Autumn Gardens in the Italian Lakes
September 10 - 18, 2021
Italy’s breathtaking Lakes District has inspired painters, writers and poets and the island gardens which dot the Italian lakes are among the most beautiful and beguiling in the world.
Huron Tours has been hard at work researching, exploring and planning a wonderful tour to this region. Join us as we visit 11 exceptional villas and gardens around the Lake Maggiore and Lake Como - all while enjoying exclusive private experiences including the best in Italian gastronomy.
This small Group tour will be accompanied by exceptional and experienced Italian guides as well as two full time Huron tours tour managers to make sure every second of this luxury tour runs smoothly.
With Huron’s extensive planning and experience, you will be in such good hands that all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy a glorious succession of incredible gardens while you chat with your fellow garden-loving traveling companions.
Please read on, and consider joining us on this memorable journey through a very special region in Italy.
Happy Travels! - Katie and John Kosta
Friday, September 10
Malpensa Milan arrival, private transfer to Stresa, welcome cocktails and dinner
Arrival at the Malpensa Airport (MXP) in Milan, Italy where you will be met by your
Hotel Villa e Palazzo Aminta is a 5-star luxury hotel on Lake Maggiore overlooking the Borromeo Islands and features opulent interiors with marble columns, stuccos and glittering Murano chandeliers alongside a melange of objects d’art that the Zanetta family have collected over the years. The location is stunning and the attentive staff go out of their way to assist. Accommodations include free Wi-Fi, 24-hour room service, luxurious bathrooms, free mini-bar, goose-feather duvets and a pillow menu. The property has two on-site restaurants, I Mori with large glass windows offering panoramic lake views, serving classic Italian dishes and Le Isole which offers typical regional cuisine along with international dishes in a sumptuous interior. The wonderful included buffet breakfast includes homemade pastries, meats and cheeses, along with eggs prepared at the buffet table. The hotel also offers fantastic facilities including boats, a yoga room, and a private beach all to help you unwind after an action-packed day of touring.
This evening we'll gather at the hotel to kick off our tour in style with a special evening of welcome cocktails and dinner.(Meals on flight, dinner included.)
Saturday, September 11
Breakfast and lunch, Private boat to Borromean Islands: Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Madre
After breakfast this morning we’ll meet our local Lake Maggiore area guide. Following introductions we’ll board our private boat for the stunning journey to the Borromean Islands. This archipelago is jaw-droppingly beautiful and much loved by all - including famous visitors such as Ernest Hemingway and the British Royal family.
Our first stop is Isola Bella, with its baroque gardens in ten rising terraces full of statuary, water fountains, choice plantings and gorgeous white peacocks. It is perhaps the most admired destination on Lake Maggiore. In 1630 Charles Borromeo began the colossal building work that would utterly transform the island. The ambitious project saw palace and garden brought together in the form of an imaginary ship: the dock represented the prow of the vessel, the main palace was the bow deck and the raised terrace was the bridge. Construction lasted for over forty years and dramatically changed the face of Isola Bella. The perfect place to start our Italian garden explorations.
Next we will stop in Isola dei Pescatori to have lunch together in a local restaurant with a lovely terrace on the lake. “Fisherman’s Island” gets its name from the occupation of its inhabitants and with its windy medieval streets, gorgeous views and oozing charm it is a place that is difficult to forget.
After some free time to explore the picturesque island, we continue to Isola Madre, where the Renaissance villa’s garden is another botanical paradise. The largest of the islands on Lake Maggiore, it boasts a 20-acre park that is considered one of the most impressive and well-preserved in Italy. The rare plants and exotic flowers in these English-style botanical gardens have been enchanting visitors for over a century and today that will be you!
Transfer by private boat back to the hotel in Stresa and the rest of the evening is free to enjoy as you wish. Make your own arrangements for dinner either by choosing to eat in one the hotel’s lovely restaurants or nearby at an establishment featured on our well researched restaurant recommendations list.
(Breakfast and lunch included.)
The garden’s unique layout and character remain intact after all these years overseen by a dynamic combination of family pride and horticultural excellence. Isola Bella’s reputation as a must-see destination is thoroughly deserved.
Today, a walk through the gardens gives visitors the chance to admire the fantastic plants, some centuries-old, that have been introduced into the surrounding environment and landscape.
Sunday, September 12
Villa Taranto, lunch, Villa Pallavicino
After breakfast, we depart to Villa Taranto. Set in 16 acres on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, Villa Taranto was established in 1931 by Scotsman Neil Boyd McEacharn who wished to transform the estate into an English style garden to remind him of home. Beyond the grand entrance gates, we find fountains, waterfalls and terraced gardens from which we will have a fine view of the Pennine Alps. With more than twenty thousand varieties of plants here there is much to see!
After our visit to Villa Taranto we’ll enjoy a nice lunch together at a local restaurant in the elegant town of Pallanza.
We’ll next visit the park of Villa Pallavicino which covers a large area of english style gardens, flower-lined walks, an incredible botanical garden, plus secular trees including the star attraction, an imposing cedar of Lebanon. Pallavicino is also well known for the more than 50 species of animals on site including zebras, kangaroos, sarus cranes, flamingos and a locally famous fox named Fanta.
At the end of our visit, we will enjoy an aperitivo in the park’s charming cafe. Spend this evening as you wish.
(Breakfast, lunch included.)
It is one of the most magnificent collections of trees and shrubs in the world with prize specimens everywhere, all superbly maintained. There is nowhere like Villa Taranto in the world.
Villa Pallavicino has much to offer the lover of plants, atmosphere and scenery.
Gaspare Campari’s experiments in 1860 culminate with the invention of a new beverage with a distinctive bitter flavour and a secret recipe which has been kept the same until today. The only published ingredients are water and alcohol. These are blended together then infused with "bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit."
Monday, September 13
Cheese Tasting, Cooking Lesson, Lake Orta, San Giulio
A day dedicated to full immersion in the Italian gastronomy! First we’ll visit a local cheese company where we will learn about and be treated to a tasting of a wide variety of Italian cheeses. Next a hands-on cooking lesson with an experienced chef followed by lunch together.
Later in the afternoon we will transfer to Lake Orta, a small jewel located just north from Lake Maggiore. We’ll stop in Orta S. Giulio, a wonderful medieval town with frescoed palaces featuring wrought-iron balconies and stunning lakeside piazzas. Our visit will include a boat trip to the island of San Giulio, where you can stroll through the silent alleys and visit the monastery, inhabited by cloister nuns who never leave the island. You can also visit the local church and admire its frescoes.
Return to the hotel in Stresa for a free evening (or perhaps you'd prefer to spend the rest of your days on S. Giulio with the nuns?) (Breakfast and lunch included.)
Tuesday, September 14
Villa Cicogna Mizzoni, Transfer to Lake Como, Wonderful "Welcome" dinner
After breakfast we will visit Villa Cicogna Mizzoni, dating back to the Renaissance. Created as a hunting residence for the Milanese aristocracy, it is still in the ownership of the family who had it built. The Italian style seven-level terraced garden appears as an outdoor room of the Villa, with statues, lawns, archways and fountains. The estate also boasts what is possibly the most elegant “water staircase” in existence. After our tour we’ll enjoy a light lunch together in the Villa. A very special visit.
Continuation on to the hills in the province of Bergamo for a visit to a wine-cellar whose headquarters are found inside the former convent of S. Maria della Consolazione. The convent built at the end of the 15th century and inhabited by Augustinian friars until the end of the 18th Century. Our tour here culminates with a tasting of 7 wines, accompanied by typical Italian snacks.
Later, we’ll transfer to our hotel on Lake Como in Bellagio. The Hotel Belvedere, our home for the next 4 nights, has been in the same family and passed from mother to daughter since 1880. Today, three generations of women are involved in its operations. The impressive collection of classic buildings is nestled into the hills overlooking Lake Como, affording the small property’s remarkable views. The 19th-century house sits amidst beautiful tiered gardens that spread up from the lakefront, and the peaceful vibe is boosted by an inviting swimming pool, a spa and a library. And you certainly won’t go hungry! The focus in the hotel restaurant is on traditional Italian cuisine with a slight modern twist. The buffet breakfast includes homemade cakes, fruits, pastries and local cheeses while hot dishes including pancakes, omelettes and eggs Benedict are made to order.
Room amenities include flat-screen cable TVs, phones, air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, minibars, safes, hairdryers, slippers, and luxurious toiletries. This independent hotel is full of Italian charm and the perfect place to spend our time in famed Lake Como. We will celebrate our arrival with a welcome cocktail and dinner at the hotel.
(Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner included)
Villa Ciogna Mozzoni
One of the most fascinating parts of the Villa’s story (at least to Huron Tours) happened in the late 1950s when Elenaor Paar, who was employee of Thomas Cook Travel Agency, was out for her usual weekend bike rides through the Italian countryside. She stopped at a particularly beautiful estate, and as is often the case with Travel Agents, wanted to know more. She proceeded to knock at the door and ask if she could have a look around. The countess was so surprised that the young lady had come all that way on her bicycle that she invited Elenaor to stay for lunch where one of the guests, among others, was her son. Countess Ciogna Mozzoni as Elenaor Parr became, was the ultimate tour guide of her eventual home. She would greet every guest with warmth and humor. Her son, Jacopo Ciogna Mozzoni now carries on the tradition.
Villa Melzi Dhalias
Wednesday, September 15
Villa Melzi, included lunch, free evening.
Following the included breakfast we take the morning to visit to the 19th century Villa Melzi, a magnificent example of neoclassic architecture. Francesco Melzi d’Eril, vice president of the First Italian Republic in the time of Napoleon, decided to build a summer residence at Bellagio, and the villa was finally completed in 1810. The garden is set in a superb sub-tropical location and laid out in the Victorian English landscape style. The garden has a number of interesting features including an Oriental garden, a Moorish Kioskat and at its farthest end there is a beautiful family chapel. This artistic and botanical jewel will be one of the many highlights of our stay in the Italian lakes.
We’ll have lunch together in a local restaurant followed by time at leisure in the centre of Bellagio. Return to the hotel and the evening is free.
(Breakfast and lunch included)
Groves of trees are placed at elegant intervals and garden pavilions in an eclectic range of style punctuate the walkways at strategic points like scenes from an unfolding plot of an opera.
Thursday, September 16
Villa del Balbianello, Special Lunch, Como Walking Tour
After breakfast, departure by private boat to the opposite shore of the lake to visit the remarkable Villa del Balbianello. Built on a beautiful promontory in the 13th century as a monastery and boasting unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake, this gorgeous estate has been used in several feature films including Casino Royale and Star Wars.
The garden here is kept in exemplary order from its loggia, trellised with Ficus Primula, to the pruned holm oaks, plane trees and masses of flowers. The grounds have an extremely romantic quality you are likely to never forget! Our visit will include both the gardens and the Villa.
We’ll next transfer by coach to Cernobbio for a special lunch together in one of the most splendid establishments along the lakeshore, the luxurious Villa d’Este. Our visit will include a walk through the gardens as we get to know its history, features and transformations over the centuries. Villa d’Este is a little world of its own and we are lucky to be able to experience such a magical place.
We’ll continue back to Como for a historic walking tour, discovering its most interesting monuments: the Duomo built in 1396, the Romanesque-gothic Broletto which was the former town hall, and the basilicas of S. Fedele and S. Abbondio which is a masterpiece of Lombard architecture.
Admiring the shapes and colors of the lake at the sunset, we will return to Bellagio by private boat. Dinner is on your own tonight.
(Breakfast and lunch included.)
Villa del Balbianello
Unspeakably romantic in the approach revealing layer after layer of beauty and interest within its own little world. It directs the eye outwards to framed views of such power and glory that the most ardent romantic’s descriptive powers will fail.
Friday, September 17
Villa Carlotta, explore Varenna, Villa Monastero
We’ll begin today with a visit to the romantic Villa Carlotta which houses an exquisite art collection including sculptures by Canova. The long flanking garden terraces create a striking impression on our approach by boat across Lake Como. The villa was built at the end of the 17th century for the Clerici family who had risen from rural origins to become rich silk merchants. You will be drawn to the epic vista from the upper balcony down over the parterre, out through the decorative gates and across the glittering lake to the incomparable view of the Bellagio peninsula. The formal garden here is stunning and the rare and tender plant collection in the informal garden is breathtaking.
Continuation by private boat to Varenna, a charming medieval fisherman’s village that many have called the most photogenic place on Earth. Here we’ll have lunch together in the restaurant of Hotel Royal Victoria, a tribute to Queen Victoria of England that features an attractive garden and lovely lake views.
Next up is a visit to Villa Monastero, whose name is related to the presence of a monastic convent, dating back to 13th century. The botanic garden, so called because of the huge number of plants (more than 900!) is divided into terraces and the variety of the plants is reflected in the architectural diversity. Various styles are present including Baroque, Classical and Moorish. After some time at leisure in Varenna, we’ll return to Bellagio by boat.
Tonight a very special send off as we enjoy our farewell dinner on the gorgeous terrace of one of Bellagio’s most famous and highly regarded establishments.
(Breakfast and lunch included.)
The Villa Carlotta and its long flanking garden terraces create a striking impression on the approach by boat across Lake Como.
Saturday, September 18
Departures to home
Our time together in this magical place has come to end. You’ll head home with beautiful memories of gorgeous gardens, wonderful conversation, delicious food and happy times. Transfer to Malpensa Airport for departures. (Breakfast included today.)
A $1,000 per person deposit will hold your space. Please use the link above or below to access our online shopping cart. If you'd like to reserve over the phone, we'd be happy to talk to you and can be reached at either (504) 267-2057 or (800) 734-1192.