Gardens & Villas of the italian lakes

Horticultural heaven

Saturday 27 April - Friday 3 May 2024 (7 Days)



Wonderful villas & gardens in a variety of styles, set amidst marvellous lakeside scenery

Visits focusing on Lakes Como, Maggiore & Orta

Villas have remarkable variety of interiors & art collections

Several private visits, including a lunch with the owning family

Comfortable 4* lakeside hotels at Moltrasio on Como & Baveno on Maggiore

Tour Overview

Combine Alpine peaks with cool lake water, garlanded with noble lakeside villas and exquisite gardens and what comes to mind – the Italian lakes, perhaps? Lakes Como, Maggiore and Orta have long conspired to draw poets, artists, architects, gardeners and perhaps, next spring, you too?

Long before their modern borders were established, Piedmont, the Ticino and Lombardy all shared not only a common geography dominated by the Alps, they also managed to produce generation after generation of wonderful architects, masons and sculptors who worked in both stone and stucco. ‘Como’ masons and decorative craftsmen were in demand throughout the medieval period. Famous ‘Roman’ architects such as Maderno and Borromini came from this area, and then there are the itinerant ‘plaster workers’, the stuccodori who plied their trade throughout Europe - talismans of their activities will be with us throughout.

On Lake Como we visit Villa Pizzo, the largest private garden on the lake, Villa del Balbianello where the setting, villa, art collection and garden are exceptional, while the garden at Villa Carlotta is one of the most enchanting on the lakes. On Lake Maggiore, the ensemble of the Borromean Island marries spectacle and setting whilst Villa Taranto is the product of its creator’s sophisticated horticultural imagination.

We have two private visits of exceptional interest: a garden where Italian formality is softened by ‘English’ style planting and a villa where we shall see and hear a unique collection of historic keyboard instruments and be entertained to lunch.

We stay for three nights at the 4* Grand Hotel Imperiale in the delightful lakeside village of Moltrasio on the south-west leg of Lake Como whilst on Lake Maggiore we stay three nights at the 4* Hotel Splendid just outside the resort town of Baveno.

Day by day

Day 1: Saturday 27 April
We fly from London Heathrow arriving at Milan Linate in the early afternoon. We drive to Moltrasio on Lake Como for three nights at the 4* Grand Hotel Imperiale. After some free time to relax and enjoy our hotel’s enchanting setting, there will be dinner in a local restaurant in Moltrasio - wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
Day 2: Sunday 28 April
We travel by private boat up Lake Como to visit two stunning villas. We begin at Villa Balbianello near Lenno: the setting, the villa, its art collections and gardens – it is as close to paradise as one could wish. We continue by boat to the central spur of the lake at Bellagio for lunch in this lovely town, after which we visit the nearby Villa Melzi Gardens. This part of the lake was much favoured by Milan’s ‘great and good’ in the early nineteenth century and the park offers shady lakeside groves, with fine specimen trees and shrubs and a private mausoleum chapel. We return by private boat to Moltrasio after which the evening will be free.
Day 3: Monday 29 April
Today we travel up the western side of the lake to visit Villa Carlotta, a Neo-classical gem which sits on the side of the steeply rising landscape, looking down onto the water. It contains a superb collection of sculptures by Canova, together with pieces by many of his contemporaries. The gardens are laid out as a series of gently rising terraces which should be ablaze with the spring colours of azaleas and rhododendrons. For dendrologists, there are also many fine trees and shrubs. We continue to the lakeside village of Argegno for lunch (not included). In the afternoon, we visit Villa Pizzo near Cernobbio, formerly the summer villa of the Austrian Viceroys, who ruled Lombardy from Milan. In recent years the Counts Pizzo have transformed the formal gardens with much English-style planting, laid out along the lakeside frontage. It is truly enchanting. Later in the evening we have dinner in our hotel’s lakeside restaurant.  
Day 4: Tuesday 30 April
Villa Medici Giulini is not open to the public. Built in 1643, it has had many owners including the Medici of Marignano and most recently, the Giulinis from Milan. Fernanda Giulini and her family have restored the villa over many decades and she will introduce us first to the formal Italian and English-style gardens. We continue into the villa and here you will discover some of her extraordinary collection of historic keyboard instruments, many of which will be played for us. After lunch and a recital in the villa’s private theatre, we continue to Lake Maggiore to check-in at the Hotel Splendid for three nights. The evening will be free.
Day 5: Wednesday 1 May
The day begins in splendid fashion on Lake Maggiore, travelling by private launch to visit the Borromeo Isles, starting with Isola Bella, almost unreal in its beauty. The island is entirely dominated by the Borromeo family palace and its extraordinary formal, terraced gardens. The palace has recently undergone a magnificent restoration and extra rooms have now been opened. The gardens need little introduction as they are the most famous formal gardens in northern Italy and are immaculately maintained. We then go on to Isola dei Pescatori where we have lunch. In the afternoon we visit Isola Madre where the villa and gardens are delightfully informal. The style of the garden reflects a more relaxed approach with many fine trees and shrubs. The villa is not as grand as that seen earlier in the day and it was clearly designed to be a place to ‘unwind’ rather than as somewhere to impress and entertain.  We return to our hotel and the evening will be free.
Day 6: Thursday 2 May
This morning we drive along Lake Maggiore to Pallanza to visit the garden of the Villa Taranto, considered by most authorities to be the best garden on the lake. Here, the fecund imagination of the original Scottish owner, Neil MacEachern, survives with plantings of great originality, albeit now overlaid in some places with the less imaginative ‘intervention’ of its present municipal custodians! After our visit we return to Stresa where there will be some extended free time for lunch, which is not included.  In the late afternoon we leave the hotel for a scenic drive to Lake Orta where we visit Orta San Giulio, a most charming lakeside town, and where we have our final dinner in an excellent local restaurant.
Day 7: Friday 3 May
On our final morning, we travel to within a few kilometres of the Swiss border to visit a private villa whose owner is a renowned collector of Lombard Old Masters. The sixteenth century villa possesses a charming formal garden and impressive grounds set against wonderful vistas of the surrounding hills that mare the border between Italy and Switzerland. Within the villa we shall see some wonderful paintings and an enviable collection of decorative arts and furniture. Our host will entertain us for an early buffet lunch after which we travel by coach the short distance to Milan Malpensa and our early evening flight to London Heathrow.


  • Price: £3,885 per person
  • Price without flights: £3,690
  • Deposit: £495
  • Single Supplement: £659 (Double Room for Sole Use)
    £825 (Double Room for Sole Use)
  • Tour Manager: James Hill

Hotel Details

3 nights with breakfast at the 4* Hotel Imperiale on Lake Como with lake view & 3 nights with breakfast at the 5* Villa Aminta, Lake Maggiore, with side lake/lake view.  Couples/two sharing have full lake view.


British Airways

Outward:  BA574 Depart London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1015 arrive Milan (Linate) 1315

Return:     BA567 Depart Milan (Malpensa) 1905 arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 2010

Price includes

3 dinners & 4 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, services of Rachel Lamb & James Hill

Not included

Travel to/from Heathrow, 3 dinners & 2 lunches


Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Como in May are:
Average Temperature between: 12oC - 19oC / 54oF - 66oF
Rainfall: 203 mm / 8 inches



Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

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