Italian Court Cities

Prices from £1,595


10 Jun 2019 - 14 Jun 2019
Duration: 4 nights
Ref: 19LAHS
With: Dr Geoffrey Nuttall


Prices from £1,595
Single Supplement: £180
Deposit: £200

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The rise of the Italian city-state during the Renaissance defines a period of paradoxical contrast. Although scourged by often tyrannical rule and frequent territorial warfare, the great ruling dynasties of the period, among them the Montefeltro, Malatesta, d’Este, Sforza and Gonzaga families, enabled through their patronage a flowering of artistic, intellectual and architectural ambition that gave birth to some of the most splendid examples of art and architecture of the Renaissance period.

In association with the London Art History Society, this tour is now open for our clients and will explore the cultural flourishing of a swathe of Northern Italian court cities – among them handsome Ferrara, which retains its dignified and spacious Renaissance proportions, picturesque Urbino, and romantic Mantua, known by locals as La Bella Addormentata, the sleeping beauty. The tour will bring to life these vibrant cities, and the fierce rivalries between their noble families which served to stimulate the urban expression of Renaissance ideals.


After a career in academic publishing, Geoffrey Nuttall gained a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art for research into the artistic patronage of Lucca’s great mercantile families. Now he combines lecturing with writing and tour managing.

DAY 1:

Morning flight at with BA from London Heathrow to Bologna. Transfer by private coach to Ferrara, our base for the first two nights of the tour and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An introductory walking tour will familiarise us with the ambitions of the Este dynasty, which transformed the former mediaeval citadel into a Renaissance jewel. It was the vision of Ercole I d’Este (1431-1505) to expand the city, commissioning Baggio Rossetti to draft a new masterplan – the resulting Herculean Addition is today considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance urban planning in existence. Our stroll will take in many of the city’s most splendid buildings, from the Palazzo dei Diamanti, so named because of the 8,500 carved marble ‘diamonds’ that cover the building’s surface, to the imposing, moated Castello Estense. In the evening, we enjoy a group dinner.

DAY 2:

All-day coach excursion to ducal Mantua whose handsome monuments are the result of the princely patronage of the Gonzada family. The massive Palazzo Ducale, with Mantegna’s spectacularly frescoed Camera degli Sposi, brings us closer to the Gonzagas, as does their fashionable suburban retreat, the Palazzo Te, the masterpiece of architect Giulio Romano. We will also visit the Christian temple of San Andrea, designed by Renaissance humanist and architect Leonbattista Alberti, a ground-breaking example of Early Renaissance church architecture. Return to Ferrara for an evening free for your own relaxation.

DAY 3:

By coach to Cesena, where the Biblioteca Malatestiana, created for Domenico Malatesta, stands as one of the great Renaissance libraries. This unique foundation – the first civic library in Europe – has preserved its appearance and codices since its opening in 1454. Onwards to Rimini, where two Roman roads, the Via Flaminia and the Via Emilia, ended. The Roman colony’s significance manifests itself in monuments such as the Triumphal Arch of Augustus. From the 13th century, Rimini was ruled by the Malatesta until annexed by Venice in 1503 and, finally, the Papal States in 1528. Evidence of former Malatesta glory is found in the Church of San Francesco, or ‘Temple Malatestiano’, designed by Leonbattista Alberti, with interior decorations by Agostino di Duccio and Piero della Francesca, and the Castel Sismondo, supposedly designed by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini from 1432. Continue to Urbino, our base for the last two nights of this tour. After checking into our four-star hotel, a free evening for independent dinner.

DAY 4:

A day on foot in Urbino will allow us to discover the delights of the Palazzo Ducale, one of the great buildings of the Italian Quattrocento, the work of Luciano Laurana, collaborator of Leonbattista in Mantua, and the multi-talented Sienese painter, sculptor and architect Francesco di Giorgio. The palace is home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, a magnificent collection of works by Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, and Raphael. The Oratorio di San Giovanni, our second visit of the day, is beautifully frescoed in an International Gothic Style and is a further feast for the eyes. In the evening, we enjoy a farewell group dinner.

DAY 5:

Morning visit to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, ruled successively by the Malatesta, the Sforza and the della Rovere. The focus of our visit will be the city’s handsome Palazzo; the present structure was commissioned during the 15th century by Alessandro Sforza but was much revised and expanded by subsequent ruling families before the passage of the Duchy in 1631 to the Papal States. After lunch, we continue to Bologna airport for an early evening flight back to London Heathrow.


Specific fitness requirements for this Study Tour:

This tour involves a lot of walking, mostly on pavements, but sometimes on uneven ground and up and down steps. Museum and church visits require prolonged periods of standing without the possibility of rest. Coach journeys generally do not exceed one hour.

Please note that all our Study Tours involve a significant amount of standing and walking, often across uneven ground, over cobbled streets, or up and down steps and inclines. While we do not have an upper age limit for participants, we require you to have a level of fitness which does not spoil other participants' enjoyment of the holiday and you should be able to walk at a reasonable pace and / or stand for at least thirty minutes without aid or requiring a rest.

If you are in any doubt as to whether a particular tour is suitable for you, please ring us to check before placing your booking.


Twin/double share: £1595 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £180
Price of the tour without flights: £1395 per person
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Scheduled return flights (economy class) with BA between London Heathrow and Bologna
  • Transfers and excursions in Italy by private coach
  • Accommodation and meals as described below
  • One dinner and one lunch
  • Guided visits to monuments and museums listen in the programme
  • Services of the lecturer and tour manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes, and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters


  • Transport between home and London Heathrow
  • Travel insurance. We strongly advise you to be covered by adequate travel insurance

Hotel Annunziata ★★★★

Centrally located in front of the Castello Estense, rooms are furnished in a contemporary style and the hotel features a stylish bar.

Hotel San Domenico ★★★★

A converted 14th century renaissance convent situated opposite the Ducal Palace in the centre of Urbino. The style is elegant and features a monumental courtyard where a number of sculptures by well-known contemporary artists are on display.


  • Air conditioning
  • Satellite TV
  • Minibar
  • WiFi
  • Telephone
  • Safe
  • En suite
  • Hairdryer


This hotel features several areas in which to unwind including the hotels bar, a tv room, wellness centre and reading room.