From the Italian Alps to Puglia
Experience a kaleidoscope of Italian horticulture, from the verdant Alpine gardens of Lombardy and Piedmont in the north to the Mediterranean gardens of Puglia in the south.
Begin in the Lakes District where Italy meets the Alps, and the long glacial lakes of Maggiore and Como are studded with Renaissance villas and English-style gardens once the domain of counts and cardinals.
Then travel to Puglia on the heel of the Italian Peninsula and explore the Mediterranean-style gardens around Alberobello and Lecce. Stroll through groves of grapes, olives, figs and almonds, and visit botanical gardens featuring holm oaks, rare grasses and tropical plants.
This tour is organised by the Foundation & Friends of the Botanic Gardens in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Suggested departure from Australia or New Zealand in the afternoon on Qantas/Emirates flights to Milan via Dubai. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements.
Suggested arrival in Milan in the morning. Group transfer (included in tour price) from central Milan (14:00) or Milan Malpensa Airport (15:15) to Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
Check in to the hotel in the afternoon, before a special welcome dinner with Sandy and fellow travellers in the evening.
Explore Isola Madre, the largest of the islands of Lake Maggiore, where the wealthy Borromeo family constructed an elegant palace in the 16th century. Surrounding the palace are 8 hectares of botanical gardens all’inglese (in the English style), spread across seven terraces featuring palms, cypresses, rhododendrons and camellias.
Then visit Isola Bella, another of the beautiful ‘Borromean Islands’ of Lake Maggiore, whose 17th century palace was built by Count Borromeo for his wife Isabella (from which the island derives its name). Ten terraces of gardens and the gentle lakeside environment have allowed the flourishing of species from hydrangeas to ginkgos, Greek strawberry trees and a colossal camphor laurel, a species first introduced to curious Europeans in the writings of Marco Polo.
In the morning, visit Villa Taranto, whose expansive gardens were created by Capt. Neil McEacharn in the 1930s in imitation of the landscape gardens of his native Scotland. Gathering plant specimens from around the world, this ‘Laird of the Lake’ established an estate whose botanical riches are matched only by its aesthetic beauty, graced by fountains, greenhouses, wells and statues. In autumn, the turn of season paints the oak and maple foliage red and gold, and the boughs of persimmon trees hang heavy with ripening fruits.
The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the languid beauty of Lake Maggiore in the autumn, followed by dinner at a local restaurant in Stresa.
Travel eastwards from Lake Maggiore to Lake Como, one of the deepest in Europe at more than 400m in depth.
Explore the Villa del Balbianello, a meeting place for Italian republicans in the early 19th century who gathered there to plan the unification of the various states that covered the Italian peninsula at the time. The gardens of the villa were significantly developed by the Visconti family in the 19th century.
Continue to the Villa Carlotta, a magnificent 18th century edifice standing above terraced gardens which look over Lake Como to the Alps beyond. The 8 hectare botanical garden features azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and orange trees.
The day begins with a visit to the Giardini di Villa Melzi di Bella. The villa was built between 1808 and 1810 by the Count of Lodi, and its architecture recalls the Neo-Classicism of the Napoleonic Era. The surrounding park contains Greek and Roman-style sculptures, as well as a tranquil Japanese reflecting pond.
Continue to the Villa Monastero, built on the site of a 12th century Cistercian convent, whose paths wend their way through gardens planted with kumquats, lemon, lime, myrtle and agave.
Enjoy a day trip to Lake Lugano, straddling the border between Italy and Switzerland. Historically contested between the Duchy of Milan and the Bishopric of Como, Lake Lugano is now an oasis of tranquillity, and its delightful gardens benefit from an almost Mediterranean microclimate – not to mention a spectacular panoramic backdrop. A boat cruise along the lake offers a breathtaking panorama of deep blue waters, rising green foothills and great grey Alpine peaks.
Early in the morning, check out from the hotel and transfer to Milan for a flight to Brindisi in Puglia.
On arrival in Brindisi, transfer to Lecce, our base for the next three nights.
Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
Begin your exploration of Puglia with a tour of the town of Lecce, whose abundance of Baroque sculptures has earnt it the moniker ‘The Florence of the South’. Thousands of years of human habitation and a naturally workable local stone known as pietra leccese (Lecce stone) have graced Lecce with monuments including a Roman theatre, a 16th century triumphal arch and several fine 17th century churches.
Delve into Puglia’s rich history in the Faggiano Museum. The museum was created in 2008 from the private residence of restaurateur Luciano Faggiano, who had been digging beneath his floor to repair some sewage pipes when he uncovered layers of history stretching back more than 2,500 years, including the remains of a 16th century Franciscan convent, a 12th century Templar home and a treasure trove of historical relics from Roman times.
Spend a day exploring the Salento Peninsula, the ‘high heel’ of the Italian boot. Travel to the town of Otranto, whose distinctive 15th century Aragonese Castle, in the shape of a very irregular pentagon, commands a port which has been home to Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Siculo-Normans across the millennia of its existence.
Continue to the stunning Cava di Bauxite, where a small blue lake fringed with verdant vegetation sits within the brick-red earth that gives the area its name.
After lunch, visit the La Cutura Botanic Garden in Giuggianello, a 35 hectare garden designed in the late 19th century style and containing a collection of rare tropical plants and grasses, as well as an ornate Italian-style garden, a rose garden and a grove of plants native to Lecce.
In the morning, check out of the hotel and travel to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Alberobello. Alberobello is famous for its quaint trulli, whitewashed houses built with conical grey drystone roofs dating from the 18th century.
Like so many good stories, the history of the trulli begins with a clever act of tax avoidance: by not using mortar in the building of the roof, the owner of the house could avoid the application of the imperial building tax, either because the residence was deemed ‘temporary’ or because it could be dismantled when tax inspectors were in the area. There are around 1,400 trulli in the town, and even the church is in the form of a trullo.
In the evening, check into the hotel, a magnificently restored 1700s masseria (traditional Pugliese farmhouse) surrounded by groves of olives, citrus and carob trees which was once a meeting place for the Knights Hospitaller.
In the morning, explore the fascinating sassi of Matera, in the neighbouring Region of Basilicata. The sassi are cave-houses dug directly into the limestone hillside of Matera, and were continuously inhabited for 9,000 years until the remaining inhabitants were moved into modern housing in the 1950s. In recent decades, the sassi have been carefully restored, and are now home to shops, restaurants and hotels.
After lunch, continue to Castel del Monte, a defensive fortress built in the 1240s by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. The World Heritage-listed fortress is unusual for being constructed in an octagonal shape with an octagonal tower on each corner.
Explore the gardens of Masseria Salinola, an estate which was once a salt warehouse, and still produces fine extra-virgin olive oil from trees dating back more than a century.
Continue to Martina Franca, a charming white city in the Murge Hills graced with a collection of Baroque and Rococo churches. Explore the Palazzo Ducale, where Late Mannerism gives way to the Baroque, and admire the façade of the Church of San Domenico designed by the Domenican Friar Antonio Cantalupi. Visit the Basilica of San Martino, arguably one of the finest examples of Late Baroque architecture in all Puglia, whose richly embellished interior and exterior prefigure the development of the mid-18th century Rococo style.
In the evening, enjoy a special farewell dinner with Sandy and fellow travellers.
Transfer from Alberobello to Bari Airport.
Tour arrangements conclude on arrival at Bari Airport at 11:00 for flights departing from 13:00 onwards. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
13 July 2018
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require visas to visit Italy.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 4 and 5 star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including wine with meals
- One-way Economy Class flight from Milan to Brindisi
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Airport/hotel transfers on tour arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on group transfers
- Airport porterage
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Lake Maggiore – Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa ****+
Lake Como – Palace Hotel ****
Lecce – Patria Palace Hotel *****
Alberobello – Masseria Relais del Cardinale, Fasano *****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted