Baroque garden of Isola Bella
Baroque garden of Isola Bella

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.

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 breath taking backdrop of snow-capped mountains and glittering water. We begin with a real treat as we visit the private garden of the President of the Italian Camellia Society, which is home to a remarkable collection of over 500 plants. Nowhere captures the extravagant spirit of the lakeland gardens better than the three Borromean islands, Bella, Madre and Pescatori, which feature sumptuous terraced gardens, shaded woodland walks, flowered terraces and elegant statuary. Other highlights during our stay on Lake Maggiore include a fascinating wholesale specialist plant nursery, Villa Taranto and Villa Pallavicino.

During our stay on Lake Como we will have a private tour with the owner of Villa Cicogna Mozzoni. Azaleas and rhododendrons will put on a dazzling display at Villa Carlotta while the manicured Villa Balbianello, whose garden is impeccably maintained, will be an undoubted highlight. In addition we enjoy a free day to relax and shop in Como town, or visit Villa Melzi d’Eril.

What's included?

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

Led by...

Kate Williamson

Kate Williamson 

Kate Williamson is one of our most popular tour managers, largely on account of her obvious passion for Italy, her adopted country. She loves to share this passion with guests and watching her sort things out in her rapid Italian is a sight to behold!

Today's Price

Deposit: $300 Single supplement: $735

Tour highlights:

  • Visit the private garden of the President of the Italian Camellia Society
  • A private tour with the owner of Villa Cicogna Mozzoni
  • The extravagance of the Borromean Islands
  • Stunning views of lakes and mountains at every turn

Tour details

Dates June 24 2020 - July 1 2020
Duration 8 days
Today's Price
Deposit: $300 Single supplement: $735 Balance due by April 1 2020
Activity Level
Tour code BLSG200624

Call for availability

June 24 2020: Itinerary

On arrival we transfer to our base for the next four nights, the Grand Majestic Hotel, Pallanza, Verbania. Pallanza’s lakefront is one of the finest on Lake Maggiore; a walk along its promenade with the lake and the Borromean Islands on one side and colourful facades, flowered balconies and cafés on the other is a most agreeable experience.

Lunch is served on arrival.

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

Meals include: Lunch, Dinner

Hotel: Grand Hotel Majestic, Lake Maggiore

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. 

In the afternoon we travel the short distance to visit the most remarkable wholesale nursery business in the Italian Lake District - that of Compagnia Del Lago. This is a fascinating wholesale producer of azaleas, camellias, rhododendron and other plant species successfully grown for the Italian Lakeland gardens. There is an amazing selection of wonderful plants over a space of 30 hectares of polytunnels and greenhouses. Nice to see, nicer to treat yourself. Plants can be purchased but must be delivered by mail order.

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

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Grand Hotel Majestic, Lake Maggiore

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. The church on the island is worth a visit and there is a good choice of restaurants and snack-bars for lunch (not included).

Our final visit is to Isola Madre, which in contrast to Isola Bella 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: Grand Hotel Majestic, Lake Maggiore

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 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

Following our visit we have some free time in Stresa, before continuing 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. Ornate ponds, greenhouses with rare exotic plants, various architectural styles and a charming tiny Swiss-style chalet complete this idyllic spot.

Returning to Lake Maggiore, dinner will be served at the hotel in the evening.

All meals included

Hotel: Grand Hotel Majestic, Lake Maggiore

Today, following breakfast and hotel check out, we will 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. The visit raises the “who” and “how” questions relative to the conservation of historic buildings and should prove to be most illuminating.

We continue to the town of Como where we will check into our lakeside hotel, the Barchetta Excelsior for the next three nights. The hotel is situated in the heart of Como and is only accessible on foot or by horse-drawn carts.

Dinner is served in the hotel in the evening.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como

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 Bellagio where you may have lunch and visit the Villa Melzi d’Eril (admission not included). Our guide will be on hand to assist.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como

Today 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 a relaxing break in Tremezzo. We then catch the ferry to visit the 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 where dinner is served in the evening

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como

After breakfast today we must check-out of the hotel. We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or for independent onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

June 24 2020: Additional Info

June 24 2020: Accommodation

Set directly on Lake Maggiore’s shores, the Majestic is housed in a 19th-century building with private beach, free wellness centre and free tennis court. It offers gourmet cuisine and luxury rooms.

Rooms at Grand Hotel Majestic are located over the 5 floors of this impressive building. Each room is air-conditioned and offers satellite TV. 

The Majestic's wellness centre includes a gym and an indoor heated pool. In the garden sun loungers and towels are available for all hotel guests. Massages and beauty treatments are also available.

La Beola Restaurant with its summer portico serves traditional Italian food with a touch of international cuisine. Breakfast is served buffet style and à la carte options are available on request.

Lake view rooms are available at a supplement.

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.

June 24 2020: Enquiries

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