SECRET ITALY: GARDENS, VILLAS, AND …

  • Duration:16 NIGHTS/17 DAYS
  • Highlights:Milan, Como, Lake Maggiore, Bellagio, Lake Garda, Venice, Vicenza, Montecatini, Florence, Fiesole, Pisa, Lucca, Rome
  • Tour Inclusions:
    • Airfare to and from NYC
    • Accommodations in first class hotels
    • Buffet breakfast daily and dinner as noted
    • Comprehensive sightseeing as per the itinerary
    • English speaking tour escort thought
    • Transfers by deluxe private motorcoach
    • Baggage handling
    • Select International travel bag and portfolio

The contrast which strikes an Englishman immediately when comparing gardens in England with those in Italy is one of color and form. The English garden excels in its display of color; the Italian in its arrangement of pattern. The most familiar type of Italian garden known to us is one associated with a villa or palace of the Renaissance. But the idea of a pleasure garden as oppose to a herb or a vegetable garden dates back to early Romans. This visit introduces you to some of the most spectacular Villas and their gardens, and their secrets, told to us by our expert Italian host.

 

 

DAY 1: DEPART U.S.A.

You’ll depart this evening on an overnight flight to Italy.

DAY 2: MILAN-COMO

A short drive takes us to the Lake District and our hotel in Como for the next three nights. We embark on our garden adventure, with a dinner created from local produce accompanied by a regional wine. (D.)

DAY 3: LAKE MAGGIORE.

Today we see Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, a classic example of a 16th century Renaissance Italian villa. The buildings etched into the steep hillside, are accompanied by magnificent garden rooms on three levels, an arcade courtyard with frescoes, broad terraces and a spectacular water staircase, flanked by cypresses. The gardens of Villa Taranto, a 100-acre estate overlooking the lake, encouraged by mild winter climate, high rainfall and hot summers, provide a botanical feast which cannot be missed. Continue by private motorlaunch to the Barromean Islands, for a stop on Isola dei Pescatori for lunch. Then to Isola Bella, the 17th century baroque palace. “From the garden student point of view, there is nothing in Lombardy as important as Isola Bella,” wrote Edith Wharton in her classic “The Italian Villas and their Gardens.” The gardens first seen from the shore at Stresa, seem to float on the lake’s surface. Undoubtedly one of the most dramatic gardens in Italy, inviting exploration by the architectural and garden historian as well as the amateur gardener. Our boat takes us to the lovely town of Stresa, which your explore on your own and have dinner, before returning to Como for overnight. (B.L.)

DAY 4: COMO-BELLAGIO

Villa d’Este is palatial, and has been from the moment it was conceptualized until its present state as a sumptuous hotel. Princes of the Church and princesses of the realm have prayed and played here. Fortunes have been lost in the extravagant gamble of owning the villa, and many have indulged their fantasies and left their marks on the house and gardens of Villa d’ Este. A scenic drive along the shores of Lake Como takes us to Tremezzo, where we visit Villa Carlotta, built in the eighteenth century by the Marquis Clereci and in 1856 given to Princess Charlotte of Nassau as a wedding present. The villa houses numerous works of art, accompanied by terraced hillside gardens overlooking the lake. Here one also discovers a relaxed English- style garden, filled with interesting trees, flowers and shrubs. Across the lake, for a stroll through the English style park of Villa Melzi before lunch on your own in Bellagio, known as the prettiest town in Europe. Overnight Como. (B.D.)

DAY 5: LAKE GARDA

Today we drive towards Mantova to enjoy the gardens of Villa Mirra, built by ruling Gonzaga family in the 16th century and the favorite residence of Isabella d’Este. After lunch in Sirmione,a very popular resort town, we return to Gardone Riveira and visit the charming rock gardens of Villa Hruska, known for its outstanding collection of Alpine plants, with more than 8,000 specimens in just 4 acres. This curious and compact garden is a botanical microcosm artfully contrived in a Dolomitic landscape. Overnight Lake Garda (B.D.)

DAY 6: LAKE GARDA-VERONA-VENICE

A short drive takes us to Verona. We visit the Giardino Giusti, set on a steep hillside behind the villa courtyard, the garden with its viale of cypresses leading from the gateway to an underground grotto and a high belvedere comes as a complete surprise to the visitor. “For pure sensation there is nothing in Italy equal to the first glimpse through the Giusti gateway,” wrote Sir George Sitwell in his rousing description. A walking tour of the city center shows us the balcony where Juliet was said to have been wooed by Romeo, the Arena and the Tombs, as the picturesque Market Square . From Verona, we travel along the Brenta River, past many wonderful villas on our way to the jewel of the Adriatic: Venice. (B.D.)

DAY 7: VENICE

Venice, the incomparable, awaits us. We will see the Byzantine-style St. MarkТs Basilica and visit the DogeТs Palace, residence of the leaders of Venice and the seat of its government, decorated by Venetian masters. We cross the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Palace with the prisons and then visit a Murano Glass Factory to watch the glassblowers, continue their centuries old tradition of glass making. You glimpse Venetian aristocratic life on a visit of a private garden, before continuing to investigate the city on your own.. (B.)

DAY 8: VICENZA- BASSANO del GRAPPA

Visit Vicenza, synonymous with the name of Andrea Palladio, and full of 15th century palaces and monuments designed by this brilliant Renaissance architect. In this city, following Classical models, Palladio succeeded in creating an original architectural style, imitated worldwide, which has actually become an architectural school. Explore his masterpiece is the Basilica, followed by a stroll through Piazza dei Signori and Loggia del Capitano, which the architect left unfinished.. La Rotanda is another example of Palladio’s genius..Continue to the town of Castelfranco which we enter through its well-preserved walls en route to Villa Emo, attributed to Palladio’s pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi, and extensively restored since 1966. This garden not only has a strong design structure, but unusual for Italy, is also full of flowers. This marvelous day ends in Bassano del Grappa, where we see the famous bridge over Brenta River designed by Palladio and we see how the national drink of Italy is made. Grappa is a fiery spirit as you discover sampling different varieties . Overnight Venice. (B.D.)

DAY 9: VENICE-MONTECATINI

We drive south across the intensely cultivated plains of the river Po, Past Bologna, through the beautiful scenery of the Tucson Apennines on our way to Florence, cradle of The Italian Renaissance. Your home for the following several nights will be Montecatini. Located in the heart of Tuscany and only 40 minutes by coach from Florence, Montecatini shines with glorious architecture, lovely wide boulevards and non-commercial quality of Tuscan charm. Here you also find the world famous Montecatini-Terme, where you may indulge in pampering of the body and the soul at the world famous Montecatini spa. There is a sense of purposeful pleasure in the spa routine, drinking of the waters, bathing, massage, and beauty treatments, all implicating the senses in discovery and enjoyment. You can enjoy a one day spa body and facial spa treatment, sampling an array of cosmetics for the Princess Marcella Borghese line which is made and sold here. (Day spa is optional) (B.D.).

DAY 10: FLORENCE

A morning’s stroll through Florence introduces us to the masterpieces of Florentine architecture around Piazza Del Doom, with its magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, GiottoТs elegant Campanile, the Baptistery of St.John and the church of San Lorenzo, which houses the Medici tombs designed by Michaelangelo. Following lunch enjoy the historic Boboli Gardens built by the Medici family in the 16th century, with intricate grottos, fountains, pools and groves of trees, designed to hide a romantic encounter. Overnight Montecatini. (B.D.)

DAY 11: FIESOLE

We spend the morning at Villa Medici, with a breathtaking view of Florence and the valley of Arno. Lorenzo de Medici У il MagnificoФ made the villa a cultural center during the Renaissance. The garden was restored by the English designer Cecil Pinsent, in this century with a Renaissance atmosphere. Here we see the terraced gardens built into the hillside, which seem to hang in space. After lunch you visit private Villa Gamberaia, the most perfect example of Tuscany’s traditional landscape architecture. This is one of the most celebrated Italian villas and since its restoration in Edwardian times, the garden has been considered a masterpiece. Dinner at local trattoria. (B.D)

DAY 12: PISAЧLUCCA- CARMIGNANO

A visit to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower and the town of Lucca to visit Villa Reale and the gardens used by Elisa Baciocchi, Napolean’s sister to entertain the aristocracy. Here several gardening styles blend well to create an exotic mixture. Also enjoy a visit to the private garden of Villa Grabau. Then lunch in the walled town, unchanged for centuries, Carmigliano. Here we visit Villa Torrigiani, a beautifully decorated baroque villa with a park, and a perfectly preserved sunken secret garden. This was once the playground of the Medicis who constructed many villas of the area, including the leading wine and olive oil estate of Tenuta di Capezzana where the Contini Bonacossi family has made wine for centuries. Every year, olive oil from la nuova raccolta, the new harvest, is as eagerly awaited as the yearТs new wine. But unlike wine, extra- virgin olive oil does not improve with age, it should be consumed as young and as quickly as possible. We visit the winiery for a tasting of their wine and extra-virgin olive oil. Overnight Montecatini. (B.L. )

DAY 13: MONTECATINI

Today is your get-away from the world, an antidote to stress. A stroll and a capuccino, a spa treatment or a visit by train to Florence are some of your choices.
Optional: This morning enjoy a cooking lesson, where you learn to prepare the simple and rustic cucina of Tuscany. Later linger over lunch made by your own efforts, washed down by local sfuso- loose wine. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight Montecatini. (B.)

DAY 14- FLORENCE-USA

Today we are transferred to the airport and return flight home Optional extension to Viterbo and Rome:

DAY 13: MONTECATINI–VITERBO

The Tucsan hillside is dotted with silvery olive groves and majestic cypress trees, charming villages and quaint medieval towns. The lush Tuscan countryside gives way to the volcanic hills of Umbria. We stop at lake Bolsena for ferry ride to Isola Bisentina, site of the recently restored island garden set amid historic ruins. In the afternoon, we arrive in the enchanting walled town of Viterbo, an ancient Etruscan town, with charming winding streets and shops harboring their very own Etruscan tombs. Visit the quintessential Italian garden of Villa Lante, followed by a tour of Tor San Liberato,designed by Russell Page. Overnight in Viterbo. (B.L. )

DAY 14: ROME

Today our private visit includes the Castello di Vignanello, owned by Princess Claudia Giada Ruspoli. Originally part of the papal estates, the castle was built by Benedictine monks. The elegance and sophisticated, beauty reflect the style and fashion of a strong French influence. Continue to the gardens of San Liberato, originally designed by Russell Page, for a private visit. Late arrival in Rome. Overnight in Rome. (B.L.D.)

DAY 15: ROME

Marvel at the center of Western civilization and the heart of todayТs modern Italy. Begin with a tour of Ancient Rome including the Forum, the Coliseum, Piazza Venezia and the Circus Maxims. On to the Vatican Square to visit the Basilica and the Vatican Museum including the recently restored masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel. Tour the magnificent Vatican Gardens, where Pope John Paul II often strolls among the English looking landscape, of winding paths, flowerbeds, ancient trees and commemorative plantings. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight in Rome. (B.)

DAY 16: ROME

Full day tour to the Tivoli gardens, Villa Adriana and Villa DТEste. Villa DТEste is renowned for its spectacular use of water, it represents the quintessence of the Italian garden of the High Renaissance. Villa Adriana is one of the greatest monuments of antiquity. The site is magical with wild flowers growing in the hay meadows, and tall majestic cypresses. Villa Adriana was built by Adrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) after he became the Emperor in AD117. Tonight we gather for a memorable farewell dinner in a typical Roman restaurant with wine and traditional Italian music. Overnight in Rome. (B.D. )

DAY 17: RETURN TO U.S.A.

Transfer to the airport for flight back home.

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