Italy's most romantic towns and villages

Small Italian Gems

ARRIVE TO ITALY BY BERNINA EXPRESS |  VARENNA AT LAKE COMO  |  FLORENCE  |  LUCCA  | SAN GIMIGNANO  |  AMALFI COAST

13-day journey with flight from London to Zurich and home from Naples. First-class travel on panorama express, high-speed trains and chaffeured cars. Private city walks with local insiders. Four-star boutique hotels.

Only £ 3650 per person when two travelling together

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For us at Silver Tray, arriving is an art. Rather than settling for the usual stressful, annoying and complicated logistical nightmare, we always aim to elevate your arrival to the romantic and thrilling highlight of the journey that it used to be in the golden age of travel. And when the destination is four of Italy’s most delightful small towns and villages, we thought extra hard about how to arrive at this romantic adventure. We are quite pleased with the result.

Lake Como’s finest village
Rather than just flying into a bland Italian airport, you arrive to Italy on arguably the most spectacular panoramic train in the Alps. After a first night in Swiss Chur just north of the Italian border, the Bernina Express climbs step mountainsides into the realm of Alpine glaciers and snow-capped peaks, before it slowly descends into the warm valleys of Italy, ice-blue lakes giving way to gently swaying palm-trees. From the Bernina Express you continue alongside the shore of Italy’s legendary Lake Como and arrive at the small and picturesque medieval village of Varenna, where the terrace of your historic four-star boutique hotel offers stunning views over the lake. THIS is how to arrive to Italy.

You could spend a lifetime exploring all of Italy’s small gems of romantic towns and villages, but we think that Varenna and our three other choices belong at the top of any list:

Lucca: Small town, big history
Lucca is a very small Tuscan town with a very big history. Founded by the Etruscans over two millennia ago, Lucca is an enchanting labyrinth of medieval architecture, cobbled alleys and charming piazzas. Unlike neighbouring Pisa, history mercifully left Lucca alone. To pass through the imposing city wall that still encircles the old town centre, is to step many centuries back in time.

San Gimignano: Medieval Manhattan
San Gimignano is perched in splendid isolation on a steep hilltop. Here, 13th century tycoons built skyscrapers as trophy homes, and many of the slim towers remain to this day, creating a strange and wonderful vision of a medieval Manhattan. Walking these cobblestoned streets, especially in the evening after the day-trippers have left town, is like being transported back to a long-lost world.

Amalfi Coast: Stunning scenery
Finally, the Amalfi Coast beckons with its picturesque villages that cling to the steep mountainsides above the Mediterranean Sea. The Amalfi Coast has enchanted visitors since antiquity with its stunning scenery and fabled villages like Ravello, Amalfi and Positano. If you are up for a great hike, a balcony trail high above the sea awaits you. You will discover that its exalted name, The Path of the Gods, is actually well-deserved.

And then we have not even mentioned Florence. Even though she is not a village and strictly speaking therefor does not belong on this itinerary, it would be a crime just to pass through the capital of the Renaissance. So of course, you also stay two nights here.

The destinations may be old, but the trains could not be more modern. You travel in first-class on the flagship of Italy’s world-class high-speed rail network, the Frecciarossa (the red arrow). Travel times are short, but you should have just enough time to relax and allow the steward to serve you a light meal at your seat. (High-speed rail services have not reached the hill-towns of Tuscany, so here we transport you by private chauffeured car).

The art of arriving travels with you all the way. Private guides stand ready on the platforms to welcome you to their city and escort you to your four-star boutique hotel. Then, they will introduce you to their city on a private two-hour city walk that is fully customizable.

The journey

13-day journey | Chur | Varenna | Florence | Lucca |. San Gimignano | Amalfi

This 13-day journey includes flights London-Zurich and Naples-London. You travel from Switzerland into Italy on arguably the most spectacular panoramic train in the Alps, the Bernina Express. After two nights in picturesque and tranquil Varenna by Lake Como, you travel by high-speed trains to three of Italy’s other small gems: Lucca, San Gimignano and Amalfi. Transfers are by chauffeured car, including through Tuscany from Lucca to San Gimignano. Local insiders invite you on private city walks. And you stay at carefully curated four-star boutique hotels.

Expand all
Day 1
London–Chur
Day 2
Bernina Express to Lake Como

The Bernina Express

Travelling at an average speed of 36 km/h, the Bernina is not a very fast Express train. But having to cross almost 200 bridges, curl around one spectacular spiraling viaduct, and negotiate some of the steepest gradients anywhere in the Alps, this is as fast as it can go. What it lacks in speed, the train more than makes up for in views. This may well be the finest scenic rail journey in all of the Alps, arguably surpassing even the famed Glacier Express.

You travel in a first-class panorama car, offering you great views as the train first crosses the iconic Landwasser Viaduct from mountainside to mountainside, and then ascends up the lofty Bernina Pass, travelling past the Morteratsch Glacier, before it descends to the warn and pretty valleys of Italy.

The train’s terminus is a tiny station in small Tirano. Yards away you will find an equally small station with your onwards regional train. Soon you will marvel at the sight of Lake Como, as the train speeds alongside it. In small and idyllic Varenna, a local driver awaits to take you to your hotel.

One of the most spectacular journeys in the Alps
Glaciers, Alpine passes, panoramic views.
Day 3
Varenna

Lake Como has more famous towns and villages, but many locals will tell you that this is the finest and most charming of them all. Not least because Varenna is blessedly free of the crowds that descend on the neighbouring towns. The cobblestoned alleys climb from the lakeside promenade up the steep hill to the medieval piazza that is the town’s centre. A local ferry can get you to world-famous Bellagio in 15 beautiful minutes, but do not neglect to also explore the narrow trails above Varenna that leads to gorges, ruined castles and panoramas over the lake and mountains.

Picturesque medieval village
Wonderful panoramas over Lake Como
Day 4
Varenna–Florence
Day 5
Florence

Looking very much as it did back in the 15th century, Florence is one of Europe’s greatest art cities, packed with awe-inspiring masterpieces. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio. They are all here, in what was the most creative city in the world back in the day, the cradle of the Renaissance. You do not even have to venture into a museum to enjoy all of Florence’s beauty, because you are immersed in it: The historic centre is nothing but elegant palaces, candle-lit chapels, fresco-decorated churches, and marble basilicas, all crowded around achingly romantic squares.

Steeped in Renaissance art and architecture it may be, but Florence is also a living city with fine restaurants, cosy wine bars, and an active cultural scene with classical music and contemporary art.

When the sun sets, seemingly every romantic couple make their way to Piazzale Michelangelo, set above the south bank of the Arno and famous for its views over Florence. But leave the crowds behind and climb a little further up the hill to the beautiful Romanesque church of San Miniato. From her steps, the sunset over Florence is even more stunning, and also serenely peaceful.

 

One of Europe's greatest art cities
Fine Italian dining and cosy wine bars
Romantic sunsets with views of Florence
Day 6
Florence-Lucca
Day 7
Lucca

“Lovely” is the single best way to describe Lucca, a very small Tuscan town with a very big history. Founded by the Etruscans over two millennia ago, Lucca is an enchanting labyrinth of medieval architecture, cobbled alleys and charming piazzas. Unlike neighbouring Pisa, history mercifully left Lucca alone. To pass through the imposing city wall that still encircles the old town centre, is to step many centuries back in time. Lucca’s medieval heart still beats unperturbed by modern times, boasting so many religious buildings that it is known in Italy as the city with 100 churches.

Lucca is more than anything a hidden gem that should simply be savoured for its charm and beauty, accompanied by a bottle of local wine at one of the historic bars or restaurants. There is one unmissable highlight, though:  The Torre Guinigi. Lucca’s skyline is dominated by medieval towers, but this is the strangest and most fascinating of them all: Once you finally reach the flat summit high above the town, you’ll discover an enchanting roof garden with old oak trees. Even in Italy, it does not get any more romantic than this.

 

A hidden gem with charm and beauty
Climb the Torre Guinigi tower to its roof garden with old oak trees
Savour life at historic bars and restaurants
Day 8
Lucca–San Gimignano
Day 9
San Gimignano

Perched in splendid isolation on a steep hilltop, this is the town that history forgot: Once a booming middle age metropolis, faster trade routes to Rome bypassed the town, and rather than evolving over the coming centuries, it simply became a sleeping beauty.

Today, its buildings have remained almost unaltered since the 13th century. The medieval centre is dominated by the slim, square towers that were both fortified homes and status symbols. Walking these cobblestoned streets, especially in the evening after the day-trippers have left town, is like being transported back to a long-lost world.

The day-trippers rush through San Gimignano in a few hours. Once they have left, you can savour the unique vibe of the town. Make sure to have dinner or drinks at one of the small restaurants perched right on the edge of the steep hilltop and take in the mesmerizing view of the Tuscan landscape far beyond.

 

The Manhattan of the 13th century, with ancient skyscrapers
Once the day-trippers have left, savour the unique vibe of the town
Day 10
San Gimignano–Amalfi
Day 11 & 12
Amalfi
13
Amalfi–London

Your hotels

Stay in charming, comfortable and centrally located four-star boutique hotels carefully curated by Silver Tray. Breakfast is included, as are transfers between the train station and the hotel.

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Your trains

Silver Tray has curated Europe's best trains and finest routes for you. See a few of the trains you will experience on this journey.

Your Silver Tray service includes

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