It was the perfect match. On one hand, the merchants of Venice were investing heavily in their country estates, as their long retreat from maritime trade began. On the other, an architect of exceptional talent had emerged in 16th-century Vicenza, and was developing an idiom perfectly in tune with their Renaissance tastes. This was Andrea Palladio, and when his ideas met their money, a new kind of country house was born. Governed by a sophisticated sense of proportion, and incorporating classical motifs such as the colonnaded temple front, these beautiful villas went on to influence architects across the western world.
Meet at Venice Airport at 1pm, before we drive to Villa Pisani at Stra. Built by the patrician Pisani family at the height of its powers, this palatial 18th-century property is set within 27 acres of gardens in a bend of the Brenta river. The beautiful ceiling fresco in its ballroom is by Giambattista Tiepolo, the master of late-Venetian art. Continue to the hotel in Vicenza for our first lecture, followed by dinner.
Drive to Palladio’s Villa Barbaro at Maser. Inside, there are charming trompe l’oeil frescos by Veronese. After lunch in Castelfranco – a tiny walled city with a Giorgione altarpiece – we proceed to Villa Emo at Fanzolo, another Palladio masterpiece. Here, the main house is flanked by two long, rhythmic colonnades originally intended for the estate’s agricultural activities.
On a walking tour of Vicenza, we consider the exquisite double loggia of the Basilica Palladiana, and visit the Palladio Museum. The afternoon’s highlight is Palladio’s most famous work, Villa La Rotonda, whose four porticos look out over Vicenza and the rich Veneto countryside. We finish at the 17th-century Villa Valmarana ai Nani, frescoed by Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico in 1757.
We start at Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, the world’s oldest indoor theatre, which opened in 1585 with a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Later, we tour his Palazzo Chiericati (now Vicenza’s art gallery, which includes work by Memling, Van Dyck and Tiepolo). Then two villas in Lugo di Vicenza: Palladio’s angular Villa Godi Malinverni and the classic Villa Piovene.
Our final visit is a tour of La Malcontenta – one of Palladio’s loveliest creations, and still in the family for which it was built (frescoes by Battista Franco and Battista Zelotti). The trip ends at Venice Airport by 1pm.
£1,160 per person sharing in a double room
£1,380 for one person in a double room
The price includes the speaker and a tour manager, accommodation with daily breakfasts, one dinner with wine, admissions to sites as mentioned in the itinerary.
Please note flights are not included.
Accommodation and meals
Hotel Campo Marzio, Vicenza (4 stars)
Fitness is essential, as the coach rarely gets close to the villas. Expect some long drives.
There is no minimum number of clients required for this trip to run.
Maximum group size
Between 5 and 25 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.