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Villas & Gardens of the Italian lakes

May 5 - 12, 2018 | Tour Director: Peter Higginson | Register interest


• Plot the developments in garden design from the 16th to the 20th century

• Discover the famous 17th century Sacro Monte beside Lake Orta: a fascinating Counter-Reformation 'religious garden' designed to transport pilgrims into the world of St Francis, patron saint of nature

• Uncover the delights of the Borromean islands of Isola Bella and Isola Madre


The shores of Lakes Maggiore and Como have a reputation for some of the finest gardens in the world, which owe their presence to the irresistible landscape settings of blue water and mountain peaks; a unique microclimate of protected south-facing valleys; and a rich social, political, and even religious history spread across five centuries. Aristocrats, statesmen, eminent clergymen, wealthy émigrés and industrialists have all vied to establish their presence in this Paradise on earth.

Our tour will plot developments from the 16th to the 20th century: from the Renaissance intimacy of Villa Cicogna Mozzoni with its uniquely preserved residence and sunken garden to the luxuriant expansiveness of Villa Taranto, commenced in 1931 by a Scot, Captain Neil McEacharn.

We will uncover the delights of the Borromean islands of Isola Bella and Isola Madre. The Isola Bella’s Palazzo Borromeo begun in 1642 comes with six subterranean grottoes, and the gardens include magnificent terraces evoking the prow of a ship, and an impressive water theatre. It is perhaps the most extravagant example of Baroque landscape design.

Beside the charming Lake Orta lies the famous 17th century Sacro Monte: a fascinating Counter-Reformation ‘religious garden’ designed to transport pilgrims, via staged scenes, into the world of St Francis, the patron saint of Nature.

Sites on Lake Como include the Villa Carlotta, whose interior contains some splendid neoclassical statuary by Canova and Thorvaldsen, and the grounds combine giardini segreti, lemon-scented terraces, the Ferns Valley and a picturesque 19th century English garden.

Approaching its promontory by private boat gives added romanticism to the enchanting Villa Balbianello, while on the opposite side of the lake the Villa Melzi d’Eril at Bellagio, built in 1810, served as inspiration to Liszt and Stendhal among many others.

In Verbania Pallanza we stay at the Art Nouveau Hotel Pallanza, wonderfully situated on the shore of Lake Maggiore, and in Varenna at the four-star Hotel Royal Victoria overlooking Lake Como.


September 2018
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Full details relased in early 2018. Some itinerary details may be subject to change. Contact the ACE office now to register your interest. 



Peter Higginson, PhD

expert in art history and consultant lecturer at Christie's, London.

full biography and other tours >






Please note: the below itinerary represents a guide to what we hope to offer. Details may be changed nearer the time.



Depart Heathrow 0920 on British Airways, arriving Milan Linate 1220. Transfer to Verbania Pallanza, Lake Maggiore, for four nights at Hotel Pallanza. Evening lecture.



By water taxi to Isola Bella (Baroque Palazzo Borromeo and gardens) then continue to picturesque fishing island of Isola dei Pescatori. Afternoon: Isola Madre for second Palazzo Borromeo (16th century paintings and furnishings, antique puppets, splendid botanic garden).



Morning: tour of the Villa Taranto in Verbania Pallanza (20th century garden and plant collection). Afternoon: ferry to Villa Della Porta Bozzolo (early 18th century Baroque garden). Evening lecture.



Excursion to Lake Orta for Sacro Monte di Orta (a 17th century sacred garden), medieval village of Orta and the charming Isola San Giulio and its basilica.



Special tour and lunch at Villa Cicogna Mozzoni (unique 16th century Renaissance villa). Afternoon: transfer to Villa Bagatti Valsecchi (17th century villa with beautiful terraces set high above a dramatic ravine) and continue by ferry to Varenna for three nights at Hotel Royal Victoria.



By ferry to Bellagio (on picturesque promontory dividing Lake Como and Lake Lecco) for Villa Melzi d’Eril (early 19th century giardino inglese that inspired both Liszt and Stendhal). Afternoon: 18th century Villa Carlotta (neoclassical statuary, giardini segreti, terraces and alleys) and Villa Cipressi.



By ferry and water taxi to Villa del Balbianello (created in late 18th century for Cardinal Durini). Afternoon: gardens of Villa Monastero (former Cistercian monastery).



Morning: Villa Litta (16th-17th century gardens with nymphaeum and water games). Depart Milan Linate 1550, arriving Heathrow 1655.