Villa Le Balze Revives Iconic Tradition: Study Tours Return After 10-Year Hiatus

Mia Boykin

Group of 12 Georgetown alumni standing on the Villa's small terrace.
Group photo of our 1983 study tour, one of the first to ever be run. The tour was led by Dr. Douglas Lewis. Photo: Unknown Photographer/May 1983/Villa Le Balze.

December 8, 2023 — Study tours are back! After a decade-long hiatus, Villa Le Balze is excited to announce the renewal of our beloved study tours for alumni and the wider Georgetown community. During the tour, participants will explore Florence and Tuscany through group excursions and academic lectures on the Theology of Italian Art. The tour will be led by Father Mark Bosco, S.J., Ph.D., Vice President for Mission & Ministry, who will guide participants through the intricate history between Italian art and faith. 

The tour will run from May 19 to May 26, 2024, and will be able to accommodate around 18-20 participants on a first come, first go basis. The experience is open to Georgetown alumni, parents and families of students, faculty and staff, and the greater Georgetown community. The tour is expected to cost around $5,800 a person for a double occupancy accommodation including most meals, all excursion costs, and transportation related to the tour. It does not include roundtrip airfare to Italy.

The Assistant Director for Global Program Support Services, Mia Pezzanite, whose role focuses on the development of non-undergraduate study abroad programming at Villa Le Balze, discussed the process of developing this new tour with Father Bosco and the Villa’s Director, Fulvio Orsitto. 

“We are incredibly excited to be bringing back this one-of-a-kind, and from what I’ve heard, iconic trip. The last one was more than 10 years ago, which was before my time. So we’re kind of new to it and, hopefully, we’re going to bring a renewed approach to the tours of the past. We’re excited about being able to re-institute this long-time offering of the Villa.” 

The Plans  

Looking down onto the theater floor and the seating area of the Roman Theater in Fiesole.
The Roman Theater in Fiesole. Photo: Unknown Photographer/2016/Fiesole.

The study tour is packed with group excursions that will stimulate attendees’ intellect while offering a one-of-a-kind experience. In addition to being in Florence, participants will partake in exclusive events at the Villa, from group lunches to evening mass with Father Bosco. They will also visit several sites throughout the region such as Fiesole’s Roman Theatre, the cities of Lucca, Sansepolcro and Arezzo, and the Tuscan wine region of Montalcino. 

“We have planned a fairly full itinerary, but we’ve been sure to build in downtime. We want to make sure that people don’t feel like they’re being rushed from place to place, but we also want them to get the most out of the experience and the time that we have,” Pezzanite said. 

All of these excursions will be reached through multiple group charter buses, and all fees for guided tours and group excursions are included in the program fee. Don’t worry, the Villa has all the little details handled! 

Participants will stay at the chic UnaHotels Vittoria Florence, a four-star hotel designed by Italian architect Fabio Novembre and located in the Oltrarno neighborhood of Florence. The program fee includes a double occupancy room, with either a queen bed or two twin beds. Participants may request a single occupancy room for an additional cost. Hotel amenities include free internet, continental breakfast, and satellite television. 

Theology of Italian Art

So what about the “study” part of the tour? Don’t be fooled, this is not a traditional lecture setting. Villa Le Balze has planned this tour to use the city-sized classroom of Florence. Following an introductory lecture, all the lectures happen during the tours and excursions. 

Renaissance basilica of Santa Maria Novella bathed in sunlight with pedestrians walking in front.
Piazza Santa Maria Novella and view of the façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Photo: Mia Pezzanite/2019/Florence.

“The sites we’re visiting were chosen to facilitate lectures and subsequent discussion between Father Bosco and tour participants,” Pezzanite said. 

This educational aspect is integral to the creation of this tour, and to the Georgetown values that uphold the Villa itself. She said, “At Georgetown, we talk a lot about lifelong learning and its importance to our Jesuit values. The tour takes its initiative from this concept. We’ve worked to create a program where our wider community can continue to learn from our fantastic faculty members. And I think that makes this really special.”

Father Bosco, the faculty she is referring to, is essential to the study tour.  In addition to heading up Mission & Ministry, he teaches courses at Georgetown that focus on the intersection of religious faith and culture. A major question of the course is how does faith produce culture?  The class will focus on theological influences on Tuscan (and Italian) culture, specifically through the lens of art and architecture. Pezzanite talked about him admiringly, saying “And he [Father Bosco] brings such an excitement and passion to the subject and a real expertise to theology’s impact on art, especially in the Italian context.” 


Sunset view of Florence, Italy seen from Georgetown's Villa Le Balze.
Sunset view of Florence from inside Villa Le Balze looking out over the back terrace. Photo: Mia Pezzanite/October 2022/Villa Le Balze.

The most important part of this tour though, will be the impact it has on the participants.  When asked about the intended goals of the study tour, Pezzanite said, “We’re hoping that the biggest takeaway for participants is a deeper appreciation and understanding of art. And that they’re going beyond the superficial level of, ‘oh, this is a pretty painting,’ and instead understanding why the art in Florence evolved this way.” 

In addition to the academics, Pezzanite hopes participants walk away with a fuller appreciation of Italian culture. She says “The tour attempts to go beyond the stereotypes of Italy. Beyond, ‘we’re in Italy! Let’s drink wine and eat pizza.’” 

More information regarding the study tour including a daily itinerary can be found on the Theology of Italian Art webpage. As we finish up 2023, Villa Le Balze is excited to burst into 2024 with the resurrection of this iconic tradition.