Renaissance and Baroque Italian gardens are extravagant exercises in philosophy, mythology, allegory, mathematics and glorious theatre. Put them alongside Italy’s gorgeous cities, art and gelato, add the unique camaraderie of a Ross tour, and you have an unforgettable experience.
Your tour starts in Rome when you check into our deluxe hotel in the city centre. Meet your tour leader Michael McCoy and fellow passengers at a Welcome dinner tonight.
Villa D’ Este is the quintessential garden of the Italian High Renaissance and it’s our destination today. The use of water, all gravity-fed, is thrilling. The garden itself is well-maintained and the water hydraulics have been restored so we can experience them as the aristocracy of the 16th century did. Head back to Rome this afternoon with a stop at Hadrian’s Villa, an exceptional complex of classical buildings that were built for the great Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
Giardino Ninfa is a romantic garden that rambles along streams, over remnants of ancient walls and towers and rejoicing in the damp, lush conditions. The rare and fragile artistic sensibility of this garden is carefully managed. This medieval town was deserted in the 13th century and has crumbled into a romantic ruin. Continue to the hill town of Norma for a spectacular panorama and lunch. An evening guided tour of the Colosseum will make this a night in Rome to remember.
Morning visit to Vatican City to see the gardens, St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Free afternoon.
Today we farewell Rome and head north to a garden considered a landmark in the history of Italian gardens. Villa Lante at Bagnaia is the perfect example of a Renaissance garden. Unchanged in structure and size since the 16th Century, the garden is arranged on four levels along the main axis, emphasised by fountains with perfect symmetry. It is divided into two parts. Between the two flows water that settles in a water parterre. There’s a wealth of detail, yet an overall sense of tranquility. The famous water chain has been much copied. This afternoon, travel to Florence and check into our hotel for the next 4 nights. The iconic Duomo cathedral is just moments from your doorstep. Dinner is included tonight in our hotel.
Lucca is a beautifully maintained walled city. Our walking tour will reveal it perfectly preserved; an architectural jewel of a city with walls still largely intact. There’s free time to wander through the town, up onto the walls or into the old Market square. This afternoon visit Palazzo Pfanner, a wonderful example of an Italian-style baroque garden and one of the most beautiful gardens in Lucca. Panoramic views from the house across the garden to the city walls are just delightful. Late afternoon return to Florence.
We are in for a treat with a full day in Florence, starting with morning tea at the extraordinary Palazzo Corsini. Situated on the banks of the River Arno, Palazzo Corsini is a masterpiece of Baroque Architecture. Ancient lemon trees in terracotta pots are moved inside the Limonaria each winter. See magnificent decorations and perfectly preserved exquisite frescoes. Spend the remainder of the day exploring Florence at leisure. Perhaps visit the famous leather markets or spend the afternoon at the Uffizi Gallery, seeing works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio.
This morning we stroll across Ponte Vecchio to visit the Boboli Gardens behind Palazzo Pitti, the mid-15th century residence of the powerful Medici family. Boboli preserves its Renaissance and Baroque style with a remarkable collection of Roman, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures. The garden is built into the slope of the Arno Valley and commands views over the city. After lunch is the remarkable Villa Gamberaia. Sitting on a promontory overlooking Florence and the Arno Valley, the ochre-rendered villa and garden nestle amongst groves of olives and grapes. The harmonious blend of hillside, house and garden was much admired by Edith Wharton who praised its simplicity of composition. Considered by many as the perfect Italian garden.
Today we are heading to Lake Garda. En route, stop at Bologna, this historic university town has a reputation as a culinary destination. Try some of their renown gelato!
A dreamy day out on Lake Garda cruising the lake and visiting Isola del Garda. A private gem and the largest island in the lake, Isola del Garda will take your breath away.
Verona is our destination this morning. Stop alongside the famous Arena, peep in at Juliet’s Balcony and wander through the classic Giardino Giusti which occupies the hillside above the River Adige. The garden remains faithful to its 16th century outline. This afternoon, travel further north to the Lake District and the ‘grande dame’ of the pretty lakeside towns, Stresa, on the western shore of Lake Maggiore. Check into Hotel Regina Palace, one of the Stresa’s ‘Belle Époque’ hotels. This is our base for the next four nights, from which we’ll explore the area’s beautiful and atmospheric lakes and villas.
Today we explore the Borromean Islands on the western side of Lake Maggiore. A local ferry takes us first to Isola Bella with its luxurious Baroque palace and flower filled terraced gardens. Next is Isola Madre, the largest of the islands and a botanical haven where white peacocks roam freely throughout the island. Stroll through the magnificent botanical garden taking in exquisite views across the lake. A relaxing and magical day on
Hop aboard our private boat for a cruise of Lake Como, Italy’s most popular and glamorous lake where beautiful villas and gardens surround the shores. Our first stop is Bellagio. Narrow cobbled streets, a promenade lined with oleanders and lime trees, historic fin-de-siècle hotels painted in charming pastels and a spectacular location, make this one of Italy’s prettiest towns. Then we’ll visit the gardens at Villa Melzi, which sits on a promontory on Lake Como. The owner was a friend of Napoleon and the garden has a statue of the goddess Pakhet collected on Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. Back on board for the short trip across the lake to Villa Balbianello in its superb position on the tip of a small wooded peninsula.
Another treat today – Villa Cicogna in Lombardy, near the Swiss border. This is a living museum, with beautifully restored interiors, terraced gardens, arcaded courtyards and a spectacular water staircase. The house was originally a hunting lodge, built in 1400 by the Mozzoni family, and was later modified as a renaissance villa. Take a short drive to Porto Ceresio on Lake Lugano, where we’ll have time to explore. Farewell Dinner tonight.
Tour ends after breakfast. Check out of the hotel and head to Milan airport for onward flights.
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