Matilda and the Medicis

A Private Barge Cruise on Italy’s Po River
plus Florence, Lucca, Mantua, Venice and more

Hosted by Kathleen McGowan

sacred Italy tour

 July 29 to August 8, 2015

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This is a once in a lifetime itinerary with a special culinary deluxe Barge cruise on the River Po that reminds us that Matilda of Canossa ruled all the land we will be visiting,  PLUS a special guest guide in Matilda’s territories – a descendant of the Canossa family!

matilda portrait

Matilda of Canossa

Italy is a country seemingly designed for hotel river barging. Its beautiful canals and rivers pass through diverse landscapes and nature en route. These waterways were once the ancient trade routes used by the Romans and the early Mediterranean settlers before them. They are perfect for gaining a real insight into the arts, architecture and history of the region over many centuries.

Kathleen and MatildaBefore we start our cruising, we will have an unforgettable stay in Florence, the heart of Tuscany, the fountainhead of the renaissance; city of Dante, Boccaccio Botticelli and da Vinci.  Even your hotel in Florence is special, as it is the setting of The Poet Prince, as well as where Kathleen wrote parts of both The Book of Love and The Poet Prince.

There will be a tour to Lucca with visits to settings in The Book of Love, and a very special program in the fantastic Mantua region, where much of Matilda’s story takes place.

Our cruise concludes in Venice,   the jewel in the crown of any Italian visit as we enjoy this amazing Renaissance city’s architecture as we venture inside some of the buildings to discover the gorgeous (and heretical?) works of Tintoretto, who depicted women in his scenes of The Last Supper, and other Italian masters who painted the truth in their art.

All this PLUS special seminars with Kathleen as she talks about the many places featured in the Book of Love, and the teachings in the Book itself. This is a very limited tour (only 20 participants) and is expected to sell out immediately with Kathleen’s former Sacred France passengers who want to do join her on a remarkable journey (alumni get first option before it goes public).  

The cruise includes all gourmet meals with wine, all shore excursions, bicycles for the use of the guests and various other luxury facilities. These vessels cruise on small waterways, mostly canals. The purpose of a Barge cruise is not to rush from Point A to Point B, but to relax in a stress free environment with fine food and wine. To enjoy the delights of the countryside with Kathleen as you are passing through and getting to know the “soul of the country.”  The Barge travels neither far nor fast.

All cabins are nicely appointed and have private bathrooms and showers. The Barge also features a sun deck and onboard wi-fi. Delicious local culinary specialties prepared by private chef,  fine wines,  attentive service, plus some great sightseeing complete the picture of this fairytale adventure.

Your Host on the Journey

image001Kathleen McGowan is a record-breaking bestselling author whose work has been translated into 50 languages. Her visionary fiction series is based on two decades of research into the contributions of women to history and spirituality and includes the instant New York Times bestseller, The Expected One, and its bestselling sequels, The Book of Love and The Poet Prince. Her latest book is The Ballad of Tam Lin, the sensual retelling of a Scottish fairy tale with roots in ancient mystery school teachings. Kathleen is known internationally for her dynamic public appearances has been featured in three high shows for the History Channel in 2014 alone.

“Since 1995, I have been exploring the heretical mysteries of Europe. The journey has been a transformational one through a world filled with magic and mysticism, and steeped in some of the most inspirational stories in human history. Over the years I have shared these mysteries through my books and now I invite you to join me in this land that has been sacred ground for thousands of years.”
Kathleen McGowan


Your Tour Includes

  • 4 nights in Florence at the hotel Antica Torre, the setting for The Poet Prince
  • 7 days and 6 nights onboard the Hotel Barge Le Bella Vita
  • Great hotels in Florence
  • Hotel taxes and service charges
  • Daily breakfast
  • 6 lunches and 7 dinners onboard our Barge cruise
  • Plus additional meals in Florence and Lucca as per itinerary
  • Guided sightseeing including entrance fees

Added Features

  • Welcome to Italy dinner
  • Sightseeing tour of Florence
  • Sightseeing tour of Lucca
  • Gondola ride in Venice
  • Barge Captain’s Farewell Dinner on board

Cruise Highlights

  • Visit to the Medici Palace in Florence
  • Visit to Lucca’s Cathedral of San Martino to see its exterior labyrinth
  • Stop at the bridge built by Matilda of Canossa in honor of Mary Magdalene
  • Visits to other special places mentioned in The Book of Love
  • Visit to the Rotunda built by Mitilda of Canossa
  • Visits to other important sites related to Miltada of Casossa including her birthplace
  • Tour of the 14thC Estense Castle in Ferrara
  • Private visit to the gardens and wine cellars of Dominio Bagnoli
  • Dinner ashore in Villa Ca’Zen
  • Tour of Chioggia with its Roman, Etruscan and Byzantine history

Our Cruise Hotel Barge — La Bella Vita

La Bella Vita is a stylish 20 passenger vessel that was newly refitted in 2010 to the high standards of the European Waterways fleet. There are two upper-deck junior suites and eight staterooms, each with en-suite private facilities. The dining room, bar and saloon areas are bright and spacious and the entire Barge is air conditioned. Louvered doors open to the side decks to give a perfect viewing platform, while above is a huge sun deck with comfortable sun loungers. For those who wish to explore the area further there are bikes available on board and an expert tour guide to recommend the best routes to take.



1st Day: Wednesday, July 29 –  Tour starts in Florence (D)
Arrival in Florence on your own, and transfer to your reserved accommodations in Florence. We start our journey with Kathleen today with a welcome dinner at the actual hotel that was the setting of The Poet Prince and where Katleen wrote parts of both The Book of Love and The Poet Prince. Overnight in Florence.

2nd Day: Thursday, July 30 – In Florence (B/L)
Duomo.GiottoAfter breakfast, it’s a drive up the romantic Viale dei Colli a breathtaking panorama of the city atop Piazzale, a strategic viewpoint that offers open views across the splendid skyline of Florence to the hills beyond. Then it’s a drive back down the hill and into the historic city center for a walking tour to the majestic Duomo built in 1296, Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Baptistery with its renowned “Gates of Paradise” doors. We continue along the medieval streets to the most striking square in Florence, Piazza della Signoria and an external view of Santa Croce Church, Michelangelo’s final resting place. Then a special visit to the Galleria dell’ Accademia where we will bypass the queues and head straight in to view Michelangelo’s famous David. After lunch, we will go to the Medici Palace before ending the day at the Santa Trinta Church next to our hotel, Dinner on our own to try one of the wonderful small restaurants along the Arno river.

3rd Day: Friday, July 31  – In Florence – Excursion to Lucca (B/L)
lucca cathedralToday we are off to Lucca, one of Tuscany’s most charming cities with its wide ancient city walls that are remarkably still intact and is a living testimony to history and heresy with its almost perfectly preserved jewel of medieval architecture and buildings filled with secrets. Here we will immerse ourselves in The Book of Love. Highlights will include the Cathedral of San Martino to see the exterior labyrinth and to visit the Volto Santo, believed to have been carved by Nicodemus as one of the few pieces of art created by someone who knew Jesus. From there we walk across the Grand Piazza to the old church of Santa Reparata which is now a museum with ruins from the first century. It is a setting in The Book of Love and features a sculpture of matilda of Canossa. Then on to another spectacular church called San Frediano which we will see after lunch at a local restaurant. On the way back to Florence, we will stop right outside of Lucca at the Ponte della Maddalena, the bridge built by Matilda of Canossa in honor of Mary Magdalene, This evening, dinner is on our own in Florence.

4th Day: Saturday, August 1 – In Florence (B)
After breakfast, we will go to the Uffizi with a special focus on the Botticelli room. After our visit the balance of the day is free for independent exploration and shopping. Return to the hotel on your own.

5th Day: Sunday, August 2 – From Florence to Mantua (B/L/D)
blood of Christ MantuaEarly departure from Florence as we transfer to La Bella Vita, moored in Porto Catena in Mantua. This imposing city was home to the poet Virgil and Cosimo de Medici’s most beloved artist, Donatello. After arrival at the pier, we go aboard our Barge for a welcome Prosecco to meet the Captain and the crew, plus lunch. Then a special afternoon hosted by a direct descendant of the Canossa family, Kathleen’s “Canossa Cousin” Fausto Callegarini. The program in Mantua starts with a visit to the Rotunda built by Matilda of Canossa to commemorate her mother’s miraculous discovery of the holy blood of Jesus, first brought to Mantua after the Crucifixion. We will also visit the old Basilica in Mantua, where the artwork tells much of Matilda’s Story, as well as that of the centurion Longinus, a key figure in Kathleen’s books. Return to our Barge for dinner and overnight.

6th Day: Monday, August 3 – In Mantua (B/L/D)
Today is a full day devoted to visiting additional the sites related to Matilda including the monastery built by her grandfather, San Benedetto di Po. She is still the queen here, and we will experience the impact of her legacy in this place she considered her home above all others. There will be a special lunch commemorating Matilda, with surprises. Time to spend on your own and then walk back to the pier for our dinner and overnight on the Barge.

7th Day: Tuesday, August 4 – Morning in Mantua. Afternoon to Salvatonica (B/L/D)
mantua-monasteryThis morning we have our last stay in Mantua as Kathleen and Fausto guide us informally in Mantua. Then some time to stroll through the city that has Etruscan origins with it unique neo-classical and baroque architecture before returning to the Barge for lunch. In the afternoon, it’s is time to relax as we leave Mantua and cruise on the Po as Kathleen conducts her introduction and a Q & A on The Book of Love, with a few words about Lucrezia Borgia, whose territories we will visit the next day. Our cruise dock in Sabbioneta where we moor for our overnight. Dinner on board.

8th Day: Wednesday, August 5 – To Zelo, Ferrara, Bosaro and Ca’Zen (B/L/D)
Ferrara_CastleAfter breakfast, we cruise through to Ferrara for a guided tour of the Renaissance city including the 14th century Estense Castle built in honor of the Archangel Michael. Ferrara was once the home of the “Good Duchess” known more commonly as Lucrezia Borgia. This ancient ducal fortress with moat, drawbridges, unusual battlements and towers, houses marble balconies and sumptuous apartments. We see the Cathedral façade with its sculpted images, described as an Illustrated Bible, and visit the Schifanoia Palace with its fabulous 15th century frescoes. We conclude with a walk through the medieval city and the Jewish Quarters followed by lunch in Bosaro. Today’s touring concludes with a visit to the magnificent Renaissance gardens and wine cellars of a 17th century villa. For over 1000 years wine, balsamic vinegar, organic Carnaroli rice, grape seed oil and truffles have been produced on the Dominio di Bagnoli estate. We enjoy a private wine tasting before returning to La Bella Vita and continue cruising via the Bianco Canal, Bosaro and past villages to Ca’Zen where we will have dinner onshore at a local restaurant

9th Day: Thursday, August 6 – To Taglio di Po, Porto Levante, Chioggia & Pellestrina (B/L/D)Chioggia
After breakfast, we cruise to Porto Levante passing through a nature reserve with flamingos, heron, and other wildfowl. Then a guided tour to the ancient city of Chioggia, with ancient origins dating back over 2000 years to Roman, Etruscan and Byzantine links. We visit the Piazzatta Vigo, Vigo Bridge and 12th century Vigo column. At the Church of San Domenico, set on its own island, we see Carpaccio’s last recorded painting together with works of art by Tintoretto and Bassano. Chioggia’s cathedral beckons with more astonishing art work as we continue to spot the symbols encoded within. A visit to the colorful fresh fish market completes the picture. After lunch aboard, we cruise north through the lagoon past rustic fishing huts on stilts and the island of Pellistrina, to San Pietro in Volta. Here there is the opportunity to stroll or cycle along the 18th century Istrian sea wall with the Adriatic on one side and the lagoon on the other. Dinner aboard.

10th Day: Friday, August 7 – To Venice (B/L/D)
Venice_GondolaThis morning we cruise to Venice, passing several lagoon islands – San Sevolo, once a hospital for the Crusaders, San Lazzaro degli Armeni, an early 18th century Armenian monastery, San Clemente, and the poetic Poveglia. These islands sport brightly colored houses, painted fishing boats and tiny churches. Mooring on the waterfront, outside the Naval Museum near St Marks, we have a morning guided tour to the center of Venice, experiencing the unique atmosphere of this magical city by visiting the Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, that was the seat of the government of Venice for centuries, as well as being the home of the Doge (the elected ruler of Venice). Captain. The rest of the afternoon is free for shopping and independent exploration before our farewell dinner onboard the La Bella Vista.

11th Day: Saturday, August 8 – Tour ends (B)
Tour ends after breakfast as you make your way to the airport on your own.

Our Pre- and Post-Hotels in Florence and Venice

For those who want to spend a few days in Florence before the start of the journey, or stay in Venice after we conclude our tour, please contact BMSJ for reservations and rates.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hotel Barging

What is a Luxury Hotel Barge?

barge dockedA “Barge” refers to a specific style of hull, which is designed to navigate in shallow inland waterways. Most Barges were built to carry goods into hard to reach areas of the country. Hotel Barges, which are fully crewed and have been cargo hulls which have been redesigned and totally rebuilt. They are Barge hulls over which cabins and saloons have been constructed in order to accommodate travelers. Luxury Barges are state of the art conversions.

barge barWill I have a language problem?

No.  All crew members speak English and are generally British. Other languages including Italian, German and French are also spoken. When cruising through mainly rural areas, one is quite likely to find the locals speaking with a strong dialect. Although sometimes difficult to understand, we still encourage you to try to communicate with them. English is the main language on board.

Will I be able to make special requests?

Special dietary requests can be made to the Chef or Barge Captain prior to your cruise. If there is a specific beverage you would like to find at the bar or a certain dish you wish to try we can usually accommodate. Please advise us eight weeks prior to our cruise. Please make sure that you advise us of any food allergies or medical conditions that require special attention.

What sort of activities will I find during my Barge trip?

barge dining

Lots! Each morning and again after lunch, guided tours to historic and cultural sites of the region provide many interesting choices from visiting chateaux, famous vineyards, country market towns, private gardens to museums celebrating art, weapons, textiles or bread! Other interests such as golf, ballooning, riding and tennis (where available) can also be accommodated. (In between, there is fine food & drink.) Each Barge has a designated crew member guide and an air-conditioned van or bus that travels with it, for daily excursions to points of interest such as to nearby chateaux, colorful local markets, ancient monasteries, or fascinating specialty museums. Of course there is also the joy of the cruising itself to look forward to.

Will I feel confined?

barge room

Not if you enjoy meeting the locals, viewing passing vineyards and chateaux from the deck. Or sharing experiences with a congenial group of travelers on journey that is more like a moving house party. We will be able to get on and off our Barge practically at will, to take a walk along the towpath or a bicycle ride to town. (All the Barges have bicycles on board for passenger use). Meet and talk to the locals, view the vineyards, or accompany the crew as they shop in the early morning for delicious, freshly baked bread and croissants. Learn the secrets of fine cuisine from your gourmet chef. Savor an amazing variety of local cheese and other delicacies. All of this in addition to the included sightseeing tours en route. The gentle movement of the Barge, anchored at night, has caused dedicated insomniacs to report wonderful, restful sleep. It is the relaxed atmosphere aboard, the friendly and helpful crew, the peace and tranquility of the countryside, together with the wonderful cuisine; lively conversation and interesting sightseeing that make it magical.


Per Person Double Occupancy
$5,998 by check or money order
$6,317  by credit card via PayPal

Non Refundable Deposit
(Due as soon as possible in order to ensure a place on the tour)
Per Person Double Occupancy
$1,700 by check or money order
$1,770 by credit card via PayPal

2nd Installment
(Due on or before March 30, 2015)
Per Person Double Occupancy
$2,000 by check or money order
$2,100 by credit card via PayPal

Final Payment
(Due on or before May 1, 2015)
Per Person Double Occupancy
$2,298 by check or money order
$2,447 by credit card via PayPal

NOTE: Single Cabins. There are no single cabins onboard, however you can take a double cabin for single use for a supplement of $4,000 ($4,210 via credit card).

ROOMMATES: We will be happy to try to find a suitable roommate for those who are traveling alone and would like to share a room. Per our Terms and Conditions, registration for the tour will be held open until 30 days before the departure date in order to try to match everyone with a roommate. If by that date we have not been able to match you with a suitable roommate, you will be responsible to pay for the single supplement. An early registration will facilitate this process.

Please Read the Terms and Conditions for this Tour

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Travel Insurance

Body Mind Spirit Journeys highly recommends the purchase of Trip Cancellation/Interruption Travel Insurance, and we therefore provide you with an easy way to contact BMSJ’s preferred insurance provider, Allianz Global Assistance. If you need additional information or have questions, please call Allianz directly at 1-800-284-8300, and refer to code F025323.

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All prices listed are in U.S. dollars