Highlights of Italy (Pauline's Highlights)

The only thing "slow" about this tour is the name of the tour company!

This is a fast travel - zoom travel - trip to show you the highlights of Italy. Not just any highlights; my personal highlights! Steve and I have spent months doing Slow Travel in Italy, figuring out what we liked best. This tour takes you on the highlights of our 10 years of travel to Italy.

If we went there and didn't like it, you don't go there. If we went there and loved it, you go there. If we never made it there, well, sorry, but you don't get to see it. This will be the perfect 12 day tour of Italy.

Trip Requirements

1. Read the Slow Travel Site

You know how I dislike answering questions that I have already answered before or have written about for the site, so the main requirement for this trip is that you must read and remember all the Italy pages on the Slow Travel site: Caffes and Restaurants, all the Instructions for Visitors pages (driving, language lessons, trains, Rome transportation, laundry, etc.), and all the Travel Notes.

And if you can quote from a few favorite trip reports, that won't hurt.

2. Study an Artist

An additional requirement is that each person picks an Italian artist and researches them extensively. I know nothing about Art and will want to ask you questions on the trip.

3. Document your trip for the Slow Travel site

You must submit reviews and a complete trip report within one month of arriving home after the trip or you can never take another Slow Travel Tour.


I have picked my favorite accommodations throughout Italy for this trip. Don't worry - they will be great!! After all, you are paying for them, so I am not penny-pinching!



"Bus Tours" get such bad press, don't they? Especially on the Slow Travel Message Board. People dismiss a town saying it is a "tour bus town"!

We don't want to be part of that whole scene, so instead we use a fleet of Mercedes sedans to whisk our tour group through Italy in comfort and luxury. Picture five Mercedes sedans, nose to tail, flying through the Italian countryside! What a sight!!

See it all, see it in luxury, see it now!!

Day 1 - Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre

The first day of our trip is very special! Today we see the Italian Riviera!

09:00 You arrive at Milan-Malpensa airport refreshed after sleeping a full five hours in your first class seats with your Bose headphones.1

Our Slow Travel moderators will be waiting for you at the baggage claim. We will divide you up into groups of four, based on what we know of you from the message board, and each group will be assigned to a moderator and car - your moderator is your driver!! You are off on your Tour of Italy!!

10:00 Depart airport. Drive south to Genoa and then along the Italian Riviera to Camogli. 2hr 03min driving time2.

12:03 Camogli. Have coffee. Sit back and relax. Experience "la dolce vita". Isn't it lovely here?

12:30 Depart Camogli, drive south to Monterosso al Mare in the Cinque Terre. 1hr06min driving time.

13:363 Lunch in Monterosso. We are finished with driving today and will do the rest on foot.

15:00 After our leisurely lunch, put on your walking shoes, because you are doing the Cinque Terre Trail - the whole thing. Walking is the best cure for jetlag! The moderators will take you to the train station, where you can buy your Cinque Terre Pass, then point you towards the start of the trail (700 steps straight up - so don't eat a heavy lunch). 5hr walking time.

The moderators will take care of the cars while you are enjoying your walk.

20:00 You arrive at the fifth town, Riomaggiore, just in time for the 20:13 train to Levanto.

20:26 Arrive in Levanto, check into your hotel. We will be there waiting for you!

21:00 Dinner in town and perhaps a nightclub after. I know that I will be in the mood to party!!

Day 2 - Lucca and Pisa

Today we start on Tuscany! Lucca, Pisa, Pistoia, and Florence, where we spend two nights.

07:00 Free time until departure. We suggest a long walk along the boardwalk, and then the breakfast room. Some of you may want to get up at 6:00, do the 2.5 hour walk to Monterosso, then take the train back to Levanto in time for our 9:00 departure.

09:00 We depart in our Mercedes and drive to Pisa. On the way, we will see the Carrara mountains on our left. 1hr 5min driving time.

10:05 At Pisa, we do not leave the Autostrada, because we can clearly see the leaning tower from the road. Continue on to Lucca. 30min driving time.

10:35 We drop you off at the town walls and you will spend the next hour walking completely around Lucca, on the path on top of their ancient city walls. The moderators will spend the next hour looking for parking.

11:35 Tour of Lucca. Churches, art, shops, gelato!

13:00 Lunch in Lucca. Someplace lovely where we can sit outside in some ancient piazza. Ah, this is the life. Mat from the message board joins us for lunch and tells us about his amazing adventures with Telecom Italia.

14:30 Drive to Pistoia, the town Alice Twain from the message board is always talking about. 1hr 19min driving time.

15:49 Pistoia. Everything will be closed up because of the afternoon siesta, but at least we will see it. We will look for her boyfriend's bookstore.

16:00 Drive to Florence. 2hr 8min driving time.

18:08 Arrive in Florence and check into our hotel. We will be here for two nights - so we can fully unpack.

19:00 Meet in Piazza della Repubblica for aperitivo before dinner (drinks!!). This is the site of Pauline's very first Campari and Soda - at Cafe Gilli!! (This was before she was such a sophisticated European traveler.) We all have Campari and Soda (no matter how bitter we think it tastes).

20:00 Dinner in Florence at some hidden away gem of a place!!

22:00 Nighttime walk along the Arno. Let's find those river rats!!

Day 3 - Florence

A day without the car!! The moderators will spend the morning in a caffe on that piazza by the Uffizi, while you are "experiencing" Tuscany. On your way between events, please stop by our table to say hello!!

07:00 An early start for a painting workshop with Angie from the message board!! (Small paintings only please; we don't have much trunk space.)

10:00 Meet the moderators for coffee and cornetto, Italian breakfast!! They will show you how to choose the exact type of cornetto that you want.

10:15 Cooking class with Judy (Diva) from the message board!! Market tour to buy provisions, then you cook the lunch.

12:30 Lunch. The moderators will join you for this (so it better be good!!).

14:00 Back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Live like the Italians and have a "siesta"!!

14:30 City tour!! We will show you the main sites of Florence. Churches, art, shops, gelato! We have reservations at the Uffizi at 16:00!!

17:00 Bus ride up to Fiesole (bus #7, 20min), then we walk back to Ponte A Mensola. 2.5hr walking time. Bus back to Florence (bus #10, 10min).

20:00 Back to the hotel to unwind before dinner.

21:00 Dinner!! Food, wine, coffee, grappa!!

24:00 Midnight walk through Florence to see where we were on our afternoon tour, but without the crowds.

Day 4 - Chianti and Central Tuscany

After our restful day in Florence, we hit the road again to do the highlights of Chianti, Siena and southern Tuscany.

07:00 Up early for your morning run along the Arno.

08:30 Meet the moderators in the breakfast room.

09:00 Into the cars and out to the gorgeous, luscious, scrumptious Italian countryside! Is anything as beautiful as this? No!!! Drive to Greve. 44min driving time.

9:45 Greve. Have coffee in the main piazza and have a walk around to experience small town Chianti life.

10:15 Drive to Siena. 58min driving time.

11:15 To show you the true Slow Travel experience, we will spend the next hour driving in circles on the northern edge of Siena - the area Pauline calls the "Bermuda Triangle of Siena". Finally we park.

12:15 Cristina from the message board meets us and takes us on a mini-tour of Siena. Churches, art, shops, gelato!

13:00 Cristina takes us to some fabulous, unknown restaurant for a sumptuous lunch.

14:30 A tearful goodbye with Cristina as we get back into our cars and head south to Monte Oliveto. 45min driving time

15:15 Monte Oliveto. We arrive just as they open for the afternoon. A quick tour of the Sodoma frescoes by Pauline (who has them memorized), then into the gift shop that the Monks run. (Purchase small religious trinkets; we don't have much trunk space.)

16:15 Drive to Sant Anna in Campregna, an old church between Montisi and Castelmuzio. 20min driving time.

16:35 Sant Anna in Campregna. See the one early Sodoma fresco, the one with the fluffy dogs.

16:45 Drive to Montalcino, passing through San Giovanni d'Asso, the famous truffle town. 30mins driving time.

17:15 Arrive in Montalcino. You have 1hr 15min to explore this fascinating historical hilltown, sample some wines. Churches, art, shops, gelato! Pauline likes to buy olivewood cutting boards here. (Buy small ones; we don't have much trunk space.)

18:30 Leave Montalcino to drive to Sant'Antimo and park and walk to the abbey. 15min driving time, 15min parking and walking time.

19:00 Arrive at Sant'Antimo just in time to hear the monks chant Vespers. How wonderful!!

19:15 Drive to Pienza. 20 mins driving time.

19:35 Check into your hotel and relax before dinner.

20:00 Dinner - probably at Latte di Luna (or as those "in the know" call it - Latte) if one of the moderators has remembered to reserve. Bill S. from the message board lives nearby and will meet us for dinner, to tell us all about this paradise he lives in!!

22:00 Evening stroll through Pienza.

Day 5 - Southern Tuscany

Now we are going off the beaten track. We will tour the very southern part of Tuscany - hot springs, ancient towns, mountains!! But first, a hike! And we end the day in Rome!!

07:00 Up bright and early to do the walk from Pienza to Montepulciano. Stop for breakfast in Monticchiello. 4hrs walking time - that is way too long to spend walking!! You will be doing this walk on your own - the Moderators have important things to attend to. Don't forget to check out of your hotel and put your bags in the car in the morning!!

10:30 Walk until 10:30. The moderators will meet you, with the cars, on the white road between Monticchiello and Montepulciano. Hop in the cars and we will drive you by Montepulciano. You get a nice view of that church and the town from the road (after all, you saw Montalcino in detail - you don't need to see Montepulciano as well). We drive to Bagno Vignoni. 33min driving time.

11:03 Bagno Vignoni. Soak our tired feet in these restorative natural hot waters - they run through the town!!4

11:30 Drive to Saturnia. 1hr 24 min driving time. We drive through some of the charming Monte Amiata towns on this route.

13:00 Saturnia, where we will have lunch in that restaurant that Pauline and Steve love (even though Dean and other serious foodies don't like it) - I Due Cippi! We can sit outside on the edge of the beautiful main piazza and have a sumptuous meal.

14:30 Drive to Pitigliano. 30min driving time.

15:00 Stop just outside of Pitigliano, to walk the Etruscan pathways.

15:30 Pitigliano. Tour the town. Much will be closed, but you can see the pretty streets and buildings.

16:00 Drive to Tarquinea. We are going to have to skip seeing Monte Argentario. Perhaps we will have a view of it from the road. Too bad - it is a nice place to spend the night and to go swimming. 1hr 10min driving time.

17:10 Arrive Tarquinea. We will drive you straight out to the Etruscan burial tombs so you can see them before the close. You only need to look at one - they are all pretty much the same.

17:30 Drive to Rome. 1hr 12min driving time.

18:45 Arrive at our hotel in Rome! Unpack because we are here for two nights.

This has been a busy few days. I am sure the whole group will be sick of each other by now. You can all figure out what you want to do for dinner and after. The moderators are going for pizza at Da Baffetto.

Day 6 - Rome, Positano and the Amalfi Coast

A morning tour of Rome! And then off for our day trip to Pompeii, Sorrento, andthe Amalfi coast.

07:00 Up bright and early to join Tony from the board for a quick walking tour of Rome. We will see Rome while the Romans are still asleep. Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps. We wait for 10 minutes on the Spanish Steps to meet Stephanie from the message board. But she probably does not show up, as it is early.

Don't worry, we will see the Coleseum as we are driving out.

09:00 We are off on our day trip. Drive by the Coleseum on the way out of the city. First stop Pompei!! 2hr 27min driving time

11:27 Pompei. A quick one hour tour of the highlights.

12:27 Drive to Ravello. 40min driving time

13:07 Arrive in Ravello. Have lunch at someplace lovely with a view.

14:37 Drive along the Amalfi coast to Sorrento5. 53min driving time

15:30 Arrive in Sorrento. See the historic center. Churches, art, shops, gelato!

16:30 Sorrento. Pose in front of the webcam (it is 10:30 on the US east coast, so someone can take screen snaps).

17:00 Leave Sorrento, drive back to Rome. 3hr driving time

20:00 Rome. Go to the hotel to rest.

21:00 Dinner and then a midnight walk along Via Giulia.

Day 7 - Umbria

07:00 We have arranged for you a special morning visit to the Vatican Museums. Go to the main entrance and knock on the doors three times - they will let you in.

09:00 Meet the moderators in the breakfast room of the hotel. It is time to "do Umbria"!! Drive by Orvieto (you can see it from the Autostrada) and Todi (you can see it from the road) and Spoleto (you can see it from the road), to Montefalco. 3hr driving time.

12:00 Montefalco. See the frescoes in the church that Pauline and Steve have tried to see 3 times - but either they were being restored or the church was closed. This time we see them!!

12:30 Drive to Spello. 30mins driving time.

13:00 Lunch in Spello.

14:30 See the Pinturicchio fresco in the church. Walk around a bit to see the town. Churches, art, shops, gelato!

15:00 Drive by Assisi (you can see it from the road) to just north of town. 30 min driving time.

15:30 Arrive at Brigolante, the farm owned by Rebecca who used to be on the board and used to write those really funny essays, until she had that second baby and deserted us. Rebecca will be waiting for us, with both children, to show us how a rural Umbrian farm works!! If we are lucky, she will introduce us to her Italian relatives (and we know all about them from those essays).

18:30 Drive to Panicale. 1hr driving time.

19:30 Arrive in Panicale and check into our hotel. Unpack because we are here for two nights.

20:00 Dinner in Panicale at a small local place.6

22:00 Early night tonight! Because there is not much to do here at night.

Day 8 - Kick Back Time

07:00 Sleep in if you like. This is kick back time! Spend the day in Panicale. Meet Sr. Gallo who runs the local caffe, see the Perugino fresco, walk around the town (only takes 15 minutes), have a long lunch, enjoy the view of Lake Trasimeno, have a drink at the bar, read a book. This is what Slow Travel is all about!

17:00 By now we are bored  (I know I am!). Let's hop in the cars and drive over to the town where Barb and Art from the message board live. They will give us a tour of their house and the town. Pizza dinner with them at their favorite nearby place!!

22:00 Back in Panicale for a quiet, early night. La Dolce Vita!! Sleep like babies!

Day 9 - Ravenna, Venice

Finally a nice long drive! We have been running around a small area for days!!

08:00 One last coffee and cornetto at Gallo's Bar.

09:00 Meet outside the hotel, hop in the car and drive to Ravenna!! We could drive by Gubbio and Urbino, but let's just make tracks and get there. We have seen enough hill towns. 2hr 39min driving time.

11:39 Arrive in Ravenna. Tour the churches, see the mosaics. They are astonishing! Churches, art, shops, gelato!

13:00 Lunch in some lovely little place in Ravenna.

14:30 Arrivederci Ravenna!! We are off to Venice!! 2hr 47min driving time.

17:17 Arrive on the outskirts of Venice. Park the cars. Take a private water taxi to our hotel.

18:30 Arrive at our hotel. Unpack, we are here for two nights (again - this is really Slow Travel!!). Churches, art, shops, gelato!

21:00 Dinner - later than usual, but that is how things go in Venice.

Day 10 - Venice

09:00 Shannon from the message board is flying over just to show us Venice through her eyes (thanks Shannon!!).

We will have the WHOLE DAY in Venice with Shannon! Restaurants, wine bars, music, art, those little snacks she wrote about, gelato, shops, wine bars, hanging out in piazzas - this is the life!!

24:00 Midnight in Piazza San Marco with Shannon. Maybe we all have our clothes on, maybe we don't.

Tonight is an all-nighter. We have had plenty of early nights. Venice is best experienced at night. Walk and explore, get lost, find bars that are open all night. You can sleep tomorrow in the cars.

Day 11 - Lake Como

07:00 We can get an early start because we never went to bed last night. Private water taxi out of Venice back to the cars.

08:00 We are on the road and driving to Lake Como! 3hr 47min driving time. This is a really boring drive. You sleep. The moderators will keep awake by stopping every hour for espresso.

12:00 Arrive in Como. But, as nice as this town is, we are not staying here - because everyone stays in Bellagio! Drive to Bellagio. 46min driving time.

12:46 Arrive in Bellagio.

13:00 Lunch in Bellagio.

14:30 Take a boat ride on Lake Como. Bellagio to Mennagio to Varenna to Bellagio. 2hrs floating time.

16:30 Tour Bellagio. Churches, art, shops, gelato!

19:00 Meet for drinks (or as the Italians so charmingly say, "apperitivo"). I am getting weepy already - we leave tomorrow.

20:00 A lovely long dinner at some out-of-the-way Michelin starred restaurant (maybe they give us a plate to take home - but only a small one, we don't have much trunk space).

The dinner moves between boisterous, weepy, screaming at the moderators, moderators screaming at the tour guests, tears - but it all ends with many bottles of wines and hugs and promises to do this again next year.

24:00 Time for bed.

Day 12 - Going Home - Arrivederci Italia!!

07:00 Up early for a long morning walk to clear our heads and get ready for re-entry to our normal lives.

08:00 Drive to Milan airport. 1hr 36min driving time, but give it an extra 24 minutes because Pauline is always freaked out the day she flies.

10:00 Arrive at Milan airport, three hours before our flight. The moderators return our lovely cars.

13:00 Flight from Milan airport back to our homes.

Wasn't this perfect? Now write up your reviews!! See you on the message board!!

Alternate Highlights Tour

So, there you have it. 12 days of almost constant motion and you see all of Pauline's highlights.

It is exhausting even reading this, isn't it? How about, instead, I just book us a nice villa in the heart of Tuscany for two weeks and we spend our days enjoying the sunshine, and doing short drives and walks to all the local sites? Have some nice meals. Sit in some caffes. And, you can tell everyone back home that the itinerary above is what you are doing?

(Actually, what I realized putting this together is just how doable it is. Maybe I do travel too slowly!! Of course, this schedule is a bit tight.)


Click to sign up for this tour!!



1. If you purchased first class seats and have Bose headphones, otherwise you may arrive a bit tired.

2. All driving times calculated by www.viamichelin.com. When necessary to fit the schedule, we shorten their calculations by 30% - after all, we will be driving a Mercedes!!

3. I have used the 24 hour clock for our schedule just to be annoying.

4. Yes, this is the town Frances Mayes wrote about.

5. No, you can't stop in Positano. We have a schedule!!

6. Yes, I ran out of things to say in these footnotes.

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