May 4-18, 2018
Rolling hills, stately cypress trees, ancient stone Tuscan farmhouses…. How often have you wished you could experience these first hand? Well, you can come with us and share our passion for la dolce vita. Immerse yourself in four of the most exciting and fundamental aspects of Italian culture: art, architecture, food and wine. We will visit Rome, Venice, Florence, and hill towns such as San Gimignano and Siena. There will also be two optional excursions to sun-drenched wine estates, complete with tastings.
Whether you are a seasoned artist or novice (or just a lover of all things Italian), this trip will open up new creative pathways and introduce you to some of the most inspiring landscape and art masterpieces in the world. Picture yourself sitting in a café, savouring an espresso, inspired by the local architecture, sculpture and art while drinking in the atmosphere of another perfect Florentine day.
Join Sharyn Seibert, a practising artist and art educator who has conducted numerous art history and studio tours to Italy in the past 15 years. She makes art come alive with fascinating anecdotes and compelling stories. She will be joined by her husband, Brian Lauder, a graduate of the Intermediate Level of the International Sommelier Guild Programme, who has conducted numerous wine tastings and classes and has lived, worked and traveled extensively in Europe. Together they will bring to you their unique combination of enthusiasm and experience. Even before leaving Canada the group will get to know each other at an optional (included) two-day travel journal workshop in Guelph followed by a feast of Italian food and wine.
Here is our itinerary:
Friday, May 4: Departure is from Toronto International Airport Terminal 3, where we board our non-stop flight on Air Transat.
Saturday, May 5: Upon our arrival in Rome, after a regional train has taken us into the city, we will enjoy a brief lunch. Then, a Eurostar high-speed train will guide us through the idyllic Tuscan landscape to Florence. Our late afternoon arrival will allow us time to get settled into our accommodation and walk to a nearby cafe for refreshments. This will be followed by a short walkabout to some of the more famous Florentine landmarks such as the Duono, Baptistery, Piazza della Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio. We will top off our evening at a local trattoria (restaurant), where we will sample delicious home-made Tuscan cuisine. Hotel Casci, located on Via Cavour, will be our home for 13 nights, and is a highly-rated family-run hotel steps from the Duomo and Baptistery.
Sunday, May 6: After breakfast, there will be a short presentation about the day’s activities, which will include a walking tour of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. After lunch, our destination is Santa Croce, the famous Franciscan church which houses the tombs of many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo and Galileo. Giotto, whose work is viewed as marking the beginning of the Renaissance, painted the frescoes which adorn the walls of the Bardi Chapel. Our next stop is the Duomo (cathedral) whose dome, designed by Brunelleschi, remains one of the wonders of the modern architectural world. The campanile by Giotto and the Baptistery, which is decorated with the magnificent Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti, are close by. Crossing the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”), built in 1345 and the only bridge to escape destruction during the Second World War, will give us breathtaking views of the Arno River. The bridge is home not only to many talented goldsmiths working in their open shops but also to street musicians. Before dinner, Brian will conduct an optional tasting of regional wines paired with delectable cheeses.
Monday, May 7: Today, a regional bus takes us to San Gimignano, a picturesque walled medieval hill town in the nearby province of Siena. It is mainly famous for its medieval architecture, especially its iconic towers and, for this reason, has been referred to as “the Manhattan of Tuscany”. These towers may be seen from several kilometres outside the town. On our agenda is a tour of the Collegiata Church in the centre of the town square, which is a splendid example of Romanesque architecture. Inside,the remarkable frescoes cover almost every available surface, depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the life of Christ. There are particularly stunning fescoes by Ghirlandaio on the life of Santa Fina, a local saint. Following lunch at a restaurant with breathtaking views, our afternoon stroll will take us through the leather, craft and kitchenware shops or give us an opportunity to sketch in the shade of the arched stone alcove. This will also be an opportunity to sample one of Tuscany’s few white wines, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, made in the valleys outside the ancient walls. Returning to Florence in the early evening will give us just enough time to enjoy a pleasant dinner.
Tuesday, May 8: After breakfast, for those who wish, there will be a presentation on the works we will see in the afternoon at the Uffizi Gallery. This will be followed by a walk to the Gallery which contains the largest collection of Renaissance art in the world, including works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Filippo Lippi and Raphael. Before dinner we will sample wines from the Maremma, as well as local cheeses. Optional activities (included) for late afternoon are climbing the Campanile (Bell Tower) and Dome of the Cathedral. Dinner is at your leisure.
Wednesday, May 9: Morning brings us to a discussion of some of the most magnificent works of art ever produced. These are found in the Accademia Gallery, home to the towering “David” by Michelangelo, constructed from a single block of marble. . A short walk will bring us inside this magnificent gallery, where Michelangelo’s “Slaves,” Botticelli’s “Madonna del Mare” and works by Filippo Lippi await. For those interested in music, there is a gallery of rare musical instruments, including a Stradivarius violin. After lunch we will visit the Baptistery where we can view glitterine mosaics froom the Byzantine to Baroque periods. Afterward we will tour the Museo del Duomo, where art treasures from the Duomo have been placed. For the rest of the day, we can relax or sketch back at our accommodation before a short tasting (optional) of more Tuscan wines. After dinner, for those who are musically inclined, there will be a concert at St. Mark’s, the English Church in an intimate setting.
Thursday, May 10: Today an early bus will take us to Siena, home of the Palio, a bareback horse race. Large in scale and ornately decorated inside and out, Siena’s cathedral is one of the finest examples of Italian Gothic architecture. This city was a bustling economic centre in the Middle Ages, thanks to its textiles, saffron and wine. The cafe-lined Piazza del Campo has been called Italy’s loveliest piazza, and forms the heart of the city. Twice a year, it is covered with sand and converted to a race track for the Palio. There will be an opportunity to stroll through the numerous shops which sell fine leather, painted pottery and clothing. After having lunch at a charming outdoor cafe (included), there will be a chance to purchase some legendary pan forte cake, Siena’s famous confection. For the wine enthusiasts, we will walk to the Enoteca Italiana (Italian wine centre), a former Medici fortress which boasts Italy’s largest selection of wines for sampling. An optional wine tasting here is available. Back in Florence, after dining at a local restaurant we will have the opportunity to indulge our taste buds with the delectable pan forte.
Friday, May 11: Today will give us an opportunity to embark on an optional day-long wine tour to the Chianti region, for those who would like to immerse themselves in a truly Tuscan wine experience. Our professional guide will take us to two local wineries in the beautiful hills near Florence, where we will take part in lively wine tastings and learn about the colourful history of the area. Enjoy a delectable lunch at a small trattoria. More than just savouring wines, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of life in Tuscany and the elements that make it so treasured. Alternatively you can simply stroll through Florence at your leisure, with ample time for sketching or shopping.
Saturday,May 12: Venice! Stroll the cobblestone sestieri (quarters) of this magnificent floating city and discover its hidden treasures. Or hire a gondola and float down the Grand Canal. Probably the most famous site in Venice is St. Mark’s Basilica. Built to enshrine St. Mark’s body in the 9th century, the interior is clad in wonderful mosaics and holds statues, icons and the famous bronze horses, brought to St. Mark’s after the 4th Crusade in 1204. A tour the basilica at the perfect time of day when the sun is coming through the west windows is an unforgettable experience. The quality of the light here is said to be unlike anywhere else in the world. Consequently, the city has become a magnet for artists trying to capture that quality. Afterward, we will proceed to the open air balcony overlooking St. Mark’s square, which Napoleon called “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”, with its flocks of pigeons, orchestras and incredible sights. Venice is the city of the carnival, and the shops reflect this celebration with their wide selection of masks in every possible material: clay, leather, paper, feathers and fabric. Glass items of every description formed into glittering chandeliers, beaded jewellery, vases and sculpture will be a feast for the eyes. While strolling along the canals you may want to complete your trip to Venice with a glass of prosecco, a light, sparkling white wine made in the hills northwest of the city. After touring this floating city, our high-speed train will bring us back to Florence in the late evening, followed by dinner at a local trattoria.
Sunday, May 13: This is a day for relaxing, working on journals, exploring the city with the tour leaders or on your own. For those who wish, there will be a tour of Santa Maria Novella Church. This church contains the magnificent Trinity by Massacio, as well as the exquisite frescoes of Domenico Ghirlandaio depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. In mid-afternoon we will all meet at the train station to board the bus for Piazzale Michelangelo which offers panoramic views of Florence and the Arno valley, followed by a visit to the lovely church of San Miniato. As you look out from the front of the church, you can enjoy an impressive view of Florence, including the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio (“old palace”, still used as the town hall) and to the last standing parts of the medieval walls that once surrounded Florence. We arrive just in time to hear vespers sung by Benedictine monks. On our way back to the Florentine valley, we will stop for mouth-watering gelato (Italian ice cream) offered in countless flavours.
Monday, May 14: One option for this day is another wine tour into the hills of Tuscany. Lunch at a farmhouse is included for those who wish to book this excursion. Delectable wines, cheese and antipasto will intrigue the taste buds of all who are wanting to spend the day in the hills. Alternatively, this will be a free day to explore the city on your own.
Tuesday, May 15: The Pitti Palace is the largest of the Renaissance palaces in Florence. Our tour of this enormous edifice, attributed to Brunelleschi, will be for the whole day, since there are three galleries, as well as the lush Boboli Gardens to stroll through behind the palace. Paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio and many other icons of Renaissance art fill the walls, sometimes on several levels of the same display space. Of special note are the Royal Apartments where we can see elaborate decor and furnishings of the Renaissance period. A sampling of some unusual Tuscan wines is available before dinner for those so inclined.
Wednesday, May 16: Today, our visit is to the Bargello. This magnificent sculpture gallery, a former prison, houses a vast collection of Michelangelo, Donatello and Verocchio sculptures in bronze, terra cotta and marble. The colourful San Lorenzo outdoor market is a short walk away, where leather-work and scarves of every description can be had for very reasonable prices. Lunch will be at the famous Mario’s trattoria (included), where we will indulge in fresh pasta, delectable roast chicken and the freshest salads on earth. In the afternoon, a short bus ride will take us to Fiesole, which will provide us with an awesome view of Florence. Its altitude of almost 1,000 feet will allow you to peer over Florence from either of Fiesole’s two peaks: the San Francesco and the Sant’ Apollinare. A short climb will take us to the San Francesco Monastery to take in Florence’s panorama. The Roman Theatre hosts outdoor plays, films and jazz concerts on summer evenings. Access to the Roman theatre is through the Archaeological Museum, where there is a fine collection of Etruscan artifacts.Dinner will be at a restaurant in Santa Spirito (included), a Bohemian district in Florence.
Thursday, May 17: Good-bye Florence, hello Rome! Our Eurostar high-speed train will bring us into Rome at noon. Rome contains some of the most important ancient treasures that Italy has to offer. After checking into our centrally-located hotel, we will venture to the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum and Colosseum. The Pantheon, once used by the Romans as a temple and now used as a church, has the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world. The magical Trevi Fountain is still visited by those who believe that by tossing a coin (it has to be over the shoulder), they will some day return to Rome.
Friday, May 18: After a stimulating and inspiring two weeks immersed in the culture of Tuscany we will board our plane and fly to Toronto.
I want to express again how deeply happy I am that you made the decision to run with the adult tour to Italy this year. With this being my first trip to Europe, it has opened my eyes to travel, especially to Europe and experiencing different cultures. I had a lot of anxiety at first when I made the decision to go, but with you both there, I felt right at home! I’m so lucky to have had you as my tour guides!
Sharyn and Brian, you were so accommodating and catered to Kathi and me throughout the two weeks, always there purchasing tickets for churches/museums/trains/buses, and how kind of you to be worrying about my knee and looking for the elevators to help me out those last few days. Your passion for history, art and wine was brought to life! Your extensive research displayed in your daily PowerPoint presentations was very helpful and so appreciated.
I enjoyed the time you spent with me, Sharyn, guiding me on how to prepare my journal and encouraging me with some ideas and not to be so concerned about having it perfect.
I must tell you Brian, I had a bottle of Italian Moscato in my liquor cabinet someone had brought over recently and I cracked it open on the weekend and was pleasantly surprised when I checked this wine out on the website and discovered it was a DOCG!
You knew the main attractions to take us to and when I look back at my pictures, it’s incredible how much we actually saw in two weeks.
Since returning home, I have been on the internet checking out religion, saints, old and new testaments, and putting the timelines/chronology of what we saw into perspective.
I want to thank you both for making my birthday so memorable. What a surprise – a birthday cake and sparkling wine on our last day in Rome. I’ll never forget it. Sincerely want to thank you for the lovely address book, ceramic plaque of Florence, the sweet plate displaying the Medici coat of arms, as well as the tasty honey. You both have left a lasting impression on me as friends and tour guides!
I really got a kick out grocery shopping just like a local and enjoyed the amount of walking we did. What is still so vivid in my mind is our first night walking in Florence and seeing the Duomo and Baptistery all lit up and walking over the Ponte Vecchio, down the narrow road next to Uffizi, having my first gelato, and then walking alongside the Arno on our way back.
Fellow staffers have been asking about the trip and I want you to know that I highly recommend this trip to my friends and family.
I have such wonderful memories of the trip. This really was an Excellent Adventure.
Maurina Baker (Caledon, Ontario)
I had a wonderful time on our trip. You two took all the work out of traveling and left all the fun in it! Besides that, I couldn’t have asked for better traveling companions. The 12 days in Florence were a joy from beginning to end. I had a super time. For me, your trip was money well spent and I don’t regret a penny of it. I got my money’s worth in spades. In addition to having the opportunity to spend time in a beautiful, ancient city, I was able to totally immerse myself in art and to learn, experience and see works I never even realized existed. Your trip was a huge gift and I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to experience it.
Kathi Kelly (Cambridge, Ontario)
I, and some of my family members, participated in a tour that Sharyn and Brian led that included Rome, Venice, and Florence. What a well planned, fascinating, and well implemented trip on their part!!!
From the get-go, Sharyn and Brian were wonderful resources to us. We had family members converging on Rome from Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax and the minute each of us stepped off our planes, Sharyn or Brian were waiting for us, having found any others who arrived beforehand. It was a repeated “happy reunion” as more and more of our family members joined in. Just fabulous!
We did the sights in all the various cities as a group (again, incredibly well organized and delivered without a hitch!) but Sharyn and Brian were also very flexible about escorting those of us interested in something that was not part of the official tour. It was really fun to venture off the beaten track at times.
Sharyn’s extensive knowledge of art history made our museum tours so engaging! And Brian’s expertise in wine made our evening meals when we cooked in our apartments particularly special and informative.
The housing arrangements were excellent. Beautiful apartments with all the amenities in each of the cities we visited. Our family chose an option to do our evening meals in our accommodations for the most part – our niece and nephew loved to cook- and those who wanted would visit the local market in preparation for our evening feast. Sharyn and Brian’s tours are kept intentionally small so they were willing to completely tailor the trip to our preferences and needs.
We also had some artists in our midst who were very interested in sketching the sights. some of us are quite proficient and others not so much. I was part of the latter group and Sharyn was so wonderfully supportive and encouraging as we explored our creative potential to journal our trip. I was thoroughly surprised and delighted at how open I became to the art experience and how much it opened my eyes to the art we were seeing in the museums.
All to say, participating in Sharyn and Brian’s tour was a wonderful, enriching experience and a real memory-maker for our family. Thanks to you both for everything. It was just fantastic!
Kate Connolly (Hamilton, Ontario)
Double Occupancy: CAN $4,800
Single Supplement: CAN $800
What is included:
- Return airfare Toronto-Rome
- All ground transportation in Italy
- High speed Eurostar train between Rome and Florence (return)
- Accommodation (12 nights) in the heart of Florence and one night in Rome
- Optional two full-day travel journal workshops in Guelph prior to the trip
- Pre-trip gourmet introductory Italian dinner (with wine)
- 2 dinners and two lunches with wine
- Full course breakfast daily
- All gallery admissions (included is a Florence “Friends of the Uffizi” pass that allows admission to the Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace galleries and the Boboli Gardens, unlimited from the date of purchase until Dec. 31, 2018). This is a skip-the-line pass.
- Informative introductions to and discussions about all significant works of art and architecture
- Optional evening wine tastings: approximately 5 Euros each (approximately $7.00 Canadian)
- Optional wine estate tours $220.00 per person per tour (possibility of two tours)
- Music concert of Italian Opera Favourites ($31.00)
One of the most charming aspects of many cities in Italy is their historic buildings and lively street life. Many of the narrow, winding streets are inaccessible to vehicular traffic. This means that our tours involve considerable walking. Your Italian experience will also include the following:
- carrying/rolling your suitcases over uneven pavement (often cobblestones) for several blocks and sometimes up one or two flights of stairs
- while some trains include a baggage area, due to space restrictions you may have to lift your luggage into the overhead bins, so you should pack as lightly as possible
- your hotel room may face the street, which will likely include a great view, but may also include street noise (ear plugs may be advisable)
Please contact Sharyn Seibert at email@example.com for more information
To register for this exciting adventure, please contact Debbie Bath at Noecker Travel – (519) 846-5307. Please note that this is a small-group experience limited to 10-12 travelers.
To register for this trip please contact Debbie Bath at Noecker Travel 519-846-5307