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  • Camera degli Sposi, Mantua

  • Teatro dell'Antica, Sabbioneta

  • Bologna

  • Mantua

  • Palazzo Te

  • Aerial view of Parma

Fitness / Practicalities
Tour Director

  • Experience the artistic highlights of northern Italy from bases in historical Bologna and Parma, while enjoying the region’s wider cultural and culinary heritage

  • View works of art by the Old Masters, including the superb collection of Bolognese paintings in the Pinacoteca Nazionale

  • Explore fascinating architecture, including churches, cathedrals and Mantua’s sumptuous Palazzo Te, and visit the Renaissance walled town of Sabbioneta

“Andrew Spira was very well informed, and able to pull together the things that we were looking at and demonstrate how artistic trends developed. I couldn’t have wished for better”

- ACE customer on a previous tour to Bologna, Mantua & Parma with Andrew Spira

This navigation of northern Italy will immerse travellers in the cultural splendours of Bologna and Parma, enriched by wider excursions to the city of Mantua and the walled Renaissance town of Sabbioneta, home to outstanding art and architecture.


Our tour begins in Bologna, the world’s oldest university city, which has attracted cultural thinkers since Dante and Petrarch and today continues to foster a spirit of intellectual curiosity and vibrancy.


From a base in the historical heart of the city, we will explore some of Bologna’s architectural icons, including the Gothic Basilica di San Petronio, originally intended to dwarf St Peter’s in Rome, and the lavish Basilica di San Domenico, a Renaissance showpiece that preserves the delicately crafted tomb of the eponymous saint. The Pinacoteca Nazionale is not only a treasure trove of Bolognese and Emilian paintings, but is considered one of Italy’s most important galleries, housing works by leading Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque artists including Raphael, Titian and Guercino amongst others.


Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, renowned for its culinary heritage. The region has a long tradition of producing foodstuffs with a Protected Designation of Origin, including Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (balsamic vinegar), mortadella and prosciutto di Parma. Autumn is notable for bringing a bounty of porcini mushrooms and chestnuts, making this an ideal time to sample the cuisine.


Progressing from Bologna to Parma, also home to one of the oldest universities in the world, we will learn about one of the area’s most famous gastronomic exports with an en-route visit to a Parmesan cheese-maker near Modena. We will enjoy a tour and a tasting at the 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia factory, described as a ‘cathedral of Parmesans’.


Founded by the Romans, the city of Parma was built on the Via Emilia, an important trade route, and we will devote time to exploring its fascinating history and culture. The Romanesque octagonal Baptistery is crowned with sculptures by Benedetto Antelami, whilst the cupola of the 11th century cathedral is acclaimed for its masterful ceiling frescoes by Correggio. In the imposing Palazzo della Pilotta, meanwhile, we will find the Galleria Nazionale, containing paintings by Murillo and Parmigianino.


A day excursion to Mantua – which only joined the kingdom of Italy in 1866 – will offer an opportunity to explore the famed Renaissance Palazzo Te, notable for its sumptuous decorations by Giulio Romano. Moreover, the Palazzo Ducale, once the stronghold of the Gonzaga family, is today home to majestic works by Rubens and Mantegna.


The final highlight of our tour will be an excursion to the walled town of Sabbioneta. A uniquely preserved example of Renaissance town planning, it demonstrates how the ideal of rational order became manifest not only in paintings, sculptures and buildings, but in the urban environment itself. Mostly constructed in the late 16th century, the town has its own Ducal Palace, now the Town Hall, and is home to the Palazzo Giardino, a richly decorated villa. Sabbioneta also features one of only three surviving examples of a Renaissance theatre, which we will compare with that in Parma, and a rare 19th century synagogue.


Our explorations of these historical centres will be complemented by lectures given by our Tour Director, providing participants with a rich and detailed understanding of the cultural heritage of this delightful part of Italy.


The first three nights of the tour will be spent at the four-star Art Hotel Commercianti, a comfortable and elegant property located in a restored 12th century former town hall just a few steps from the Basilica of San Petronio, in a pedestrianised part of Bologna’s historical centre. The final three nights will be spent at the four-star Hotel Mercure Parma Stendhal, located in Parma’s old town and decorated in a charming and traditional style.


This tour will be led by art historian Andrew Spira, MA. Andrew studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art as well as City University, London. For several years he was a specialist in Byzantine and Russian icons at Temple Gallery, London, before working as a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Andrew was subsequently Programme Director at Christie’s Education. He has been leading tours to cultural sites in Russia, Armenia, Georgia and all across Europe for over 20 years, and looks forward to returning to Emilia-Romagna with another ACE group in 2024.

Tour Code

Included: return airfare, accommodation based on sharing a twin or double bedded room, six breakfasts, one lunch, five dinners with wine, water & coffee, excursions & admissions, gratuities & all taxes.

Not Included: travel insurance, double room for single use supplement £425. Upgraded rooms available in Bologna.

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