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NEW! Tuscany & Umbria: Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland 2014

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Bologna & Parma: Rich History & Culinary Traditions

Bologna beckons travelers with its rich history, red-brick palazzi, and culinary treasures  … Parma is home to celebrated traditions of food and wine, along with cobbled lanes and colorful customs. Explore them both and discover true gems of Northern Italy.

It's Included:
Accommodations for 3 nights in Bologna and 3 nights in Parma
12 meals—6 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 2 dinners
11 small group activities
Services of an OAT Trip Leader who speaks English and the native language
All transfers
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    After an overnight flight, arrive in Bologna, where an OAT representative will greet you. Once we check into our hotel, we gather for a brief orientation session and a Welcome Drink. Dinner is on your own this evening; your Trip Leader can suggest restaurants.

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    After breakfast, embark on a guided walking tour of Bologna, a city noted for its medieval towers and long, columned porticoes. We'll take in some of this grand architecture as we explore the city center this morning. We’ll also visit the University of Bologna. Dating back to 1088, it enjoys the distinction as the first higher learning institute of the Western world. The university’s students—from Italy and around the globe—bring a healthy dose of culture and energy to the ancient city.

    We’ll linger in Bologna's city center for lunch on our own before enjoying an afternoon at leisure. Perhaps you’ll visit San Petronio Basilica, one of the largest basilicas in the world, or the magnificent hilltop Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. Or, visit charming Piazza Santo Stefano, where you can stroll through the elegant porticoes that surround the square.

    This evening, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we take a bus from our hotel to the train station. Then, we board a train for an included full-day excursion to Ravenna. Seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century—and then the westernmost outpost of the Byzantine Empire—Ravenna is home to a stunning variety of early Christian mosaics and monuments, which are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. A walking tour is centered on Piazza del Popolo, the 16th-century main square that was constructed when the city was ruled by Venice. Our discoveries will include a stop at the 1,400-year-old Basilica di San Vitale to view its unique series of mosaics representing scenes from the Old Testament, as well as depictions of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The centuries-old basilica served as the inspiration for the Hagia Sophia, built just a few years later in Constantinople (now Istanbul). We’ll enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant in the ancient city, followed by some leisure time for independent discoveries.

    Later, we take the train back to Bologna, where dinner is on your own this evening.

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    We'll depart our hotel very early this morning to experience how famous regional specialties like Parmigiano Reggiano are made. On our journey through the northern Italian countryside to Parma, we'll first stop at an institute where Parmesan cheese is made to learn about the process and enjoy a tasting. A little later, we’ll visit a balsamic vinegar producer. We’ll learn the tradition behind the fine, aged condiment—produced in nearby Modena and the surrounding areas since the Middle Ages—and its importance to the people in this region. The word balsamico stems from the Latin “balsam-like,” meaning it has curative powers. We’ll enjoy a tasting and a light lunch at the villa where the vinegar is made.

    Arriving in Parma this afternoon, we’ll check into our hotel and get to know our surroundings. Enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we’ll embark upon a guided walking tour of Parma, during which we’ll learn about the local traditions of cuisine, art, and architecture. We’ll explore Parma’s charming palazzos, stroll by ancient cathedrals and abbeys, and take a look at Parma's unique Baptistery, considered one of the most important medieval monuments in Europe.

    Lunch is on your own and your afternoon is free for making your own discoveries. Dinner is also on your own.

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    We’ll spend the day experiencing the Po River and its lovely surroundings. First, we’ll ride out to the riverside town of Polesine Parmense, and then we’ll board a pontoon boat for a cruise along Italy’s longest river. The boat will make stops for us to take nature walks and explore the riverbanks. At Giarola Island, we’ll meet some local fishermen and have a picnic lunch in a local hut. Our boat returns to Polesine, where we’ll disembark in the afternoon and continue to Zibello, where we enjoy a visit to a salumificio that produces traditional culatello Parma ham.

    Please note: Our Po River cruise is weather dependent. When river conditions are not suitable for a boat ride (this includes departures in March and November), the river cruise portion of our day will be replaced by a visit to the charming medieval village of Soragna, where we’ll visit the local synagogue. All other activities remain the same, including the picnic lunch with fishermen at Giarola Island.

    Tonight, dinner is on your own.

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    Today, we bid ciao to Parma and make our way to Lucca. We’ll travel through the Lunigiana valley and the Apennine Mountains, enjoying spectacular scenery of verdant rolling hills and winding rivers along the way. At Carrara, we’ll make an excursion through the Apuane Alps in 4-wheel-drive vehicles, visiting the quarries that have furnished marble for sculptors including Michelangelo. Afterwards, we’ll sit down for lunch at a local restaurant. Finally, we’ll arrive in Lucca, where we’ll check into our hotel and join travelers on our Tuscany & Umbria: Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland adventure.