Private visits to many of southern Tuscany’s best villas & gardens including world famous La Foce
Scholarly introduction to Siena & its artistic treasures
Gentle pace with time to enjoy the city’s many beauties
Generous hospitality from several of the owning families
Charming villa-style hotel on the outskirts of Siena
Tuscany is dominated by cities and towns which contributed enormously to the history of architecture, sculpture, painting and landscape design. While Florence came to prominence in the fifteenth century, the preceding decades were dominated by its great southern rival, Siena. Encircled by a magnificent set of medieval walls, Siena contains a remarkable array of buildings and art collections to which you will be introduced.
Outside those walls, we shall also discover some beautiful gardens scattered throughout southern Tuscany. These range from the renaissance and baroque periods to some of the most interesting gardens created in Italy in more recent times. Indeed, we shall enjoy remarkable levels of private access and hospitality, guided by some of the owners as our days unfold in this most heavenly of landscapes.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers – these are the names that mark the high point of Sienese painting. Working in both fresco and on panel, these artists stand in direct contrast to those of Florence. Sienese masters developed a style rooted in deep spirituality, while their Florentine contemporaries concentrated on a more worldly approach, leading in time to the innovations of the early Renaissance. However, unlike the dispersal of so much Florentine art, the majority of Siena’s most important works of art are still in situ in the buildings and churches for which they were produced – a unique survival amongst Italian cities.
Whilst all this patronage developed, it had to be paid for, and one has to ask whence the huge amounts of money involved came? Siena was a very important commercial centre in late medieval times. Banking was one of its most profitable activities, together with the sale of many different luxury goods and products. From this mercantile elite, two families rose to spectacular prominence, as members of both were elected to serve as Pope.
First of these papal dynasties, the Piccolomini family produced two popes, the scholarly Pius II (1458 – 1464) and Pius III (ruling for a few months during 1503). The family left their mark on both Siena and the surrounding countryside. Of far greater significance was the Chigi family, a dynasty of merchant princes and papal advisors, eventually producing one of the greatest of the seventeenth century popes, Alexander VII (1655 – 1667). More than any other Sienese family, the Chigi have left an indelible impression on this area, particularly the tradition of building fine country villas surrounded by wonderful gardens, a heritage we shall discover repeatedly.
We stay just outside the city walls at the 4* Villa Scacciapensieri, a handsome nineteenth century villa, set in its own park and gardens. It has a good restaurant, a swimming pool and sits about two-and-a-half kilometres north-east of Siena. There are excellent local transport connections into the city centre via taxi and public bus.
Day by day
- Day 1: Tuesday 30 April
- We fly from Heathrow to Pisa, arriving midday. We travel the short distance to the lower hills of Pisa and Villa di Corliano, the first of our private visits and the home of the Counts Agostini Veronesi della Seta. Our group lunch will be followed by an introduction to the villa and its garden. We travel through Tuscany to Siena and our hotel, the 4* Villa Scacciapensieri. Our first group dinner will be in the hotel’s restaurant. Wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Wednesday 1 May
- We drive into Siena and begin at the Duomo and Baptistry, one of the best medieval church complexes in Italy. Begun in 1150 the Duomo has remarkable inlaid floors, the famous pulpit by Pisano and his workshop, superb renaissance choir stalls, sculptures by Michelangelo and Bernini and the remarkable Piccolomini Library, named for Pope Pius II and adorned with the last frescoes painted by Pinturicchio. Nearby is the Museo del Opera del Duomo Metropolitana which has many of the Cathedral’s treasures, of which the most important is Duccio’s masterpiece, the famous Maestá of 1308 – 11, formerly placed on the High Altar but now much more easily seen in this museum. We pause for a group lunch and in the afternoon we visit the Palazzo Pubblico with its remarkable frescoed halls and galleries, including the famous scene of Good and Bad Government by the Lorenzetti workshop. Within the building is also housed the Museo Civico, of which the principal glories are the Sala del Mappamondo decorated by Ambrogio Lorenzetti about 1320 – 30 and a fresco of the Maestá painted by Simone Martini in 1315. We return to the hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 3: Thursday 2 May
- Today we enjoy the first of three days spent amidst the beauty of the Tuscan countryside. Our first private visit will be to one of the most famous gardens in Tuscany, Villa Cetinale. Built between 1676 and 1716 by Cardinal Flavio Chigi, nephew of Pope Alexander VII, it remained in Chigi family ownership until purchased by the late Lord Lambton in 1977. Since then, Lord Lambton, and now his son, the present Earl of Durham, have created one of Tuscany’s most magnificent gardens. We have our third group lunch today when we visit privately Castello di Celsa. Built in the thirteenth century by the Celsi family, the villa is an amazing amalgamation of renaissance and later ‘Gothic Revival’ elements, while the gardens, which look out over a landscape that could have been painted by the Lorenzetti workshop, are a mix of renaissance and baroque features. Later that afternoon we return, via some stunning countryside, to our hotel. Dinner is not included and there will be an evening bus transfer into and back from Siena, if required.
- Day 4: Friday 3 May
- We drive down the old Roman Via Cassia through the Val D’Orcia, a wonderful stretch of countryside, to La Foce, the fine garden designed by Cecil Pinsent for Marchesa Iris Origo from the 1920s onwards. It is probably the best inter-war garden in Italy and we shall have a private visit. We then continue to nearby Pienza, the town remodelled by Pope Pius II according to the theories of Alberti, the great renaissance authority on classical architecture. There will be time for lunch in Pienza, which is not included, and after a guided walk about the town, we return to our hotel. This evening we drive to Villa di Geggiano where we shall be the guests of Count Andrea Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, a descendant of Pope Alexander III (1159 – 1181), who was the great adversary of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. This is a charming ‘delizia Senese’, a party villa - a remarkable setting for our group dinner.
- Day 5: Saturday 4 May
- On our final day we begin with a visit to nearby Villa Vicobello, the home of a member of the Chigi family, who will be our host as we visit this charming garden. We then enjoy a gentle drive through the spellbinding countryside of Chianti to the hills around San Casciano Val di Pesa to the south of Florence. Villa Le Corti is the winery and historic home of the Corsini family where we shall enjoy a group lunch accompanied by the estate’s wines, with a visit to the villa and its surrounding formal Italian garden. We continue to Pisa airport for our flight to Heathrow.
Please note that there is a £250 (total) discount if Siena & Tuscan Gardens is taken with Villas & Gardens of Florence
- Price: £1,985 per person
- Price without flights: £1,860
- Deposit: £275
- Single Supplement: £295 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
4 nights with breakfast at 4* Villa Scacciapensieri, Siena
Outward: BA604 Depart London Heathrow (Terminal 3) 0835, arrive Pisa 1145
Return: BA607 Depart Pisa 1955, arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 3) 2105
2 dinners & 4 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, City Tax, services of Caroline Holmes & our local tour director, James Hill
Travel to/from Heathrow, 2 dinners & 1 lunch
Weather Conditions for Siena in May are:
Average Temperature between: 12oC - 23oC / 53oF - 73oF
Rainfall: 62mm / 2.4 inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.