Ninfa, Vila D’Este, Isola Bella, La Foce – romantic names that conjure up the all-pervading beauty and history of Italian gardens. A beauty with its genesis in the historic and classical sites and landscapes of the ancient Romans and Etruscans (after whom Tuscany is named) such as Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli and the Banditaccia Necropoli at Cerveteri.
This new 17-day tour visits more than 20 of the best-known and best-loved gardens and landscapes in Italy – gardens conceived, created and maintained with passion, and all with stories to tell. From Etruscan and Roman landscapes to the stylised Mannerist gardens of the Renaissance, from the exuberance of the Baroque to the romantic giardini inglesi of the 19th and 20th centuries. There are grand gardens – Villa Pisani, host to doges, kings and emperors, there are small intimate gardens – Villa Le Balze with its distant views of Florence and its duomo. There are extraordinary gardens – the Sacro Bosco or Park of Monsters and the incomparably exotic Isola Bella, and there are private gardens – the Villa Torrigiani in the middle of Florence. There’s even Alpinia, an alpine garden high on the mountainside above Stresa with glorious views of Lake Maggiore glistening in the sunlight below.
The history and design of some of Italy’s finest gardens, from the Renaissance to the 20th century
Small Italian towns with stays in Frascati, Orvieto, Fiesole and lakeside in Bellagio and Stresa
Some of the world’s most beautiful gardens, still in the hands of Italian families
Stunning landscapes and culinary delights of Italy
The timeless ruins and romantic beauty of Ninfa
Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este at Tivoli
Etruscan landscapes at Cerveteri and Orvieto
History and romance in Florence and Padua
The unparalleled beauty of Isola Bella
Days 1–3: Explore ancient and Renaissance gardens in the Roman campagna from Frascati, including Ninfa and Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este in Tivoli.
Days 4–5: From the Etruscan hill-top town of Orvieto, visit archaeological sites and nearby gardens including the Necropoli della Banditaccia outside Cerveteri, Villa Lante and Sacro Bosco (Park of Monsters).
Days 6–8: En route to Fiesole visit la Foce. In Florence visit the private gardens of Villa Torrigani and travel to the hills above Florence, to visit the gardens of Villa Gamberaia and Villa Le Balze.
Days 9–10: See the Etruscan site Marzabotto on the way to Padua. Stroll the Botanic garden in Padua and venture to the nearby Baroque Villa Barbarigo.
Days 11–13: Travel to Bellagio via Villa Pisani. Cruise Lake Como to visit Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello.
Days 14-17: From Stresa explore the Borromean Islands and cruise Lake Maggiore.
A detailed itinerary for this tour is available. Click on the link above to view or download.
Emirates fly regularly into Rome and out of Milan from most Australian cities.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Sunday September 3: Arrive Frascati
Meet your tour leader, Michael Turner, at the arrivals hall of Rome Fiumicino airport to commence the tour. This will be timed to meet the Emirates flight arrival. Travel together by coach to Frascati. There are welcome drinks and a light dinner at the hotel. Overnight Hotel Flora, Frascati (D)
Monday September 4: Ninfa and Villa Aldobrandini
Today we travel south to the gardens of Ninfa, once a thriving medieval town that fell into ruin after waves of attacks and plague. The feudal property of the Caetani family, Ninfa was redeveloped in the 20th-century as a beautifully landscaped English garden. After lunch at a local restaurant we return to Frascati. The afternoon is free to relax or to enjoy an optional walk with Michael to the gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini. Overnight Frascati (B, L)
Tuesday September 5: Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este
Our day begins with a guided tour of the 2nd century CE Hadrian’s Villa with its dramatic ruins, waterworks and sculpture. In the afternoon we visit the magnificent Villa d’Este, built in the mid-16th century for Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia, which is, above all else, a wonderland of water. This evening is at leisure in Frascati. Overnight Frascati (B)
Wednesday September 6: Necropoli della Banditaccia
Today we travel to Orvieto, stopping at the 6th century BCE Necropoli della Banditaccia outside Cerveteri. A World Heritage Site, the necropolis is a magically atmospheric landscape, a reminder of the genius of Etruscan culture. Following arrival in Orvieto, we explore this beautiful hilltop town with its 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. This evening we have dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini, Orvieto (B, D)
Thursday September 7: Villa Lante and the Sacro Bosco
A drive through the late summer countryside of Umbria and Lazio brings us to the small town of Bagnaia and the classic Renaissance garden of the Villa Lante. Its monumental series of terraces, fountains and carefully sculpted parterres are designed to tell the story of man’s control of nature’s greatest resource, water. After a break for lunch in Bagnaia, we continue on to Bomarzo, where a fantastical Mannerist garden, the Sacro Bosco (also known as the Park of Monsters), was created in the 16th-century for the Orsini family. This wooded parkland is full of weird and wonderful buildings and giant creatures carved out of the living rock. Overnight Orvieto (B)
Friday September 8: To Fiesole via La Foce
After breakfast, we leave Orvieto for Fiesole, stopping in the Val d’Orcia to visit one of Italy’s most famous 20th century gardens, La Foce, (visit subject to availability) designed by Cecil Pinsent between 1927 and 1939 for the Anglo-American author and horticulturist, Iris Origo. Pickets of cypress and walls of clipped box, including the famous oblong garden, lead us through themed ‘rooms’ and past herbaceous borders in this romantic and dramatic mix of old and new. We enjoy lunch on the estate, before continuing on, through the Tuscan countryside to Fiesole, in the hills above Florence. Overnight Hotel Villa Fiesole, Fiesole (B, L)
Saturday September 9: Florence and Giardino Torrigiani
In the morning we drive down the hill to Florence for a private tour of the Giardino Torrigiani, an oasis in the middle of the bustling city, part botanical gardens, part romantic early 19th-century giardino inglese. Its seventeen acres make it the largest privately owned garden within the city walls of any European city. The afternoon and evening are at leisure to explore and enjoy Florence. Overnight Fiesole (B)
Sunday September 10: Villa Gamberaia and Villa Le Balze
Edith Wharton described Villa Gamberaia as “the most perfect example of the art of producing a great effect on a small scale”. We visit the villa at nearby Settignano. In the 19th century the gardens were substantially renovated by the eccentric Romanian princess Jeanne Ghyka, in places faithful to the 18th-century plans – the bowling green and bosco, for example – and in others playfully innovative – the box parterres substituted with water pools. The afternoon is at leisure. You may like to join Michael in an optional walk to Cecil Pinsent’s gardens at Villa Le Balze, now owned by Georgetown University. Overnight Fiesole (B)
Monday September 11: To Padua via Marzabotto
Today we head north for Padua. Our first stop, high in the Apennines, is the ruins and museum of the 6th-century BCE Etruscan site of Marzabotto. Destroyed by the Gauls in the 4th century BCE, it is one of the few Etruscan towns never to have been built over. Its layout, landscape and dramatic setting are as they were over 2,500 years ago. Following arrival in Padua we visit the Cappella degli Scrovegni home to one of Italy’s great Renaissance masterpieces – a striking cycle of Giotto frescoes. Overnight Hotel Majestic Toscanelli, Padua (B, D)
Tuesday September 12: Orto Botanico and Villa Barbarigo
We begin our stay in Padua with a private tour of its famous botanic garden, the Orto Botanico. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest academic botanic gardens in the world. After lunch we drive to the nearby village of Valsanzibio and the Baroque Villa Barbarigo with its seventy statues, cascades, fountains and water features all set in a surrounding amphitheatre of hills. The private visit ends with aperitivi on the terrace before returning to Padua early evening. Overnight Padua (B)
Wednesday September 13: Villa Pisani
And so farewell to Padua as we leave for the dramatic scenery of the Italian Lakes. On the way we visit the Villa Pisani. Described as ‘the Queen of Venetian villas’, it has welcomed doges, kings and emperors and is today a national museum. We arrive in Bellagio on Lake Como mid-afternoon. After a brief stroll of this lakeside town, out on a peninsular surrounded by mountains, we enjoy dinner together at the hotel. Overnight Hotel Belvedere, Bellagio (B, D)
Thursday September 14: Villa Melzi and Villa Carlotta
This morning, a short walk from the hotel brings us to the elegant 19th-century Villa Melzi. The gardens are a botanical paradise of plants and trees; its terraced, manicured lawns, sweep down to the lake shore; sculpture, ancient and modern, surprises at every turn. After a break for lunch, we cross the lake by boat to visit the 17th-century Villa Carlotta, whose gardens were created in the early 19th century by Melzi’s rival, both politically and botanically, Gian Battista Sommariva. The villa is a treasure house of neo-classical sculpture, including works by Canova and Thorvaldsen. The gardens, as at Villa Melzi, are a garden connoisseur’s paradise. Overnight Bellagio (B)
Friday September 15: Villa Balbianello and Villa d’Este
Today we tour Lake Como by private launch, first visiting the 18th-century Villa Balbianello, occupying a beautiful site on a promontory overlooking the lake. We view the interior and the elaborately terraced gardens. We then continue along the lake, passing exquisite properties owned by some of the most prominent Italian families, until we reach the 16th-century Villa D’Este, one of the best known villas on Lake Como, now a luxury hotel. Here we enjoy a relaxed lunch overlooking the gardens and the lake. Overnight Bellagio (B, L)
Saturday September 16: Lake Maggiore and Alpinia
Today we exchange one dramatic lake for another – Como for Maggiore. In the afternoon, from our new base in Stresa, we take the cable car to Alpinia, the Alpine Gardens created in the 1930s, half way up Mount Mottarone, from where there are dramatic views of the Borromean Islands and Lake Maggiore. In the evening we take a private boat to Isola Pescatori for a group dinner at the Belvedere Hotel. Overnight Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa (B, D)
Sunday September 17: Villa Taranto and the Giardini Botanici dell’Isola Madre
A day for the plant connoisseur. Arriving by private boat, September is the perfect month to visit Villa Taranto with its maze of over 350 varieties of dahlias in full bloom. Its bright mass bedding is in stark contrast to its specimen plants and trees. In the afternoon, we continue on to the Giardini Botanici located on Isola Madre, one of only two Italian partner gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society. Its English-style garden is renowned for its rare, exotic and aromatic plants. Overnight Stresa (B)
Monday September 18: Isola Bella
Our final morning and what more fitting way to end our trip than one of the most magnificent gardens in the world, Isola Bella. The unbelievable sumptuousness of this 17th-century Baroque villa and its extraordinary six-roomed lakeside grotto are the perfect introduction to one of the great masterpieces of garden theatre. Approaching from the villa, one can shake one’s head in disbelief at the hubris of the Borromean family motto inset in coloured pebbles into one of the lawns – Humilitas, humility. Nothing though can prepare you for the garden: the terraces, the flowers, their vibrant colours, the giant camphor tree, the white peacocks, the sculpture, the fountains, the views. On its island, it is, in the literal sense of the word, a paradise. After all that, the afternoon is free to relax and enjoy Stresa and the lake before our farewell dinner at the Charleston Restaurant in the hotel. Overnight Stresa (B, D)
Tuesday September 19: Departure
The tour ends after breakfast. A morning group transfer to Milan’s Malpensa airport is available for those joining the Emirates flight at 2pm or for later departures. (B)
A classical archaeologist, an antiquarian, garden historian and lecturer. The former Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney.
Since 2005 he has been Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney. Michael has homes in Sydney and Sussex.
What is included in the tour price? Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price? Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
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A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
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