Exclusive evening at a palazzo in Malta
Tour begins: 6:00 PM, Phoenicia Hotel Malta. A transfer is included from Malta International Airport to the Phoenicia Hotel Malta. Rich in historic treasures, Valletta was founded by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century. Join us tonight for a Tauck Exclusive welcome reception and dinner at Palazzo Parisio; originally the hunting lodge of Grand Master Don Antonio Manoel de Vihena who ruled the Order of the Knights of Malta between 1722 and 1736. The property was lived in by noble families for centuries and is still owned by the great-granddaughter of the Marquis Scicluna, who owned the palazzo at the end of the 19th century.
Explore Malta and embark Le Ponant
A guided tour of Malta includes the medieval walled city of Mdina, perched atop a cliff, and a drive around St. Julian's Bay, a favorite setting for the colorful Maltese boats that are often photographed here for worldwide enjoyment. Return to Valletta for a walking tour and "The Malta Experience," an audio-visual show that tells the dramatic story of Malta's 7,000-year history; Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a virtual open-air museum of Baroque architecture. Visit the splendid St. John's Co-Cathedral to see its silver and gold-leafed interior and rare art treasures, including the "Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" by Italian painter Caravaggio. Le Ponant awaits in the Grand Harbour; set sail for Sicily tonight.
Antiquities and more on Ortigia Island
Le Ponant docks at Ortigia Island this morning, lined with 18th- and 19th-century townhouses, for a visit to Siracusa on the Sicilian mainland. You have a choice of shore excursions. Drive to Neapolis Parco Archeologico to see the Teatro Greco, an ancient 15,000 seat theatre hewn out of rock, and Latomia del Paradiso featuring the Ear of Dionysius. Crossing back to the Island of Ortigia, a walking tour will include the 6th-century Temple of Apollo - transformed over the centuries as a Byzantine church, a Muslim mosque and then a Norman church - and the Baroque Duomo. Alternatively, visit the Baroque town of Noto, the best example of Baroque architecture on the island and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cliff-top Taormina or Mount Etna on Sicily
Admire the astounding views as you sail into Taormina, a terraced town clinging to high cliffs on the east coast of Sicily, with Mt. Etna towering in the distance. Take a Zodiac ashore for a choice of sightseeing excursion. First possibility is Taormina sightseeing on a tour that takes you to the Teatro Greco, featuring both Greek and Roman elements, and for a stroll along the Corso Umberto, Old Town Taormina's main pedestrian street lined with cafés and pasticcerie. Or, join us for a visit to Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe - and still active. Travel by cable car up its slopes and board a special off-road vehicle, accompanied by local guides, for the ascent to one of the world's most stunning panoramas 9,514 ft. (2900 meters) above sea level. View Mount Etna's varied landscapes up close and gain insights into volcanic activity.
Explore Palermo or Monreale
Enjoy a pleasant morning's cruise aboard Le Ponant en route to Palermo, the capital of Sicily and once considered among Europe's grandest cities; your yacht will be docked in the heart of the city's pedestrian area. You'll have two sightseeing choices today: a tour of Monreale including a visit to the 12th-century Cathedral of Monreale, whose majestic dome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a wine tasting at a local winery. Or, join us for a two-hour Palermo walking tour that explores the history of the Mafia and the antimafia; you'll also visit a private residence, Palazzo Gangi di Valguarnera. Late afternoon everyone meets for a tour of Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, the largest Opera House in Italy. Return to Le Ponant at the end of the day for dinner.
Segesta and Erice or the Salt Route
Anchor in Trapani for a choice of sightseeing excursions. First choice is a visit to ancient Segesta where antiquities include the unfinished temple encircled by 36 massive Doric columns, which was started in 426 BC and is remarkably preserved. Continue on to the age-old walled town of Erice, the mythological seat of the Roman goddess Venus, where a guided tour includes the town's historic center. Your second choice is a journey to Spagnola where you'll learn about the spectacular "Salt Route." You'll also visit a local well-known winery for a tasting. spend time exploring on your own, and travel to nearby Trapani. Rejoin Le Ponant in Trapani and cruise to the Aeolian Islands.
Lipari by day and a night sail by fiery Stromboli
The largest of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari sits on red volcanic rock and looks like "a wall of bronze" according to the Greek poet Homer. Archaeological remains found have yielded clues to civilizations which date to 1700 BC, including the Neolithic stones that sit alongside ancient tombstones, and ruins of Greek walls and Roman villas. The Spaniards found their way here in the 16th century, building the castello (castle) and the 17th-century cathedral that is perched above the harbor. Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands, noted for its colorful houses, 17th-century cathedral and 16th-century castle. You have a choice of two sightseeing excursions today - a walking tour of Lipari plus a visit to the Archaeological Museum or a drive across the island and a visit to the village of Quattropani and its unique vineyard.
The spectacular Amalfi Coast & Ravello or Positano
Le Ponant calls on mainland Italy and the picturesque town of Amalfi. You can explore today on a guided walk in Amalfi, including a drive on the mountainous route along the Amalfi Coast, one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Arrive in stunning Ravello, perched on cliffs overlooking the sea. Visit Villa Rufolo, with roots dating back to a wealthy 13th-century merchant family, where you'll savor outstanding coastal views, then enjoy a wonderful lunch of seasonal specialties in town. Or, if you wish, go on a guided walk in picturesque Amalfi followed by a drive along the Amalfi Coast to Positano, a stunning cliffside town that has been a magnet for the world's jetsetters - writers, painters, film stars, royalty, fashion designers - for centuries. You'll return to Amalfi by motorboat for a different perspective. Enjoy a farewell dinner on your final night aboard Le Ponant as she heads to Naples.
Herculaneum, Rome & the Vatican Museums
After disembarking Le Ponant in Naples, you'll embark on a fascinating excursion to the ruins of Herculaneum. The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD is infamous - and while the ruins of Pompeii are well known, the upscale city of Herculaneum, buried under ash that same day, is better preserved. An informative guided tour of the antiquities precedes your journey to Rome, where you'll spend two nights on the Via Veneto in the heart of the city. After settling into your hotel in the "Eternal City," depart for a special Tauck Exclusive - and a guaranteed highlight of your Italy cruise - an after-hours visit to the Vatican Museums! With a guide - and without the usual daytime crowds - you can explore the Candelabra Gallery, the Map Gallery, the Tapestries, and the iconic Sistine Chapel, seeing them leisurely... a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Glories of Rome
Join our guide for an overview of Rome's landmark sights, beginning with St. Peter's Basilica. Pre-reserved tickets bypass the wait at the Colosseum, making admission to this amazing amphitheatre hassle free; keep your cameras handy. Spend the afternoon exploring Rome as you please, then share highlights of your extraordinary trip with companions at tonight's farewell reception and dinner.
Tour ends: Rome, Italy. Fly home anytime. A transfer from Hotel Majestic Roma to Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino is included. Allow 3 hours for flight check-in.