The villas of Italy epitomise elegance and refinement and are often the work of some of the greatest architects, garden designers and artists. But they are not merely beautiful: they offer unrivalled glimpses of the style and values of the period while also expressing the unique personality of their owners. This 14-day tour takes you to many of the finest villas of northern Italy. We begin on the shores of Lake Como, and then visit elegant towns of Mantua, with its stunning frescoes by Andrea Mantegna and Giulio Romano, Vicenza and Asolo, where we admire the Renaissance villas and palaces of Andrea Palladio. The tour concludes on Lake Maggiore, with visits to the stunning Borromean Islands and peaceful Lake Orta.
Throughout the tour we stay in small lakeside and hill towns, allowing you to enjoy the gentle pace and everyday elegance of provincial Italian life, free from noise and the tourist crush. The itinerary is gently paced; busy days are interspersed with quieter ones.
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If Government imposed COVID-19 restrictions mean that we cannot run a tour, or that you cannot travel to join a tour, then you will be given a 100% refund of all monies paid to Academy Travel for your tour.
Academy Travel requires all participants on its tours to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. We reserve the right to inspect your digital vaccination certificate.
The Landscapes of Italy
Enjoy some of Italy’s most sublime scenery: lakes and gardens set beneath the snow-capped Alps, elegant towns such as Asolo and Vicenza, and the verdant fields and vineyards of the Veneto.
Palladio’s Villas in the Veneto
Visit the great Renaissance architect Palladio’s World Heritage-listed villas and palaces, among them the Villa Emo and La Rotonda.
The Borromean Islands
Explore the magnificent islands of Lake Maggiore, owned for centuries by the Borromeo family: the baroque splendour of Isola Bella and Isola Madre, famous for its English landscaped gardens.
Autumn Colour on Lake Como
Witness the spectacular display of autumn colour: from shades of russet and orange on the changing trees to the intense colours of the curated gardens, all flourishing against an alpine backdrop.
Courts of Northern Italy
Discover the history of the small courts of northern Italy, centres of refined culture: Mantua, Asolo and Verona.
Days 1-3: Enjoy Lake Como and its stunning villas including Villa Melzi, Villa Balbianello and lunch at Villa d’Este.
Days 4-5: Explore Renaissance Mantua and Vicenza, home to numerous of Palladio’s palaces
Days 6-8: Visit Palladio’s most perfect villas and enjoy the tranquility of Asolo, one of Italy’s most beautiful hill towns.
Days 9-10: Verona’s Giusti Gardens and a private visit to Villa Arvedi; tour Lake Garda by boat.
Days 11-13: Marvel at the beauties of Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands and visit the peaceful Lake Orta.
The tour begins and ends at Milan Malpensa airport. Qatar, Singapore, Emirates and Etihad airlines all offer connections to Milan Malpensa airport from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Monday 19 September – 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. On arrival there is the chance to freshen up, 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 – from the water – on our private boat tour, stopping for an afternoon tea break and visit to the picturesque Villa Monastero. There is a light, early dinner in the hotel, which looks out across the lake. Overnight Bellagio (D)
Tuesday 20 September – Villa Balbianello and Villa d’Este
Today we enjoy the villas of Lake Como by private boat. We begin at the 18th-century Villa Balbianello, which occupies an exceptional position on a promontory with panoramic views of Lake Como. We take a guided tour of the interior, decorated in the 20th century by Italian entrepreneur and explorer Guido Monzino. After our visit of the villa, we continue to Villa D’Este, the best-known villa on Lake Como, where we enjoy a sumptuous welcome lunch. Upon return to Bellagio, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Bellagio (B, L)
Wednesday 21 September – 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. We begin at the Villa Melzi, 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. In the afternoon we cross the lake to the Villa Carlotta, commenced by Gian Battista Sommariva, the great rival of Melzi D’Eril of the Villa Melzi. In the mid-19th 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 lake’s microclimate. Overnight Bellagio (B)
Thursday 22 September – The Court of Mantua
We leave Lake Como today and travel by coach to Vicenza, stopping at Mantua. Once a lively 15th-century court under the Gonzaga dynasty, Mantua declined in the 16th century due to squabbles over succession. A guided visit of the town includes a visit to Andrea Mantegna’s celebrated frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi, and Giulio Romano’s mischievous gods and goddesses at the Palazzo Te. After the tour, we continue on to our hotel in the countryside and enjoy a meal together. Overnight Vicenza (B, D)
Friday 23 September – Palladio in the City
Today an elegant provincial town, Vicenza was the home of Andrea Palladio, the great Renaissance architect. This morning we explore Palladio’s youthful contributions to the streetscape of Vicenza, from his early proposal to retrofit the town’s celebrated Basilica Palladiana to his urban palaces and his late masterpiece, the Teatro Olimpico. This theatre still preserves it original stage set and is an iconic example of Palladio’s innovative and practical designs. The afternoon is at leisure, to continue your survey of Palladio’s works or perhaps to enjoy a stroll past the city’s elegant shops. Overnight Vicenza (B)
Saturday 24 September – Palladio in the Country
We continue our survey of Palladio’s glorious contribution to architectural history with a visit to the best known of his ‘suburban villas’: the Villa Capra ‘La Rotonda’. Its siting and proportional rhythm have been endlessly influential on subsequent designs, such as Jefferson’s Monticello estate. We continue to the Villa Valmarana ai Nani, still in private hands, 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)
Sunday 25 September – Villa Barbaro & the Valdobbiadene
This morning we visit another Palladio 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, 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. Here we’ll 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)
Monday 26 September – 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 the architect’s villas. Overnight Asolo (B)
Tuesday 27 September – Villa Arvedi and Verona
This morning we travel to Verona, stopping to visit Villa Arvedi, the residence of Count Arvedi, who will be our guide. The villa contains frescoes by French artist Ludovico Dorigny and a fine parterre garden ‘all’italiana’. We continue on to central Verona for lunch and to visit the formal Giardino dei Giusti. In the late afternoon we continue on to our base on the western shores of Lake Garda, in the quiet lakeside town of Gardone Riviera. Overnight Gardone (B, D)
Wednesday 28 September – Lake Garda
We begin the day by making the short trip to 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 by the lake in Gardone, we embark on a leisurely private boat tour of Lake Garda. Overnight Gardone (B)
Thursday 29 September– Lake Iseo
Today we travel to Stresa, stopping to visit Lake Iseo. Relatively undiscovered, this beautiful lake was recently “wrapped” in striking orange silk by the artist Christo, and a number of islands – one with an elaborate and private Medieval Revival castle – rise up from the water. Monte Isola, the largest island in this lake, rises to a peak of 600m, and we stop for lunch at leisure here, perhaps at one of the lakeside fish restaurants. In the afternoon, we continue to Stresa and have dinner together. Overnight Stresa (B, D)
Friday 30 September – The Borromean Islands
The Borromean islands of 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 retain the family’s botanical interests. Overnight Stresa (B)
Saturday 1 October – 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 to tradition, was the 100th church founded by San Giulio, a 4th-century Greek monk who evangelised this mountainous region. Today 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)
Sunday 2 October – Departure
An early morning group transfer to Milan’s Malpensa airport is available for those joining midday flights. (B)
Deborah Trentham holds a BA in the History of Art and an MA in Country House Studies. She has worked at the National Gallery (London) for a decade, has taught garden history for over 20 years at Birkbeck College, University of London, Imperial College, and KLC School of Design in Chelsea. In 2013, Deborah founded The Garden Historians, to bring garden history to a broader audience.
Deborah also works in garden design, and brings her exceptional knowledge of gardens and their histories in Italy, the UK, France, Spain and the USA.
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. 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
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, 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.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.