Lake Garda & the Best of the Veneto for Solo Travellers
|Resort:||Lake Garda & the Best of the Veneto for Solo Travellers|
DAY 1ARRIVAL IN LAKE GARDA
ARRIVAL IN LAKE GARDA
You will be met at your departure airport by a member of the Riviera Travel team before checking in for your flight. On arrival in Italy, a coach will take you to the delightful resort town of Gardone Riviera, where we will stay at the four-star Hotel Savoy Palace. This evening, we will get together with our travelling companions and tour manager for a welcome drinks reception overlooking the lake (weather permitting) before dinner at the hotel.
DAY 2LAKE GARDA
Lake Garda first came to prominence in the late-19th century, when visitors came to enjoy the clean mountain air, and it has been famous as an area of outstanding natural beauty ever since. Today we will have a tour of the lake, passing through some lovely, quintessentially Italian villages complete with tiny harbours clinging to the shoreline against a backdrop of mountains.
Our day begins with a drive north along the western shore of the lake to the pretty little town of Limone, hemmed in on one side by the steep mountains and on the other by the lake, which up until 1932 was only accessible by boat. We then continue to bustling Riva del Garda at the northern end of the lake, where we will stop for lunch and time to wander the charming medieval centre with its pedestrianised streets. From the northern end of the lake, we board a ferry for a leisurely cruise back to Gardone, passing between towering mountains and lakeside villages.
After an early breakfast we take the drive to unique Venice; caught in a time warp and as culturally rich as any city can be. We will take a walking tour during which we will see St Marks Square and its Basilica, the Campanile and Doges Palace together with countless other places of interest.
Venice first came to prominence in the 10th century and grew in wealth and power on gaining its independence from Byzantium, reaching its zenith during the 15th century. It was then that many of the fantastic buildings you see today were built. Venice at the time was the greatest power in the Mediterranean with an empire encompassing Crete, parts of Turkey and a huge portion of Northern Italy, and it soon created a capital to match. Sitting between the Eastern and Western world, trading quickly grew and innumerable merchants poured their newly made fortunes, just as people do today, into the arts and property, private and municipal. St Marks Basilica is a must: built to house the relics of St Mark himself, it is Europes most exotic cathedral with the decoration inside being incredibly opulent. The statistics are staggering there are over 40,000 square feet of detailed mosaics of every colour of the rainbow covering the entire interior. The blend of coloured-marble columns, gold and red painting, and bas-reliefs combine to create one of the worlds most beautiful buildings.
Adjacent is the Doges Palace, once home of the most powerful man in Venice who, incidentally, was elected for life. The Palace was also the seat of government councils and courts, as well as the prisons. Obviously, the government of such a great power had to be accommodated accordingly. As a visit will reveal, the palace is home to the most amazing wood carvings, an exquisite floor inlaid with exotic woods from as far afield as Japan, and one room alone featuring four Tintorettos. The walls and ceilings are exquisitely decorated with paintings, frescoes and gold leaf. St Marks Square itself is a must too and the focal point of the city since its foundation. Today, visitors have replaced merchants and to sip a coffee in one of the squares pavement cafs, drinking in the beauty around you, must rank as one of lifes great pleasures.
To see it all at once, why not take a trip up the imposing Campanile tower? Originally built as a lighthouse, Galileo demonstrated his telescope to a sceptical public here. For art lovers there is Accademia, housing one of the finest collections in the world with superb examples of Renaissance work, or the Guggenheim with exhibits by Miro, Picasso, Chagall and Lger among others. One thing that really strikes you about Venice is that it is not nearly as expensive as you might believe. Away from St. Marks Square, small restaurants offer three-course meals at reasonable prices. But Venice is not just art and monuments, fantastic though they are, this is a city that cries out to be seen from the water and what better way than by taking a trip by gondola. These beautifully made boats are crafted from 300 individual pieces of wood. A short ride on one of them is a lovely and peaceful way to explore the backwaters of the city. You will have sore feet when you return to the hotel, but everyone should visit this wondrous city at least once in their lives.
DAY 4FREE DAY
Today is a free day to explore at your leisure. You could choose to stroll along the lakefront promenade from the hotel and pause in a caf for a refreshing lunch with stunning views. Alternatively, you may choose to take a bus or stroll into Gardone Sopra, which is home to an impossibly quaint old town. You will also find Heller Gardens, a botanical garden which makes the most of the microclimate to showcase a number of plant species rarely seen outside of their natural habitats. Vittoriale, the estate of the eccentric poet Gabriele DAnnunzio, is located nearby and a fascinating place to spend an afternoon.
Our journey today takes us west and back in time to the sleepy yet achingly beautiful Mantova, a medieval city often overlooked despite its proximity to Lake Garda. Perhaps the answer lies in the three surrounding lakes, forming a natural fortification and keeping Mantova a secret from the world, one which has remained virtually untouched for centuries. As the dramatic skyline of ancient towers, domes and cupolas comes into view, its easy to see why the city features in two well-loved tragedies: it is the setting for Verdis Rigoletto and Shakespeare had an impassioned Romeo exiled here.
During our guided tour of the old town, the reasons for its UNESCO World Heritage status become strikingly evident. Although compact in size, Mantova has more than its share of artistic, cultural and architectural treasures. The city reached its zenith in the 14th century when it came under Gonzaga rule, one of the greatest Renaissance families of Italy. Their home was the sumptuous Palazzo Ducale, a highlight of the city and once Europes largest palace with around 500 rooms, extravagantly decorated with glorious works of art. Wander the cobbled streets and relax in the lovely squares, where locals and visitors alike meet for a coffee. Perhaps take a cruise on the River Mincio and admire the city from a different perspective.
DAY 6FREE DAY
Today you are free to do as you wish, so what is it to be? Take the ferry to Sirmione, set on a narrow peninsula rich in history and famed for its thermal water with healing properties. Its a pleasure to wander the inviting streets lined by pastel-hued buildings adorned with colourful flowers. Or you may choose to relax in your hotel, perhaps by the swimming pool located in pretty gardens. For the more adventurous, you may choose to stroll along to a private beach (additional charge), where you can enjoy a dip in the lake itself.
Verona is one of the most pleasing and beautiful cities in Italy and today we have a guided walking tour to appreciate it at its best, discovering its hidden side too. We approach through the centuries-old city walls and when you enter the old town you cannot help but admire the medieval buildings complete with their contrasting frescoes underneath archways unchanged for centuries. Typical pavement cafs abound, some with violinists serenading their clients whilst they take a refreshing drink, enjoying the shade from the warm sunshine. The tiny narrow streets, complete with tasteful shops, are so typical of Italy and then there is the market place, dating from Roman times, replete with interesting reminders of the citys past.
The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona and when you experience the atmosphere here you can see why. The two great lovers from rival families have inspired countless films, poems and dramas and you can even see the balcony where the immortal words O Romeo, Romeo were reputedly spoken. The Roman arena is awe-inspiring but there are also countless medieval and Renaissance squares and courtyards to explore, as well as a superb 12th-century cathedral which houses a piece by Titian. The Roman Theatre is a must too, as are the clipped box hedges and dazzling display of colour at one of the Renaissances finest gardens. Another interesting site is San Zeno arguably the finest Romanesque church in northern Italy. One of the most delightful things about Verona is that despite being close to Venice it receives fewer visitors. This afternoon is free so you can explore the city as you wish or, perhaps, go shopping. Italy is inextricably linked with chic fashion and style and Verona has some lovely shops; prices are not nearly as expensive as you may imagine, with leatherware being particularly good value.
DAY 8RETURN FLIGHT
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.