Arrive in Milan
Tour begins: 6:00 PM, Grand Hotel et de Milan. A transfer is included from Milan Malpensa Airport or Linate Airport to Grand Hotel et de Milan, located "a stone's throw" from the La Scala Opera House and the city's trend-setting fashion district. At once you'll feel the vibrancy of this cosmopolitan city where ancient and modern cultures are synergized by art, fashion and cuisine, seated at the gateway to the lake region of Lombardy. A welcome cocktail reception this evening is followed by dinner.
Da Vinci, the Duomo & more in Milan
This morning will be a special treat for aficionados of religious art masterpieces... or "The Da Vinci Code." Stand in awe of "The Last Supper," painted by Leonardo da Vinci on a wall of the 15th-century monastery, Santa Maria delle Grazie (it originally graced the monks' dining hall). Continue from this humble setting to the gilded halls of Sforza Castle, where a guided tour of its collections includes Michelangelo's "Rondanini Pieta." Proceed to the city center for a short walking tour, where you'll see La Scala, and the Duomo, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. A more recent architectural wonder is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a stunning 19th-century shopping arcade under a massive glass dome. The rest of the day is free to explore as you please; your hotel is near one of Milan's most elegant boulevards, Via Napoleone.
Lake Como villas and a cruise to Bellagio
Lake Como is beguiling, long sought-after by aristocrats and film stars for its lush waterways and luscious villas, and the stunning Alps as a backdrop. Travel to Tremezzo to explore 17th-century Villa Carlotta, set on acres of landscaped gardens. Take a private boat to Bellagio, a resort town with spectacular views. On a private cruise to Como, you'll glimpse some of the lake's elegant villas, including the sumptuous retreats of George Clooney, Richard Branson and Versace. From Como, continue on to your hotel in Stresa; nestled on the shores of Lake Maggiore, it evokes the grandeur and romance of the Belle Époque era.
Lake Maggiore and Baroque Isola Bella
Take a boat to Isola Bella and the ancient home of the Borromeo family, Palazzo Borromeo. Rising on a small island of landscaped gardens and terraces, the Baroque palazzo has hosted countless illustrious visitors, including Napoleon and Josephine. A tour reveals exquisite works of art, then you may stroll through the classic Italian garden as you please. Leave Isola Bella for lunch in the fishing village of Isola Pescatori, then return to Stresa. The rest of the day is free.
Bergamo, a wine tasting & on to Verona
Head for the ancient hilltop town of Bergamo; explore its walled medieval center with a local guide. Visit Piazza Vecchia; the Romanesque Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, begun in the 12th century; and Cappella Colleoni, a colorful masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Continue on to an agriturismo in Franciacorta for a wine tasting and lunch. Arrive late afternoon in Verona, where your hotel is in the historic center, near the balcony that inspired Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."
Verona, the home of Romeo & Juliet
A guided walking tour of Verona reveals that this city is second only to Rome in its number of Roman ruins. Pastel villas, built from rosso di Verona, the local pink limestone, line the cobbled streets where "Romeo and Juliet" resided. But besides its romantic history, the city is celebrated for its outstanding wine and cuisine. Spend the rest of the day as you please, then join us this evening for dinner with wine at a ristorante.
Ferraris, Parmigiano & balsamic in Modena
Travel to Modena, where you'll visit a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory to experience first-hand the process of cheese-making; from the milk delivery to the finished wheels, follow each detail of the production - and end with a tasting! You'll then hear the story of Enzo Ferrari, driver and creator of Scuderia Ferrari in the 1930s, at the Enzo Ferrari Museum. Following lunch, a guided visit reveals the art of balsamic vinegar making - an elaborate process of rendering grapes and decanting must into wooden barrels. Your visit is memorable, as is the sampling of this aromatic staple of gourmet cooking aged from 18 to 25+ years! Journey on to the celebrated university town of Bologna, where food, fashion and culture reign supreme. Dine this evening at a local restaurant.
Bologna & a cooking class with a chef
Surrounded by hills, the dusky red buildings, marbled-floored ancient porticoes and wide piazzas contribute to the distinctly Renaissance feel in the center of Bologna, a bastion of food, fashion and culture. Home of the world's oldest university, the Alma Mater Studiorum, founded in 1088, notable scholars such as Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca once walked its streets. A walking tour this morning reveals sights that they may well have seen centuries ago - including the university's magnificent Archigninnasio, the Church of San Domenico, Piazza Santo Stefano and the city's iconic Two Towers. After time to explore on your own, learn the secrets of Bologna's cuisine in a cooking demonstration by a chef prior to a three-course dinner.
The Venetian Islands & St. Mark's after hours
Travel on to Venice today, one of the world's most enchanting cities. After lunch at a local restaurant, board a boat to begin an exploration of the islands of the Venetian Lagoon, starting with Burano, known for its exquisite lacemaking; continue to nearby Torcello, where you'll tour its 11th-century basilica. Back on dry land (or at least the Venetian version thereof), check into your home for the next two nights in the City of Canals - The Gritti Palace, Venice, originally the 15th-century private home of a Doge of Venice overlooking the Grand Canal, recently re-emerging reopening from a painstaking, handcrafted restoration. Tonight a Tauck Exclusive awaits - an after-hours guided visit to celebrated St. Mark's Basilica in the heart of Venice (subject to availability and day of the tour may vary), during which you can explore the iconic Basilica without the usual crowds!
More Venetian delights as you please
Awaken in intriguing Venice, one of the world's most beloved cities, today and indulge in all things Venetian just as you choose. You might begin your day enjoying a coffee in Piazza San Marco, referred to by Alfred de Musset as "the drawing room of Europe." Here in the city where streets are paved with water, the sound of human voices replaces the traffic noise so common in the other great cities of Europe as pedestrians (and pigeons) flock to this central gathering place for Venetians. Perhaps you'll choose to see the magnificent view of the city from the top of St. Mark's bell tower, stroll over to the Rialto Bridge, take in some of the city's excellent museums or shop for distinctive Venetian souvenirs such as the traditional Carnival masks and colorful Venetian glass. Or, just follow your nose and see where the tiny streets might take you. This evening, join us as we celebrate the end of a splendid trip with our farewell cocktail reception and dinner at the hotel.
Tour ends: Venice. Fly home anytime. A transfer from The Gritti Palace, Venice to Venice Marco Polo Airport is included. Please allow 3 hours for flight check-in at the airport.