11 Day Wine and Spirit Journey to Rome and Tuscany

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DAY 1: DEPART THE USA

We gather at our International Airport, for our departing flight. A Catholic Travel Centre representative will assist us with the check-in process. We are now on our way to Rome for the trip of a lifetime.

DAY 2: ARRIVE ROME

We arrive in Rome, and are greeted by our Catholic Travel Centre escort; we board our waiting motor coach for a panoramic sightseeing tour of the city before continuing to our hotel for dinner and the evening. (D)

DAY 3: ROME: PAPAL AUDIENCE & WINE TASTING AT THE INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY OF WINE

This morning, after breakfast, we make our way to Vatican City to attend the General Papal Audience with Pope Benedict XVI (subject to the Holy Father’s schedule). The General Audience usually takes place in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall.

After lunch on our own, we have some time at leisure to visit some of the excellent religious article shops in the area, or to go on our own up to the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, where you can gain a striking panoramic view of the city

Rome gives us an introduction to Italian wines with a tasting of some of Italy’s finest producers. The Academy is exclusively located at the top of the Spanish Steps in the same area where the spectacular banquets of Lucullus once took place. After our tasting, we walk the short distance to Trevi Fountain, where we toss the traditional three coins into the fountain to make our three wishes -one for love, one for money, and one to return to Rome. Our first full day in Rome comes to an end with dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)

DAY 4: ROME: COLISEUM , MAMERTINE PRISON, SAN CLEMENTE

Today we are going to immerse ourselves in the antiquity of this ancient city. We begin today by viewing the Roman Forum from the outside. The saying goes that Rome was the center of the world, and the Forum was the center of Rome. It served as the religious and civic ‘hub’ of the city. We see the Capitoline Hill (home to the temples) and the Palatine Hills, home to the royal residences

Next, we enter the Coliseum. Its real name was the Flavian Amphitheatre, after the emperors who built it in the first century after Christ. Coliseum refers to the ‘colossal’ statue of Nero that at one time stood at the entrance. Originally on this spot stood a pool, around which was built Emperor Nero’s famous ‘Golden House.’ The construction was completed with the help of Jewish slaves brought here in 70 AD. The Coliseum served as the center for violent sports, and traditionally, as the site of the martyrdom of many Christians.

Later, we see Mamertine Prison, the traditional site of the apostles Peter and Paul’s imprisonment. Presumably, Paul wrote his Second Letter to Timothy during his second imprisonment, which occurred during Nero’s reign. Unlike his first imprisonment, when Paul was permitted to live under house arrest, his second term was served in a dungeon. A small well here was constructed around the spring which was used by Peter to baptize other prisoners and two prison guards, Processus and Martinianus.

“I am imprisoned for His sake. It is on account of this that I have to put up with suffering, even to being chained like a criminal (2 Tim 1:8, 2:9)

Paul also spoke openly of his loneliness here:

“Make every effort to come and see me as soon as you can. Make every effort to come before the winter. Only Luke is with me.” (2 Tim 4: 14-15)

After our time at Mamertine, we visit the excavations under the Basilica of San Clemente. The Basilica presents a unique opportunity to experience three levels of history: below street level we find the remains of ancient Roman buildings, including a Temple of Mithras, a male fertility cult that rivaled Christianity during the time of Imperial Rome. The second layer of the edifice contains a 4th century church. And at street level we encounter a 12th century church. The Basilica is named after Clement, the fourth pope, who was martyred by being tied to an anchor and drowned. Some of the frescoes in the church tell the story of his life.

Our final stop of the day is the Boca dei Verita” or “Mouth of Truth”, found in the atrium of St. Mary’s in Cosmedin Church. This marble mask dates back to the 4th century B.C. According to popular legend, it is said that anyone who puts his or her hand in the mouth and swears falsely, cannot withdraw it. After a very busy day, we return to our hotel for dinner and the evening. (B, D

DAY 5: ROME: ST. PAUL’S OUTSIDE THE WALLS, CATACOMBS, ST. PETER’S BASILICA & PRIVATE VATICAN MUSEUMS TOUR

This morning we make our way to the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, housing the Tomb of St. Paul the Apostle, affectionately known as the Apostle of the Gentiles. Here we celebrate Mass.

After his execution and burial in Rome in the 1st century AD, Saint Paul’s followers erected a shrine (cella memoriae) over the grave. Early Christians frequently visited the site to honor the great Apostle. The first church on the site was, founded by Emperor Constantine in 324. In 386, Emperor Theodosius began the construction of a much larger basilica. According to the inscription on the triumphal arch, it was consecrated in 390, by Siricius, and completed in 395 under Emperor Honorius. Although heavily restored, the present basilica looks much the same as it did in the 4th century.

Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a year, beginning in June 2008, dedicated to St. Paul, marking the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth, St. Paul was born in Tarsus between 6 and 10 AD. After his conversion he became the church’s foremost evangelizer, especially among the Gentiles. His letters to his followers have greatly influenced church thinking throughout the centuries and continue to do so today.

Later, we visit the Catacombs of St. Calixtus housing many of the tombs of the early Popes. Called by Pope John XXIII “the sublimest and most famous in Rome”, these underground burial places for 16 popes, a large number of martyrs and a great many Christians, contain an intricate network of passages and chambers hewn from the soft Roman tufa.

After lunch on our own, we visit St. Peter’s Basilica. With Michelangelo’s dome, it is the most prominent building inside Vatican City. Built over the site of “Old Saint Peter’s” constructed by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, the new Basilica began construction in 1506. The building absorbed the attention of twenty popes and ten architects before completion in 1626. There are over 100 tombs located within the Basilica. These include 91 popes.

Here we see the Papal Altar covered with the sumptuous bronze baldachin by Bernini, and the apse, aglow with golden mosaic. In addition to many sculptures and monuments by Bernini and other great artists, we will see Michelangelo’s famous statue of The Pieta. We also visit the tomb of John Paul II.

As we stand in the St. Peter’s Square, we recall that Peter would have been executed in Nero’s Circus, very close to where we stand today. In fact, the obelisk that we see in the square stood at Nero’s Circus and would have witnessed the apostle’s execution.

Later, we gather for a private, after hour’s tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Such a private tour is a rare privilege – a special honor for our group, and the only way to completely absorb the beauty of Michelangelo’s masterpiece of The Last Judgment and the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Dinner this evening is at a local restaurant. (B, D)

DAY 6: ROME / BANFI VINEYARDS / SIENA

This morning we depart Rome for Siena, one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. We stop first at the Castello Banfi, vineyards dramatically set in the ancient area of Montalcino, known for its excellent Brunello production. Our lunch here at the vineyard provides the opportunity to sample the local vintage and perhaps to bring a few bottles home.

After our visit of the vineyards, we continue on to our hotel in Siena for the evening. Dinner tonight is on our own and our tour escort will have some suggestions on where to dine. (B, L)

DAY 7: SIENA: VISIT OF THE TOWN & ENOTECA WINE TASTING

In the mid 14th Century Siena served as home to the Benincasa family, a family of wool-dyers. One of their twenty-five children was named Caterina Benincasa. History remembers her as St. Catherine of Siena. Because of her intervention with Pope Gregory XI, the papacy returned to Rome from Provence, France. She, along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, is one of the few women granted the title of ‘Doctor’ in the Roman Catholic Church. Along with St. Francis, she serves as a co-patron saint of Italy.

We begin this morning at the Duomo, originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263. Here we celebrate Mass. The main square of this medieval town is absolutely charming, and we will have some time to enjoy the atmosphere. We also visit the austere church of San Domenico–“which contains the only authentic portrait of Catherine in the chapel where she received the Dominican habit and where several of her miracles occurred.” Just down the street is the Sanctuary of St. Catherine, built on the site of her former home.

After lunch on our own and some time at leisure, we visit the Enoteca Italiana, the 16th-century Fortezza Medicea, housing the official state-mandated National Wine Museum. Seated in the tunnel-like brick halls or out on the terraces if weather permits, we sample a choice selection of Italian wines. We end our day in Siena with dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)

DAY 8: SIENA: EXCURSION TO BADIA A PASSIGNANO ABBEY & VINEYARDS

Today, we travel to Badia for a visit of. Badia a Passignano vineyards and Abbey.

We begin our visit with Mass at the abbey. Although the monastery archives only go back to the year 891, the monastery is thought to be much older. In 1049, Badia passed into the Vallombrosano order, a reformed branch of the Benedictines specializing in winegrowing and forestry and was established by San Giovanni Gualberto. Since then the shepherd’s staff – the order’s symbol – has been present throughout the abbey. Over time the order became so powerful that it owned a quarter of Tuscany.

After the Council of Trent in 1545, the abbey became an important theological, literary and scientific study centre. About 100 monks lived there with 6,000 documents, many written in Hebrew and Greek; the monastery chronicles report that Galileo Galilei taught mathematics here from 1587-1588. The monastery and the order are especially well known for their huge libraries of medieval classical and musical texts; for promoting scientific research and for cultivating large areas of land, especially with vines and reforestation. The vineyards are located in one of the most beautiful and productive areas of Chianti Classico.

This afternoon we enjoy lunch at the vineyard and the opportunity to taste some truly fine wines. We return to Siena for the evening. Dinner tonight is on our own. (B, L)

DAY 9: SIENA: EXCURSION TO FLORENCE WITH OPTIONAL VISIT OF THE ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS

Today we enjoy a full-day excursion to Florence, known as the ‘Flower of the Renaissance’. Florence was the city of the Medici Family and Machievelli.

Our guide will take us on a walking tour to the beautiful Piazza del Duomo and the delicately patterned green, white and pink Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore crowned with its magnificent Dome by Brunelleschi; Giotto’s Bell Tower; the Romanesque Bapistry of St. John with the exquisite bronze doors by Ghiberti which Michelangelo called ‘the Gates of Paradise.’

Next, our focus becomes the masterworks of Fra Angelico in the Convent of San Marco. Here we celebrate Mass. Born Guido di Pietro , he eventually came to be known as Fra (short for frater, or brother) Angelico – because he painted like an angel.

His most important works here include The Crucifixion and The Transfiguration, plus the depiction of Christ as a Pilgrim. His skill in creating monumental figures, representing motion, and suggesting deep space through the use of linear perspective, especially in the Roman frescoes, mark him as one of the foremost painters of the Renaissance.

Fra Angelico lived in his cell, under the vow of poverty, and turned all commissions from his outside works over to the order. He never lifted his brush without whispering a prayer, and his pious devotion is evident in the work we will see today.

After lunch on our own, the balance of the day is at leisure in the city. Those who have visited Florence before might want to make their way to the famous Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), the only bridge to survive the bombings of World War II, or just relax and stroll about the city. For first-timers to Florence, there is an optional included visit to the Academy of Fine Arts to view Michelangelo’s renowned statue of David. Later this afternoon we travel to a local vineyard for dinner and a tasting of some of the famous Tuscan Reds. After dinner, we continue on to Siena for the evening. (B, D)

DAY 10: SIENA / ROME: AFTERNOON AT LEISURE

This morning we depart Siena for Rome where the balance of the day is at leisure, perhaps for some last minute shopping, visiting a favorite site or just strolling through the streets of Rome to experience its unique flavor. Tonight we gather for a special farewell dinner. (B, D)

DAY 11: RETURN TO THE USA

Breakfast is included today, and afterwards we bid a fond farewell to Italy as we transfer to the Rome airport for our journey back to the USA. (B)

B= Breakfast L=Lunch D=Dinner

NOTE: While no changes are anticipated, there might be occasions when certain alterations become necessary to this itinerary due to changes in airline schedules or for other reasons. All Masses are subject to final church schedules.