Story and photos by Tom Weber
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.
Appropriately, it is here in the "Eternal
City," where once upon a time all roads lead to her, that my "Country
Roads" journey of Umbria and Tuscany, as a guest of Insight
Vacations (Insight), begins.
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
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
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 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 just click HERE,
or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Roads, Italy; Rome:
Basics for Beginners; Vatican
The City of Palladio; Vicenza
Walks: Piazza dei Signori