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The Gardens of the Lakes 


Robert & Beniamino

I Giardini dei Laghi


“The spectacular landscape and benign climate of Lakes Como and Maggiore gave the creators of the gardens we will be visiting the opportunity to use a rich and diverse collection of plants as part of their gardens’ designs.”

“We will find out when and why these gardens were created, who designed them and what inspired their owners.  I’d like to share all I’ve come to know about them and I’d very much like you to join me.”  


                                                                                               Robert Watson (Landscape Architect)                                                                                                                                             

I Giardini dei Laghi 8 days (7 nights)

NZ$ 12,958 pp (small group max 10 persons - single supplement may apply)

Commencement and end of the tour: Milan

On this tour, you will:


  • Visit outstanding Italian gardens with Robert Watson, a renowned New Zealand landscape architect

  • Hear about developments in Italian garden design from the Renaissance to the modern day

  • Admire the exquisite gardens of the Villas nestled along the shores of Lakes Como and Maggiore

  • Visit Villa Cicogna, an ancient hunting lodge which became a stunning Renaissance Villa

  • Marvel at 16th Century stone statues and stunning water features in heritage Italian gardens

  • Visit the Palazzo Borromeo and 10 tiers of terraced gardens at the spectacular Isola Bella

  • Experience Italian culture and customs with Beniamino, your Italian escort

  • Enjoy luxurious accommodation in stunning surroundings. No boring high rises for us!

  • NOT be getting up every day at 7am and moving on to your next stop

  • Learn about the regional cuisine from an experienced Italian restaurateur and enjoy local delicacies

  • NOT have absolutely everything mapped out for you – there will be surprises along the way that you

       will want to tell all your friends about when you get homeMOST IMPORTANTLY you will have fun! 

Tour Outline


Start date:  18 September 2023

End date:   25 September 2023      


Note: The tour package is a land package only. Flights to suit your individual needs can be arranged for you or you can make your own flight arrangements if you prefer.



Our tour group will be picked up in Milan and driven through the Lombardian countryside to the fabulous hill town, Bergamo, the hometown of the composer Gaetano Donizetti. We will have to stop for a coffee at least in the Piazza Vecchia in the old walled town, described by La Corbusier as “the most beautiful square in Europe.”  

We will then move on to gorgeous Lake Como for 3 nights.  To get our bearings we will take the funicular railway from Como to the village of Brunate, climbing 1,000 metres in seven minutes to enjoy breath-taking views of the lake. In “Charterhouse of Parma,” Stendhal described Lake Como as an "enchanting spot, unequalled on earth in its loveliness." Virgil called it simply "our greatest" lake. 


If we can tear ourselves away from enjoying al fresco refreshments on the lakeside, we will spend the next two days cruising the lake and visiting gorgeous villages like Bellagio with its stone staircases, cypress groves and beautiful gardens.

We will visit the outstanding gardens at Villa Serbelloni which stand on the site of Pliny the Elder’s villa overlooking Bellagio. Another must-see will be the celebrated gardens of Villa Melzi at Bellagio, where on a previous visit we met the head gardener who has won prizes in national competitions for his work. 


Gazing across the lake we will see and later visit imposing Villa Carlotta with its equally impressive garden running down to the lake shore. Villa Carlotta was built between 1690 and 1743 for the luxury-loving Marquis Giorgio Clerici.

Villa Carlotta.jpg

The garden's collection is remarkable and includes palms, banana trees, cacti, eucalyptus, a sequoia, orchids, and camellias among the more than 500 species. As the story goes, the owners of Villa Melzi and Villa Carlotta were great rivals and whenever either added to his villa and garden, it was tantamount to taunting the other in public.


Those of us who have seen the films “A Month by the Lake” or “Casino Royale” will be particularly delighted to visit Villa Balbianello, often described as the most magical villa in Italy. This picturesque property sitting on its own little promontory is composed of loggias, terraces, and palazzini all spilling down lush green slopes to the lake where there is an old Franciscan church, a magnificent stone staircase, and a statue of San Carlo Borromeo blessing the waters.

It will be hard to leave Como but we have much more to see. Our destination for the next four nights is majestic Lake Maggiore but on the way we will stop at Villa Cicogna at Bisuschio. This magnificent villa started its life in the 15th century as an ancient hunting lodge and was subsequently embellished and completed between 1530 and 1559. The interior merges cleverly with the exterior and its seven levels of beautiful gardens were established by Ascanio Mozzoni in the 16th Century. Its walled-in garden is a typical example of formal Italian garden design with box hedges, water basins, fountains and a grotto with remarkable water features and Robert cannot wait to show it to us.

Villa Cicogna Ceiling Motif.jpg
Villa cicogna Herald.jpg

After leaving Villa Cicogna, we will drive to our home on the Piedmont side of Lake Maggiore for the next four nights. Our hotel is situated in the elegant resort town of Stresa, where Ernest Hemingway and many other notable writers and artists created some of their most famous works. Imposing villas and opulent Art Nouveau hotels line the elegant lakeside, which is ideal for a gentle stroll. The town is renowned for its sophisticated atmosphere and is a pleasant place to potter about. 

Hotel Borromeii.jpg

Stresa is the ideal place from which to visit the stunning Borromean Islands including the world renowned Isola Bella which is shaped like a vessel with a villa at the prow and ten tiers of terraced gardens dropping down to the lake. It is a Baroque fantasy of a garden in which white peacocks roam freely and it is certainly a highlight of our tour.

Peacok Isola Bella.jpg

Stresa is also home to Villa Pallavicino with its wonderful lakefront gardens and wildlife museum.  The trees are a major feature of the park at Villa Pallavicino including centuries-old chestnut trees and liriodendrons, red beeches, maples, larches, the majestic ginkgo biloba, tall sequoias and fragrant magnolias. A real attraction is the imposing cedar of Lebanon, in the natural amphitheatre outside the villa.

Villa della Porta Bozzolo.jpg

From Stresa our driver will take us to Villa della Porta Bozzolo, a splendid furnished 16th Century villa which was donated to the   National Trust of Italy. It sits in the Varese province and has very splendid gardens. To get there, we will take a vehicular ferry across Lake Maggiore.

To visit the last gardens of the tour, we will travel by ferry a short distance from Stresa to Villa Taranto in Pallanza. In 1931, an avid botanist Scottish Captain Neil McEacharn bought an estate called La Crocetta from the Marquise of Sant’Elia with the aim of transforming it into an English-style garden in an area of Italy which reminded him of his native Scotland. The result was the beautiful gardens we see today with a magnificent Valletta, terraced gardens with waterfalls, fountains and statues. The garden extends over 16 hectares crossed by 7 kilometres of paths and avenues and it is a riot of blooms with enticing scents.


Autumn will be a wonderful time to visit these world-famous gardens. The winding dahlia path shows off blooms from more than 300 species from June to October and in the hot-houses we will be able to admire extraordinary equatorial water lilies. Overall, the gardens contain nearly 20,000 plant varieties, representing more than 3,000 species.


Captain McEacharn wanted to ensure his work would be continued after his death and he generously donated the property to the Italian state in exchange for permission to be buried in the mausoleum which now stands in the middle of the park. Captain McEacharn’s generosity extended to shipping over 11,000 packets of seeds to over 40 countries in 1959, to help other gardens around the world.


“A beautiful garden does not need to be big, but it should be the realization of one’s dream, even though it is only a couple of square metres large and it is situated on a balcony.”   Captain Neil McEacharn     


Sadly we have now come to the end of our tour and our driver will return us to Milan for our onward connections or (if we are lucky) our next tour “Dopo La Vendemmia” (After the Grape Harvest),  during which we will make our way through Piedmont and Tuscany to Rome. Wherever our onward travels take us, we will have had a truly memorable experience visiting some of the most famous gardens on the shores of the northern Italian lakes.

Tour inclusions

  • All accommodation costs sharing a double or twin room including breakfasts. Note - a single supplement may apply for single travellers wanting their own room. We will discuss this with you prior to confirmation. All accommodation will be of a high standard 

  • All tour travel costs including ferry services de-luxe coach or minibus transport and associated charges such as fuel, tolls, taxes, with local drivers

  • Daily sightseeing. It will be completely up to you whether you want to participate or spend the day independently

  • One group dinner including wine and soft drinks.

  • All garden entry fees

  • Local guides as needed

Tour exclusions


  • Meals and beverages other than those included

  • City taxes, room service meals and mini bar refreshments 

  • Telephone/internet charges

  • Porterage

  • Gratuities

  • Individual sightseeing not undertaken as part of the tour

  • Expenses incurred on sightseeing trips other than transport costs and garden entry fees


 We do not arrange TRAVEL INSURANCE. Comprehensive Travel Insurance is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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