ROME -- Britain's Prince Charles and Princess Diana embark Friday on a 17-day tour of Italy's sights and cities that Italians are describing as a 'second honeymoon' for the royal couple.
Their royal highnesses are scheduled to arrive by Royal Air Force jet on the island of Sardinia Friday afternoon and set sail aboard the royal yacht Britannia for the mainland a short time later.
The couple's Italian sojourn marks the first time Diana, 23, has visited Italy officially since her wedding July 29, 1981. Prince Charles, 36, visited the northern city of Trieste in October.
Besides Sardinia, the tour takes them to La Spezia, Milan, Florence, Rome and the Sicilian cities of Catania and Syracuse. The grand finale will be a spectacular arrival of the Royal Yacht at Venice.
The future king and queen of Britain will be accompanied by an entourage of 15 people, including two doctors and phe Prince of Wales' private secretary.
Their two sons, William, 3, and Henry, who is less than a year old, have been left in the care of a royal baby sitter at a secret location in Britain.
It is their fourth official overseas trip together so far. The others were to Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Highlights of the visit include attending a performance of Puccini's opera 'Turandot' at La Scala opera house Saturday, a stay in La Pietra, the stupendous 15th century Florentine villa of British historian and aesthete Sir Harold Acton, meetings with 88-year-old President Sandro Pertini and Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and an audience with Pope John Paul II.
In Rome, they will be guests of the British Ambassador Lord Bridges at his residence, Villa Wolkonsky, attend a service at the local Anglican church of All Saints and visit the British cemetery of World War II dead in nearby Anzio.
Villa Wolkonsky takes its name from its first owner, Russian noblewoman Zenaide Wolkonsky, wife of an aide de camp of Czar Alexander I.
It became the German Embassy to Italy in 1922 but was requistioned by Italian authorities in 1944 and bought by the British government in 1951.
Many Italian noblemen offered hospitality in villas and castles but all were refused politely for security reasons and in order to avoid creating jealousy among rival contenders.
Rome's left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper termed the visit 'a second honeymoon' and said the Italian Foreign Ministry is being besieged by phone calls from anxious Italian public figures wanting advice on protocol.
'No, what a horror, pants are absolutely unthinkable,' one diplomat, Alessandro Pietromarchi, informed a lady caller.
Preparations for the trip included the choice for Diana of a traveling wardrobe of 32 dresses and suits, seven coats, 16 pairs of shoes, 16 handbags and 16 hats.
The visit was the first major royal sojourn in Italy since a state visit by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in October 1980, which was the first stage of a Mediterranean tour aboard the Britannia.