Islands of Hesperia
Discover an enchanting yet unfamiliar corner of the western Mediterranean overflowing with a rich history, spectacular scenery and unique island charm.
Begin in Sardinia, home of the intriguing ancient Bronze Age civilisation of the Nuragic 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.
Just across the sea is Corsica, another beautiful island with wild mountains and breath-taking coastline dotted with towers to guard against pirate attacks in days gone by. From Bonifacio, the legendary home of the monstrous Laestrygonians in Homer’s Odyssey, travel north via Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon, through the Parc Naturel Regional de Corse and the calanques of the west coast, to the port city of Bastia.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Suggested departure from Australia on Qatar Airways flights to Barcelona via Doha, connecting with a flight to Cagliari.
Arrive in Cagliari this afternoon on suggested flights and make your own way to the hotel. This evening, join Christopher and your fellow tour members for a welcome briefing and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.
Begin the morning with a talk by Christopher before embarking on a walking tour of the city. Attend the Easter processions, including the traditional S’Incontru (The Meeting), where statues of the Madonna and the Resurrected Christ are paraded through the streets, and visit some of Cagliari’s historic sites.
Enjoy time at leisure in the Piazza Yenne, the heart of the old city, for lunch and to explore the surrounding boutiques.
This afternoon visit the Sardinia Archaeological Museum, the most important collection of artefacts relating to the ancient Nuragic civilisation. Then depart on a panoramic coach tour of the stunning Sardinian coastline, followed by dinner in a local restaurant.
This morning take a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site Su Nuraxi di Barumini. The defensive complex at Barumini, which was extended and reinforced in the first half of the 1st millennium in response to Carthaginian threats, is the finest and most complete example of this remarkable form of prehistoric architecture. Enjoy lunch in the Barumini town centre before meeting at the nearby Casa Zapata, built over a Nuragic fort in the 16th century and today a museum in which one can look down through a glass floor onto the remarkably well-preserved archaeological remains.
On the way to Oristano stop in Tuili and see the 16th century church, Chiesa di San Pietro Apostolo, which features altarpieces by Maestro di Castelsardo, which are considered the best artistic expressions of the Italian High Renaissance in Sardinia.
Enjoy dinner at a restaurant in Oristano’s animated and elegant central piazza.
This morning visit the Museo Cabra, whose collection includes the immense stone Giants of Monte Prama, before enjoying a lunch of fresh seafood by the lagoon of Cabras.
After lunch, explore the nearby archaeological site of Tharros. The site was once a coastal city founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BCE on the site of a former Nuragic village and the remains of a tophet, an open-air sacred place typical of Phoenician settlements, can still be seen today. Tharros was occupied by the Romans and successive populations until pirate raids made the city uninhabitable and the inhabitants moved inland to found the city of Oristano.
After lunch return to the hotel and enjoy the remainder of the afternoon at leisure.
Today travel from Oristano to Alghero via the coastal road, stopping in the picturesque village of Bosa. Surrounded by the high plateau on one side and a deep river below, the vineyards of the famous amber-coloured Malvasia wine are the backdrop for the old town. Take a walking tour of the town and learn about the local crafts of weaving fine filigree lacework, which is used to embroider traditional designs, and the interesting manufacturing process of gold filigree.
After lunch at leisure in Bosa, head to the Nuragic site of the Valle dei Nuragi and then continue to medieval Alghero, Sardinia’s most beautiful medieval city. The town once thrived under Iberian rulers, and a quarter of the population retains Catalan as a language spoken daily.
After a morning talk, depart for Porto Torres, home to one of the island’s largest archaeological complexes. The Roman colony of Turris Lybissonis was founded in the 2nd Century BCE on an area long inhabited by Nuragic peoples, whose numerous monuments can be found in the vicinity. Sites of archaeological interest include the remains of the thermal baths, known since the Middle Ages as the ‘Palazzo of Re Barbaro’ and the Museum.
Continue to Sassari, Sardinia’s second-largest city, and enjoy lunch at leisure before taking a walking tour of the old city. 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.
En route back to Alghero pass by the 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.
Return to the hotel for the evening at leisure.
Today travel from Alghero to Santa Teresa via the fortified hillside town of Castelsardo. The Castello dei Doria sits atop the town and houses the Museo dell’ Intreccio del Mediterraneo, a museum for the local handicraft of basket-weaving.
Continue on to Santa Teresa di Gallura and then depart Sardinia by ferry, across the strait of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Corsican port town of Bonifacio. This town has managed to preserve its ancient character thanks to its geological situation; Bonifacio is a sheltered port protected by a fortified town perched on high white cliffs and surrounded by impregnable walls. Some believe that the giant cannibalistic Laestrygonians described in Homer’s Odyssey may refer to Bonifacio’s early inhabitants in the 7th Century BCE, since the city 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.
Arrive at the hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy the evening at leisure overlooking the picturesque harbour.
This morning take a seafaring excursion and view Bonifacio from the water. Marvel at the buildings perched high atop of chalk-white limestone and look for the staircase of the King of Aragon carved out of the sheer cliff. Sail through a low passageway in the cliff that leads to a large cave where an opening in the roof of the grotto provides natural sunlight.
Return to the town centre and walk up into the old walled city and along the clifftop Sentier des Douaniers and back into the city to watch the magnificent sunset. Visit the centuries-old convent, an ancient cemetery for mariners and the church of St Dominique. Stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets and climb the same steps taken by Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles V.
Enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the old city.
Today, drive from Bonifacio to the quintessentially Corsican town of Sartène. Once notorious for banditry, the grey granite houses and endearingly ramshackle houses encapsulate the island’s rugged spirit.
After lunch at leisure, drive north to the prehistoric site of Filitosa. Only discovered in 1946, Filitosa has an impressive and enigmatic array of prehistoric menhirs and statues made of hard granite carved into human representations.
Continue to Ajaccio, the town made famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1769. The city is dotted with sites and monuments, from his childhood home to seafront statues, museums and street names related to the great French Emperor. Enjoy a guided visited of Maison Bonaparte before dinner at the hotel.
This morning, after a talk by Christopher, walk from the hotel to the Place Foch for a walking tour on the history of Ajaccio. Abandoned during the 15th century, the rocky promontory of Capo di Bollo was chosen as the site for the new town by the Republic of Genoa. About a hundred Genoese and Ligurian citizens, the Bonapartes among them, were sent to Corsica to colonise it and to set up a new port to provide protection along the sea route to the mainland.
After lunch at leisure visit the Musée Fesch, with its impressive collection of Italian Renaissance, Roman Baroque and Neapolitan Baroque paintings. The museum was constructed for Cardinal Fesch, a maternal uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte, in order to accommodate 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.
Return to the hotel in the late afternoon before enjoying dinner in the pastel-hued, historic city centre.
Before travelling north to the town of Porto, visit the slender promontory of Pointe de la Parata. Wander through the park to see its expansive sea views of the glittering Mediterranean and catch a glimpse of the Îles Sanguinaires (Bloody Islands), named for the crimson-coloured rocks which today form a wildlife sanctuary.
Then, enjoy lunch accompanied by a tasting of Corsican wine unique to the hills above Ajaccio.
After lunch, travel through the spectacular inland mountains and gorges of the Parc Naturel Regional de Corse to the Calanques, dramatic coastal rock formations, and the seaside town of Pina.
Arrive in Porto and enjoy the evening at leisure.
Today, travel along the breath-taking coastline and rugged mountain ranges to Calvi. Calvi’s strategic position on the northwest coast has led to a turbulent history, and the city has withstood numerous invasions over the centuries by nations wishing to gain the upper-hand in battle. 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 reputation as a centre for political subversion.
After lunch in Calvi’s old city, take a walking tour and visit the central medieval citadel.
Return to the hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.
This morning attend a traditional basket-weaving demonstration at the studio of a local artist before visiting the Notre Dame de la Serra, famous for its panoramic views overlooking the vast moon-shaped bay of Calvi and the Réginu Valley.
Enjoy the afternoon at leisure to explore the medieval citadel at your own pace before attending a talk by Christopher in the evening. Dinner will be at a restaurant in the old city.
Today, head across the mountains from Calvi to Bastia on a dramatic drive across the northern peninsula of the island, stopping at unique coastal and mountain-top towns along the Cap Corse. Cliffs and crags are interspersed with sweeping views of sandy beaches, while bell towers peek out from densely forested hillsides. Follow the corniche road to the harbourside town of Saint-Florent, where locals play boule in the central square, and travel up into the vertiginous granite landscape where Genoese watchtowers and windmills pepper the hilltops.
Arrive in Erbalunga on the outskirts of Bastia town and check in to the hotel before enjoying a special farewell dinner with Christopher and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
Check out of the hotel and depart for Bastia Airport in the morning for flights to Nice before connecting with suggested international flights with Qatar Airways via Doha in the afternoon.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Final payment due
11 February 2020
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness levels 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); wine with dinners
- Talks and discussions with your tour leader
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, drinks, room service etc.
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Transfers on arrival and departure
- Airport porterage
Cagliari – Regina Margherita Hotel ****
Oristano – Mistral 2 Hotel ****
Alghero – Hotel Carlos V ****
Bonifacio – Solemare Hotel ***
Ajaccio – Hotel Les Mouettes****
Porto – Hôtel Les Flots Bleus ***
Calvi – Hostellerie De L’Abbaye ****
Bastia – Hotel Castel Brando ****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.