by Cathi Burnett-Cosgrove, May 2017
My commitment on this tour was to reveal ‘The Secrets of Italy’ to my guests. Italy is a destination that has been popular with Australian travellers for many years. Many before us have trod the soil, visited the villages and stood in awe at the relics of the Ancient World, which begs the question: what is there left to discover?
Our adventure commenced as we boarded ‘Silver Spirit’, one of Silversea’s classic ships. We were treated to outstanding, yet unobtrusive service – an art form in itself. We were wined, dined, entertained and accommodated in luxury. I personally craft the shore excursions on each of my escorted tours, which means we travel only with our guests, and cover many points of interest without being a part of a huge fleet of coaches. Not only does it work, it works extremely well. In Sardinia, Sicily and the Amalfi Coast we visited major archaeological sites, watched Master Craftsmen, drank local wine and tasted local delicacies along the way.
Malta was really our only diversion from Italy, as we were keen to wander the Medieval City of the Mdina and to understand a little more about the influence of the crusades and the Knights of St John. Whilst in Valetta, the current capital of this fascinating country, we were treated to a private after-hours entry to the Co-Cathedral of St John. Normally filled with hundreds of tourists, our small group could wander at leisure and really absorb the atmosphere and understand this masterpiece created by the Knights of long ago.
On disembarking our cruise, we made our way to Tuscany. This area of Italy is the subject of many authors and films, and we cannot help but associate it with what is quintessentially the romantic heart of Italy. We stayed for five nights in the most picture-perfect villa! Our group was the sole occupant so the entire villa and its grounds were for us to enjoy. We were within walking distance of the hilltop village of Montepulciano which, though small, offers a great diversity of things to do. We dined in our private restaurant with own chef to cater to our every need and whim. It was simply idyllic.
Our journey continued to Puglia which is what we know as the ‘heel of the boot’ of Italy. A totally undiscovered area and still slowly working its way towards launching itself on the tourist map. We visited small villages specialising in both boutique and organic produce, we watched cartapesta figures (papier–mâché) being created; devoured freshly grilled sardinas straight from the local fisherman’s daily catch; toured in trishaws, apes and local trains; we walked beaches; and stayed in trullis and cave hotels. There is no doubt we were treated to an area rarely visited by most travellers to Italy.
Did we discover the ‘Secrets of Italy’? Was my mission to show another side of Italy that few ever experience accomplished? I believe unquestionably so! This is truly what travel should be all about. Discovering the unique; not just seeing a destination, but having the time to absorb the colours, sounds and tastes. It’s about meeting locals and grasping an insight into their way of life. How very fortunate we were…