Visit the major renaissance gardens & villas around Rome including Villas d’Este, Farnese, Lante & Bomarzo
See the most famous modern gardens of central Italy at Ninfa & La Landriana
Discover antiquity’s extraordinary ‘villa lifestyle' at Emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli
Remarkable private visits, some with lunch, not found on other itineraries
Based in the quiet and picturesque town of Civita Castellana, just north of Rome
Lazio is the largely agricultural area surrounding Rome. In ancient times it was dotted with villas used by senatorial and imperial owners as a place of retreat. This lifestyle was characterised by Cicero as the contrast between the life of the country, otium, represented by villas in and around Tusculum and later on, Tivoli; and that of the city, negotium, dominated by politics, business and intrigue.
Like many aspects of antiquity, this tradition of cultured withdrawal was revived during the renaissance, first in Tuscany and then in the Roman countryside via the influence of two Medici cardinals who were elected to the papacy as Leo X and Clement VII, and their associates. Those who could escape the pressures of city life did so in order to find solace amidst the peace of the country. To achieve this aim, the papal and aristocratic Roman families of the Renaissance and Baroque periods built lavish villas in what we call the Campagna.
The villas were usually complemented by fine gardens, embellished with rare plants and statuary, awash with the play of fountains and rills. Indeed, in the eighteenth century some of these ancient and later gardens influenced British traditions as visions of an Arcadian past came to replace the more formal layouts of earlier centuries. Indeed, iconic gardens such as Rousham, Stowe and Stourhead could not have been created without their inspiration.
Our six-day visit will explore this varied tradition of building, artistic patronage and garden design through a series of visits to sites of special architectural, artistic and horticultural interest. Some of these are very much not open to the public and in several cases we shall be entertained to lunch or other refreshments.
We shall stay in the charming town of Civita Castellana at the comfortable 4* Hotel Relais Falisco, just along from its very handsome Duomo. Dramatically perched on top of a series of tufa ravines, the town was originally an Etruscan settlement and every major phase of subsequent cultural occupation, from ancient Roman through to medieval and Papal control is reflected in its charming assemblage of buildings.
Day by day
- Day 1: Wednesday 22 May
- We fly from London Heathrow with BA arriving at Rome Fiumicino mid afternoon. We then travel through the verdant countryside of northern Lazio to our hotel, the 4* Relais Falisco in Civita Castellana. En route there will be a short introductory talk on the varied themes of the visit. We have dinner in our hotel – wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Thursday 23 May
- We begin our day with a visit to Tivoli to see two world famous villa and garden complexes. In the morning we explore Hadrian’s Imperial Villa, one of the most remarkable sites to survive from Roman antiquity. It is also of great importance as the source for so much that would come later in the renaissance and also during the period of ‘The Grand Tour’. We have our group lunch in Tivoli, where in the grounds of our restaurant we shall find the spectacular ruin of the ‘Temple of Vesta’ much admired in the eighteenth century. A short walk takes us to the sixteenth century splendours of the Villa d’Este, justly famed for the finest water features of any renaissance garden. This is the allegorical masterpiece of two remarkable people, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este and his scholarly advisor, Pirro Ligorio. Cardinal d’Este was from the famous family who ruled Ferrara and was amongst the most cultured clerics of his generation. We return to our hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 3: Friday 24 May
- Driving south, we spend our morning at magical Ninfa, justly considered the most famous modern garden in Italy. Created over many years, Ninfa’s garden grows round, through and within an abandoned medieval town, through which a variety of water sources flow. Its combination of roses, rare shrubs and magnificent trees is unforgettable and will be a highlight of our tour. Not far away is the fine garden at La Torrecchia, where we visit privately, with lunch on arrival. In 1991 Prince and Princess Carlo Carraciolo converted an ancient barn complex into an elegant modern villa, with the surrounding five-acre garden designed by Lauro Marchetti, then curator of Ninfa. Subsequently, the development of the garden has been taken on by Dan Pearson and the result is a truly magical experience which is not much known to the outside world. We return to Civita Castellana and the evening will be free.
- Day 4: Saturday 25 May
- Today we drive a short distance to visit the mysterious garden at Bomarzo with its stone monsters set amidst an enchanted wood, their Sacro Bosco. Created for a member of the ancient Orsini family, no scholar has as yet successfully penetrated the various levels of meaning it is thought to incorporate. We continue on to the small town of Vignanello to see the fortified medieval Castello owned by the Ruspoli family. We shall visit its small, enchanting garden, said to contain the earlier box parterres of the renaissance. We lunch locally after which we return to our hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 5: Sunday 26 May
- Today we drive northwards to spend the morning in the company of one of the greatest of all the papal building families, the Farnese. Of the many structures which they built, one of the finest is without doubt the truly palatial Villa Farnese at Caprarola, where both villa and garden are of great interest and which we shall visit. We continue to nearby Bagnaia where there will be time for lunch in the village, not included today, after which we visit what is for many the finest formal garden of the renaissance, the Villa Lante. Long neglected, this is now once again magnificent after a long programme of restoration. We return to Civita Castellana and our final dinner will be in a local restaurant.
- Day 6: Monday 27 May
- We drive to the south-east of Rome to Landriana for a private visit. This fine garden, partly designed by Russell Page, is elegantly laid out on a gently sloping hillside, incorporating both traditional and modern elements with stylish flair. Formal areas of simple planting using a restrained, sophisticated colour palette are complemented by some remarkable touches such as a hillside planted with what seems like hundreds of rosa mutabalis. We have our final lunch in the garden and continue to Rome Fiumicino for the early evening flight to London Heathrow.
Please note that there is a £300 (total) discount if the Villas & Gardens of Lazio is taken with Hilltowns of Umbria
- Price: £2,175 per person
- Price without flights: £1,995
- Deposit: £300
- Single Supplement: £165 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
5 nights with breakfast at the 4* Hotel Relais Falisco, Civita Castellana
Outward: BA560 Depart London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1245, arrive Rome Fiumicino 1615
Return: BA557 Depart Rome Fiumicino 1845, arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 2025
2 dinners & 4 lunches with water, wine & coffee, all local transfers, City Tax, entry fees & gratuities, services of Tom Duncan & our local tour manager, James Hill
Travel to/from Heathrow, 3 dinners & 1 lunch
Weather Conditions for Lazio in May are:
Average Temperature between: 12oC - 23oC / 54oF - 75oF
Rainfall: 38mm / 1.5 inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.