9 Crowd-Free Ways to Experience Italy

by Christopher Atwood


Italy tops most travelers’ bucket list – and with good reason. Italy is bellissima. Italians are warm and openhearted. Italy brims with historic towns and art-filled cities. And, we’re quite opinionated about our 250+ kinds of pasta. But, once you’re here, you’ll see that there’s much more to Italy than Pisa and pizza. You can go beyond the stereotype – inside the traditions that locals love – when you travel to Italy.

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Italy is mountains and mare (sea), home to more Unesco World Heritage Sites than any other country and boasts Renaissance art works like, Michelangelo’s David in Florence and Leonardo’s The Last Supper in Milan. Sapphire coves hug Italy’s shores—from stunning Lake Como in the north to Sicily’s bright blue Favignana island. Inside the real Italy, you’ll meet skilled artists, boutique winemakers, and lovable cooks. On Italy’s streets, you might savor a plate of authentic spaghetti alla carbonara in Rome or go behind-the-scenes with a family of leather artisans.   

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Wherever you travel in Italy, there’s one thread that ties all Italians – an infectious gioia di vivere (love for life).  So, why settle for just seeing the sights when you could connect with the people who actually call Italy home?

Scroll down to find 9 of our favorite private-access experiences in Italy. You won’t find these connections in any guidebook, we promise:

 


 

ISLAND-HOP IN VENICE BY PRIVATE BOAT

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Venice is a city of unparalleled beauty – spread across 118 interconnecting islands.  And yet, the splendors or Venice come with a price: they’re normally clogged with tacky tour groups (even during the low season). So, what’s the best way to see Venice while avoiding the annoying crowds? By private boat with a Venetian guide! During your full-day tour of the Venetian Lagoon, your boat will make stops at Venice’s lesser-known isles and inlets – including your choice of Murano, Mazzorbo, Burano and Torcello.

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Perhaps, you’d like to observe master artisans at work in their family-run glass-blowing workshop.  Or maybe you’d like to lunch by one of Burano’s brightly-hued canals.  Or, perchance you’d prefer to stand in awe of the 7th-century Cathedral of Sant Maria Dell’Assunta on Torcello island. Whichever islands you choose, you’ll access the Venice most tourists never glimpse – meeting with locals who call this city of islands home. Tour includes full-day private boat at your disposal and an English-speaking guide just for you. Click here to request your custom Venice trip.

SIP WINE WITH A VINEYARD OWNER IN TUSCANY

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Chianti is synonymous with wine—covering 100-square-miles and producing 8,000,000 cases of per year.  With so many vineyards here, it’s easy to sip at the wrong stop; many tours, for instance, only take you to the big soulless tasting rooms in Tuscany. You don’t get to meet with the owner. You don’t hear the story behind the vine. And, you won’t taste the best wines in Chianti. 

Guided by our professional sommelier-driver, you’ll savor a full-day of private wine tastings and behind-the-scenes tour at Chianti’s most exclusive (and magnificent) vineyards – including private-access to the vineyard’s stone cellars and walking the grape-laden vines with the vineyard owners! Along the way, you’ll enjoy tastings of prized Chianti Classico and Chianti Riserva—paired with a traditional Tuscan lunch. Tour includes private driver/wine expert, light lunch and private tasting tours at two Chianti vineyards. Click here to request a custom wine-themed itinerary.

STROLL ROME’S COBBLESTONE BACK STREETS

Locals call Rome “the Eternal City” – home to ancient ruins, Renaissance wonders and modern marvels.  It’s a city that’s thrived for almost 3 millennia. But, it’s also the third most-visited city in the European Union (next only to London and Paris). So, how can you see Rome, Italy, without feeling frustrated by the crowds? One of the best ways to relish the Rome that Italians love is with a local guide—someone who will share with you the major sights and the hidden gems the guidebooks overlook. With our licensed Roman guide, you’ll explore two of the city’s most charming and postcard perfect neighborhoods: the Jewish Quarter and Trastevere.

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First, you’ll stroll the stone streets of Rome’s Ghetto Ebraico—framed by the Tiber River on one side and Piazza Venezia on the other. This stone quarter is the oldest “Jewish ghetto” in the world—founded in 1555 by edict of the Pope. To this day, it’s home to an active and proud Jewish community. With your guide, you’ll explore under-the-radar (ahem, crowd-free) sights like Teatro Marcello (221BC) and Rome’s Great Synagogue (1904 AD) – learning about the Jewish community’s 2,000 year-old-history in Rome.

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During your walking tour, you’ll have the chance to enjoy Roman-Jewish specialties like pizza ebraica at Boccione Bakery or carciofi alla giudia (deep-fried artichokes).   After your tour of Rome’s Jewish quarter, your guide will walk you across Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina) and into the authentic Trastevere neighborhood – home to cobblestone streets, picturesque piazzas and ivy-clad palazzi.  Once in Trastevere, you’ll savor a tasting of olive-oil-glazed focaccia and view the stunning Santa Maria in Trastevere (221 AD) —whose inside is gilded in gleaming gold mosaics. Tour includes private licensed guide, entrance fees and all food tastings. Click here to request your authentic Roman adventure.

TASTE BALSAMIC & PARMIGIANO WHERE THEY’RE MADE

The Emilia-Romagna region – home to crowd-free cities like Bologna, Ravenna, Parma and Ferrara – is Italy’s “food capital.” Why? Well, it invented and continues to produce some of the most prized Italian food products, including deliziosi items like balsamic vinegar, Prosciutto di Parma and aged parmigiano-reggiano cheese.  During your full-day food tour of Emilia-Romagna, your local driver and guide will bring you inside the hungry heart of Italy – unlocking tasty memories that, on your own, you’d never be able to access.

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In the Modena countryside, your knowledgeable guide will introduce you to a family that has been crafting traditional balsamic vinegar (aceto di balsamico tradizionale) – aged for at least 12 years in oak casks. Some batches are up to 150 years old! You’ll observe the process, enjoying a tasting of various vinegars—including one aged for 30+ years. Afterward, you’ll head to a dairy farm in the hills outside Parma. Here, you’ll watch milk morph into parmigiano cheese under the hand of master cheese makers—ending your tour with a tasting of 12-, 24- and 60- month aged cheeses.  On the way back to your hotel, we’ll stop for a traditional tortellini lunch in a charming trattoria above Bologna. Tour includes English-speaking driver, private guide and on-site food tastings. Click here to request your food lover's Italy itinerary -- including cooking classes, wine tastings and behind-the-scenes visits. 

RELISH ANCIENT RUINS & FRESH MOZZARELLA 

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South of the Amalfi Coast, you’ll find the land of mozzarella – filled with quaint coastal villages, crumbling castles and ancient ruins. On this full-day journey through Southern Italy’s Campania region, your English-speaking driver and guide will give you an authentic taste of the history and culture of Salerno. First, you will relish a scenic drive to the astounding Greek ruins of Paestum—built in 600 B.C. Three astonishingly well-preserved temples stand guard over this region—a testament to Southern Italy’s millennia-old history. After your guided exploration of the ruins, you’ll be whisked away to a nearby dairy farm, where you’ll meet with a family that produces the region’s most prized cheese, mozzarella di bufala.  Under the guidance of a local cheese master, you’ll learn how to stretch and shape mozzarella by hand – before enjoying a mozzarella-rich meal on site. During your return drive to your hotel on the Amalfi Coast, we’ll stop for a tasting of limoncello, which is made from the area’s sweet Amalfi lemons. Tour includes full-day English-speaking driver and guide, on-site farm lunch and limoncello tastings. Click here to request your dream Amalfi Coast itinerary.

PERUSE PALERMO – SICILY’S SCENIC CAPITAL

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Relish an insider tour of Palermo with your local Sicilian guide. You’ll be enchanted by Palermo’s wide boulevards, traditional Old Town, and centuries-old palazzi.  Admire the city’s scenic secret sights, including an elegant piazza framed by Baroque sculptures. During your stroll through Palermo’s many marvels, you’ll explore the city’s 12th-century Duomo – boasting a stunning blend of Arabic, Byzantine and Baroque architecture.  You will also savor real Sicilian street food at one of Palermo’s picturesque open-air markets – immersed in the bounty and beauty of this enchanting island. Alternately, you can go behind-the-scenes at a traditional artisan workshop. Tour includes private English-speaking guide, entrance fees and all tastings. Click here to request a personalized Sicily trip.

DISCOVER MICHELANGELO’S SECRET MASTERPIECES 

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Michelangelos David (completed in 1504) has become a symbol of the Italian Renaissance. To see the original, travelers must go to the Accademia Galleries. Few tourists in Tuscany, though, get to experience Michelangelo’s hidden masterpieces in Florence. The Medici Chapels, designed by Michelangelo, house elegant marble tombs carved by the artist. In the company of your Florentine guide, you’ll view additional works by Michelangelo in the Bargello Museum (four sculptures), the Uffizi (Doni Tondi, 1507), Palazzo Vecchio (Statue of Victory, 1534), or Casa Buonarroti – a building once owned by Michelangelo himself. During your walking tour in Florence, you’ll be immersed in the eye-dropping genius of Firenze’s famed artist-son. Tour includes skip-the-line tickets to all museums/historic sights and private English-speaking guide. Click here to request your art-filled adventure through Italy.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN ANCIENT ROME

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Not all roads lead to Rome. . . but the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) is the first and most famous of ancient Rome’s stone streets. Begun in 312 B.C., the Appian Way connected Rome to Southern Italy. Remnants of this great road are still visible on the outskirts of Rome—where, with your expert guide, you’ll walk the massive stone blocks that comprised this thoroughfare. While here, you’ll also visit the massive monolith of Porta San Sebastiano—a huge brick gate that once protected Rome from the barbarian hordes. After traipsing the Appian Way, you’ll head underground – uncovering either the Catacombs of San Callisto or the Catacombs of Praetextatus. These vast undergound burial sites house tombs, ancient frescoes and vaulted arcades. Tour includes private licensed guide, skip-the-line tickets and an English-speaking driver at your disposal. Click here to uncover Ancient Rome minus the crowds.

SAVOR TUSCANY - OLIVE OIL FARM & COOKING CLASS 

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Tuscany is paradise for food-loving travelers—vaunting rolling vineyards, wild truffles, olive orchards and typical cheese farms. During your tour of the Tuscan countryside, you’ll enjoy a true taste of traditional Tuscan cooking. First, your English-speaking driver will swift you away to a family-owned olive farm in the hills outside Siena. Here, you’ll have the chance to walk the orchards and, weather-permitting, harvest ripe olives from the branches! After enjoying a tasting of Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, you’ll head nearby the villa of our Tuscan chef.  In the company of his family, you’ll master traditional dishes like pappardelle or wood-fired focaccia. Your food-filled day will end with an al fresco dinner on the chef’s terrace—under the Tuscan sunset. Tour includes English-speaking driver (from Florence or the countryside), olive farm visit, hands-on cooking class and homemade dinner (including wine). Click here to concoct your food-filled journey through Italy. 

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