historical center, you can stop at the Hermitage of San Domenico. The first religious settlement claimed a cave dug into the limestone around the year 1000 AD. A large portico at the entrance of the hermitage contains four large paintings crafted in 1938 and depicting scenes from the life and miracles of San Domenico surrounded by 17th-century frescoes featuring mysterious and incongruous works of art.

You can continue along hairpin turns leading up to the bends to reach the village of Scanno. The sunlight reflects against the placid water of Scanno Lake and protected grounds of the Gole di Sagittario wildlife reserve. The town sits on a rock spur boasting historical streets and antique houses with elegant archways and portals. The relaxed ambiance emanates from the public squares and dark-stone churches while the tangle of alleyways encompasses the medieval center of unscathed by battles for centuries and sitting atop Roman foundations for two millennia.

Workshops retain their sense of hidden grandeur in the presentation of finely worked gold jewelry shimmering with filigree. Upon arriving in Vasto, you have the city at your whim. Bask in the gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea and remarkable medieval ambiance of the historical center dating back to the 15th century. The hidden jewel of the coastline combines the scent of the sea breeze with the herbaceous aroma of the surrounding prairies set beneath the façade of the Romanesque San Giuseppe Cathedral.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 4: Vasto – Vasto Market during a Traditional Abruzzo Cooking Tour

The Majella massif stands in the background of your view from Vasto framing the orchards and vineyards decorating the hills outside of town. Cafes and restaurants fill the streets with the aromas of the kitchen making fresh fish soup from the day’s catch and offering cuts of ventricina, a type of local salami stemming from a tradition of the local cucina povera. After breakfast, your private chef greets you at the hotel eager to introduce you to the local flavors of Abruzzo during a fabulous cooking class. The journey through the tastes of the land and sea begins at Vasto’s weekly market. The scent of coastal fruits like oranges and lemons fill the air amid displays of cherry and apples.

Dry spices and flowers add layers of zest and herbs to the air. The chef points to ingredients specific to Abruzzo including mortadella di compotosto, turquoise potatoes, and grape jam known as scrucchiata. In the kitchen, you learn the ease with which the chef makes fresh pasta seamlessly mixing egg and flour into a thick dough. She places the dough through a chitarra to make pasta alla chitarra, referring to how the strings cut the dough. The kitchen fills with the aroma of meatballs as you toss them into a pan with olive oil listening for the sizzle. In summer, the chef makes a cherry tomato sauce with olive paste and a dash of chili. In winter, the colder weather calls for a hardier ragù.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 5: Vasto – Aderci Nature Reserve and Delight in a Private Art Class

You will set out into the beauty of the pristine landscape of Aderci Nature Reserve to wander the rocky coastline north of Vasto along trails winding through the protected 705 acres. The pathways along the coast offer remarkable views over the Adriatic Sea to the east leading through fields of yellow poppies, sea lilly, and fennel. The herbaceous aroma carries hints of black licorice mixed with the sea. Bottlenose dolphin are often visible from the shoreline arching out of the water in large pods. They can grow to over 13 feet long and have playful personalities encouraging leaping out of the surface water.

Birds like black-crowned night heron and crested lark populate the protected landscape while flocks of greater flamingo enjoy the coastal lagoons and mudflats. The elegant bird stands up to 59 inches tall with colorful pink and white plumage. You reach a trabucco where a local fisher offers a demonstration of the antique instrument. The wooden structure was first documented in the 18th century with similar inventions dating back to the Phoenicians. The wood juts out into the water from a promontory utilizing the rocky formations and natural movement of the water to gather fish as fishers intercept the flow of moving fish using wide nets reaching nearly 20 feet deep.

You will then continue to a small farm overlooking the brush and flowers of the countryside. An artist owns the farm happily crafting unique images from stone, wood, and paint in a home built out of recycled material. The fascinating panorama sweeps across the hills of Abruzzo. The artist guides you in capturing the beauty of the landscape producing a picturesque memory of your time around Aderci Nature Reserve with which you can take home with you.  

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 6: Conversano – Travel to Puglia By Way of Trani and Castel del Monte

You will leave behind the charms of Vasto bound for the treasures of Puglia in the morning, beginning with your arrival in the town of Trani. The pearl of Italy’s most southeasterly region shimmers from a combination of the turquoise Adriatic water and the golden facades along the waterside. Antique fishing boats wade in the marina beside bleached yachts outside of the historic city center. Limestone streets wind between former Jewish quarter and charismatic palaces. The beauty of Trani emanates from the city itself as opposed to a singular structure or historic site. The Cathedral of San Nicola Pellegrino dominates the sky and shoreline.

The 12th-century cathedral has a preserved Romanesque façade with an elegant rose window and soaring bell tower. Frescoes depicting Alexander the Great, as well as Adam and Eve decorate the surviving sections of the 12th-century nave. Byzantine frescoes add a touch of gilded allure to the interior of the older church guiding visitors down through the depths of Christian history in the region before reaching the remains of the 6th-century chamber above the main crypt. Outside of charismatic Trani takes you to Castle del Monte.

You will notice the unique geometric shape of the defensive structure towering above the landscape atop a hill in the distance. The octagonal design contains a stunning geometric symmetry designed by King Frederick II of Swabia in the 13th century. The symmetrical design brings light into each room of the castle most notably during the winter solstice and summer equinox inspiring scholars for centuries. The limestone and quartz material used to build the structure is broken by windows with the entranceway boasting marble shining with coral hues.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Conversano – A Seaside Cooking Class before Visiting Alberobello

The morning light washes over the stunning 11th-century walls and 12-sided tower base of the Conversano. The structure was originally erected in the 6th century and rebuilt by Norman feudal lords before the impressive northern corner tower was erected in the 15th century. After breakfast, you will travel to the fabulous seaside town of Polignano a Mare to meet a private chef eager to introduce you to the delightful cuisine of Puglia during a private cooking class. The region’s diverse and fascinating cuisine floods with flavorful local and seasonal ingredients like fava beans, fennel, peppers, onions, arugula, artichokes, lamb, and beef, as well as an abundance of seafood like red mullet, anchovies, mussels, sea bass, and cuttlefish.

The gorgeous town stands on a flat promontory jutting into the turquoise sea with cliffs plunging upwards of 65 feet into the water. The whitewashed walls of the antique buildings reflect the sunlight above the former Greek settlement dating back to the 4th century BC. Teenagers dive off the cliffs into the depths of the sea for fun and sunbathers bask in the warm light on the small inlet shaping Cala Porto beach. The rich traditions of Puglia cuisine stem from the need of self-sufficiency and a history of cucina povera with home-cooks utilizing every element of an ingredient. The chef has already collected the ingredients for the day’s menu prepping the seafood and produce for the coming meal. You help prepare the polpi in umido a dish of octopus with rosemary, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, white wine, and tomatoes.

After lunch, you will continue to Alberobello, a town with a fairytale ambiance emanating from the traditional trulli homes, whitewashed dwellings made from limestone and capped with a conical roof. The homes originated as a way for locals to avoid taxes in the 16th century by quickly going unnoticed into the olive groves and farmland if the tax collector came near. The thick stone and absence of mortar became a staple by the 18th century when the collection of homes received official town status. The white, thick stone helped regulate temperatures in the hot summers and cool winters. Strolling through town highlights the unique properties of the historic structures with a picturesque quality resembling Italian hobbit-holes set beneath swaying pine trees.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 8: Conversano – Olive Oil, Wine and Cheese with a Private Tasting

The town of Gioia del Colle represents a cherished treasure of antiquity featured in the countryside and the remarkable castle erected by the Swabian king, Frederick II. The grander spreads across the landscape outwards from the 13th-century castle grounds with a village capturing medieval ambiance with a maze of alleys and archways, as well as small farms supporting grazing sheep, cows, vines, and lush olive orchards. A local farmer welcomes you onto his property to visit the trees filling the scenic plain with a spiced aroma.

Puglia produces approximately 40 percent of Italy’s olive oil and a surprising amount of the country’s wine selection. Your guide walks you through the process of crafting extra virgin olive oil, with the term pertaining to the purity of the extract maintained throughout the process. You view an antique olive press where producers would stack layers of stones over olives to capture the oil, while also collecting the leftover paste for other culinary or aesthetical purposes. Like wine, olive oil takes on the properties of the earth in which it is grown resulting in unique tastes.

When sampling a small amount of the olive oil, you find hints of herbs and a touch of bitterness leaving a spice on your palate. Your guide then pours a sample of wines accompanied by a selection of cheese made on the property. The mozzarella cheese from the Gioia del Colle municipality is famous for its fresh, milky flavor, springy texture, and fantastic history dating back to the 16th-century along the Murge Plateau.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 9: Conversano – The Historical and Baroque Splendors of Lecce

The city of Lecce is often called Southern Italy’s “Florence,” due to its wealth of gorgeous architecture and fascinating history of supporting great artists. Exploring Lecce immerses you in a cinematic atmosphere adorned with baroque architecture unique to the streets of the city. The maze of streets leads to the relaxed charm of the university and gorgeous window displays of stylish boutiques. Locals linger in Piazza del Duomo at cafes serving fresh espresso and delicious pasticciotto, a pastry cake stuffed with chocolate, cream, or pistachio. The kaleidoscope of facades covers the 2,500 years of history dating back to the Roman settlement of the 3rd century BC.

The cathedral was erected in the 12th century and refurbished fanciful Baroque flair alongside a 230-foot tall bell tower. The Basilica of Santa Croce contains an intricate array of details along the façade including images of gargoyles, beasts, and saints peering down over the portals. The interior boasts ornate columns and a coffered ceiling accentuating the lavish frescoes. Artists in their studios continue working with papier-mâché, an artform sculptors utilized during the 17th and 18th centuries due to the lack of marble in the southeastern region adding distinctive features to the religious edifices in the city. 

As the day turns to evening, look forward to your dining experience at BROS’ restaurant, which has received a Michelin Star for 2019 recognizing the remarkable local flavors brought to life by the rising stars sharing a passion for representing an elevated version of traditional dishes inspired by Puglia set inside a fashionable, dynamic setting. Each dish reflects the flair and ingenuity of the chefs while also reflecting their genuine love for each ingredient. The tasting menu changes with the seasons and with the whims of the chefs ranging from simple dishes like a potato pancake to elaborate dishes like a blend of red onion bulbs with tapioca, spring onion oil, and currents. 

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 10: Conversano – A Gorgeous Day at Galatina and Otranto

The quiet town of Galatina embodies the heart of the Salentine Peninsula’s ancient history as a pillar of Greek origins. The magnificent Baroque architecture hides the Byzantine and Norman rules leading to the Spanish marks left on the culture. The elegant façade of the cathedral gives way to frescoes covering the fabulous ceiling shaping one of the region’s few Gothic churches. The former noble palaces contain hints of the Lecce Baroque style adorning the balconies and doorways. You make your way to the deconsecrated Chapel of San Paolo, the center of the ancient rite of Tarantism. The religious practice rooted in the peninsula embodies a type of musical exorcism meant to rid the body of the effects of tarantula bites.

Frenzied dancing reaches a fever pitch before the victim of the bites drinks from a well in the courtyard. A festival takes place to commemorate the folk dance over a two-day period each June. Shops and cafes create a lively ambiance along the streets with secluded lanes opening to hidden courtyards.

Continue to Otranto, a city on the stiletto of Italy’s boot. Whitewashed walls reflect the light overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The labyrinth of narrow lanes has seen passing Turks, Greeks, Roman, and Napoleonic forces over the course of 3,000 years. The cathedral was erected in the 12th century and retains a mosaic accentuating the Romanesque ambiance. The artwork depicts biblical stories like Noah’s Ark and local mythologies connected to figures like Alexander the Great and King Arthur.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 11: Conversano – The Art of Focaccia and Exclusivity of Matera

In the morning, you can set out for the town of Matera crossing the regional border into Basilicata for the day. The fascinating city is perched above the cliffs carved by the Gravina River. Pockets have opened in the tufa stone beneath the city’s layered streets attracting the first settlers approximately 7,000 years ago. The white stone glints in the sunlight resembling a biblical scene from a Hollywood film, and the city gained notoriety in the 1950s for its appalling poverty with locals living in the caves beneath the city referred to as sassi.

The city has since grown both in fame and prestige to become the European Capital of Culture in 2019. The dynamic city hosts the medieval city crowning the hill, the Baroque churches, and elegant palaces near the base of the hill, and the sassi carved into the cliffs in between. The streets wind and weave between Byzantine chapels and medieval homes, up stone staircases and into tiny courtyards decorated with flowerpots. The monastic complex of Chiesa di Madona delle Virtù and Chiesa di San Nicola del Greci contains multiple chambers carved into the tufa limestone encompassing two stories.

The structure was originally built between the 10th and the 11th centuries and restored in the 1600s. The frescoes decorating San Nicola del Greci date back to the 13th century when Benedictine monks from Palestine arrived in the city. Many of the sassi are abandoned around the Sasso Caveoso providing a glimpse of the exterior of the former homes while visiting Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario immerses you into the 18th-century life of a family who lived inside the grotto in a single room with the mules, chickens, and pigs.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 12: Conversano – Depart for Home from Bari Airport

The morning in Conversano captures the town in a quiet light shining over the many churches and Benedictine monastery. Castle Marchione on the outskirts of the winding streets once acted as a hunting ground for the Acquaviva Conversano counts with oak groves and shrubland covering more than 2,471 acres. The Adriatic Sea glimmers with turquoise, azure, and cobalt hues as the streets return to life after breakfast. Your private transfer meets you at the hotel when you are ready, and escorts you to Bari’s Karol Wojtyla Airport for your flight home.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast

Price

Starting Price 

$3,295
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.