Ever since the days of Pliny the Younger, the Italian Lakes have been a place of refuge for the rich and powerful. On this five-day tour, we explore some of the exquisite and fanciful worlds they created for themselves. Frescoed Renaissance palaces, flamboyant grottoes, and restrained Neoclassical villas are all part of the scene, but the gardens are their greatest legacy. Sculpted from plunging hillsides and rocky promontories, they prosper in the Mediterranean climate, and seem to draw inspiration and vigour from their mountain settings. It is no wonder they are regarded as some of the most beautiful in the world.
We meet at 2pm at Milan Linate airport, and transfer by coach to Lake Como. First stop is the handsome, 19th-century Villa Melzi at Bellagio, whose landscaped park was designed in the English style by botanist Luigi Villoresi. Dinner together.
A day of boat trips, contrasting gardens, and spectacular views as we explore Villa Balbianello and Villa Carlotta. The former tames the tip of a steep-sided peninsula with terraces, exuberant statuary, and a sculptural collection of trees. The latter’s garden is lusher and more diverse – featuring catci, bamboos, camellias and azaleas, as well as two long tunnels of citruses.
We travel by coach to Bisuchio to see the frescoed Cicogna Mozzoni, a 16th-century villa where architecture and gardens are gracefully intertwined. After lunch, we visit Villa della Porta Bozzolo, whose terraced parterres and cypress trees race up a steep hill behind the house, before transferring to Baveno on Lake Maggiore.
The day is devoted to the Maggiore’s ravishing Borromean Islands. Isola Bella is a miraculous, multi-tiered confection of terraces, grottos and white peacocks, created from scratch in the 18th century. Isola Madre has a more relaxed, botanical flavour, and is home to a Renaissance palazzo.
Villa Taranto is our final stop. The creation of a Scotsman, Captain Neil McEacharn, this is a vivid, vigorous and, at times, undeniably kitsch garden. Amongst its many highlights are beautiful dahlias, lillies and lotus flowers, as well as the rare Davidia involucrata (dove tree). The tour ends at Milan Linate airport by 12.30pm.
£1,360 per person sharing in a double room
£1,495 for one person in a double room
The price includes the speaker and a tour manager, accommodation with daily breakfasts, one dinner with wine, transport by private coach, admissions to sites as mentioned in the itinerary.
Please note flights are not included.
Hotel Excelsior Splendide, Bellagio (3 stars)
Hotel Simplon, Baveno (4 stars)
Gentle uphill paths, flights of stairs and uneven ground are unavoidable on this trip.
Between 5 and 28 participants.
Please check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you book to make sure you are happy with the advice for the places you are visiting.