By DEAN HORVATH
Do you absolutely need a private guide in Italy?
No, you don’t.
But if you want the best trip possible, then yes you do. At least part of the time. Because there are some things you simply can’t do on your own.
Below I’ve made a quick list of 34 day tours you simply cannot do without a private guide, although there are quite literally hundreds more.
1. Exclusive Access to the Hidden Colosseum Corridors
Descend into the belly of the most famous and most visited ancient monument in the world! Stories of the gladiatorial games will become more vivid as you visit where gladiators once held their final preparations before battling with wild beasts. These spaces are preserved in the condition they were in at the end of the fifth century AD, at which time they were buried. Since then there has been no tampering with the structures, as was the case for the above-ground portion of the Amphitheatre.
Here we understand why the games became so popular: the underground tunnels (at the time illuminated with hundreds of oil lamps, now partially preserved) preserve clear signs of the incredible trapdoors, elevators, winches and balances that guaranteed a dizzying and dramatic viewing of the battles.
2. A Private Evening of Opera in Rome
The famous director and composer, Tito Schipa Junior, will open the doors to his home to unveil the secrets behind great operas. Marvel at his talent on the piano as he plays a selection of pieces from the best opera movies, complemented by a unique audio-visual display. The evening is sure to uplift your body and soul, and culminates with a first class dinner prepared by the composer’s wife, Adriana Ruvolo, who is a renowned Gambero Rosso food expert.
3. The Secret World of Fashion in Florence
Today you will be introduced to an iconic Florentine fashion designer and her world of class and pure creativity. This is a unique chance to breathe the vibe of a personalised fashion show and to admire outfits for the daytime, cocktail, evening and bride gowns. All in the heart of the Capital of the Renaissance.
You will be treated to a 40-minute private fashion show in which three models wear the epitome of class, elegance and exquisite Florentine genius. During the experience there will be plenty of time to interact with the designer, ask questions, touch the precious fabrics and try on the clothes.
4. Tuscan Truffle Tour
Spend the day discovering one of the culinary world’s most prized ingredients – the Truffle. Join a licensed truffle hunter and his trusted sniffer dog on their quest for Tuscany’s “black gold”.
With a few sizable nuggets in hand, head back to the Truffle House for a master class on cleaning and preserving truffles before sitting down with the hunter for a special truffle-themed lunch.
5. The Godfather Tour – Sicily
Today you will enjoy the some of the legendary places seen in the Godfather Trilogy. Visit the Sicilian mansion seen in a number of scenes, including the unforgettable explosion of the car after the wedding, the church of St. Lucy where the wedding between Apollonia and Michael was shot, and the famous bar “VITELLI” (one of Coppola’s favorite spots) which is seen many times throughout the film.
6. Drive a Ferrari in the Home Country
Journey with your driver into the heart of Italy to the town of Maranello, home to the iconic Ferrari Company. Enjoy time to independently explore the Galleria Ferrari, a place where Ferrari’s past, present and future is preserved giving the visitor a fascinating insight into the history of the Prancing Horse. In the afternoon enjoy a truly memorable experience as you get behind the wheel of a Ferrari and feel the exhilaration of driving a super-car out into the Italian countryside.
7. Prosciutto and Parmaggiano of Parma
The small city of Parma, packs a big punch around the world with its famous cheese (Parmesan) and meats (prosciutto).
Learn about the processes involved in making the iconic Parmesan cheese, and of course enjoy tastings of the sharp unmistakable flavour, on an early morning visit (cheese is always made early) to meet an artisan proud to make high quality cheese. Parma’s other world famous food is of course prosciutto, the raw, air dried ham. Visit ‘Prosciuttifficio’ up in the Parma Hills to see how the hams are cured and of course try some of the product.
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8. The Classic Roman Sites for Children
Enjoy a tour of the Classical Rome with a careful explanation of the stories behind fountains and monuments, describing decorations, allegorical figures and creatures. The guide will take children on a treasure hunt looking for symbols and animals sculpted in marble. Sites today include the Fontana di Trevi, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona, the Fontana della Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna, and the Pantheon.
9. The Passage of the Prince, Private Access to the Vasari’s Corridor
Begin your tour with a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, housing some of the world’s most important art treasures. After viewing the Uffizi’s wonderful collection, enjoy a very special private entry to the Vasari Corridor, the private corridor built in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari, court architect to the Medici family. This private “Princes’ Route” leads from the Uffizi Gallery to Pitti Palace on the south side of the river. A quiet atmosphere of secrecy lies behind an unmarked door in the Uffizi Gallery, where unique artists’ self-portraits line the walls. It is said that 50% of the world’s art treasures are in Italy and 80% of those are in Florence, the crème de la crème are in this private collection and today you have a once in a lifetime chance to have these opened for you.
10. Jewish Food Tour
Join your expert guide for the ultimate foodie tour – first through the bustling Campo dei Fiori market and then to the Jewish ghetto.
You’ll start your tour in the Campo dei Fiori market, where Rome’s casalinghe (housewives) jostle against each other as they stock up on the freshest fish and produce for the family’s daily meal. Then, you will make your way to the Jewish Ghetto. Starting in 1555, Jews were forced to stay within the ghetto’s confines from dawn to dusk. For centuries, the enclosure was afflicted with pestilence and poverty. Isolated from the outside world, 16th century Jewish casalinghe learned to make the best of the limited ingredients available to them – and like other versions of la cucina povera (peasant cooking) across Italy, many of these dishes made their way into the established canon of Roman cuisine.
11. Marble Quarry Adventure with Neal Barab
Michelangelo brought to life his David from the milky white stone of the Carrara marble quarry; The ancient Romans constructed masterpieces including the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in Rome from it, and moving farther afield London’s Marble Arch is also a product of this versatile and beautiful resource found in the Apuan Alps just a few kilometers from the Versilian coast in Tuscany.
Neal Barab is a well-known sculptor and he will be your host today as he takes you on a journey to explore the quarries. From here we then head out towards the quarries, the first stop is the abandoned Cave Henraux. This is a truly magical, and largely unknown site. Enter through a keyhole cut into the mountain, and you will find the quarry opens into a theatre of marble walls, floors, giant blocks left sitting where they were cut decades ago, and trees and flowers growing up through the cracks.
12. A Private Tuscan Vineyard Visit
Make your way through the rolling hills south of Florence to the fertile Val d’Elsa for a private visit to the family-run I Balzini vineyard. When master sommelier Vincenzo D’Isanto and his wife, the savvy marketer Antonella started the I Balzini estates in the 1980s, they chose this plot for its advantageous microclimate and mineral-rich volcanic soil – not to mention the pure beauty of the countryside. Join your hosts on a tour of their leafy vineyards and impressive collection of modern steel vats and traditional barrique barrels, before sitting down to taste their award-winning wines.
13. Venice Lagoon Islands by Private Boat
Today you will be met by your local guide for an excursion by private motor-boat to explore the Lagoon Islands of Murano and Burano. Venice lies in the centre of a vast lagoon that stretches for about 30 miles from north to south, studded by numerous small islands, mostly deserted. This amazing environment is what drove the Venetians to establish their city here, a perfectly secure and inaccessible little world. Enjoy the beauty of a ride across the waters of the lagoon; visit Burano a quaint and colourful fisherman island famous for its lace making traditions and charming architecture, and the island of Murano, where glass has been made for over 700 years known and where you can see the age-old techniques of glass blowing still in use today.
14. Cooking with the Duchess in Palermo
Start your day at the vibrant Capo market, the oldest outdoor market in Palermo, to stock up here on the season’s freshest ingredients for your cooking adventure. Then, make your way to the 18th-century Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, where the Duchess of Palma will initiate you into the art of Sicilian cooking in the palazzo’s spacious kitchen. You’ll then dine on the fruits of your labor with the Duchess and her family. After lunch, join your hostess for a tour of this celebrated house. Revel in its rich history, most recently as the last home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the iconic Italian novel “The Leopard”. The highlight of the tour, and the conclusion of your exciting day, is a visit to the palazzo’s glorious terrace overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.
15.A Walk Through Hidden Venice
Today you will enjoy a walking tour with your local guide to visit the hidden side of Venice. Located in a charming section of Venice, off the beaten track, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the Frari Church, the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, and the Scuola Grande dei Carmini are some of the most important monuments in the city, and yet remain relatively unknown to most tourists.
On your way to the St. Polo District, stop first at the Rialto Bridge, one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, and the oldest. The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was completed in 1591. It is remarkably similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.
The Scuola of Saint Rocco was one of the most powerful confraternities in Venice and as such the whole decoration went to one of the leading artists of the time: Jacopo Tintoretto.
16. Panoramic Helicopter Flight around Sicilian Volcanos
A helicopter trip in Sicily over Etna and to the Aeolian Islands is a highly emotional experience. Helicopter tours add a new dimension to your “volcano” experience; you can see things from the air that are invisible or look completely different from the surface. One of the features that make Etna and the other Sicilian volcanoes so spectacular is the ever-changing and breathtaking vistas. Landscapes range from lush pine and birch wood to dry arid black lava deserts to snow topped mountains to wonderful Mediterranean sea. Your tour will include a stop at Panarea Island for a traditional lunch with a panoramic view on the sea.
17. Exclusive Visit to St. Mark’s Clock Tower
A marvel of 15th-century engineering, the Torre dell’Orologio, also known at St. Mark’s Clock Tower or the Moor’s Clock Tower, overlooks St. Mark’s Square and has been telling Venetians the time since 1499. This evening, you have exclusive private access to this technological masterpiece, which also indicates the phase of the moon and the dominant sign of the Zodiac. Each hour the original bell is rung by two statues of “Moors” on the roof and during Ascension week and at Epiphany, the Madonna above the clock face is bowed to by an angel-led procession of Magi.
In 1858, one of the earliest examples of a digital clock was added, showing the hours and minutes either side of the Madonna. Right up until 1998, the caretakers of the clock also lived in the tower with their families, the living quarters occupying the same space as the clock mechanism. You ascend the tower by the 19th-century spiral staircase inside, up to the rooftop Moors, where you can marvel at this timepiece and at the view across St Mark’s Square.
18. The Art of Marizipan
Enjoy an exclusive invitation to a master-marzipan maker to watch them perform their art, and also try your hand at making the delicate models – which are (almost…) too perfect to eat!
Sicilians are famous around Italy for their sweet-tooth, none more-so than the people of Erice on the West Coast. Sicilians are the masters of marzipan, which is a delectable sweet made from a paste of sugar syrup and ground almonds. Watch the experts of Erice work the paste into lifelike figures of fresh fruits, vegetables and even figurines.
19. The Lesser Known Villages of the Amalfi Coast
Today you will not only visit the well-known villages of Amalfi and Ravello – but also spend time in the quaint lesser-known villages of Atrani and Furore. Enjoy a break ‘off the beaten track’ in Atrani; with its whitewashed houses and narrow pedestrian-only streets the village has retained its authentic fishing village atmosphere. Furore, once known as the village that doesn’t exist, located in a fjord, is a delightful cluster old fishermen’s houses, which appear to be glued to the cliffs. Nowadays the tiny little village is known as the ‘painted village’ thanks to the lovely murals painted on the walls of the houses.
20. Costumes Atelier Visit
The Atelier is in the very heart of Venice, and here deft and expert fingers create unique and wonderful costumes. You will learn the technical knowledge, the respect for the cut and styles of period costumes and the passion for fabrics and above all the skill in using them, combined with the constant search for the link between costumes and history. All these factors guarantee the artistry of the work and the creations are appreciated all over the world. The Atelier has become a point of reference for theatre, opera, films and historical parades and processions. It owns a vast range of period costumes, formal clothes for ceremonial occasions and also evening and wedding clothes, complete with every type of accessory. You will be absorbed in the special atmosphere of iconographical and historical study, where textiles and costumes are designed, created, produced and handled by observing pictures of past times, descriptions, original parts and studies on fashion.
21. Olive Oil Factory Exclusive Visit
The Reggello area in Tuscany is one of the most beautiful in the whole region, as well as the most well-known and appreciated by visitors from across the world. This area offers a unique landscape, with green, gentle hills covered with wide olive fields and, small stone villages, characteristic parishes and countryside homes in stone.
Your professional oil expert will introduce you to the world of extra virgin olive oil and you will discover a multitude of different flavors. The countless fragrances that characterize the extra virgin oil , are the result of years of dedication and care, from the first step to the final products, with careful attention to each phase of the process in order to obtain the highest quality, able to satisfy even the most hard to please palate. You can buy the famous oil and others typical products in the specialized shop.
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22. Adventure on Mount Etna
Today you will discover the wild and uncontaminated nature of Europe’s highest volcano onboard comfortable four-wheel-drive vehicles. During the 4wd tours you will frequently stop and walk along easy paths, thus enjoying the most significant places of Mt. Etna, amid ancient lava flows, extinct craters, beautiful woods, century-old trees, houses surrounded or destroyed by lava flows, as well as viewpoints from which to enjoy panoramas of unmatched beauty. You will also visit the volcanic cave – a fascinating horizontal gallery which was created during one of the countless eruptions of Mt. Etna. You will be provided with a helmet with headlight for the caves and with telescopic walking sticks for the short walks.
23. Explore Capri by Private Boat
Explore the island of Capri in style today as you take a cruise in your skippered private motorboat. As you circle the island of Capri you will be able to stop at Marina Piccola, a delightfully picturesque inlet that provides the Caprisi and other sun worshippers with their best beach – it is also safe for swimming. Travelling west, you’ll pass the beach of Marina Grande and of Bagni di Tiberio. Continue to the next stretch of coastline which consists of the high calcareous cliff with fissures and grottoes covered by lush, indigenous vegetation. Enjoy time at leisure for shopping or perhaps a lazy swim from the boat before cruising back to Sorrento.
24. Primitivo & Matera Tour
First, you’ll dive into some in-depth wine discovery. You’ll travel to a prestigious vineyard in Gioia dell Colle to taste Primitivo – a powerful red that is genetically similar to Zinfandel and a grape that thrives in Puglia’s relentless sun and iron-rich soil. After a tour of the winery and its cavernous cellars, you will taste some of the estate’s finest vintages, along with some typical snacks of the region. Next we head across the border into Basilicata to visit the hilltop village of Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your expert guide will lead you on a walking tour of the ‘sassi’, ancient cave dwellings carved out of the soft volcanic stone. Italy’s first inhabitants lived in these caves some 9,000 years ago and monks settled here the 7th century to escape persecution. The appalling hygienic conditions and extreme poverty led authorities to forcibly remove the village’s inhabitants in the 1950s, but the past few decades have seen a remarkable revival in Matera, with these unique residences being lovingly restored to provide hotels, shops and restaurants.
25. Meet a Florentine Shoemaker and Enjoy a Private Fashion Show
Discover the wonderful artistry behind Italian shoemaking this morning. During this fun workshop you will gain a special insight into one of Italy’s finest handcrafts and even have the opportunity to order personalised shoes to be shipped home for you. After this unique experience, you will be welcomed to the magnificent Frescobaldi Palazzo, where you can admire fine, ready to wear outfits created by a Florentine fashion designer prior to being treated to an exclusive fashion show in the opulent setting of the first floor!
26. Christian Rome Orientation Tour
Rome is a city that is rich in history and has remained one of the most visited cities by Christians from around the globe. Today we will combine some of Rome’s most significant and incredible churches that have inspired pilgrims and visitors for centuries, with top historic sites, monuments, piazzas, and museums that you expect to see in the Eternal City.
The guide will escort you to S. Pietro in Vincoli. It was first built in 432-440 to house a portion of the chains that held Saint Peter where he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. Then you will reach the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, cathedral of Rome and of the world, famous for its baroque and medieval masterpieces kept intact inside of it. You will see the Holy Stairs and visit the Church of Santa Maria in Palmis. According to legend, it was here that St. Peter, fleeing Rome to escape Emperor Nero’s persecution, had a vision of Jesus and asked him, “Domine, quo vadis?”—”Lord, where are you going?” Jesus’s answer, “To Rome, to be crucified anew,” persuaded Peter that he had to return to the city and accept his own martyrdom. Before lunch you will also visit the Christian catacombs.
In the afternoon you’ll visit the world famous Musei Vaticani and the most important symbol of Christianity: St. Peter Basilica.
27. Sail, Fish & Feast Tour
What better way to experience the best of Puglia than sitting back and gliding over the deep blue water.
Meet your private guide at your hotel and head off for today’s adventure. You’ll travel to the charming port town of Savelletri, where we will board our fishing boat and greet the experienced crew. As the heel of the Italian boot, Puglia is surrounded by water on three sides and Puglia has always had a sea-loving and sea-faring culture. This trip will give you the opportunity to experience the rugged coastline from the other side, gliding past rocky outcrops, sandy beaches and charming ruins. Your fishing boat comes equipped with sturdy fishing rods – cast a line and try your luck catching some Skipjack or Yellowtail. The crew will provide expert advice on making that catch and offer small refreshments during the journey. After three hours on the water, we head back to port for lunch at a local seafront restaurant. The chef will be delighted to prepare the fish you have caught to your specifications – it literally doesn’t get any fresher than this. Wash down the delicious meal with an ice-cold rosé from a local vineyard as you gaze out onto the rippling Adriatic Sea.
28. The Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Culinary Tour
Travel to the region of Modena, famous, of course, for Aceto Balsamico, or Balsamic Vinegar. Stop in at a family run Acetaia for a truly unique experience as the owner invites you to his private villa. From the parlour, overlooking the park, learn about the process of making the vinegar before heading upstairs to sniff the various barrel ages as well as enjoying a hands-on experience of filling the barrels. Enjoy a fantastic home cooked meal that may include cold cuts, a risotto, home-made focaccia, cheese, cakes, wine, coffee and liqueurs!
29. The Lake Como Photography Tour
Today’s tour gives you the opportunity to capture Lake Como three ways: from the water aboard your boat, by foot on the lake’s only Island and from the picturesque hiking trail. Let our photography guide show you the techniques you need to capture lakeside scenery and panoramic shots.
Beginners might want to focus on “Colors of Lake Como” or “Light and Reflection”, while more advanced shutterbugs can explore themes like “Blurring the Background” or “Using Time Speed”. From the water, you can try your hand at capturing some of the lake’s most renowned villas: Villa Erba and Villa D’Este in Cernobbio and Villa Pliniana, George Clooney’s Villa in Laglio.
30. Play a round of golf on the lava plains of Mount Etna
Il Picciolo is the oldest course in Sicily and has played host to a number of international tournaments. The proximity to Etna and its regular eruptions provides the unusual hazard of lava flows on many of the holes and, with trees and vineyards also constantly in play, there is a premium on accurate driving.
31. Fabulous Faenza Ceramics Experience
Faenza is a name that has become synonymous with ceramics, inspiring and innovating in this art form all over the world since the 12th century. Spend the day with a renowned ceramicist learning about the history of the city’s fine maiolica art and try your hand at making your own piece!
With the help of the artist, you can let your creativity run wild as you paint a ceramic plate that will become your own bespoke souvenir. Watch the master “foggiatore” as he works the lathe, creating vases, bowls and mugs, and then try your “foot” at throwing some pottery of your own. After a short break with coffee and pastries from the shop’s own bakery, the artist will introduce you to the art of firing in their own tunnel kiln. As you bid farewell to your new Faenza friends, you won’t be leaving empty handed – your own pieces will be handed over still hot from the kiln!
32. Olive Oil & Ostuni Cycling Tour
Today, you’ll bike the stunning Puglia countryside, with stops at a 15th-century olive oil estate and the charming hillside villages of Cisternino and Ostuni.
You’ll start off with a nice 12km warm-up ride to a 15th-century Masseria to taste one of Puglia’s finest olive oils. The estate’s master olive oil producer is passionate about his craft, and it shows: learn about his ancient gnarled olive trees, the pressing process and the tasting nuances of what the locals call “the green gold”. Next you’ll tackle a lovely climb into the charming town of Cisternino. Park your bikes and take a stroll past the whitewashed houses, stopping for a coffee or a gelato while taking in the sweeping views of the Itria Valley. The cycling continues along the ridge to La Città Bianca (the white city) of Ostuni, a stunning hilltop jewel with breathtaking sea views and an impressive history of over 2,000 years.
How to find a private guide?
This is just a small sample of the hundreds of tours that can be done with a private guide. But if you want to learn more, how do you find out what else can be done?
More importantly, how do you even find private guides for your trip to Italy?
I can help. Simply reach out to me and we can have a quick conversation about what type of trip to Italy is right for you.