The following itinerary describes a range of gardens, villas and palaces which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Moltrasio - 2 nights
Day 1: Monday 1 May, Arrive Milan Malpensa – Moltrasio – Como – Moltrasio
- Refreshments at hotel
- Como: Introductory walking tour and time at leisure
- Brief introductory meeting
- Light (2-course) Dinner, La Cascata restaurant
On arrival at Milan’s Malpensa airport, those taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight transfer by private coach to Moltrasio. If you are travelling independently, you should meet the group at the Grand Hotel Imperiale. Note: private transfers from the airport to the hotel can be arranged through the hotel’s concierge; please contact ASA for further information.
Grand Hotel Imperiale is situated on the shores of Lake Como with panoramic views of the Grigne Mountains. At the hotel, light refreshments will be served for those who have arrived on the ‘designated’ flight and any other group members wishing to join them. Those who wish to visit Como will then meet and transfer there by public ferry. In Como, there will be an introductory walking tour with our local guide, followed by time at leisure. We return to our Moltrasio hotel to complete the check-in process at 3.00pm. The group will meet again at 6.30pm for a brief introduction to the tour, followed by a light dinner at the hotel’s La Cascata restaurant. (Overnight Moltrasio) D
Day 2: Tuesday 2 May, Moltrasio – Tremezzo – Bellagio – Moltrasio
- Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo
- Villa Melzi, Bellagio (optional)
- Villa del Balbianello, Bellagio
- Welcome Dinner, Imperialino restaurant
This morning we cruise across Lake Como to 18th-century Villa Carlotta, a garden with a huge botanical collection and a traditional Italian formal design, unlike most lake gardens that were heavily influenced by the more fluid layouts of English landscape gardening; it thus has a wide variety of architectural features – parterres, stairways, ponds, fountains, etc. In April and May Villa Carlotta offers a sea of multi-coloured azaleas shaped in high, rounded cushions alongside the garden paths.
During the lunch break there will be some time at leisure to visit Villa Melzi (optional).
Afternoon visit to Villa del Balbianello, an exquisite villa set in woods of pine, soaring cypress and oak with pollarded plane trees and manicured lawns and flowerbeds. Facing the promontory of Serbelloni, from the Lavedo point it boasts unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake. The first villa was built in 1540, but was later moved to a new site inland to protect it from flooding. Cardinal Durini erected a casino with a loggia in 1790, open to the sun and breezes; today it is trellised with Ficus pumila (creeping fig) and flanked by a library and music room.
This evening we meet in the hotel’s Imperialino restaurant for our Welcome Dinner. (Overnight Moltrasio) BD
Stresa - 2 nights
Day 3: Wednesday 3 May, Moltrasio – Bisuschio – Casalzuigno – Stresa
- Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, Bisuschio
- Villa Della Porta Bozzolo, Casalzuigno
Depart Moltrasio to visit Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, located on a steep hillside in the village of Bisuschio. Its garden looks out upon sweeping views, with a glimpse of Lake Lugano. Founded in the 15th century, the villa took its present form in the 16th century. The Cicogna family, who inherited it in 1580, still owns this lovely villa. The formal gardens rise on 7 narrow terraces and adjacent to them is a small sunken garden with formal box parterres and patches of lawn. We tour the villa residence, which houses a fine antique collection. Above the villa is a great terrace with Renaissance grottoes offering shade in summer, and a magnificent water stair. Flowing water was an essential feature of Italian formal gardens, offering a cooling spectacle and a lively, burbling sound.
After lunchtime at leisure we visit Villa Della Porta Bozzolo, which is unusual for Lombardy because its measured stately design is laid out upon a steep slope. Parterres, terraces with stone balustrades and grand stairways flanking fountains rise to an octagonal clearing, or theatre, surrounded by a thick ring of cypresses and woods. The perspective rises further to the villa, set to one side in order not to interrupt the silvan view. We continue to our hotel located on the shores of Lake Maggiore. (Overnight Stresa) B
Day 4: Thursday 4 May, Stresa – Lake Maggiore – Lake Orta – Stresa
- Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
- Isola Madre, Lake Maggiore
- Orta San Giulio & Isola San Giulio, Lake Orta
We take the ferry across Lake Maggiore to Count Carlo Borromeo’s Isola Bella (1632), one of Italy’s most extraordinary Baroque gardens. Located on an island off Stresa, it appears to float like a palatial barge, with 10 terraces rising like a ship’s prow from the reflecting waters. It shares the island with the Borromeo palace and its adjacent village.
We also visit Isola Madre, with semi-tropical plantings amongst which white peacocks roam. In 1845, Flaubert wrote, “Isola Madre is the most sensual place that I have ever seen in the world”. It has a fine swamp cypress, citrus fruit trees, crape myrtle, hibiscus, leptospermum and acacias. The landscape woods have groves of native trees – aromatic cypress, bay and pine – interplanted with camphor, pepper trees and styrax. Its pathways are lined with magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.
This afternoon we visit Lake Orta, to the west of Lake Maggiore, a tiny jewel surrounded by hills and mountains acting as a great natural theatre enveloping local towns and villages. The most beautiful of these is Orta San Giulio, whose town hall has a frescoed façade. Its narrow streets are lined with Rococo houses. We take a ferry to Isola San Giulio to visit the 12th-century Romanesque church whose pulpit is one of the outstanding masterpieces of medieval sculpture in northern Italy. (Overnight Stresa) B
Turin - 4 nights
Day 5: Friday 5 May, Stresa – Poirino – Turin
- Tenuta Banna, Poirino (exclusive private visit)
This morning we make our way south from Stresa to Tenuta Banna. This private estate is owned by Marchese and Marchesa Spinola and is home to the Spinola-Banna Foundation for Art. In the 1990s Paolo Pejrone, leading Italian landscape architect and host of our program on Day 8 of our tour, designed a modern garden around the property’s large farmhouse and adjoining church and castle. He created a series of enclosed gardens ‘organised like a Persian carpet'; they include a secret garden planted with wisterias and peonies, a potager, and a rose garden with an abundance of colour and variety. Following lunch, we will drive to Turin, Italy’s first capital city after unification and home to the House of Savoy. (Overnight Turin) BL
Day 6: Saturday 6 May, Turin
- Orientation walk of Turin, including guided visits to the Palazzo Reale, Cathedral & Palazzo Madama
- Afternoon and evening at leisure
This morning we will enjoy a guided orientation walk of the city’s centre with a local guide. Our walk will include a visit to Turin’s Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), seat of the House of Savoy (1646-1859) and of Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy (1860-1865). This grand palace, a major essay in Italian Baroque and Rococo, has sumptuous decorations and furniture from all periods. We will also visit Turin’s Palazzo Madama, a medieval castle behind a Baroque façade, with a major art collection that includes Antonello da Messina’s Portrait of a Man. This afternoon and evening we will be at leisure to explore Turin in greater depth. (Overnight Turin) B
Day 7: Sunday 7 May, Turin – Moncalieri – Turin
- Villa Silvio Pellico – including lunch (exclusive private visit)
- Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli
Today we visit Villa Silvio Pellico, a fine Neo-Gothic mansion (1780) with a Russell Page garden, arguably one of his three masterpieces. Page had gained an understanding of the Italian and French formal tradition of gardening from Edith Wharton and Geoffrey Jellicoe. On an ill-kempt hillside in the 1950s he created a fine terraced garden on two axes divided by pools; Page was particularly sensitive to the use of water in gardens. Symmetrical hedges create a series of ‘rooms’ of different designs, using diverse vegetation and ground patterns, as well as sculptures. The present owner, Raimonda Lanza di Trabia, daughter of the last Prince of Trabia (Sicily), and her husband Emanuele Gamna, will host us for lunch.
We return to Turin to visit the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli. Giovanni Agnelli was in 1899 one of the original founders of what became the Fiat motor company. The Agnelli family, ‘the Kennedys of Italy’, are also known for their ownership of Ferrari since 1969 and as majority owners of the Juventus Football Club. Donna Marella Agnelli, of the Italian noble house of Caracciolo, is a renowned style icon, garden designer, author and photographer, as well as art collector. The Pinacoteca, opened in 2002, displays 25 masterpieces from Giovanni and Marella Agnelli’s private art collection. We shall visit the gallery known as the ‘Scrigno’, or ‘treasure chest’, which houses twenty-three paintings and two sculptures, including works by Matisse, Balla, Severini, Modigliani, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Picasso, Renoir, Manet and Canova. The space itself is a work of art, having been designed by Renzo Piano inside Turin’s historic industrial complex of Lingotto. Our specially-arranged tour allows us a visit to the former Fiat test track on the building’s roof. Our viewing of the Agnellis’ remarkable collection is not only an experience in itself, but also a fitting prelude to tomorrow’s visit to the famous gardens of the Agnelli property at Villar Perosa. (Overnight Turin) BL
Day 8: Monday 8 May, Turin – Villar Perosa – Revello – Moncalieri – Turin
- Program hosted by garden designer Paolo Pejrone (Gardens of Casa Agnelli & Bramafam)
- Gardens of Casa Agnelli at Villar Perosa (exclusive private visit)
- Bramafam, Paolo Pejrone’s private experimental garden (exclusive private visit)
- Private Garden of Silvana and Alberto Peyrani (exclusive private visit)
We are particularly privileged today to accompany Paolo Pejrone on two very special garden visits. This morning we visit the exquisite gardens of Casa Agnelli, set on a private estate which has been home to the Agnelli family since the early 1800s. In 1955 Marella Agnelli commissioned Russell Page and together they transformed the gardens. The swimming pool area was designed by renowned architect Gae Aulenti and other parts of the garden were developed by Paolo Pejrone. The grounds offer a range of styles: Italianate formal gardens; a water garden with interconnecting lakes; an English-style woodland walk, a romantic garden, sculpture gardens and more. We are particularly fortunate to have been granted a visit to this most extraordinary of gardens.
Paolo Pejrone will then accompany us on a visit to his own, very private garden, designed not so much for its aesthetics, but rather as a laboratory in which the master is constantly experimenting with new plantings. Set on a steep escarpment near a ruined medieval rampart from which ‘Bramafam’ takes its name, the garden and its owner’s discussions with you will give precious, unique insights into his ideas and practice.
We continue to Moncalieri to visit the private garden designed by Paolo Pejrone for Silvana and Alberto Peyrani. Pejrone surrounded their villa with extensive new gardens, including decorative orchards and a fine potager. We are very grateful that the Peyranis have graciously consented to allow us to explore their private domain. (Overnight Turin) B
Lucca - 2 nights
Day 9: Tuesday 9 May, Turin – Santa Margherita Ligure – La Cervara – Lucca
- Abbey of San Girolamo al Monte di Portofino (La Cervara)
- Group Dinner at Gli Orti di Via Elisa
We drive southeast along the grand Ligurian coast to the magnificent Abbey of San Girolamo al Monte di Portofino. Located in a strategic position atop a rocky headland that overlooks the Tigullio Gulf, it was founded as a Benedictine Monastery (1361). The monks’ former vegetable garden was transformed into what is now the only monumental Italian formal garden in the Liguria region. It extends over two levels connected by arbors and steps. On the lower level, hedges of boxwood (buxus sempervirens) are trimmed into ornate stepped cones, an important example of topiary art. The hedges surround a 17th-century marble fountain in the form of a putto, whose underlying basin is tinged with pink water lilies in summer.
After visiting this grand garden, we continue to Lucca and check in to the Hotel Ilaria, which occupies the restored stables of the Villa Bottini inside the city walls. In the evening we dine together at Gli Orti di Via Elisa Restaurant, located near the hotel. (Overnight Lucca) BD
Day 10: Wednesday 10 May, Lucca
- Orientation tour of Lucca incl. Cathedral of San Martino, San Michele, San Frediano and the Piazza del Mercato
- Palazzo Pfanner
- Afternoon at leisure
- Italian Opera Evening at the Church of San Giovanni
Lucca is one of the most beautiful of all Italian cities, with city walls graced by grand plantations of trees and one of the finest sets of Romanesque churches in Italy. We visit the Cathedral of St. Martin, with a lovely Jacopo della Quercia tomb. The Church of San Michele has a spectacular façade made up of complex blind galleries with capricious sculptures of beasts. It was built in the ancient forum of the city; Lucca’s medieval street plan follows the original Roman plan. The oval Piazza del Mercato’s medieval palaces were built into the structure of Lucca’s Roman amphitheatre. San Frediano, meanwhile, has a distinctive façade mosaic and a unique baptismal font that was once a medieval fountain.
After lunch we visit the privately owned 17th-century Palazzo Pfanner, where parts of Portrait of a Lady were filmed (1996). The palace’s owner, Dario Pfanner, will introduce his palace and its Baroque garden, a fine example of an urban garden that includes various statues of Olympian deities and a fountain pond. Its elegant lemon house (limonaia) inflects a space defined by boxwood and laurel hedges. Bushes of peonies and hortensias, roses and potted geraniums gain shade from yews, pines, magnolias and an old camellia. Inside, the palace’s piano nobile (main reception room) features Pietro Paolo Scorsini frescoes (c.1720).
The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to walk a section of Lucca’s 17th-century city walls, the best preserved in Italy. The Lucchesi planted trees atop these walls to form a promenade enlivened by small gardens and lawns. We attend an evening concert with a selection from Italian operas, including some by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), a native of Lucca, in the Church of San Giovanni. (Overnight Lucca) B
Florence - 4 nights
Day 11: Thursday 11 May, Lucca – Camigliano – Capannori – San Piero a Sieve – Florence
- Villa Torrigiani, Camigliano
- Lunch at a Tuscan osteria
- Medici Castello del Trebbio, San Piero a Sieve
During the Renaissance, the wealthy merchant families of Tuscany built grand villas on the plains of Lucca. We visit 17th-century Villa Torrigiani, named after the camellia that was introduced to the gardens in the early 18th century. The garden’s Baroque layout, attributed to André Le Nôtre, features symmetrical reflecting pools in front of the villa. Most outstanding is the secret garden (Giardino di Flora), with regular beds, topiary and pools. The garden features 19th-century trees, magnificent magnolias, cypresses and umbrella pines. The 18th-century avenue of cypresses leading to the villa from the village of Borgonuova reflects the past grandeur of estates in this region.
We eat a traditional Tuscan lunch at nearby Osteria da mi pà before continuing our journey eastward toward Castello il Trebbio in San Piero a Sieve.
“Set on a hilltop in the Apennines north of Florence, a few kilometres west of San Piero a Sieve, Castello del Trebbio is one of the oldest villas built by the Medici, who came from the Mugello and chose their native region for their first villas. The head of the Medici clan, Giovanni di Bicci, owned the property from the late 14th century, and upon his death in 1428, the villa was inherited by Cosimo the Elder, who commissioned Michelozzo di Bartolomeo to rebuild the original castle.
Set in an excellent strategic position, dominating the Sieve Valley below and near a cross roads (Trebbio derives from the Latin trivium), the castle was surrounded by woods and a huge estate which bordered on the Cafaggiolo property. Although Vasari suggests otherwise, Trebbio was the first of the Mugello castles to be rebuilt by Michelozzo. Immediately after 1428, the building work began, incorporating the existing watchtower into a solid, compact defensive construction surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. The defensive role was necessary on account of the castle’s position, however novel features were also introduced to satisfy the requirements of the patron.
The walled garden set on two terraces to the right is noteworthy as it was among the first of its kind to be designed for a villa. The upper terrace of the well-preserved garden, a veritable hortus conclusus, is decorated with a long pergola made up of a double row of columns and sandstone capitals in various styles (ionic and decorated with foliage motifs), which support a thick covering of vines. As can be seen in the lunette painted by Giusto Utens between 1599 and 1602, there was a second pergola (now lost) on the lower terrace, which retains the original layout of a vegetable garden with a pond, as well as planting designed by Michelozzo to satisfy not only defensive requirements, but also Cosimo’s spiritual desire for a contemplative life.” (The Medici Villas: Complete Guide by Isabella Lapi Ballerini & Mario Scalini).
In the late afternoon we arrive at our hotel in central Florence. (Overnight Florence) BL
Day 12: Friday 12 May, Florence – Fiesole – Florence
- Villa Medici in Fiesole
- Lunch at Fattoria di Maiano
- Guided tour, Villa di Maiano & Gardens
- Parco Romantico & Botanical Garden
Unlike the grand villa gardens we have visited near Lucca, Florence and its vicinity have a number of small intimate urban gardens that we visit today. Many of these offer glimpses of the city, a counterpart to the spectacular views afforded by their grander Florentine counterparts. Such views offer a reminder that Florentine villas were seen as retreats from this metropolitan powerhouse. We make an early morning visit to elegant Fiesole in the hills overlooking Florence where Boccaccio set his Decameron, model for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Boccaccio’s protagonists told stories to while away their days in a Fiesole villa in which they had escaped from the plague ravaging Florence.
We first visit the garden of 16th-century Villa Medici in Fiesole. The garden, showing Cecil Pinsent’s influence, is divided into three terraces with a limonaia. We shall then transfer by coach to nearby Villa di Maiano.
The Villa di Maiano can count Queen Victoria among its guests; it has also provided the set for numerous films, including James Ivory’s A Room with a View and Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini. Among the villa’s past owners are members of the famous Sforza and Pazzi families. However, it was wealthy Englishman Sir John Temple Leader who, after acquiring the property in 1844, renovated the villa, its gardens and the surrounding structures. Architect Felice Francolini, while in some respects keeping with the villa’s 15th-century appearance, made some radical changes, such as the addition of a Gothic-style keep with a loggia. The lower terrace’s large garden is bordered by boxwood hedges and the north side below the upper terrace has a limonaia. We will enjoy a group lunch at the Fattoria di Maiano’s restaurant, and then take a guided tour of the Villa and Gardens. We then take a stroll in the Tuscan countryside, on a guided visit to the adjacent Parco Romantico and Botanical Garden. (Overnight Florence) BL
Day 13: Saturday 13 May, Florence – Greve in Chianti – Florence
- Giardino Corsini al Prato
- Villa Capponi
- Villa Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti – including wine-tasting and dinner
We begin with a visit to the Giardino Corsini al Prato, a Florentine urban garden that illustrates the deep connection between nature, science and beauty in the Renaissance sensibility. Alessandro Acciaioli, a passionate 16th-century botanist, conceived the garden. Unable to finish his residence, he was forced to sell the property to Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini, who completed the Italian garden that remains unchanged to this day. Completely concealed from the street by the façade of the palazzo, this urban garden reveals pink and red rock roses, peonies, cherry trees and lavender along with elegant lemon urns and a central axis of solemn marble statues. After our tour of the gardens, Princess Giorgiana Corsini has kindly arranged for us a tour of her palace, followed by refreshments.
We take a short walk back to our hotel and enjoy some time at leisure. In the afternoon in Florence we visit the 16th-century Villa Capponi and its secret gardens where the late Queen Mother spent holidays as a girl. Cecil Pinsent’s influence is evident; he added a library and created a hidden swimming pool area.
We next drive out of Florence for a delicious evening meal and wine tasting at a beautiful Renaissance villa, Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti. The 15th-16th-century house has important artistic associations, for Leonardo da Vinci is thought to have stayed here, and painted the owner’s young wife, Lisa del Giacondo, Mona Lisa. Vignamaggio is also famed for its wines, for it is the official supplier to the Italian parliament at the Quirinale Palace, Rome; its wines are first mentioned in documents dating from the 15th century. It also was the setting of Kenneth Branagh’s film Much Ado About Nothing, starring Emma Thompson. The restored garden, aligned to a row of 100-year-old cypresses, features simple topiary and box hedging amid lawns. Areas like the sunken fountain garden inflect this exquisite orchestration of trees, hedges, lawns and old statues that look out upon the estate’s famous vineyards. (Overnight Florence) BD
Day 14: Sunday 14 May, Florence
- Chapel of the Magi, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
- Museo di San Marco
- Afternoon at leisure
We depart from the hotel on foot and make a visit to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi to view Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes of the Procession of the Magi in the small Magi Chapel. The sumptuous procession, which includes representations of Medici family members, is set in an ideal Tuscan landscape, which forms a fascinating comparison to the gardens we visit and countryside through which we drive.
Our next visit is to the monastery of San Marco, where Dominican monks contemplated the faith in images by Fra Angelico. Here, Cosimo de’Medici had his own cell for religious retreats, and commissioned Michelozzo to design the monks’ cloister and the reading library for his manuscripts. The monastery holds numerous artistic treasures, including a Last Supper by Ghirlandaio in the refectory, and Fra Angelico’s famous Annunciation.
We have another afternoon at leisure to enjoy Florence. (Overnight Florence) B
Siena - 2 nights
Day 15: Monday 15 May, Florence – Settignano – Pianella – Siena
- Villa Gamberaia, Settignano
- Villa di Geggiano, Pianella – including buffet lunch (exclusive private visit)
- Optional evening excursion to Siena’s town centre
We drive to Siena via two famous Tuscan villas. At Settignano we visit the Villa Gamberaia, with arguably the most famous of Florentine villa gardens. The Capponi family initiated the present garden in 1718. In 1896, Princess Ghika of Serbia created the main water parterres in front of the villa. The Marchi family has recently restored the garden. It features magnificent topiary, two fine grottoes, and wonderful old cypresses and pines. By special arrangement, we also tour the interiors of the villa which combines interesting architectural features of both an urban palazzo and suburban villa.
Midday we cross to the opposite side of the Sienese hills to the enchanting Villa Geggiano. Here, centuries-old cypress, potted lemons and clipped box hedges adorn a garden boasting a unique ‘greenery theatre’, late Baroque sculptures, a kitchen garden with topiary art and a semi-circular fishpond that forms an elegant terrace overlooking Siena. The villa itself contains original 13th-century furnishings. A small chapel faces the garden. Lunch features crostini with porcini mushrooms and truffles, pasta, various locally cured meats and Pecorino cheeses, followed by plum jam tart, all washed down with Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico, mineral water and coffee.
In the afternoon we continue to our hotel on the outskirts of Siena, a villa surrounded by gardens. For those wishing to dine in Siena, there will be an optional evening excursion into the city centre. (Overnight Siena) BL
Day 16: Tuesday 16 May, Siena
- Orientation tour of Siena, including Palazzo Pubblico, Cathedral & Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
Siena is the quintessential medieval city. We explore Lorenzetti’s fascinating paintings of Good and Bad Government in the Civic Museum, located in the Palazzo Pubblico, and Duccio’s masterpiece, the Maestà, in the Cathedral Museum. We examine Nicola and Giovanni Pisano’s great pulpit in Siena Cathedral. We also visit medieval quarters (contrade) dominated by palaces still occupied by the families who built them. The contrade compete in the famous palio horse race twice a year. Protected by the Virgin Mary, Siena is a city of Trinitarian symbolism. Built on three ridges, it has three major sectors (terzi) that each elected three members of the city council, and interpreted its very architectural fabric in such symbolic terms. The afternoon is at leisure to explore Siena’s many monuments and museums. (Overnight Siena) B
Perugia - 1 night
Day 17: Wednesday 17 May, Siena – Chianciano Terme – Castel del Piano Umbro – Perugia
- Villa La Foce, Chianciano Terme (by special appointment)
- Private gardens of Villa Aureli, Castel del Piano Umbro
- Orientation Walk, Perugia, including Cathedral & Fontana Maggiore
We drive south to the Renaissance Villa La Foce, home of Iris Origo, author of the famous Merchant of Prato. Origo’s two autobiographies, Images and Shadows and War in Val d’Orcia, vividly describe life on the estate in the mid-20th century. La Foce overlooks the Orcia valley and Amiata Mountains, maintaining a distinctive harmony between its spectacular landscape setting and the formal style of surrounding gardens. Terraces with cherries, pines, cypress and wild herbs gently climb its hillside setting. Now a centre for cultural and artistic activities, it hosts the distinguished Incontri chamber annual summer music festival in the Castelluccio, a medieval castle on the property.
Count Sperello di Serego Alighieri, a descendent of Dante, will host us for a light lunch and show us his lovely Villa Aureli. Shaded by lime trees and oaks and decorated with many late antique vases containing citrus trees, the villa dates to the middle of the 18th century, when a Perugian nobleman and artist, Count Sperello Aureli, transformed a 16th-century tower into his country residence. Of particular note is the orangery, whose high roof is reminiscent of the hull of an upturned ship.
We continue to Perugia for a gentle orientation walk to include its Cathedral and Fontana Maggiore. We spend two nights in the luxury Hotel Brufani Palace, located on a hilltop within Perugia’s historic core. (Overnight Perugia) BL
Viterbo - 1 night
Day 18: Thursday 18 May, Perugia – Bagnaia – Viterbo
- Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia
- Villa Lante, Bagnaia
We begin by viewing masterpieces, including works by Perugino, in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria before departing Perugia to visit the great Villa Lante and its garden.Villa Lante is the consummate example of Italian Mannerist garden design. Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola’s exemplary essay in fine scale and proportion centres on a fountain and water parterre. Vignola was influenced by the Vatican gardens, the Villa d’Este, Hadrian’s marine theatre and the Boboli Gardens (Florence). Its theme, humanity’s descent from the Golden Age is based upon Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Water flows from the Grotto of the Deluge at the summit down a stepped cascade and through a channel at the centre of a vast stone table used for banquets, inspired by Pliny’s description of an imperial garden table using water to cool wine and fruit. In the late afternoon, we drive a short distance to our hotel located in the countryside outside Viterbo. (Overnight Viterbo) BD
Rome - 4 nights
Day 19: Friday 19 May, Viterbo – Vignanello – Calcata – Rome
- Castello Ruspoli, Vignanello
- Group Lunch at Cantina degli Artisti
- Gardens of Paolo Portoghesi at Calcata
Castello Ruspoli occupies the site of a mid-9th century Benedictine convent later converted to a military stronghold. Ortensia Baglioni transformed it into a villa, designed by the great architects Sangallo and Vignola, and succeeding generations created one of Italy’s most beautiful parterres, composed of hedges of bay, laurel and box, which articulate a vast rectangular space. The Princess Ruspoli today maintains the gardens. Our visit will be complemented by lunch in the wine-cellars near the palazzo, which specialise in the cuisine of Vignanello.
This afternoon we visit the gardens of distinguished architect and scholar Paolo Portoghesi. The gardens reinterpret Baroque elements and Borrominian forms, and fuse geometry with nature to produce a garden which is both spectacularly modern and at the same time, reverent toward the traditions upon which it draws. (Overnight Rome) BL
Day 20: Saturday 20 May, Rome – Ninfa – Cisterna – Rome
- Giardini di Ninfa
- Private Gardens of Torrecchia Vecchia
We depart this morning at approximately 8.00am for the Giardini di Ninfa. The magnificent gardens of Ninfa, south of Rome, are some of the most remarkable in all of Italy. Today, their gates will open for a special private visit for our group. The town of Ninfa is but a memory of a once prosperous medieval commune owned by the Caetani family since the mid-13th century. In the early 20th century the family began to regenerate its ruins, taking advantage of a microclimate greened by rich spring water. Thousands of species were introduced from all over the world under the guidance of botanical experts. Lelia Caetani, the last of her ancient family, died in 1977 and bequeathed her property to the Foundation Caetani that maintains the wonderfully atmospheric gardens. Today plants weave themselves over ruined towers, ancient archways and churches, while ducks and swans glide on the castle’s moat. Highlights include a walled garden, small orchard and diverse plantings in which roses, banana trees and maples thrive together in this unique and beautiful landscape.
Nearby, we enjoy a picnic lunch and visit the dreamy gardens of Torrecchia, one of Italy’s most beautiful private gardens. Nestled against the crumbling ruins of a medieval village and castle, perched on a volcanic hilltop just south of Rome, they command spectacular views of the unspoilt 1500-acre estate. Owned by Carlo Caracciolo (the late owner of the Italian newspaper L’Espresso) and Violante Visconti, the gardens were originally designed by Lauro Marchetti, the current curator of the Giardini di Ninfa, and further developed by the English garden designer Dan Pearson and later by Stuart Barfoot. (Overnight Rome) BL
Day 21: Sunday 21 May, Rome – Tivoli – Rome
- Villa d’Este, Tivoli
- Group Lunch at Ristorante Sibilla, Tivoli
- Time at leisure in Rome
Set among the hanging cliffs of the Valle Gaudente, the Villa d’Este and its surrounding gardens and waterworks has undergone a series of innovative extensions in layout and decoration, including those of Bernini in the late 17th century. This UNESCO world heritage site boasts an impressive concentration of nymphaea, grottoes and fountains, including the famous hydraulic Organ Fountain that still operates. The Villa d’Este’s use of water and music became the definitive model for Mannerist and Baroque gardens across Europe.
We remain in the town of Tivoli for lunch at Ristorante Sibilla, a famous restaurant specialising in regional dishes. Marble plaques on the walls list the members of royalty and other famous people who have come here to dine for more than 250 years. After lunch, we return to Rome to enjoy time at leisure. (Overnight Rome) BL
Day 22: Monday 22 May, Rome – Castel Giuliano – Bracciano – Rome
- Palazzo Patrizi, Castel Giuliano (exclusive private visit)
- San Liberato Giardini Botanici, Bracciano (exclusive private visit)
- Farewell Lunch at San Liberato, overlooking Lake Bracciano
The estate of Castel Giuliano, surrounded by a beautiful century-old park, occupies the site of an Etruscan and Roman settlement at the foot of the Tolfa Mountains. The Patrizi family has owned it since 1546 and its present owners have restored its ancient buildings and park to their former splendour. On its wide, gently sloping turf terraces, pines, cluster oaks, and century-old Lebanon cedars tower above sweet-scented herbs and flower-laden bushes, contrasting unruly nature with human interventions. The park has numerous Etruscan tombs and ruins of Roman walls covered in ferns and lichen. Truly unique, it is one of Italy’s most important private rose gardens; in May it hosts the famous ‘Festival of the Roses’. Climbing roses soften the austere lines of the ancient castle walls, which are surrounded by combinations of shrubbery and foxglove, myrtle and pale blue ceanothus.
We finish our tour with a very special visit to the gardens of San Liberato, designed by the famous English landscape designer Russell Page. Page assisted the Count and Countess Sanminiatelli to create San Liberato between 1965 and 1975. With panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside, chestnut woods, a formal rose garden, informal flower beds like small islands dotting the green lawns, and borders of silver and grey plants, the garden also has a modern version of the ‘Orto dei Semplici’, a late medieval physic garden of monastery pharmacies – situated next to the extraordinary church of San Liberato (c.1000 AD). Page himself wrote of San Liberato in 1979:
“No garden is more magic than this one. There is a great atmosphere of tranquillity, the right balance between trees and woods, the lake, the hills, the sky, the simple gardens and the sloping fields, where even the details and most cultivated areas are made of silent harmony”. If I consider this garden particularly beautiful is because we, the proprietors and I, have always paid great attention at the nature of the place when placing the plants. We have created paths, green field and flowerbeds to frame and underline, to enhance and polarise the visible presence incarnated in the features of the lake.”
Today, the gardens open exclusively for our group. We shall toast the end of our tour with a farewell meal in the Giardino degli Ulivi (Olive Garden), overlooking Lake Bracciano, and take a private tour of the gardens with the Curator, Carlo Palermo. (Overnight Rome) BL
Day 23: Tuesday 23 May, Depart Rome
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
The tour ends in Rome. Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport to take their flight home to Australia. Alternatively, you may wish to extend your stay in Italy. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B