2019 March eNewsletter

March 20, 2019

It seems that our postcode of OX17 has led many of our clients to think we are based in Oxfordshire, which is not the case. In fact, our office is in the historic south Northamptonshire village of Aynho, known locally as ‘The Apricot Village’. The ‘apricot’ tagline is because some of the older houses have apricot trees espaliered on their house fronts, a tradition initiated when the village was owned by the Cartwright family. We are lucky to have three apricot trees on our house, and as you can see from the photo above, they are now in blossom with, wind and frost allowing, many of their delicious fruits to follow in July and August? I shall keep you posted…

We are now well and truly ‘up and running’ with our first tour of this season, Rome & the Grand Tour, just completed. As many of you will know from past tours and lectures, Rome is one of my favourite places and indeed, Italy continues to be the destination to which we send the most groups each year. So, if I may, I thought I would concentrate on Italy for this particular newsletter.

Hadrians Villa 1000 x 500


One of the personalities who popped up many times when in Rome the other week was the Emperor Hadrian, truly one of the four great Roman emperors (for me, the others were Augustus, Trajan and Constantine, but you may have your own ranking?). We must have seen at least half a dozen versions of his portrait bust, not to mention some gorgeous mosaics and sculptures taken from his famous Villa at Tivoli, as seen above. If you have not been to this famous villa site you might like to consider joining me later this year when I shall lead Popes & Princes at Rest: Villas & Gardens of Lazio, 22 – 27 May. For this particular six-night tour we shall be based in the enchanting town of Civita Castellana, just north of Rome and set in lovely countryside, the gentle surrounding hills covered with hazelnut groves and vineyards. If I am honest, this if for me the most satisfactory of all our Italian garden tours as we shall visit some of the most important gardens not only from antiquity, but also the Renaissance and more recent times - nowhere else in Italy offers this combination at such a high level of achievement.

Villa Lante 1000 x 500

From the Renaissance period two of the exceptional gardens included represent the extraordinary manner in which water was incorporated into formal garden schemes. The Villa d’Este was created by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, younger son of Lucretia Borgia and the Duke of Ferrara and it remains the paramount renaissance garden of Europe, its extraordinary fountains now working as they probably have not for centuries. Other cardinals were not slow in emulating this showpiece and on a smaller, more intimate scale, there is nothing to equal Villa Lante, above, where on a gently sloping hillside, musical water features are framed by a witty pun on the original garden creator’s name, Gamberaia, which means ‘crayfish’!

ninfa gardens rome 1000 x 500

The twentieth century witnessed a further wave of enthusiastic garden design as some of the Roman aristocracy created totally new gardens. Who has not heard of Ninfa? This is a wonderful setting where the ruins of a medieval settlement were used as the backdrop for inspirational plantings of trees, shrubs and above all a remarkable collection of roses. Not far away from Ninfa, above, the garden at Landriana is equally large and offers a change of mood, with many of its subtleties the result of Russell Page’s involvement in its design. And bringing us up to date, Dan Pearson has masterminded a remarkable new garden which we shall visit privately. So, what better way to mark the next chapter in the ‘post-Chelsea’ gardening year that by joining me on this tour?

Villa Arvedi 1000 x 500


Rome and its surrounding landscape was not the only part of Italy to catch the gardening ‘bug’ during the Renaissance. The Veneto was equally obsessed and the many villas designed by Palladio, Scamozzi and their successors were accompanied by suitable gardens in the best formal modes. If you have not discovered these gardens then Operas, Villas, Gardens & Wine: Verona & the Valpolicella, 7 – 12 July could be the ideal opportunity to do so. We have included visits to the seventeenth century Villa Arvedi, above, and its garden, where we shall be the guests of the Arvedi family for lunch within the splendid baroque grotto. Equally enchanting is the garden of Villa Giusti, a welcome, green oasis complementing the urban beauties of Verona.

Verona 1000 x 500

This tour is not entirely devoted to horticulture as vines, music and the visual arts also play major roles. Verona is one of the prettiest cities of northern Italy and its ancient Roman heritage is everywhere, not least the Amphitheatre, above, the setting for the annual Verona Opera Festival. This year, participants can choose to attend up to three operas: Verdi’s Aida and La Traviata, and Bizet’s Carmen. The tour’s pace will be gentle with time to relax in the lovely surroundings of our hotel, just outside the city in the Valpolicella wine district.

Teatro regio 1000 x 500


Verdi is, of course, Italy’s greatest operatic composer, his grasp of narrative married to an innate musicality which deepened as his career developed. He was born in 1813 at La Roncole, just outside Parma. Every October, to celebrate the anniversary of his birth, Parma hosts a wonderful opera festival devoted to Verdi and we shall take advantage of this delightful opportunity. Stradivarius to Verdi: Music & Art in Cremona & Parma, 16 – 21 October will include three of his works, Nabucco, Aida, and Luisa Miller. Each performance will be preceded by an introductory lecture on the featured opera, with piano accompaniment, given by Prof Peter Hill, who will co-lead this tour. Peter is a distinguished authority on opera and his analysis of Verdi’s life and work is sure to add immeasurably to everyone’s enjoyment.

 Cremona 1000 x 500

Both Parma and Cremona have wonderful historic buildings and collections. Parma is particularly rich in fine Romanesque architecture and sculpture with the later patronage of the Farnese family, Dukes of Parma, acting as a decorative counterpoint. Cremona, above, is forever associated with the craft of stringed instrument making, especially those made by Stradivarius. This is an important part of this tour and we have included a recital which will feature one of his celebrated violins. As a final musical treat, we are fortunate to be able to include a private visit and lunch at Villa Medici Giulini, home to the most important collection of keyboard instruments in Italy, many of which will be played for us – a memorable end to a remarkable tour.

With every good wish from all of us,







Filed under:

View All
Tours & Study Days