Islands of Hesperia
Discover an enchanting yet unfamiliar corner of the Western Mediterranean, enjoying the rich and distinctive history, art and archaeology, excellent local cuisine and spectacular scenery of these two islands.
Begin in Marseille, founded over 2,500 years ago by Phocaean settlers and today the fascinating and cosmopolitan Mediterranean capital of France. Sail to Corsica, the former Genoese island with wild mountains and breathtaking coastline. From the port city of Bastia, travel south via the calanques of the west coast to Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon, ending in Bonifacio, the legendary home of the monstrous Laestrygonians in Homer’s Odyssey.
Just across the sea is Sardinia, another beautiful island with an intriguing ancient bronze age civilisation, the Nuraghic peoples, who have left behind great stone constructions and exquisite bronze statues. The island offers wonderful landscapes and coastlines, elegant cities, churches and museums, squares to relax with a coffee or an aperitif and plenty of fine local cuisine.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Arrive in Marseille in the late morning and make your own way to the hotel. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
In the afternoon, join Christopher and fellow travellers for an orientation walk and a welcome dinner.
Begin your exploration of Marseille with a walking tour of the historic centre. Walk through the heart of the old Panier quarter with its narrow streets, artisans’ shops and terraced houses, the centrepiece being the Vieille Charité, a former alms-house, now functioning as a museum and cultural centre. A morning stop at a local café before heading to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation. Opened in 2013, the institution is split across two dramatically contrasting sites, linked by a foot-bridge. On one side sits Fort St-Jean, founded in the 13th century by the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem and later rebuilt by Louis XIV; and on the other side the contemporary new museum ‘a shoebox with breathtaking lace’ skin’ designed by Algerian-born architect Rudy Ricciotti.
This afternoon, transfer to the port in time for your overnight Mediterranean ferry crossing to Corsica.
Wake up to the sounds of the sea throughout the boat. Early breakfast on board before heading on deck to view the beautiful port town of Bastia on your arrival in Corsica. Begin your exploration with a walk around the Old Port, with its faded charm of narrow streets and alleys, where washing still hangs from ancient shuttered windows in the tall, often almost crumbling, buildings, dating largely from the 18th century. Lunch at a local restaurant.
This afternoon head to the Mariana archaeological site in Lucciana, which presents numerous vestiges from the Roman colony founded around 100 BC to the 12th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. End the day at your hotel in the charming fishing village of Erbalunga.
After a morning talk, time at leisure to explore the small town of Erbalunga.
Early afternoon travel to Calvi via the spectacular Romanesque church of San Michele de Murato. Sitting in a strategic position on the northwest coast Calvi had a turbulent past, having been invaded on numerous occasions. According to local legend, Christopher Columbus may have been born in Calvi, which at the time was part of the Genoese empire, though he may have chosen to conceal the fact because the city had a bad reputation as a centre of subversion.
Morning walking tour of Calvi including the Genoese citadel, a military outpost in the 15th century that helped guard the city against attackers from Franco-Turkish raiders to Anglo-Corsican armies. Enjoy the stunning view of the Bay of Calvi and the Réginu Valley from Notre Dame de la Serra.
Lunch and afternoon at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Depart for Ajaccio via the calanques and the coastal town of Piana. Travelling down Corsica’s west coast is an unspoilt landscape of mountainous red and grey granite outcrops separated by huge swathes of pines and eucalyptus trees. Lunch at leisure in Piana. Afternoon arrival in Ajaccio.
After a morning talk enjoy a walking tour of the historic centre including Place Foch, once the site of its medieval gate, Maison Bonaparte, the birthplace of Napoleon, as well as the cathedral. Then visit the Musée Fesch, constructed for Cardinal Fesch, a maternal uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte, with the intention of accommodating an Arts and Sciences Institute. Born in Ajaccio in 1763, the Cardinal died in Rome, leaving a legacy of more than a thousand paintings to his native town. The museum’s most prestigious collections are the Italian Primitives, Roman Baroque Painting and Neapolitan Baroque Painting. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure.
Depart Ajaccio and travel south to Bonifacio via the prehistoric site of Filitosa. Only discovered in 1946, Filitosa has a magnificent array of prehistoric menhirs and statues with the hard granite carved into human representations. Lunch at leisure in the hilltop town of Sartène.
Continue to Bonifacio, which has managed to preserve its ancient character thanks to its stunning geological situation. Bonifacio is a sheltered port protected by a fortified town perched on high chalk cliffs and surrounded by stupendously impregnable walls. Some believe that the giant cannibalistic Laestrygonians described in Homer’s Odyssey may refer to Bonifacio’s early inhabitants (7th century BC). Bonifacio fits Homer’s description of an excellent harbour closed in on all sides by an unbroken ring of precipitous cliffs, with a narrow channel in between. Enjoy a short guided tour of the upper town.
Leaving Corsica, travel by ferry across the strait of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the small Italian port town of Santa Teresa di Gallura.
After a stop for lunch head to Alghero, pausing along the way at the Basilica della Santissima Trinità di Saccargia, the most important Romanesque church on the island. Construction was completed in 1116 in local black basalt stone and white limestone, in a style recalling the Tuscan Romanesque. Abandoned in the 16th century, the church was restored and reopened in the early 20th century. Late afternoon arrival in Alghero.
After a morning talk leave for Porto Torres, among the most important little towns in the north of Sardinia, and home to one of the island’s largest archaeological complexes. The Roman colony of Turris Lybissonis was founded in the 2nd century BC on an area long inhabited by earlier peoples, and numerous Nuraghic monuments are found in the vicinity. Also visit the Basilica of San Gavino, the island’s largest Romanesque church.
Travel on to Sassari, Sardinia’s second largest city. Since its origins at the turn of the 12th century – when Porto Torres, subject to constant attacks by Saracen pirates, became uninhabitable – Sassari has been ruled by the Giudicato of Torres, the Pisans, the Sassaresi themselves in alliance with Genoa, the Aragonese and the Spanish, all of whom have contributed to the city’s historical and artistic heritage. Sassari is rich in art, culture and history, and well known for its beautiful palazzi, the Fountain of the Rosello, and its elegant neoclassical architecture. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and an afternoon walking tour. Late afternoon return to Alghero.
Morning transfer from Alghero to Oristano, driving down the coastal road and stopping in the village of Bosa. Surrounded by high plateaux on one side and a deep river below, the vineyards of the famous amber-coloured Malvasia wine are the setting for the old town where it is still possible to see old women intent on weaving Bosa filet using looms to embroider traditional designs. Another traditional activity is the manufacture of gold filigree.
After lunch in Bosa head to the Nuraghic site of the Valle dei Nuraghi (Santu Antine) and then on to Oristano.
This morning discover the monumental ‘giants’ excavated at Monte Prama in the Museo Civico of Cabras. Then explore the nearby archaeological site of Tharros. Once a coastal city founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC on the site of a former Nuraghic village (there are remains of a tophet, an open-air sacred place typical of Phoenician settlements), it was occupied by the Romans and successive populations until, like Porto Torres, pirate raids made it uninhabitable, and the population moved inland to found the city of Oristano.
After lunch, view some of the colourful murales typical of Oristano before returning to your hotel. Remainder of the day at leisure.
Depart Oristano for Cagliari via the church of San Pietro at Tuili, with a wonderful altarpiece by the Maestro di Castelsardo, a Renaissance master active on the island from the late 15th century.
Continue to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Su Nuraxi di Barumini. The complex at Barumini, which was extended and reinforced in the first half of the 1st millennium under Carthaginian pressure, is the finest and most complete example of this remarkable form of prehistoric architecture. Explore the Casa Zapata, which preserves newly-brought-to-light archaeological excavations and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Late afternoon arrival in Cagliari. The largest city in Sardinia and the capital of the island which DH Lawrence, arriving here in the 1920s, compared to Jerusalem: “…strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.”
Following a morning talk, enjoy a walking tour of Cagliari. Begin in Piazza del Carmine (the Forum during Roman times) to admire the ruins of Tigellio’s villa. Head to the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, then continue into the medieval district of Castello, the cathedral restored in the 1930s to replace its Baroque façade with a more authentic medieval style and the city’s original Bell Tower.
This afternoon visit the Sardinian Archaeological Museum, the most important museum of the Nuraghic civilisation. Pass by some of the old artisan workshops along the narrow lanes, and end with a beautiful view over Cagliari from the Bastion of Saint Remy.
Tonight celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Tour arrangements conclude with a transfer to Cagliari airport for suggested late afternoon Lufthansa flights to Australia via Munich and Singapore. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including additional nights’ accommodation either before or after the tour.
Per person, twin-share
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Final payment due
26 July 2022
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa for Italy or France.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 3- and 4-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including wines with dinners
- Talks and discussions with your tour leader, Christopher Allen
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Hotel/airport transfer on departure if using group transfer
- Gratuities for local guides, drivers and wait staff
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport/hotel transfer on arrival
- Airport porterage
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, mini-bar, room service, taxis etc.)
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Marseille – Radisson Blu Marseille Vieux Port****
Erbalunga – Hotel Castel Brando****
Calvi – Hotel L’Acquale****
Ajaccio – Hotel Les Mouettes****
Bonifacio – Hotel Solemare***
Alghero – Smy Carlos V Wellness & Spa*****
Oristano – Hotel Mistral2****
Cagliari – T Hotel Cagliari****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.