The personalities, battlefields and invasion locations of Italy come to life during Alpventures WW II "Battleground Italy" Tour. The sites of the battles and amphibious invasions aren't as widely known as the US battles in France and in the Pacific during WW II, but they were equally as ferocious and important in the final outcome of the war.
Alpventures (www.worldwar2tours.com), an Oregon based tour operator, offers an 12-day/11-night, fully escorted tour covering the Italian Campaign starting in the "boot" of Italy and then working its way back up to Rome.
The small group tours, usually less than a dozen people, are guided by Alpventures founder and owner Tony Cisneros. Cities where tour participants overnight include Palermo, Siracusa, Taormina, Morano Calabro, Salerno, Cassino/San Petro, Assergi, Anzio/Nettuno and Rome.
The value of a small tour and knowledgeable guide can't be overstated. For example, no signs mark the location in downtown Rome where a German patrol was attacked by Italian partisans causing German forces to open fire on nearby window-fronts - the bullet pocked facades are left un-repaired even today.
In addition to WW II history, built in free time during the tour allows participants to take in their special interests - from a boat tour of the Amalfi Coast to a trip to the ruins of Pompeii.
Of course, a trip to Italy wouldn't be complete without taking time to savor Italy's food - and the tour doesn't disappoint. Incredible multi-course dinners, too many courses to keep track of, will leave the most discernible food critic with a smile on his or her face. (Each day's breakfast and dinner for seven of 11 nights, is included in the tour's price.)
Highlights of the tour included walking the beaches of Sicily and Salerno where US forces landed as well as a cable car ride to the top of the mountain, the Grand Sasso, where Italian Prime Minister Mussolini was plucked by German forces, which had arrived by glider.
For General Patton fans, the tour stops at many memorable locations including Patton's headquarters in Palermo and the chapel where he prayed at often after he was removed from command after the famous soldier slapping incidents.
Another highlight was a trip to the monastery of Monte Cassino, the site of a 1944 battle where allied forces virtually destroyed the iconic Benedictine Monastery. A variety of other WW II museums and key battle sites are visited throughout the 12-day tour.
The lodging during the tour was a mix of modern hotels and unique boutique properties - all would be considered 3 or 4 star properties.
The most reflective time of the tour came when the price of the war became visible - trips to battlefield cemeteries. The tour includes visits to immaculately maintained cemeteries for soldiers from Poland, Commonwealth (Allied) and the United States - the Sicily-Rome US cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.