Villas and Gardens of Central Italy
Wander through the private grounds of majestic estates in Italy’s centre from Vicenza to Latina and unearth the rich history of some of Italy’s most romantic gardens.
Join gardening author Julie Kinney to travel along the spine of the Italian peninsula and visit gardens designed in the style of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, intertwining elements of mythology, philosophy and theatre with outstanding flora and innovative landscape architecture.
Explore the verdant gardens of the Veneto with renowned Palladian-style villas in Vicenza and drive along the iconic Cypress-lined entrances to grand estates, including La Foce, in the hazy hills of Tuscany.
Last but not least, experience the best of Italy’s harvest season with an abundance of fresh local produce, notably olives and truffles.
Depart Australia or New Zealand in the evening on suggested Qatar Airways flights to Venice via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport in the afternoon on suggested flights in time for a group transfer departing the airport at 14:30, or at 15:00 from Mestre for Vicenza.
Check in to the Hotel Villa Michelangelo, a stunning, 18th century Palladian-style villa on the outskirts of Vicenza. In the evening, attend a welcome briefing and dinner with your tour leader Julie Kinney and fellow travellers.
This morning travel to Verona – the former Roman settlement where cobblestone streets are lined with medieval pink-hued marble buildings. Embark on a guided walking tour of the town and learn about the fierce history of the Verona Arena and the romantic tales for which the city is best known. Enjoy time at leisure for lunch before visiting Giardino Giusti, an exquisitely restored late-Renaissance garden, whose terraces reveal an extraordinary belvedere (beautiful view) of the surrounding city. Local folklore maintains that lovers who succeed in finding each other through the tight labyrinth of manicured hedges are destined for eternal love.
Return to Hotel Villa Michelangelo. Originally the country residence of the aristocratic Tomi family, the villa has since changed hands – however the forests of centenary trees and olive groves remain. The original walnut beams, Venetian terrazzo mosaic floors and antique furnishings preserve the period charm of this 18th century Palladian-style villa, while floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views of the surrounding Berici Hills.
Begin the morning with a walking tour of Vicenza and witness a few of the elegant Renaissance buildings which earn the entire city a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Founded in the 2nd century BCE, Vicenza rose to fame in the 16th century after renowned stone mason Andrea Palladio transformed the city’s architectural landscape and it became known as the ‘Pearl of the Renaissance’. Along the way, see the iconic Teatro Olimpico, where the oldest surviving stage set in the world is still used for modern productions, the Palladian Basilica, Palazzo Chiericati and the Corso Palladio, an entire street which seems frozen in time – a monument to Vicenza’s rich Renaissance history.
In the afternoon travel to the rolling hills surrounding the town centre where Palladio laid the groundwork for what would become the most influential architectural movement of the century. Explore the vast grounds of the Villa Rotonda and the Villa Valmarana, and see how Palladio innovatively applied classical Roman features to contemporary Italian villas.
Tonight, enjoy dinner in the frescoed halls of a private villa.
Today visit Palladio’s Villa Barbaro. A monument to the Venetian bea vita (good life), the villa is now surrounded by a flourishing Prosecco estate where climbing roses, wisteria and bignonia adorn the entrance courtyard in the spring. Trompe l’oeil-style frescoes by Paolo Veronese cover the villa’s walls, while a Palladio-designed nymphaeum featuring a series of exquisitely carved figures frames a natural spring.
In the afternoon venture beyond the gates of the private Villa Tiepolo Passi for lunch and a guided tour through the estate’s expansive grounds, bordered by the Piovensan River. Built in the 17th century Venetian Baroque style, the grandiose villa looks out over a pristinely manicured Italian garden surrounded by a romantic English park. Return to the hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy the evening at leisure.
Check out of the hotel and depart Vicenza for the Monumental Baroque Gardens of Valsanzibio at Villa Barbarigo. Set against the lush Euganei Hills, Villa Barbarigo’s world-renowned gardens are designed as an allegorical journey representing the human quest for perfection. Built between 1665 and 1696, the garden’s heritage is evident not just in the beautiful Baroque statues which adorn the paths, but in the plants themselves – approximately 70% of the botanical specimens were planted in the 1660s, and some are even older.
Originally accessible by canal from Venice, the magnificent water-front gateway – known as Diana’s Pavilion – features a cast of Roman deities sculpted by the illustrious Henry Merengo. The garden also features the oldest (and tallest) Boxwood hedge labyrinth in existence, a sweeping staircase inscribed with philosophical sonnets, and an artificial island created specifically to house a rabbit warren. Enjoy private access to areas of the garden ordinarily closed to the public and a lunch of special local produce on the villa’s patio before continuing to Hotel Villa Fiesole, in the hills outside Florence. Check in to the hotel and enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.
This morning visit one of the oldest residences belonging to the Medici family in the Fiesole hills, a truly magnificent villa with terraced gardens overlooking Florence. Built by pioneering Renaissance architect Michelozzo in the mid-15th century, the villa is a spectacular example of classic palazzo-styling and remains one of the best-preserved Renaissance estates in Italy.
Enjoy lunch at leisure in Florence before visiting the Giardino Torrigiani. Since the 16th century, Giardino Torrigiani has been established as a premier botanical garden and is known for the biodiversity of its specimens from around the world, its greenhouses and the romantic winding paths that weave under through the shade of ancient cedars, oaks, cypress and magnolias.
Then, enjoy a guided tour of Villa Capponi, a 16th century villa and surrounding estate which has been extensively restored and converted into private luxury apartments, while still retaining its original aristocratic aesthetic. Enjoy time at leisure to explore central Florence before dinner in a local restaurant.
This morning visit a Saturday market and join the local Fiesolians in picking out the best produce available at the height of harvest season. Then visit Peyron Villa and Gardens, a relatively modern estate settled in the hazy hills of Tuscany, with sweeping views of Florence. The surrounding woods are rich with cedars, pine trees, poplars, oaks, elms and willow trees. Over twenty-nine fountains draw water from nearby the Mensola stream, which runs through the grounds and waters the orchards and gardens of camellias and azaleas.
For lunch today, ingredients from the morning market expedition will be used in a cooking demonstration of local cuisine. In the afternoon, enjoy a guided tour of Villa Gamberaia, a magnificent 17th century villa nestled in the hills of Settignano, with a panoramic vista overlooking the Arno Valley. The villa, built on the bones of what was originally a farm house, is set above gardens which feature a monumental fountain, manicured lawns and olive groves.
This morning, transfer to Florence for a guided tour of the Boboli Gardens, a sweeping pleasure garden located directly behind the Pitti Palace, home of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany. It was here that the now-familiar features of a uniquely Italian style of formal garden were developed during the 16th century, under the direction of Cosimo I. The vast green expanse is an outdoor museum replete with ancient and Renaissance statues, an ancient Egyptian obelisk and a Roman-style amphitheatre.
Later, approach Florence in the footsteps of Michelangelo and Donatello with a guided tour of the Bargello National Museum, the first Italian National Museum dedicated to the arts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Masterpieces by Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio and Michelangelo adorn the halls of what was initially the headquarters of the Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People) built in 1255.
Enjoy the afternoon at leisure before dinner in Fiesole.
This morning travel from the surrounds of Florence to the hazy hills of southern Tuscany.
Stop first in the Etruscan settlement of San Gimignano and witness the city’s 14 original medieval towers which miraculously survived the urban renewal of the Florentine Renaissance and outlasted the ravages of the 20th century. Enjoy a guided walking tour of the ‘City of Beautiful Towers’ and spend some time at leisure for lunch in this living relic of a past age.
In the afternoon, continue to the Guicciardini Strozzi winery for a wine tasting. This family-owned estate is run by the descendants of two of Italy’s most powerful dynasties, who were joined by marriage in the 17th century. Wine production has occurred on this estate for over a thousand years and today specialises in the cultivation of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white grape native to Tuscany.
Continue to Siena and enjoy dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
Begin the morning with a walking tour of Siena and experience a city which is caught in time. Generally regarded as the best-preserved medieval city in Italy, wander through this open-air museum of architecture and marvel at the multitude of ancient, Gothic and Baroque-style buildings. The Piazza del Campo in the heart of the city remains the theatre of the Palio horse races where the remaining contrades passionately compete in the historical pageant. Enjoy time at leisure for lunch and to explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town.
This afternoon visit Villa Cetinale for a private guided tour of this 17th century Roman Baroque villa. Originally owned by Fabio Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII in 1655, the current estate was largely remodeled by the Pope’s nephew, who transformed the house and gardens into a secluded oasis. Return to the hotel and enjoy the remainder of the afternoon at leisure, before dinner in a local restaurant.
Enjoy a morning at leisure to relax and soak up the tranquillity of the Hotel Borgo Scopeto Relais, with its panoramic views of Siena and the rolling hills of central Tuscany. Originally the home of the famous Sozzini dynasty of bankers, merchants and jurists in the 16th century, today the villa has been beautifully restored and retains all the elegance of a Renaissance residence with the added comfort of modern amenities.
Transfer from the hotel to a nearby Chianti winery for lunch and a wine tasting. In 1716, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici, issued the first legal document in the world to define a wine production area and in 1932 the Chianti region was awarded the prestigious DOCG status, which guarantees the outstanding quality and providence of the Chianti Classico wines produced in this area. Return to the hotel and enjoy the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure.
Check out of the hotel and transfer to La Foce, the historic residence of the Origo family. Situated on the Via Francigena (the ancient pilgrim route running from France to Rome), the villa at La Foce was built as a hospice for pilgrims and merchants passing through in the 15th century. In the 1920s, the residence was adopted by Antonio Origo and his wife, Iris, the well-known English author. Under their direction the house was restored and the gardens re-worked by renowned English architect, Cecil Pinsent, who transformed the grounds into an innovative 20th century re-imagining of classic Italian landscape design. Sculpted box hedges create formal garden ‘rooms’, bordered by a glorious, wisteria-covered pergola, while the surrounding informal terraces are filled with cherry trees, cypresses and pines.
Enjoy a guided tour of the grounds, lunch at the estate’s restaurant and time to explore at your own pace before transferring to the town of Montepulciano. A medieval and Renaissance town perched high on a limestone ridge, Montepulciano is internationally renowned for its food and wine. Continue to Frascati and enjoy dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
This morning, visit Giardini della Landriana, a landscape garden just a few kilometres from the Lazio coast. This modern estate features a series of ‘rooms’ spread over 10 hectares which each showcase a particular botanical feature – from ancient roses to groves of olive trees and more.
Return to the hotel and enjoy the afternoon at leisure to relax, or to go into town and explore the charming city of Frascati at your own pace. This evening dinner is at a local restaurant.
Begin the morning with a visit to the Barberini Garden of the Pontifical Villa and stroll through the exquisitely manicured grounds of the Pope’s summer residence. This section of the estate was built into the ruins of Emperor Domitian’s country residence, and the ancient remains are beautifully integrated into the elegant landscape under the shade of mighty holm oaks.
Enjoy lunch at a nearby restaurant before touring the Gardens of Ninfa, a sprawling landscape garden built over and around the ruins of a medieval town. Bisected by the River Ninfa, the gardens are a lush oasis of biodiversity originally designed by Gelasio Caetani in the 1920s, which is known today as “the world’s most romantic garden”. Return to the hotel in the evening and enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.
This morning visit Villa d’Este, a 16th century estate near Tivoli which is internationally renowned for its Italian Renaissance garden and famous for its profusion of fountains. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site features 51 fountains and nymphaeums, all of which are fed by 875 metres of canal and which work entirely by gravity. Wander through this masterpiece of horticulture and hydraulic engineering before continuing to Hadrian’s Villa, the ruins of the enormous imperial palace built by one of Rome’s greatest emperors.
This afternoon, visit Palazzo Parisi, a 15th century estate in Oliveto which is the childhood home of internationally renowned garden-designer, Arabella Lennox-Boyd. Enjoy a lunch of home-made, locally-sourced, authentic Italian food before a guided tour of the gardens with the owner. Arrive at the hotel in the evening and enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.
Check out of the hotel and transfer to the Minardi Frascati winery for a special farewell lunch with Julie and fellow tour members. For centuries the Minardi family have cultivated land in the Frascati DOCG area, specialising in white wines which pair beautifully with dessert, and the finest extra virgin olive oil.
If you are staying on in Italy after the tour, transfer to central Rome or if departing for home on suggested flights, continue to Rome International Airport, where tour arrangements conclude.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Final payment due
15 July 2020
Please see Terms & 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 a visa for Italy.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in 4-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including drinks with welcome and farewell dinners
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
- Talks with your tour leader, Julie Kinney
- Group transfers on arrival and departure as per itinerary
- 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)
- Transfers if not on group transfers as per itinerary
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Vicenza – Villa Michelangelo ****
Fiesole– Villa Fiesole ****
Siena – Borgo Scopeto Relais ****
Frascati– Park Hotel Villa Grazioli ****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.