The villas and gardens of the Italian lakes are as spectacular as the alpine landscape surrounding them. This 15-day tour visits many of the finest villas and gardens of northern Italy, from the shores of Lake Como to the foothills of the Apennines, with its medieval towns and contemporary villas, and on to the Veneto to admire the Renaissance country houses of Andrea Palladio. The tour concludes on Lake Maggiore, best known for the baroque splendour of Isola Bella and enjoys the lakes, villas and gastronomy of the region at a gentle pace.
Italy’s genius for art and architecture in spectacular lakeside and country sites
The sheer range of art and history in northern Italy, from medieval towns to villas and 21st-century estates
Some of the world’s most beautiful gardens, still in the hands of Italy’s leading families
Palladio’s finest Renaissance villas, from Villa Emo to Villa Capra “La Rotonda” and Villa Barbaro
The stunning colours and landscapes of pre-alpine Italy
The best of northern Italy’s regional cuisines, famous for prosciutto, parmigiano and prosecco
The villas and gardens of Lake Como in bloom: Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello
Bergamo and Asolo: beautiful medieval hill towns with surprising histories
Elegant Verona, the historic Giusti Gardens and a private visit to Villa Arvedi, still the home of the Counts of Arvedi
The fascinating towns of Lake Garda and tranquil Lake Orta
Excellent regional cuisine and wine, including lunches in country restaurants, at Villa d’Este and in scenic Valdobbiadene, home of prosecco
The Borromean Islands: baroque masterpieces on Lake Maggiore
Days 1–4: Arrive in Bellagio and explore Lake Como by boat, visiting the 18th and 19th-century estates of Villa Balbianello and Villa Melzi, with lunch at the Villa d’Este. Day trip to Bergamo.
Days 5–6: From Cremona, explore the hill towns and medieval castles of Emilia-Romagna.
Days 7–9: Visit Vicenza en route to Asolo. Admire Palladio’s country houses, palaces and theatre.
Days 10–11: Explore refined Verona and picturesque Bassano del Grappa.
Days 12–15: Travel to Stresa via Lake Garda. Experience the extraordinary villas and gardens of Lake Maggiore and enjoy the tranquillity of undiscovered Lake Orta.
A detailed itinerary for this tour is available. Click on the link above to view or download.
Emirates offers the best connections to Milan. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Thursday April 25: Lake Como
A group transfer to Bellagio, spectacularly situated on Lake Como, is available for those arriving in Milan’s Malpensa airport on early morning flights. Those travelling independently should make their own way to the hotel. On arrival there is the chance to freshen up (hotel rooms may not available until early afternoon), before we take a short stroll around the town. In the afternoon, we enjoy Lake Como in the way it was meant to be seen with a private boat tour, stopping for an afternoon tea break at Varenna, a picturesque fishing village. There is a light, early dinner in the hotel, which looks out across the lake. Overnight Bellagio (D)
Friday April 26: Villa Balbianello and Villa d’Este
The rugged, alpine landscape surrounding Lake Como provides the perfect setting for a villa and property here has been among Italy’s most sought after at least since the time of Pliny the Younger (who had two villas here). Today we enjoy the Como branch of the lake by private boat. Our first stop is the 18th-century Villa Balbianello, which occupies an exceptional position on a promontory with panoramic views of Lake Como. We take a guided tour the interior, decorated in the 20th century by Italian entrepreneur and explorer Guido Monzino. We 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, the best-known villa on Lake Como. Here we enjoy a relaxed welcome lunch in its restaurant overlooking the gardens and the lake. Overnight Bellagio (B, L)
Saturday April 27: Bergamo
Bergamo, perched high on a hill overlooking the plains of Lomarby, is a city rich with history, from early settlement, to its time as a free city guarding Italy from the German emperors, and then as the western outpost of the Venetian Empire. Today we travel by coach to Bergamo. We visit the recently renovated Accademia Carrara, which has a fine collection of Renaissance art. We then tour the medieval town of Bergamo Alto, visiting its piazzas, the fine church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Renaissance tomb of Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of Italy’s greatest military commanders. We return by coach to Bellagio in the late afternoon. Overnight Bellagio (B)
Sunday April 28: Neo-classical villas
Villas and their gardens often have stories to tell, and the two we visit today speak volumes about Italy’s travails at the turn of the 19th century. The Villa Melzi was built in the neo-classical style for Napoleon’s Vice-President of Italy, Francesco Melzi D’Eril. He called in the designers of the Royal Park at Monza to do his gardens, which flow graciously down the mountainside to the lake. He could certainly afford them and perhaps wanted to to make a statement to his political rival, Gian Battista Sommariva, whose villa on the opposite side of the lake had become a fixture for Grand Tourists because of its collection of works Canova and Thorvaldsen, the two best sculptors of the period. In the mid-nineteenth century, Sommariva’s villa was sold, then given as a wedding gift to Princess Charlotte of Prussia, whose husband Georg of Saxe-Meuningen was an avid botanist. He is largely responsible for the garden’s appearance today, with its cascading azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias, and extensive botanical gardens which take full advantage of the microclimate of Lake Como. Overnight Bellagio (B)
Monday April 29: Into Emilia-Romagna
We leave Lake Como today and travel by coach to Cremona, stopping at Castel d’Arquato, a medieval fortified hill town with a an early Romanesque church and a Renaissance fortress overlooking the valley. After visiting the town, we have lunch at a country restaurant to enjoy the cuisine of Emilia Romagna, known among Italians for being some of their country’s finest. In the afternoon, we continue to Cremona, once an important medieval city, but today better known for having been the home of Stradivarius. Overnight Cremona (B, L)
Tuesday April 30: Stradivarius, Parmigianino and the Magnani Rocca Estate
This morning we visit Cremona’s violin museum, which has a fine collection of historical instruments, including four Stradivarius violins. We then travel by coach to Fontanellato, whose medieval fortress – one of the few remaining in Italy with its moat intact – was renovated by its 16th century occupants, who employed a young Parmagianino to paint frescoes of the story of Diana and Acteon, which remain well-preserved today. After lunch in a local restaurant, we visit the Magnani Rocca Estate, with its landscape gardens and private art gallery with works by Titian, Monet, Durer, Morandi and others. We return to Cremona in the late afternoon. Overnight, Cremona (B, L)
Wednesday May 1: Palladio and Vicenza
We depart Cremona today and make our way to Asolo via Vicenza. The town was the home of Andrea Palladio, the great Renaissance architect whose Four Books of Architecture are among the most influential works ever written in the field. Our tour begins with Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico and continues by looking at the palaces and public buildings he designed. In the afternoon we visit the best known of his ‘suburban villas’ – the Villa Capra ‘La Rotonda’, before heading to Asolo, our base for the next three nights. Dinner is in our hotel, which boasts one of Asolo’s best restaurants. Overnight Asolo (B, D)
Thursday May 2: Villa Barbaro and the Valdobbiadene
This morning we visit another of Palladio’s masterpiece, the Villa Barbaro. The villa was commissioned by two brothers from one of Venice’s leading families, one of whom, Daniele, collaborated extensively with Palladio on a new edition of Vitruvius, the only treatise on architecture to have survived from Roman antiquity. The interiors have extensive frescoes by Paolo Veronese, who plays with Palladio’s interior spaces by creating trompe-l’oeil balconies (complete with the people looking down on you), doorways and windows with imaginary landscapes. After visiting the villa, we travel to the Valdobbiadene, a string of valleys along the Piave River most famous for producing prosecco, where we have lunch in a country restaurant overlooking the vineyards. We return to Asolo via the village of Possagno to visit the monumental tomb of Antonio Canova, modelled on the ancient Roman Pantheon. Overnight Asolo (B, L)
Friday May 3: Asolo and Villa Emo
Asolo is one of the most beautiful hill towns in Italy, and the morning and early afternoon are free to relax in the charming town. There are numerous walks through the countryside or up to the medieval fortress above the city, as well as an interesting local museum, cafes and small shops, and a cathedral with works by Lorenzo Lotto and other local artists. This afternoon we take a short excursion to Palladio’s Villa Emo, the most perfectly conceived of Palladio’s villas. Overnight Asolo (B)
Saturday May 4: Bassano del Grappa and Villa Arvedi
This morning we travel to Verona, stopping to visit Bassano del Grappa, with its spectacular view of the Brenta river and bridge designed by Palladio. After a break for lunch (and a chance to enjoy the Saturday markets spilling across the town’s piazzas), we visit Villa Arvedi, a few kilometres outside Verona. The villa remains the residence of the Count Arvedi, who will guide us this afternoon. The villa contains frescoes by French artist Ludovico Dorigny and a fine parterre garden ‘all’italiana’. This evening we dine in a local restaurant. Overnight Verona (B, D)
Sunday May 5: Verona
Verona rose to power in the Middle Ages on the back of its strategic location at the foot of the main pass to Germany and the at times brutal willpower of its ruling family, the della Scala. The decline of its political influence in the fifteenth century, when it was conquered by Venice, did not lead to stagnation however. This morning we explore Verona’s history on foot, starting with a visit to the Giusti Gardens, one of the finest examples of the elegant, formal Italian Garden. We then tour central Verona, visiting Piazza delle Erbe, the Della Scala family tombs, and the church of Sant’Anastasia. The afternoon is at leisure, and you may wish to visit the Castelvecchio Museum – the 14th century castle of the Della Scala, transformed into an art museum by Carlo Scarpa. Overnight, Verona. (B)
Monday May 6: Lake Garda
This morning we depart for Stresa, stopping to visit Sirmione, a medieval lakeside town that was once a stronghold of the Lords of Verona. We then travel to Gardone, on the western shores of Lake Garda, to explore the villa of the 20th-century war hero, poet and eccentric Gabriele D’Annunzio. The interior is extraordinary: dark, intense, eclectic and certainly unique. It is complemented by peaceful gardens and terraces, replete with gifts given to him by the Italian state, including a small WWI warship he then had installed in the mountainside. After a break for lunch on the lake front, we continue to Stresa. Overnight, Stresa. (B)
Tuesday May 7: The Borromean Islands
The Borromean islands, lying just off the shores of Stresa on Lake Maggiore, are named after the noble Milanese Borromeo family, who have owned them since the 13th century. This morning we take a private boat to Isola Bella, an entire island given over to their baroque palace and magnificently theatrical gardens. After a break for lunch on Isola Pescatori – the small island next door, also owned by the Borromeo – we visit Isola Madre. In contrast to the baroque display of the Isola Bella, the gardens of Isola Madre were designed by Henry Cocker in the English style in the early 20th century, although sections of the garden retain the family’s botanical interests. Overnight Stresa (B)
Wednesday May 8: Lake Orta
This morning we travel to the nearby Lake Orta. This lake is yet to be discovered by mass tourism and we visit peaceful Orta San Giulio, a small town on the shore. From here we take a boat to Isola San Giulio, the site of a medieval abbey. The abbey, according tradition, it was the 100th church founded by San Giulio, a 4th century Greek monk who evangelised this mountainous region. Today it the island remains a monastic retreat, and its church contains medieval frescoes and sculpture. After a break for lunch, we return to Stresa where the afternoon is at leisure before we meet for our farewell dinner. Overnight Stresa (B, D)
Thursday May 9: Departure
An early morning group transfer to Milan’s Malpensa airport is available for those joining midday flights. (B)
Michael Turner is a garden and art historian. The former Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney (2005-2016).
Michael Turner is a cultural and garden historian. He has a strong personal and academic interest in the art, history, literature, and mythology of the Classical past and how these have shaped the gardens and landscapes of Britain and Italy – from the Renaissance, to the Grand Tour, to the present day.
Michael holds a BA (1st class Honours with University Medal) from the University of Sydney. In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London and in 2018, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, the world’s oldest active biological society.
In the early 1990s, following a high-profile career in women’s fashion in London, Michael returned to Australia to pursue his long-held passion for all things Classical. In 2004, he was appointed Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum, home to the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern hemisphere. On his arrival, the museum had less than 10,000 visitors a year; when he left in 2016, annual attendance figures were in excess of 100,000. Michael, now a regular on radio and television, curated over twenty exhibitions on everything from Sigmund Freud’s collection of antiquities, to the Grand Tour, to the hugely successful series of Lego creations: the Colosseum, the Acropolis and Pompeii.
Michael returned to England the better to pursue his interest in garden history. He now lectures in London for the Garden Historians, is researching the collection of Roman sculpture at Hever Castle in Kent, and working on his next book on the most delightful and largest of all English gardens, the humble hedgerow.
Michael lives in Sussex from where he is ideally based to design and develop new garden tours for Academy Travel. To date, these include ‘Gardens of a Passionate Mind: The Great Gardens of Southern England’ (2016 and 2018); From Yorkshire to the Lake District: The Gardens of the North (2017 and 2019); ‘The Great Gardens of Italy’ (2018); ‘The Gardens and Castles of Scotland (2018); and ‘From Bath to Land’s End: The Gardens of the South West’ (2019).
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.
Passport and Visa
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.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.