We depart from London to Milan. On arrival we continue by comfortable coach to our base for the next four nights, the Grand Majestic Hotel, Pallanza, Verbania. Built in 1870, on the elegant west Piedmont shores of Lake Maggiore, overlooking the Isola San Giovanni, the Grand Hotel Majestic is a fascinating example La Belle Époque architecture. Pallanza’s lakefront is one of the finest on Lake Maggiore; a walk along its promenade with the lake and the Borromean Islands on one side and colourful facades, porticoes, flowered balconies, terraces and cafés on the other is a most agreeable experience.
A welcome drink will be served in the evening followed by dinner.
Today, 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.
After a relaxing lunchtime break we will travel the short distance to visit the most remarkable wholesale nursery business in the Italian Lake District - that of Compagnia Del Lago. This is a fascinating wholesale producer of azaleas, camellias, rhododendron and other plant species successfully grown for the Italian Lakeland gardens. There is an amazing selection of wonderful plants over a space of 30 hectares of polytunnels and greenhouses. Nice to see, nicer to treat yourself. Plants can be purchased but must be delivered by mail order.
Later in the afternoon, we return to the hotel where dinner is served in the evening.
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 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 gardenias, azaleas, and camellias and the story of the salvage of the ancient Himalayan cypress is an inspiration to all.
We later return to our hotel where dinner will be served.
Please remember to bring your passport today as we will be entering Switzerland and it may be required.
We start at a leisurely pace with 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 drive northwards along the lake towards Ticino and Switzerland. According to weather conditions, we can make a brief stop at Cannero Riviera (town of Cannero citrus fruit project) to learn about the ancient tradition of lemon cultivation on Lake Maggiore. We will continue by coach to Locarno for our lunchtime stop. In the afternoon we visit the Parco Gambarogno, a magnificent botanic garden situated at the Gambarogno-side of Lake Maggiore, on a plain in the hills between Piazzogna and Vairano. Here Otto Eisenhut, a patient and talented horticulturalist, cultivated thousands of beautiful and colourful flowering plants - 950 types of camellias, 350 different magnolias, azaleas, peonies and Rhododendron.
We then continue to the Eisenhut Nursery at San Nazzaro in a wonderful hillside setting. To conclude our afternoon (weather permitting) we will ride the cable-car high up to the Cardada peak for breath-taking views from the “sky-walk platform”.
Dinner will be served at the hotel in the evening.
Today, following breakfast and hotel check out, we 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.
We continue to the town of Como where we will check into our lakeside hotel, the Barchetta Excelsior for the next three nights. The hotel is situated in the heart of Como and is only accessible on foot or by horse-drawn carts. Dinner is served in the hotel in the evening.
**Our 13 May departure is based on staying in Lake View Rooms at the Barchetta Excelsior.
Today we have a free day for you to shop and sightsee at leisure. It is very easy to hop on board one of the many ferries or hydrofoils which go to Bellagio where you may have lunch and visit the Villa Melzi d’Eril (admission not included). Our guide will be on hand to assist.
Today we travel along the motorways and lake shore roads for an enchanting day on Lake Como, so similar and yet so different from its larger neighbour, Maggiore. On arrival in Tremezzo we will have time to enjoy the elegant 18th century Villa Carlotta, where, in the spring, 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.
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.