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Tours ~ Tour Details

Villas and Gardens of the Italian Lakes - Telegraph Tours

7 Nightsfrom £1995.00 pp

Tour Overview


The fabulous scenery and benign climate of the northern Italian lakes have attracted aristocrats and the wealthy for years, and today their elegant villas and lush gardens perfectly complement the natural landscape.

From our bases at the foot of Lake Como and on the Borromeo Gulf on Lake Maggiore, we will explore a succession of villas and their gardens, all set against the breath-taking backdrop of   snow-capped mountains and glittering water. Undoubtedly one of the main highlights of the trip will be a privileged visit to the private garden of Andrea Cornea - President of the Italian Camellia Society, which is home to a remarkable collection of over 500 plants. We will also have a private tour with the owner of Villa Cicogna Mozzoni and enjoy visits to Villa Carlotta, Villa Taranto and the beautifully manicured and impeccably maintained gardens of Villa Balbianello.

We will also explore the three Borromean islands, Bella, Madre and Pescatori, which capture the extravagant spirit of the lakeland gardens, featuring sumptuous terraced gardens, shaded woodland walks, flowered terraces and elegant statuary.

In addition we enjoy a free day to relax and explore in Como town, or visit Villa Melzi d’Eril in Bellagio.

Telegraph Experts

Our tour will be guided by our very own Italian Lakes expert Kate Williamson.

We will also enjoy expert insights from Andy Sturgeon who will join us for two days of our tour.  A well-known face on television and writer of several well-received garden books,  Andy is one of the world’s leading landscape and garden designers with three Chelsea gold medals under his belt, two of which were for the Telegraph garden, winning “Best in Show”. He was made a Fellow of the UK Society of Garden Designers in 2011.
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Tour Itinerary Back to top of page

Friday 24 March 2017
We depart from London to Milan.  On arrival we continue by comfortable coach to Como and arrive at our accommodation for the next three nights – the 4* Barchetta Excelsior Hotel (  The hotel is situated in the heart of Como within the pedestrian area and very close to the lakeshore.  Lake Como is enchanting at any hour of the day, on any day of the year and has been celebrated widely by poets and artists for its landscapes, historical villas and villages perched on the mountains.  A quiet, relaxing and welcoming atmosphere will greet you at the Barchetta Excelsior Hotel, where you will simply enjoy some of the most breathtaking of views.

A welcome drink will be served in the evening followed by dinner.

Saturday 25 March 2017
Following breakfast this morning, we travel along the lake shore road for an enchanting day on Lake Como.  On arrival in Tremezzo we will have time to enjoy the elegant 18th century Villa Carlotta, where in the spring, camellias, followed later by azaleas and rhododendrons burst into a simply dazzling display. Around the house the layout is formal with lemon arbours on the terraces and tall camellia hedges while further away from the villa we will discover a relaxed English-style garden in the woodland, dotted with unusual trees. Imaginative planting includes twining climbers, jasmine and roses while in the more natural garden a dell of tree ferns, palms, eucalyptus, Japanese maples and cactus reveal the microclimatic conditions with banana and flowering orchids creating an exotic semi-tropical jungle effect. The house itself has its own story to tell, full of neo-classical art treasures including paintings by Hayez and sculptures by Canova.

After our visit to Villa Carlotta, we will have a relaxing lunchtime break in Tremezzo. We will catch the ferry to visit the Villa Balbianello on the Lavedo point which, combined with the romantic arrival at the water gates landing stage, turns the expedition into an arcadian delight.  Remote from lakeside tourism, in a sylvan setting of pine, soaring cypress and oak, with pollarded plane trees, manicured lawns and flowerbeds, the garden is maintained to an exceptionally high standard by the Italian National trust or FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano).  With unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake and fronting the promontory of Serbelloni, the first villa was built in 1540, but was later moved to a new site inland to protect it from flooding.

Later we return to the mainland and our hotel where dinner is served in the evening.

Sunday 26 March 2017
This morning we enjoy a leisurely breakfast in our hotel.  Today we have a free day to shop and sightsee at leisure. It is very easy to hop on board one of the many ferries or hydrofoils which go to many places around the lake, including the famous village of Bellagio, where you may have lunch and visit the Villa Melzi d’Eril (admission not included). Our tour manager Kate Williamson will be on hand for further guidance on how best to spend your day.

This evening, we will enjoy dinner in the hotel.

Monday 27 March 2017
Following breakfast this morning, we check out of our hotel and will head for Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, situated in what were ancient hunting grounds for the nobility, in the foothills between Varese and Lake Lugano. Here we will be privileged to enjoy a private guided tour with the owner. The garden was established by Ascanio Mozzoni, a man of great culture who from his travels, including to Rome, brought back ideas for the arrangement of his garden over seven levels. In 1580 his only daughter was married to Giovan Pietro Cicogna, through whose descendants we arrive at today’s owners. The most pleasant characteristic of the villa, apart from its surprisingly intact frescoes, is its merging with the garden. A two-flight stairway with a brook running in between leads directly to the halls of the Villa. The walled garden is a typical example of formal Italian garden with box hedges, water basins, fountains and a grotto. The visit raises the “who” and “how” questions relative to the conservation of historic buildings and should prove to be most illuminating.

Later today, we enjoy a visit to the gardens of Villa Taranto.  Flourishing with rare botanical examples, the early 20th century concept of a garden as both an aesthetic experience and a scientific adventure reaches its height of perfection in the grounds of Villa Taranto.  In 1931, Captain Neil McEachern, a Scotsman from Galloway, bought the estate through an advertisement which appeared in the Times with the intention of creating an English-style garden where he could grow plants from all over the world, to delight the eye and satisfy the curiosity of the horticulturalist. Today you can appreciate a very important botanical collection with a wide range of plants.  Captain McEachern is buried in the grounds which are a true testament to his dedication, continual work and great love of nature.  

We then continue to our 4* accommodation for the next four nights - Hotel La Palma (, situated directly on the lakefront in Stresa with picturesque views over Lake Maggiore.

The Hotel La Palma welcomes and invites you to discover the romantic atmosphere and beauty of Lake Maggiore from the wonderful Isola Bella that houses the impressive 17th century Palazzo Borromeo to the impressive bordering mountains.

Situated opposite the lakeside promenade with only a five-minute walk to the town centre of Stresa, the hotel offers elegant accommodation and the pretty gardens provide a lovely setting for relaxing, especially after having wandered amongst Stresa’s picturesque villas and gardens.  

Dinner will be served in the hotel this evening.

Tuesday 28 March 2017
This morning following breakfast, we start with a real treat by visiting the private garden of the President of the Italian Camellia Society. The site is above the shores of Lake Maggiore surrounded by mountains and facing the south east. Since the 1950s due to the combination of acid ground, a mild climate and frequent rainfall the garden has housed a remarkable collection of camellias, developed with great passion by Antonio Sevesi, the founder of the Italian Society of Camellias and Andrea Corneo, the current President. The camellia collection includes 500 plants and 318 cultivars. The garden, of course, is in full bloom in spring but is a delight to visit at any time of the year.

Later in the afternoon, we return to Stresa, where dinner will be served at our hotel in the evening.

Wednesday 29 March 2017
Today, after breakfast, we spend a full day exploring the famous Borromean islands. We start with a cruise from Stresa to Isola Bella to see the vast baroque palace built from the island’s rock and surrounded by terraced gardens that were inspired by the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’. Our visit will reveal the magnificent palace, which was constructed in the 17th century by Carlo III of the House of Borromeo and was the scene of sumptuous and lavish parties, attended by the cream of European nobility. Out into the gardens, we find an ornate parterre with low box hedges and brilliantly coloured flowers, a pond adorned with blue and pink water lilies and lush plantings of oranges, grapefruits, orchids and more.

We then continue to Isola Pescatori, the ‘island of fishermen’, with its narrow cobbled streets and pretty harbour. The island was thought to be first inhabited in the 10th century and there are now approximately 50 residents. The church on the island is worth a visit and there is a good choice of restaurants and snack-bars for lunch (not included).

Our final visit is to Isola Madre. In contrast, to Isola Bella, Isola Madre has a simple, unspoilt aspect, where, depending on the season, tropical and Mediterranean plants, citrus fruits, crape myrtle, hibiscus, bougainvillea, protea and agaves all flourish. The English romantic feel is due to re-working of the former Renaissance terraced gardens.  Woods of native trees – aromatic cypress, bay and pine – allow for shaded and fragrant walks past magnolias and camellias where peacocks and pheasants roam free, and the story of the salvage of the ancient Himalayan cypress is an inspiration to all.

We return to our hotel where dinner will once again be served this evening.

Thursday 30 March 2017
This morning following breakfast, we drive to Locarno at the North of the Lake in canton Ticino, Switzerland to meet the Head gardener of the public gardens of the town and visit the Swiss camellia garden that has been landscaped along the lakeshore.  Opened in 2005 in conjuction with the World International Camellia Society Conference, work continues today in collaboration with some of the best camellia producers from China, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the USA.   As activity has been on-going, the park now has 850 named varieties of camellia, with a further 70 still to be identified.  It is an ICS Garden of excellence.

Lunch will be at leisure with some free time to shop and explore Locarno before our return to the hotel where we will enjoy our final dinner together.

The remainder of today will be at leisure to enjoy and some free time in Locarno town.

We return to our hotel where we will enjoy our final dinner together.

Please remember to bring your passport today as we will be entering Switzerland and it may be required.

Friday 31 March 2017
After breakfast today we must check-out of the hotel. We return to the airport in time for our return flight to London, where the group will disperse or make onward connections.

What's Included Back to top of page

  • Three nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast in Lake View Rooms at the four-star Hotel Barchetta Excelsior and four nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast at the four-star Hotel La Palma on Lake Maggiore
  • Flights from London to Milan (other airports on request) 
  • Comfortable coaching throughout
  • Exclusive visit to the private garden of Andrea Cornea - President of the Italian Camellia Society 
  • Guided tour of the garden at Villa Cicogna Mozzoni with the owner
  • Visits to Isolas Bella, Madre and Pescatori and the gardens of the villas Taranto,  Carlotta and Balbianello and to Locarno public gardens 
  • Services of Kate Williamson as tour manager
  • Expert insights from garden designer Andy Sturgeon on two days of the tour

Supplements Per Person Back to top of page

  • Single room supplement        £385.00
  • Insurance                              £45.00 (under 65); £90.00 (65-74); £135.00 (75-90)
  • Regional flight connections and/or overnight accommodation can be arranged on request before or after the tour

Departure Points Back to top of page

London - TBA
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