Exploring Your Roots

Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travel community! How was your week?  I was heartened by the news that the EU is targeting this summer as a reopening timeframe for fully vaccinated American travelers!  I know that so many of you had to cancel or postpone trips to Europe in 2020, so this news is encouraging.  If you have a future travel credit (land or cruise), reach out to me for help with rebooking. 

As you know from last week, I’m hosting a unique virtual event next Tuesday evening, May 4th from 7-8pm Zoom.  We’ll learn about family heritage journeys thanks to a new program offered by my partners at Kensington Tours through their relationship with Ancestry. 

The event is co-sponsored with the amazing Karen Sackowitz of Your Stories Ink, and a Kensington Tours heritage travel and ancestry expert will take us through examples of heritage journeys. 

This is an epic Mother’s Day gift idea – don’t miss out! 

Register here:  https://bit.ly/May4Heritage

In this two-part newsletter, we’ll look at a sample heritage itinerary for Northern Italy, specifically Rome-Florence-Benevello-Verbania-Milan courtesy of Kensington Tours.  Today we highlight Rome, Florence, and Tuscany – iconic destinations for every traveler and extra special for those of Italian heritage.  Trains, boats, foods, wines, ancient sites, local people – this itinerary has all the ingredients for an incredible vacation! 

Reminder – A heritage journey is a travel experience like no other and fully customized to your family.  Your heritage journey will be designed around your ancestry and this is simply one example!  Read on for the scoop…

Your Adventure Begins in the Eternal City – Rome

Meet your private guide and driver and embark on a journey through the Eternal City. Legend has it that the Roman kingdom was founded in 750 BC and named after the first ruler Romulus. Many periods followed from the Etruscans, Roman republic and empire, Medieval Age, and Renaissance to the Italian republic’s unification. 

First, head to the Vatican City, the world capital of Catholicism, and visit the 17th century St. Peter’s Basilica.  Visit the Vatican Museums housed in palaces initially built for Renaissance popes Julius II, Innocent Viii, and Sixtus IV.  Marvel in awe at the 15th century Sistine Chapel, viewing paintings by great artistic masters, including Michelangelo’s iconic painting ‘the Creation of the World’, which dominates the chapel ceiling. If your ancestors are from Rome, chances are they would gather at St Peter’s Square anxiously waiting for the white smoke to appear from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signaling the election of the next Pope.

Continue your discovery with a panoramic drive through Rome, spotting sites like the Protestant Cemetery, the final resting spot of non-Catholic and famous poets Shelly and Keats.  Castle Sant’Angelo, the Mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, later used by popes as a fortress and castle. Pass the massive monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy.  Stroll the ancient Roman Forum, initially containing food stalls, temples, and the Senate house later replacing the food stalls with courts of law and triumphal Arches celebrating past military victories. These Arches serve as inspiration for modern Architecture around the world. 

No visit to Rome is complete without experiencing the historic Flavian Amphitheatre’s interior, named after the Flavian Dynasty, Emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, now referred to as the Colosseum. Built 2,000 years ago, this epic stadium formerly held gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles. Visit this UNSECO-listed structure, and gaze out across the stadium floor imagining the roar of 80,000 boisterous spectators from ancient Rome!

Explore the Streets – Florence

Travel back to the Renaissance period during a half-day walking tour, exploring the renowned Tuscan city of Florence. Depart your hotel on foot with your private guide, strolling through Florence’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed old city center, coming to renowned Cathedral Square where you can admire some of the city’s most iconic sites. Spot the massive 13th-15th century Florence Cathedral and 277-foot Giotto’s Bell Tower which dominate the skyline, as well as the nearby 11th century Romanesque Baptistery with its Paradise Door.

In Signoria Square, effectively an open-air sculpture museum, view the imposing Palazzo Vecchio with its clock and bell tower, and marvel at the stunning Neptune Fountain and recreated statue of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David. Head to the elegant 14th century Ponte Vecchio, known as the jewel bridge.

After exploring the city, you’ll continue with a visit of the world’s largest Franciscan church, the Basilica di Santa Croce. Set eyes on the resting place of legendary Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Dante Alighieri, and Machiavelli. End your tour with a visit to the famed Accademia Gallery, where you can view Michelangelo’s David. Completed in 1504 after four years, this stunning statue attracts millions of art lovers from around the globe each year.

Nurtured By Nature, Food & Wine – Tuscany

Set out on a small group tour with no more than 16 travelers to discover the beauty of Siena, San Gimignano, and the Chianti countryside before admiring the sunset on the Tuscan hills accompanied by a delicious dinner.

First, you’ll drive out to Siena, a city masterfully perched atop three rising hills and once a rival city to Florence. On a guided walking tour, marvel at the many sites and highlights of the city, including the Piazza del Campo, one of Europe’s most stunning medieval squares at the heart of the city’s 17 districts or Contrades where the Palio horse race of Siena is held twice every year in July and August since the 13th century. As you walk through the streets, you guide will point out and explain the symbols representing the Contradas perhaps belonging to a family member as well as the 13th century City Hall, Palazzo Pubblico, and the skyline-topping Torre del Mangia, a 330-foot bell tower dating back to the 14th century.

Head to San Gimignano, a tiny UNESCO World heritage town situated on top of a hill that used to be on the pilgrim route from northern Europe to Rome. Famous for its 13th-century walls and skyline of medieval towers built by noble families, San Gimignano is ripe with Romanesque and Gothic architecture. At the heart of the old town is Piazza Della Cisterna, lined with medieval houses and named after the well at its center.

After some free time in San Gimignano, gaze in awe at a marvelous sunset on the Tuscan hills as you enjoy an ancient cellar visit, including dinner and wine tasting at a boutique winery in the Chianti countryside.

Next week, we’ll continue this incredible journey – stay tuned! 

Wishing you and your family continued good health,


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Hi, I'm Susan Wilson

I’m the founder of Hidden Gem Travel Consulting. As your personal travel advisor, I craft custom worldwide itineraries that astound and inspire you.


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