The Palladian Traveler finds himself aboard a luxury motorcoach gliding over the cobblestone streets of the Eternal City, where once upon a time all roads lead to her, as he starts an eight-day sojourn as a guest journalist on Insight Vacations’ “Country Roads of Italy” itinerary of the Umbria and Tuscany.
Caput Mundi. It’s a Latin phrase taken to mean “capital of the world” and best describes the power and strength that ancient Rome, as both a republic and an empire, wielded for centuries via its mighty sandal-clad legions, tremendous influence over the arts, architecture and politics, and as the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and its continuous lineage of 266 pontiffs, from Saint Peter to present-day Pope Francis.
With a level of sophistication worthy of a Caesar (emperor), Insight took the wraps off this familiarization trip, an assaggio (taste) of its 17-day premium escorted itinerary, and greeted my group of 23 travel-savvy international journalists and media with open arms at one of Rome’s renowned palaces, the Hotel Regina Baglioni along Via Veneto, the avenue that symbolizes la dolce vita.
Built in 1904 as the temporary residence of Margherita, Italy’s then Queen Mother, this five-star luxury property, which fronts the U.S. Embassy, was constructed in the Liberty style and is accented throughout with understated art deco elegance befitting a home of noblesse. Unlike Regina Margherita, however, we only got to sample life inside the palace for one night. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before DO NOT DISTURB signs were hung outside, our band of merry travel scribes and photographers was introduced to Insight’s mode of travel for the next eight days — a luxury motor coach with business class legroom and WIFI — and treated to a tour of Rome by (rainy) night followed by a welcome dinner.
With everyone comfortably back onboard and seat belts fastened, Carlo, our modern-day charioteer, negotiated the wet pavement and cobblestone, while Belinda, our par excellence tour director-slash-storyteller, narrated in graphic detail scenes of long ago as we glided around the city, passing by ancient landmarks and monuments — the Coliseum, Circus Maximus and the Victor Emmanuel II Monument to name a few — taking in all that history as we made our way up to Campidoglio (Capitoline), one of the seven hills of Rome, for a casual stroll through the ornate piazza, designed by none other than Michelangelo, to an OMG panoramic view of the Roman Forum.
Back inside our spacious Mercedes built chariot, dinner was only minutes away as we now headed to one of the most picturesque squares in all of Rome, Piazza Navona.
A grand theater of water, we stopped long enough under a light drizzle to admire the ornate Fontana dei Quattro Fiume (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, with statues representing the rivers from the then-known four continents (the Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata and the Ganges). As Belinda pointed out, this is just one of the more than 2,000 fountains that dot Caput Mundi’s landscape.
We capped our “get acquainted” evening with a delicious four-course dinner at Ristorante 4 Colonne, located in the atrium of Palazzo Lancellotti, a late 15th century building just off Piazza Navona.
The food was delightful, the wine flowed freely, and in between courses we were serenaded with live opera arias and traditional Italian favorites sung by a talented and attractive Neopolitan mezzo-soprano named Dragana.
My apologies, but it wasn’t until after I left the restaurant that I realized I had forgotten to photograph the dishes BEFORE I consumed them and, therefore, I don’t have any virtual tastes to share with you now, other than the wiped-clean bowl, the nearly-spent wine glass and the bone-dry espresso cup. Mea culpa. I promise to improve on my foodie framing in the coming days. Scout’s honor!
Now, if you’re up for it, I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning when Insight’s “Country Roads of Italy” journey pays a visit to the Vatican Museum, highlighted by a private viewing of the Bramante Staircase, the double-helix flight of steps not accessible to the general public, but a “signature” experience provided by Insight.
For complete information on Insight Vacations’ 12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries and over 100 journeys throughout Europe visit insightvacations.com, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.