Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
Limited availability

Villas and Gardens of the Italian Lakes with Helen Yemm (Daily Telegraph)

The fabulous scenery and benign climate of the northern Italian lakes have attracted aristocrats and the wealthy for years, and today their elegant villas and lush gardens perfectly complement the natural landscape. Travelling at this time of year the Camellias are in full flower, providing a welcome splash of colour after the winter months.

From our bases on the Gulf of Borromeo on Lake Maggiore and at the foot of Lake Como we will explore a succession of villas and their gardens, all set against the breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped mountains and glittering water. Undoubtedly one of the main highlights of the trip will be a privileged visit to the private garden of Andrea Corneo - President of the Italian Camellia Society, which is home to a remarkable collection of over 500 plants.  We will have a private tour with the owner of Villa Cicogna Mozzoni and enjoy visits to Villa Carlotta, Villa Taranto and the beautifully manicured and impeccably maintained gardens of Villa Balbianello.

Nowhere captures the extravagant spirit of the lakeland gardens better than the three Borromean islands, Bella, Madre and Pescatori, which capture the extravagant spirit of the lakeland gardens, featuring sumptuous terraced gardens, shaded woodland walks, flowered terraces and elegant statuary.

In addition we enjoy a free day to relax and shop in Como town, or visit Villa Melzi d’Eril in Bellagio.

Our tour will be guided by an expert Tour Manager and we will also enjoy expert insights from celebrity garden writer and lecturer Helen Yemm who will join us for two days of our tour.


What's included?

  •  Flights
  •  Accommodation
  •  Services of a professional tour manager
  •  Comfortable coach travel throughout
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary

Today's Price

Deposit: £200 Single supplement: £455

Tour highlights:

  • Expert insights of Helen Yemm for two days of the tour
  • Visits to Isolas Bella, Madre and Pescatori and the gardens of the villas Taranto, Pallavicino, Carlotta and Balbianello

Tour details

Dates 22 March 2020 - 29 March 2020
Duration 8 days
Today's Price
Deposit: £200 Single supplement: £455 Balance due by 29 December 2019
Activity Level
Tour code BLSM200322

Call for availability

22 March 2020: Itinerary

We depart from London to Milan (flight connections and regional departures are available on request).  On arrival we continue by comfortable coach to our base for the next four nights, the 4* Hotel La Palma situated directly on the lakefront in Stresa with picturesque views over Lake Maggiore.  The Hotel La Palma welcomes and invites you to discover the romantic atmosphere and beauty of Lake Maggiore from the wonderful Isola Bella that houses the impressive 17th century Palazzo Borromeo to the impressive bordering mountains. Situated opposite the lakeside promenade with only a five-minute walk to the town centre of Stresa, the hotel offers elegant accommodation and the pretty gardens provide a lovely setting for relaxing. 

A welcome drink will be served in the evening followed by dinner.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Hotel la Palma, Stresa

Today, following breakfast, we start with a real treat by visiting the private garden of the President of the Italian Camellia Society. The site is above the shores of Lake Maggiore surrounded by mountains and facing the south east. Since the 1950s due to the combination of acid ground, a mild climate and frequent rainfall the garden has housed a remarkable collection of camellias, developed with great passion by Antonio Sevesi, the founder of the Italian Society of Camellias and Andrea Corneo, the current President. The camellia collection includes 500 plants and 318 cultivars. The garden, of course, is in full bloom in spring but is a delight to visit at any time of the year.  Lunch is included here today.

We return to the hotel where dinner will be served in the evening.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel la Palma, Stresa

Today, after breakfast, we spend a full day exploring the famous Borromean islands. We start with a cruise from Stresa to Isola Bella to see the vast baroque palace built from the island’s rock and surrounded by terraced gardens that were inspired by the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’. Our visit will reveal the magnificent palace, which was constructed in the 17th century by Carlo III of the House of Borromeo and was the scene of sumptuous and lavish parties, attended by the cream of European nobility. Out into the gardens, we find an ornate parterre with low box hedges and brilliantly coloured flowers, a pond adorned with blue and pink water lilies and lush plantings of oranges, grapefruits, orchids and more.

We then continue to Isola Pescatori, the ‘island of fishermen’, with its narrow cobbled streets and pretty harbour. The island was thought to be first inhabited in the 10th century and there are now approximately 50 residents.

Our final visit of the day is to Isola Madre. In contrast to Isola Bella, Isola Madre has a simple, unspoilt aspect, where tropical and Mediterranean plants, citrus fruits, crape myrtle, hibiscus, bougainvillea, protea and agaves all flourish. The English romantic feel is due to re-working of the former Renaissance terraced gardens.  Woods of native trees – aromatic cypress, bay and        pine – allow for shaded and fragrant walks past gardenias, azaleas, and camellias and the story of the salvage of the ancient Himalayan cypress is an inspiration to all.

We later return to our hotel where dinner will be served.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel la Palma, Stresa

We start at a leisurely pace with a visit to the gardens of Villa Taranto.  Flourishing with rare botanical examples, the early 20th century concept of a garden as both an aesthetic experience and a scientific adventure reaches its height of perfection in the grounds of Villa Taranto.  In 1931, Captain Neil McEachern, a Scotsman from Galloway, bought the estate through an advertisement which appeared in the Times with the intention of creating an English-style garden where he could grow plants from all over the world, to delight the eye and satisfy the curiosity of the horticulturalist. Today you can appreciate a very important botanical collection with a wide range of plants.  Captain McEachern is buried in the grounds which are a true testament to his dedication, continual work and great love of nature. 

We continue to Villa Pallavicino, which overlooks one of the most charming parts of Lake Maggiore. Built in the grounds of an immense park, with chestnut woods growing alongside rare exotic plants, the villa is a stunning example of mid eighteenth-century architecture, a style which flourished around the lake and the islands. Originally conceived by the Neapolitan Statesman Ruggero Bonghi, the Villa was bought in 1862 by the Marquis Ludovico Pallavicino of Genova who enlarged the grounds. In 1952 his wife the Marquess created a zoological garden which is still one of the most interesting attractions of the area - nearly all the animals wander freely in the grounds.

Later in the afternoon, we return to the hotel where dinner is served in the evening.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel la Palma, Stresa

Today, following breakfast and hotel check out, we are joined by Helen Yemm as we head for Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, situated in what were ancient hunting grounds for the nobility, in the foothills between Varese and Lake Lugano. Here we will be privileged to enjoy a private guided tour with the owner. The garden was established by Ascanio Mozzoni, a man of great culture who from his travels, including to Rome, brought back ideas for the arrangement of his garden over seven levels. In 1580 his only daughter was married to Giovan Pietro Cicogna, through whose descendants we arrive at today’s owners. The most pleasant characteristic of the villa, apart from its surprisingly intact frescoes, is its merging with the garden. A two-flight stairway with a brook running in between leads directly to the halls of the Villa. The walled garden is a typical example of formal Italian garden with box hedges, water basins, fountains and a grotto.

We then travel to the town of Como where we will check into our lakeside hotel, the 4* Barchetta Excelsior for the next three nights.  The hotel is situated in the heart of Como within the pedestrian area and very close to the lakeshore.  Lake Como is enchanting at any hour of the day, on any day of the year, and has been celebrated widely by poets and artists for its landscapes, historical villas and villages perched on the mountains.  A quiet, relaxing and welcoming atmosphere will greet you at the Barchetta Excelsior Hotel, where you will simply enjoy some of the most breathtaking of views.

Dinner is served in the hotel this evening.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como

This morning we enjoy a leisurely breakfast in our hotel.  Today we have a free day for you to shop and sightsee at leisure. It is very easy to hop on board one of the many ferries or hydrofoils which go to many places around the lake, including the famous village of Bellagio, where you may have lunch and visit the Villa Melzi d’Eril (admission not included). Our tour manager will be on hand for further guidance on how best to spend your day.

Dinner is served in the hotel this evening.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como

Helen Yemm will join us once again as we travel along the motorways and lake shore roads for an enchanting day on Lake Como, so similar and yet so different from its larger neighbour, Maggiore. On arrival in Tremezzo we will have time to enjoy the elegant 18th century Villa Carlotta, where, in the spring, azaleas and rhododendrons burst into a simply dazzling display. Around the house the layout is formal with lemon arbours on the terraces and tall camellia hedges while further away from the villa we will discover a relaxed English-style garden in the woodland, dotted with unusual trees. Imaginative planting includes twining climbers, jasmine and roses while in the more natural garden a dell of tree ferns, palms, eucalyptus, Japanese maples and cactus reveal the microclimatic conditions with banana and flowering orchids creating an exotic semi-tropical jungle effect. The house itself has its own story to tell, full of neo-classical art treasures including paintings by Hayez and sculptures by Canova.

After our visit to Villa Carlotta, we will have lunch (not included) in Tremezzo. We will catch the ferry to visit the gardens at Villa Balbianello on the Lavedo point which, combined with the romantic arrival at the water gates landing stage, turns the expedition into an arcadian delight.  Remote from lakeside tourism, in a sylvan setting of pine, soaring cypress and oak, with pollarded plane trees, manicured lawns and flowerbeds, the garden is maintained to an exceptionally high standard by the Italian National trust or FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano). With unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake and fronting the promontory of Serbelloni, the first villa was built in 1540, but was later moved to a new site inland to protect it from flooding.

Later we return to the mainland and our hotel. We will then enjoy a farewell dinner in our hotel this evening.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como

After breakfast today we must check-out of the hotel. We return to the airport in time for our return flight to London, where the group will disperse or make onward connections.

Meals include: Breakfast

22 March 2020: Additional Info

22 March 2020: Accommodation

The 4* Hotel La Palma is situated directly on the lakefront in Stresa with picturesque views over Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains. Situated opposite the lakeside promenade with only a five-minute walk to the town centre of Stresa, the hotel offers elegant accommodation and the pretty gardens provide a lovely setting for relaxing.


Facing Lake Como, Hotel Barchetta Excelsior is in the main square of the city and a 5-minute walk from Como Lago Nord Train Station, with direct connections to Milan. Shops, bars and restaurants are available nearby.

The Barchetta Excelsior is a member of the Villa d'Este Hotels. All rooms come with air conditioning, free WiFi, a minibar and a TV with satellite channels. 

Italian and international cuisine is served in the Bistro Restaurant on the ground floor. Light meals can be served on the outdoor terrace during the summer season.

Breakfast is served in the Barchetta Restaurant on the 1st floor, with a panoramic view of the lake. The buffet includes freshly baked croissants, homemade pies, seasonal fruit and much more. 

Lake view rooms are available at a supplement.

22 March 2020: Enquiries

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