There is not just one Italy, but many Italys. (The country wasn’t politically unified until the 19th century, after all). For the modern traveler, that means a wealth of different cultural, culinary and historical experiences for all tastes. The best way to navigate the abundance is with the help of an expert guide. Here are five specialty tours of Italy geared to a variety of interests and needs.
1. The art histoy lesson
A guided tour depends on expert knowledge — just what most of us need in approaching the vast artistic heritage of the country that gave us the Renaissance. Bravo Italian Tours focuses on the art centers of Florence and Rome, working directly with clients to customize a trip. Under Bravo’s tutelage, you can spend your days in Rome in careful study of the Trevi Fountain, the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio or the impressive Piazza Navona; or craning your neck in contemplation of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican; or marveling at the Titians, Caravaggios, Raphaels and Berninis that made the Borghese family the premier collectors of their time.
In Florence, a thorough browsing of the permanent collection at the Uffizi Gallery could follow a visit to the Michelangelo’s larger-than-life David at the Accademia. Cross the Arno River for an artisan’s tour of the Oltrarno that highlights Florentine leatherworkers, silversmiths, shoe manufacturers and hatmakers. Rounded itineraries include food and wine experiences, along with other activities and confirmed lodging. Rates (not including airfare) vary depending on timing and level of travel. (312-238-9040, bravoitaliantours.com)
2. The Ferrari road trip
The Italian roads drive a little more smoothly behind the wheel of a Ferrari, the country’s famed luxury sports car, manufactured in Maranello since 1947.
For its Ferrari Tour of Italy, Red Travel will set you up with a current model — options include a Ferrari 458 Italia/Spider, a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1 and others — and craft a one- to eight-day vacation through various combinations of regions, including Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio and the Northern Lakes (Maggiore, Como, Garda), and cities such as Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples.
A personal tour director, also an expert driver, will explain the finer points of the Ferrari driving experience, clarifying how the controls work, and differentiating between models. Don’t worry about getting lost; a tour director follows in a separate car to make all arrangements and care for the vehicle each night.
Red Travel’s Ferrari tour is at the luxury level and includes Michelin-starred restaurant reservations, top hotel bookings and white-glove service. Prices, which vary, are available upon request. (011 39 011 6165 219, red-travel.com)
3. The food and wine tour
Every trip to Italy is a food and wine trip — you can’t help but feast your way across this country of enduring culinary traditions and hearty eaters.
Ciao Andiamo’s excursions build on that basic experience by tapping a network of small, family-run businesses. For example, in Tuscany, you can learn how to make pasta in a 17th century villa, visit a sheep farm to see how pecorino cheese is made and taste Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile wines. In Emilia-Romagna, makers of prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiana reggiano and balsamic vinegar will guide guests through production, while in Piedmont you can join a hunt for seasonal truffles, and then nibble the finest cheeses in Bra, which hosts a major cheese festival every other September. In southern Campania, you can learn to make limoncello, the popular Italian liqueur; drop by a buffalo farm to learn about mozzarella di bufala; talk with producers of fabled San Marzano tomatoes; and dine at the pizzeria that claims to have invented Neapolitan pizza 150 years ago.