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NEW! Tuscany & Umbria: Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland 2015

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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—from the elegant porticoes of Bologna and its Etruscan past to a prosciutto shop in Parma and through the spectacular stretch of countryside that lies between.

It's Included:
Accommodations for 3 nights in Bologna and 3 nights in Parma
11 meals—6 breakfasts, 3 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 at OAT representative will greet you. Once we check into our hotel, we gather for a brief orientation session and a Welcome Drink. This evening, we’ll enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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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 browse antique markets and stroll through the elegant porticoes that surround the square.

    Dinner is on your own this evening. Don't hesitate to ask your Trip Leader for restaurant suggestions.

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    After breakfast, 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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    After breakfast, we’ll set off on our journey through the northern Italian countryside to Parma. En route, we’ll stop for a tour of 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. Perhaps we’ll be restored by the balsamic vinegar when we enjoy a sample. We’ll also enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, where we'll learn about the famous regional wine. This part of Italy is renowned for its Lambrusco wine, made from a specific red grape and best known for yielding a frothy, sparkling varietal.

    Arriving in Parma this afternoon, we’ll check into our hotel and get to know our surroundings. Enjoy dinner on your own tonight.

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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 the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world. Follow your discoveries with lunch on your own in the city center. Perhaps you’ll visit Parma's unique Baptistery, considered one of the most important medieval monuments in Europe.

    This afternoon, we’ll visit a local meat shop for another traditional taste of Parma: prosciutto. Parma is famed for this dry-cured ham, which can take up to two years to make and is typically served in layers of thin, uncooked slices. As we learn about this painstaking process—and sample the delicious meat for ourselves—we’ll discover why Parma remains so proud of this enduring tradition.

    Tonight, we’ll gather for dinner at local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, enjoy a day to explore Parma at your own pace. Or, join us on an optional Parma Heritage Tour. We’ll start in nearby Busseto, the hometown of opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. We’ll explore the town and visit the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, a small, ornate theater of only 300 seats. Then, we’ll continue to a traditional producer of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and enjoy lunch featuring some of Northern Italy’s regional specialties that utilize the hard, granular cheese. 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. To get a better look at our majestic surroundings, we’ll go for a hike along the route once followed by the Via Francigena, an ancient trail that led from France to Rome. Here, we’ll walk in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims traveling to Rome to visit the tombs of apostles Peter and Paul. Then, our appetites sufficiently whetted, 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.