"VIA FRANCIGENA & MEDIEVAL LEGENDS"
Before the year 1000 AD, on its way from Canterbury through France and Italy to Rome, the "Via Francigena" passed through the Elsa Valley and left numerous traces in the territory: Longobard fortresses, Templar castles, Gothic abbeys, Romanesque churches, Medieval castles, taverns and mills. Its flow of wayfarers from varied cultures integrated and enriched the Territory, making it indisputably one of the most economically and culturally advanced parts of Italy. Today, the Via Francigena remains one of the most important artistic, cultural and historic walks in Europe, and still offers pilgrims hospice and spiritual awakening.
DAY 1 (Wednesday): ARRIVAL
(Available only for departures from FCO, before noon on arrival day.)
Departing from Rome’s airport we enjoy a pleasant drive, stopping for lunch before checking in at the hotel. In the early evening, we gather for Aperitivo (cocktail hour Tuscan-style) on the hotel terrace followed by a delicious Welcome Dinner in its award-winning restaurant.
DAY 2 (Thursday): SAN MINIATO / CASTELFIORENTINO / SAN VIVALDO
We begin in San Miniato where legends and art intertwine with the ancient walk of the Via Francigena. We learn of moments in history which influenced Michelangelo and Napoleon Bonaparte, and discover Renaissance frescoes not open to the public. We take a short ride to enjoy pranzo (lunch, the main meal of the day) in a private estate formerly owned by the Bonaparte Family, and to tour its biodynamic vineyards.
Moving on to medieval Castelfiorentino, we shall visit artistic treasures that acclaimed this village as the "seat of the first artistic revolution in Tuscany." We will be awed by Benozzo Gozzoli's famed "Tabernacle of the Visitation," which formerly acted as a 'welcome sign' to pilgrims on the road. Our next stop is near Montaione to visit the "Little Jerusalem of San Vivaldo," a wooded complex composed of 17 chapels which feature almost life-size, terracotta statuary depicting the Life of Jesus Christ.
We return early to the hotel for some relaxation and dinner on your own.
DAY 3 (Friday): COLLE DI VAL D' ELSA / CERTALDO ALTO / GAMBASSI TERME
In Colle, in addition to admiring its famous architecture and romantic streets, we discover a religious relic that influenced Medieval and Renaissance painters, particularly the early masters, Cimabue and Giotto. After a visit to the Crystal Museum, commemorating Colle as the ancient birthplace of the art of crystal-making, we dine in a former 11th century flour-mill.
A heart-stopping panorama escorts us to the fabled village of Certaldo Alto, birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio and his “Decameron" (1349-1351), where we visit his home and nearby works of Florentine Renaissance Art. We break to enjoy Aperitivo in a private garden overlooking the towers of San Gimignano, before departing for the Church and Pilgrim Hospice of Santa Maria a Chianni, a most important Romanesque edifice near Gambassi Terme. We close the day with sunset views over the Chianti vineyards, and a family-style dinner paired with sublime wines produced at a nearby agriturismo.
DAY 4 (Saturday): ROCCA DI STAGGIA / SAN LEONARDO AL LAGO / ABBADIA ISOLA / MONTERIGGIONI
The drawbridge of the Florentine fortress of Rocca di Staggia is lowered…Upon entering, you are transported to the "beating heart" of Medieval times, only to discover contemporary art exhibits which connect us to Staggia's mystical legends.
After a short ride along a romantic road, we arrive at L' Eremo di San Leonardo al Lago, birthplace of the Augustinian Order, to view precious frescos of the Sienese Renaissance School of painting. We proceed to Abbadia Isola, an astonishing Romanesque abbey, lost-in time, where we also visit a renovated pilgrim’s hospice. Immersing ourselves in the pilgrim's spirit, we walk along the Via Francigena to Castello di Monteriggioni, “Gateway to the Middle Ages,” where you are treated to an unforgettable experience: Aperitivo and a costumed Medieval Dinner.
DAY 5 (Sunday): CASTELLO DELLA MAGIONE / SAN GALGANO / ARCHEODROMO
We attend a beautiful mass (optional) at the Templar Castle of the Magione near Poggibonsi, which dates to the 11th century and is the most complete Medieval complex in Western Europe. In centuries past, it provided shelter to pilgrims on their way to Rome. After enjoying coffee with the Grand Master of the Templar Knights, we enjoy a scenic drive south, stopping to enjoy an authentic Sunday pranzo at a rustic agriturismo which was once an ancient mill. We depart for the nearby Abbey of San Galgano, the most stunning and important Gothic architecture in Tuscany, and birthplace of the "Sword in the Rock."
Returning to Poggibonsi, we enter the Carolinian Age (9th and 10th centuries) at the Archeodromo archeological site where we experience the "Life & Times of Charlemagne," authentically re-enacted by costumed faculty of the University of Siena. We return early to the hotel early so you can enjoy a dip in the pool or a garden stroll, and dinner on your own.
DAY 6 (Monday): SIENA / ARRIVEDERCI DINNER
The Via Francigena in the walled and elegant city of Siena is a mystical walk through its ancient streets and famed Piazza del Campo. We enjoy a guided tour of Siena’s exquisite Duomo and other significant sites. You will enjoy a fabulous lunch, and then have free time for shopping and independent exploration in this fascinating city. We regroup for Aperitivo & a special “Arrivederci Dinner” overlooking the Piazza, home of “Il Palio,” the festive medieval horse race which still drives Sienese culture today.
DAY 7 (Tuesday): DEPARTURE FOR ROME / SAN GIMIGNANO /PORTO ERCOLE
After checking out of the hotel, we take a short drive to towered San Gimignano. We enter this UNESCO World Heritage Site through the ancient gate, just as pilgrims who journeyed to its historic center and art-filled Duomo. With an Augustinian Father, we will also tour the Church of St. Augustine to view the twenty-four painted cycles of the Saint's life.
We depart for the hotel near the Rome airport, via an inspiring drive along the Tuscan Coast, pausing in Porto Ercole for lunch with a view of the Tyrrhenian Sea. We continue to the airport hotel for a late afternoon check-in with plenty of time to relax and prepare for your morning flight to the U.S. Dinner on your own.
DAY 8: (Wednesday): Depart from the Hotel to FCO for your return flight