Italian Renaissance and Baroque gardens are extravagant exercises in philosophy, mythology, allegory, mathematics and glorious theatre. Add to this the mesmerizing island of Sicily with its archaeological treasures, its brooding volcano and the unique camaraderie of a Ross tour and you have an unforgettable experience.
Meet your Ross Tour Leader Michael McCoy at Sydney Airport for your flight to Rome
Our hotel in Rome for the next 3 nights is the charming Hotel Ponte Sisto, well located in the heart of the old city, across the river from Trastevere and around the corner from the Campo de Fiori. The remainder of the day is free to relax in the hotel. Join Michael for an orientation walk around the area of our hotel. Welcome Dinner in a local restaurant.
The Pope escapes the heat of Rome at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. And that’s where we’re headed today. Within these breezy Alban Hills Castel Gandolfo sits on the edge of a volcanic crater lake. This 12th century fortress built by Gandolfi gave the village its name. It was ceded to the church in 1596 in payment of debt. Gardens were added in 1626 and restored in 1929 according to Italian principles while respecting the layout and levels of the Roman palace. The scale, perfection and grandeur of this garden is Imperial, even today. Impeccable maintenance extends to the olive groves and vineyards beyond the garden and along with the pontifical farm supply the Pope’s table. It’s a treat on three levels and we will explore it all.
Travel outside Rome this morning to Villa D’ Este at Tivoli, renowned for its spectacular use of water and represents the quintessence of the Italian garden of the High Renaissance. Constructed on a steep hillside below the monastery it was intended to be entered from the bottom of the hill where its full extent would awe the visitor making the climb up to the villa at the top. On each terrace is a cross-view of cleverly engineered and spectacular feats of water. Water is the medium of the garden and expresses the idea of nature tamed and sculpted into a man-made vision of beauty. See the organ fountain and the “Walk of the Hundred Fountains”, that were based on the hydraulic theories of Nero/Alexander in circa 100AD. The garden is well maintained and the whole water system has recently been restored. After lunch in Tivoli we will visit Hadrian’s Villa nearby built by Emperor Hadrian in 117AD is a magnilicent complex of ruins that inspired Renaissance architects.
Travel south today to Giardina Ninfa where romantic gardens ramble over ancient walls and towers, rejoicing in the damp, lush conditions. The rare and fragile artistic sensibility of this garden is carefully managed. In 1381 Ninfa was a busy town on the main road between Rome and Naples when it was sacked by mercenaries and the remaining inhabitants reduced by plague and malaria from the surrounding marsh, fled. And so it lay abandoned for six centuries and great trees grew amongst the ruins. Its transformation into a garden began early 20th century “with a careful almost tender touch that remains the essence of this garden even to this day” says Monte Don. It is a garden unlike any other, breath-takingly beautiful, free of people and chemicals and silent except for birdsong.
Continue to the hill town of Norma for a spectacular panorama at lunch .
Head south today to Naples then around the Gulf of Naples to Sorrento. First stop is the Caserta Royal Palace ouside Naples, the last palatial garden to be built in Italy in the formal style. Conceived as a new capital for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, with palace and gardens, the capital was never built but the palace and vast gardens remain. It is staggering in scale, a palace with 1200 rooms, theatre, law court and observatory. The garden to match this gargantuan building was equally ambitious. This monumental complex is UNESCO listed, an eloquent expression of the Enlightenment in material form, integrated into, rather than imposed on, its natural setting. Our special guide show us the Royal Theatre in the Palace and then take us into the park, the latest of the great European gardens inspired by the creations of Versailles and the 16th century models of villas in Rome and Tuscany. The English Garden is one of the greatest, oldest and most important picturesque gardens created in Europe. Travel on to Sorrento and check in to our luxurious hotel for the next five nights overlooking the Gulf of Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Bellevue Hotel of Sorrento was originally a patrician residence, then a villa and now a five star hotel.
A day to explore the famous Amalfi Coast, one of the most beautiful coastlines in Europe. We’ll spend time in Ravello where we will visit two villa gardens. Villa Rufolo looks like a medieval fortress with remnants of the pleasure garden. Palazzo Rufolo’s charming loggia with arches open to the sea breeze. Francis Reid bought ruined palazzo in 1851 and restored it. The garden terraces were designed to be viewed from above and against the backdrop of the Gulf of Salerno. After lunch in Ravello, we will visit the romantic dream of Lord Grimthorpe, Villa Cimbrone. While visiting Ravello in 1904 on the Grand Tour, he did what many Englishmen have done since; he bought himself a house in Italy. He then spent 12 years building a new house and garden worthy of this amazing site, the tip of a rocky spur jutting 300m above the Tyrrhenian Sea and with a dramatic view of the Mediterranean. The garden is eclectic, capricious and eccentric.
Take a jet boat this morning from Sorrento to the Isle of Capri. Blue skies and turquoise water, breathtaking views, couture shops and cafés characterize this island paradise. It’s an oasis for artists, writers and celebrities. In their day, Roman Emperors walked along Capri’s pristine shores. We will explore Capri’s famous Blue Grotto (weather permitting), a sea cave that’s bathed in a cobalt blue light. Sunlight enters through a small underwater aperture and is refracted through the water; this, combined with the reflection of the light off the white sandy seafloor, produces the vivid blue effect to which the cave owes its name. We’ll have free time in Capri town centre for lunch. Anacapri is a concentration of Mediterranean colours, scents, and sounds. Town life here has remained unchanged: tucked between the houses there are small vegetable gardens and lush tropical plants. You’ll see tiny Neapolitan tailor shops, artisan shoemakers, locals knitting and exchanging gossip. We will take the chairlift to Monte Solaro, the highest point on the island, with views of the Penninsula of Sorrento, Mt. Vesuvius, the Gulf of Naples and the islands of Ischia and Procida. You can see coastal headlands, vineyards, villas and the Capri town centre from this panoramic lookout. Villa San Michele is the dream home of the Swedish physician, Axel Munthe who came to Capri in 1885 and built his villa on the ruins of an ancient chapel dedicated to San Michele. The villa overlooks the Bay of Naples. ”My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!”. Axel Munthe. Return to Sorrento by ferry.
First visit today is the palace of the painter Domenico Mondo, now private house-museum, decorated in the transition style between Baroque and Neoclassical. Behind the walls of the palace there’s a small English garden with caves, streams, pagodas, pergolas, temples and ruins. This afternoon its Villa Guevara with its garden made in the late eighteenth century at the behest of the Duchess Guevara, Duchess of Bovino, lady companion of the queen of Naples, Maria Carolina. It’s a blend of Italian formality and romantic English Landscape style. Central to the garden is the ‘Avenue of Umbrellas’ with 700 topiary buxus. A rare and ancient camellia (C japonica ‘Atroviolacea’) is from the nearby Palace of Caserta.
The island of Ischia is our destination today, a short ferry trip from Sorrento and the largest of the Campanian islands in the Bay of Naples. Ischia is divided into two parts: Ischia Ponte is the historic centre marked by ancient paths and bottegas, while Ischia Porto is a tiny fishing village. The Aragonese Castle in Ischia Ponte was constructed by the tyrant Hiero of Syracuse in 474 B.C. and its our destination this morning. This impressive monument stands on volcanic rock connected to the island by a stone bridge. After lunch we’re heading to La Mortella, the garden that Sir William Walton had built in a quarry with sheer sides and no water. Susana Walton started planting with boundless enthusiasm to create a beautiful space where her husband could express his genius as a composer. It’s a testament to this remarkable woman, her energy and her passion for plants. Now they have both died the garden remains a shrine to both of them. Late afternoon ferry back to Sorrento.
We are heading to Naples this morning for our short flight to Catania, Sicily. First stop is Le Stanze in Fiore Canalicchio, the fusion garden of Rossella Pezzino. Rosella began her villa restoration in 1996, and the garden was completed in 2000. Rossella will guide us through the garden to see how she has used ancient trees and stone walls to form and frame a series of private garden rooms. In the traditional Italian style, she has incorporated water into many of these rooms, restoring the stone irrigation channels that once brought water to the citrus trees in the 1880’s. We’ll discover Rossella’s passion for plants and her hospitality. Later we’ll head to our hotel for the next four nights, on the waterfront in Taorima overlooking the Bay of Mazzaro.
Spend time this morning in Taormina. The Greek Theatre is Taormina’s famous Roman ruin, this perfect horseshoe-shaped theatre, suspended between sea and sky, with Mt Etna looming on the horizon. It’s impressive. Built in the 3rd century BC, it’s dramatically situated and used to stage international arts and film festivals. It’s just 2kms from our hotel and it’s glorious to see early morning. We’ll spend the afternoon in Catania where Mount Etna dominates the city; high, impressive and silent, this self-made mountain of lava with its peak forming a great crater of fire. Remnants of history prove that the various cultures have left their mark; first the Romans, then the Byzantines, Saracens and Normans. Mt Etna erupted in 1669 engulfing the city in boiling lava then in 1693 a huge earthquake left 12,000 people dead. Out of these ashes a new city rose, that survives today. Grand piazzas, palaces and churches in Baroque style were made out of the black volcanic rock from Etna. This evening you have the option to take funiculare back up to Taormina for dinner.
A day to discover this region around Taormina . Travel inland to Mount Etna, the island’s brooding and spectacular nemesis. Set in the middle of a national park, Europe’s highest active volcano dominates the Sicilian landscape around it.
We are travelling south today to Siracuse. We are in for a treat with some exceptional private gardens in this region. Villa San Giuliano dates back to the 15th century. Rachel Lamb was captivated when she was asked to manage it in 2002. Twelve years later she has worked with the owner to make this an extraordinary garden in the centre of citrus orchards and olive groves. There is a profound Brazilian influence that reflects the six years the family spent in Brazil and strong Islamic influences that Rachel will show us. This garden is dynamic and will be at its peak at the time of our visit. Another impressive garden later, that of Princess Maria Carla Borghese: Il Biviere at Lentini was created after the nearby lake was drained to combat malaria. Princess Maria worked with her husband from 1968 until he died in 2001. It’s an eclectic mix of fragrance, texture and colour. Succulents mingle with roses and jasmine; agaves and palms give structure; an avenue of stone pines evokes ancient Roman ruins
It’s a relaxed breakfast this morning as we have the morning free before our transfer to Catania airport for our flight to Rome and onward connection.
You will be contacted by a Ross Tours Travel Manager to confirm your details and preferred method of payment.
Please refer to the Ross Garden Tours standard terms and conditions