Five Must See/Do at Venice Carnival

February 28, 2017

Venice Carnival Party Cruise

Cast away on a traditional Venetian galleon and experience the wildest time of the year on board a vessel from another time.  These replicas are built following the unique shape of the ancient galleons of the Venice Republic launched between the 16th and 19th centuries.  The Venetian galleon now offers an original venue for special events and occasions. Comfort and modern amenities are combined with the history of the vessel to offer guests an experience of great charm, cruising to discover Venice and its beautiful lagoon.

The Best Masked Costume Contest

Do you want to parade in St. Mark's Square with your masked costume?

Hundreds of people parade on stage, defying each other by fantasy strokes and costumes, masks and wigs, feathers and caps in the double daily appointment.

St. Mark's Square - VANITY Affair

From February 18 - 28, during Carnival 2017, St. Mark's Square will be transformed into a great crafts' laboratory. The Square will become a stage where Venice will show her skills in gondolas and oars' construction, masks and customs' production. The very heart of the city will be not only the traditional stage used for the Fly of Angel, of Eagle and Svolo del Leon. The Square will be full of people not only for the Maria's parade and the best mask's competition. But also it's going to host some Venetian artisans in a fabulous setting just in front of Correr Museum and between the two Ali Napoleoniche in order to recreate the Serenissima Republic's atmosphere.

Ballad of the Masks with the "Beheading of the Bull"

The cultural association "L'Arte dei Mascareri" organizes and promotes the third edition of the Ballad of the Masks, this year with 2 parades.

This will be an interpretation of the legend of "Giovedì Grasso" of the year 1162, the day of the celebration of the victory upon the Patriarch Ulrico of Aquileia and his twelve rebel lords. To remember the attempting rebellion, every year the successors of Ulrico must send to the Doge of Venice a bull, twelve breads and twelve pigs. The bull is a symbol for the Patriarch and the pigs for the lords. They were shown to the people in the square, mocked and then the bull was beheaded. This is the origin of the Venetian proverb "To cut the bull's head" (Tagliar la testa al toro). Then the animals were butchered and cooked, and all the Venetians could eat their meat.

Parties and Balls

In the days of Carnival the great palaces of Venice host the most luxurious and unique costume parties.  Exclusive events and of great historical and artistic value where elegance and style come together in the transgression.

The central frame of each show is of course Piazza San Marco. Here you can see the many events that enrich the program each year, such as the Angel's Flight, in which a secret guest bravely takes flight from the Bell Tower, or the historical Parade of the Doge, or the Parade of the Maries. This festival pays homage to an ancient tradition that the Doge would pick twelve maidens of humble origins, providing them with a dowry for their marriage. The twelve Marie accompany traditional carnival groups, flag wavers, musicians and all participants dress in period costune, starting the journey from San Pietro di Castello to Piazza San Marco. The next day, the parade of girls you choose the most beautiful "Mary of the Year."

Of course, the most sought-after parties are those that take place in the palaces , rich furnishings and atmosphere of a time that seems to have stopped, suitable environments to evoke the magic of sumptuous gala and refined, the magnificent masquerade balls.

The most regal is the Ballo del Doge. An elegant and worldly happenings, where vip guests from every country hide their identities for one night under a mask and a costume of the Venetian tradition. The ball, hosted at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta and produced by Antonia Sautter, reached the XXIV edition whose topic is still secret... After the welcome cocktail, dinner placé takes place in the halls of the palace, with artistic performances, dances and melodies that penetrate into the wee hours of the morning.

Romance in Italy

February 14, 2017

Valentine's Days is a holiday that dates to the Roman Empire to celebrate the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses, Juno.  This ancient Roman tradition lives on in the 21st century!

To celebrate the lover's holiday, Italians gift elaborate floral arrangements, plan intimate dinners and present each other with exquisite chocolates, much like we do in the United States.

Italy is home to a myriad of Romantic destination getaways!  We are proposing three of the top spots to celebrate Valentine's Day this year with your significant other!

1.   Rome

 Secure your eternal love, the Roman way!  Set over the Tiber in northern Rome, Ponte Milvio Bridge is an institution among Roman lovers. The ritual involves couples locking a padlock, token of love, to a lamppost set on the bridge, then throwing the key behind them into the Tiber River. 

2.     Florence

Florence is an ideal romantic getaway  for all  sweethearts. A candlelit dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, or a stroll along  Piazzale Michelangelo to take in the  breathtaking view of the city will transform your night into the perfect Valentine's memory!

3. Venice

The Serene Republic of  Venice is the perfect place to celebrate a week of  romance. Couples can renew their love vows in Verona, the City of Romeo and Juliet, dance in St. Mark's Square and hold hands while walking over the Bridge of Sighs. Perhaps enjoy a private gondola ride down the beautiful canals. For a different perspective, a lagoon island cruise  makes for a super-romantic day trip.  There's Murano, home of Murano Glass artisans, Burano, with its lace making shops, and Torcello adorned with colorful patrician homes.

Bargain Fares to Italy in 2017!

February 4, 2017

Flying to Europe is cheaper and easier than it has been for decades. New travel routes, the expansion of discount airlines, lower fuel prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar against European currencies are driving down prices, according to Forbes.


"It's cheaper to ski in Europe than Aspen or Vail," Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of the European Travel Commission stated in a recent interview.


If you haven't already heard, $69 flights from the United States to Europe are the hottest travel news of 2017, says Travel + Leisure.


"The weak Euro and British Pound mean that fewer people will be flying from the United Kingdom and Europe to the United States, so those empty seats must be filled by consumers flying from the U.S. to Europe and back," Airfare Watchdog President George Hobica told Travel + Leisure. That said, expect low fares, however early reservations are strongly recommended for as demand increases, so will prices.  The Early Bird gets the worm!


Take advantage of these early bird savings when booking your 2017 vacation with Donna Franca Tours.  Although prices are continuously fluctuating, we recently found fares from Boston to Rome for as low as $539.00  in March, from Philadelphia to Rome from $572.00 in April, from New York to Rome starting at $591.00 in February and from Miami to Rome for just $544.00 in July!  Hurry, these fares are in constant flux and are subject to change." 


For booking information, contact 1-800-225-6290 or email  For a list of our 2017 vacation prices please click HERE.

Italian Hotel of the Month: Castello di Casole in Tuscany

January 30, 2017

The Castello di Casole has been selected as the "Number 1 Resort in Europe" and "Number 2 Hotel in the World" in the Travel + Leisure's 2013 World's Best Awards.

This sprawling 4,200-acre estate resort is located in the heart of Tuscany, just 45 minutes from Florence and is surrounded by gentle rolling hills, lush vineyards and fragrant olive groves. 

A cypress-lined road leads to the main building of this pristine Tuscan estate, a restored castle that dates back to the 10th century. Now owned by Timber Resorts, the Castello di Casole was once the home of film director Luchino Visconti and hosted countless Hollywood luminaries. The 41 rustic-luxe suites range in size and style but retain an Old World feel throughout, with oil paintings, local antiques, wood-beamed ceilings, and reclaimed terracotta. The Essere Spa, set in what was once the estate's wine cellar, offers an array of treatments including the hotel's signature massages with orange and basil essential oils. Be sure to leave plenty of time for lounging on the pool terrace to take in the expansive views of the surrounding Tuscan hillside (and perhaps a glass or two of the estate's private label wine).

To book your stay here, contact one of our sales agents.   Please visit our hotels page for more details.


Getting Married? Celebrate your Dream Wedding in Rome!

January 28, 2017

Italy offers the best things in life: Romance, eno-gastronomic excellence, magnificent landscapes, quality accommodations and more than two thousand years of history.

Why not celebrate your wedding in Rome?   Blessed year round with a mild climate, great food, world class wines and La Dolce Vita lifestyle, the Eternal City offers a great venue at a surprisingly affordable price.

You may have considered Italy for your wedding, renewal of vows ceremony, family reunions celebrating special events, but hesitated thinking that the costs were out of sight.  We would like to prove to you otherwise!

Donna Franca Tours has designed a special Wedding Package in 2017 to Rome.  Enjoy four glorious days and three amazing nights in the Capital of the World, with impeccable service, delicious food, Italian Culture and over a millennium of tradition.

Included Features:  

  • Round trip private limousine transfer from Rome Fiumicino Airport to your centrally located hotel
  • Three (3) night accommodations at the superior first class Hotel Quirinale, a magnificent historic property in the historic center of the city, walk to the Colosseum and Via Veneto , in a superior double room
  • An amazingly rich Buffet breakfast daily
  • Bride & Groom enjoy complimentary accommodations and upgrade to a junior suite for three (3) nights
  • One (1) half day city tour of Ancient & Imperial Rome including prepaid admission to the Colosseum with skip the line access
  • Gala Wedding Lunch or Dinner Party including the Bridal Wedding Cake and drinks

View all of our deals here.

Donna Franca's Winter Soup Recipe: MINESTRA DI FARRO ALLA GARFINIANA

January 25, 2017
Warm up with this tasty hot Italian soup!
* 200 g rams of beans "written" or dried beans (500 g rams if fresh) 
* 200 grams of spelt
* 50 grams cold pressed virgin olive oil 
* 150 grams of  Cardoso lard 
* 2 ripe tomatoes 
* 1 celery stalk 
* 1 small onion 
* 1 carrot 
* 1 garlic clove
* 1 sprig of sage (OK dried)
* 1 sprig of rosemary (OK dried)
* salt & pepper to taste
Boil the fresh beans in hot water for about an hour, and if using dry ones, after letting them soak 12 hours, boil them for about three hours, drain and set aside the broth. In a pan heat the oil and saute' for 30 minutes the bacon, tomatoes (peeled and with the seeds removed), the celery, onion, carrot, garlic, sage, rosemary all well chopped to a fine consistency, salt and pepper. Then add the cooked beans, stir and blend. Rinse the spelt under running water very well. Pour the broth of the beans in a saucepan and cook the spelt under moderate heat for at least an hour. Transfer the soup into a bowl and serve with plenty of freshly ground pepper and one or two rounds of  cold pressed virgin olive oil.    Buon appetito!


2017 Special: Italian Fever- $1,599

January 18, 2017

Happy New Year! One of our most popular vacation packages for 2017 is our Italian Fever vacation.  This innovative 9 days/8 nights Italian Fever itinerary will feature the Three Cultural Capitals of Italy: Rome, Florence, and Venice with visits to Pompeii, Naples, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and the Chianti District.

Our  select centrally located hotels in Rome, Florence and Venice offer exceptional accommodations convenient to visiting the city's historic treasures.

Included Features:  

Eight nights' accommodation in  select centrally located hotels

Buffet breakfast daily, hotel tax and service

Airport transfer by private car and driver

VIP luggage assistance at Rome Termini Rail Station and at Florence SM Novella Rail Station

Private arrival and departure motor boat transfers in Venice with assistance and porterage 

Round trip rail station transfers by private car and driver

First class rail service from Rome to Florence and from Florence to Venice

Lunch in Pompeii

Typical lunch and wine tasting at a family-run estate in Chianti

Rome collective guided sightseeing including the Colosseum,  the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Pompeii, and Naples 

Florence collective guided sightseeing including the Accademia with Michelangelo's "David," Siena, San Gimignano

Venice collective guided sightseeing includes Basilica San Marco and Doge's Palace

View all of our deals here.


December 23, 2016

Donna Franca Tours is pleased to announce the release of our 2017 collection of unique travel experiences.  Our new brochure offers  a variety of suggested itineraries, all of which may be customized to create your ideal Italian vacation.  We offer unique cultural experiences throughout Italy and Sicily such as wine tasting, hands-on cooking classes and off the beaten path adventures. Please click on this link to receive your personal copy.   

An Italian Christmas Tradition: Nativity Displays

December 22, 2016

Italy is home to some of the most beautiful and intricate Nativity displays. Mangers can be found in churches, squares, shops, and other public areas. Displays often go beyond the manger scene and may even include a representation of the entire village.The mangers are usually put on display on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, through January 6, Epiphany, and some are unveiled on Christmas Eve.Most Italians set up a Christmas crib in their house and figurines for nativity scenes are made in many parts of Italy, with some of the best coming from Naples and Sicily.The Baby Jesus figurine is added on Christmas Eve.

Here are some of the best places to see Navity Displays:

Naples is the best city to visit for their Christmas mangers. Hundreds of nativity scenes are erected throughout the city. Some creches are very elaborate and may be handmade or use antique figures. 

In Vatican City a huge manger is constructed in Saint Peter's Square for Christmas that is usually unveiled on Christmas Eve. A Christmas Eve mass is held in Saint Peter's Square at 10PM.

In Rome some of the biggest and most elaborate mangers are found in Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Euclide, Santa Maria in Trastevere, and Santa Maria d'Aracoeli, on the Capitoline Hill.   A life-size nativity scene is also set up in Piazza Navona where a Christmas market is also held. The Church of Saints Cosma e Damiano, by the main entrance to the Roman Forum, has a large nativity scene on display all year.

Verona has an international display of nativities in the huge Roman Arena through January.

Jesolo, which is close to Venice, offers sand sculpture nativity scenes made by top international artists. It takes place daily in Piazza Marconi through mid-January. Donations are used to fund charitable projects.

Manarola in Cinque Terre has a unique ecological nativity powered by solar energy.

Custonaci, a small town near Trapani in Sicily, has a beautiful nativity scene re-enacted inside a cave. A tiny town was buried in the cave by a landslide in the 1800's. The cave has been excavated and now serves as a setting for the interesting live nativity events December 25-26 and early January.



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