This is a wonderful exploration into Italy with a garden and horticultural aspect that spans across the Southern and Central part of Italy. This tour is self guided and includes a rental car, 4 star accommodations and self guided visits to some of the most fascinating and interesting garden locations Italy has to offer. This tour features gardens in Rome, Siena, Florence and also shows off some of the amazing museums and monuments along the way. Travel at your own pace and forget about the details because they have all been handled for you. Want to change this tour to include a different city or route; no problem just ask and we will create a custom garden focused tour just for you.
This tour offers any date you like; we can customize this tour to fit your budget and tastes.
DAY 1 – Rome – You set your own departure date; we handle all the details. Arrival in Rome Fiumicino. Pick up by your private driver and transfer to Rome. Accommodations at your hotel centrally located. Afternoon at your leisure for resting and relaxing with a walk-in centre. Overnight stay.
DAY 2 –Rome Breakfast at the Hotel. Guided tour of the often overlooked “gem” churches of Rome. Later afternoon guided trip to the Galleria Borghese and its world-famous collection of paintings, sculptures, mosaics and bas-reliefs, mainly from 15th to 18th century. Stroll the villa’s extensive baroque gardens. Galileo seminar I. Free for the remainder of the day
DAY 3 – Siena Breakfast and departure for Tuscany by rental ar. Morning visit to Pienza for lunch on your own. Stroll in this lovely renaissance hilltop town – famous centre of pecorino cheeses and the home of the palace and gardens of the Piccolomini Pope – overlooking the serene Val d’Orcia. The visit to the ancient hermitage of Pienza is probably one of the most fascinating and special experiences not included in the usual tourism routes in the area: a secret door giving access to Etruscan and Roman history, a place where you can immerse yourself in a mythical, distant, and unsettling atmosphere.
“The unique grassy area covered in ancient ivy and surrounded by ageing oaks, can be reached through a narrow lane with steep steps.” The Hermitage has stood there for many years, rejected, forgotten and neglected, closed even to the visits of those who knew of its secret existence. When the Moricciani family became owners of the property, in 1993, they decided to save and restore it, so that it could be enjoyed by all those who love these mysterious places. They gathered all the information they could find about this amazing rocky structure dug out of the sandstone bank underneath the church of Santa Catarina, in order to make this available to visitors.It has stood there for centuries, a place chosen by the pious to live a solitary life devoted to penitence and prayer, but the idea that it might be an ancient Etruscan tomb used again and again over the centuries as a hermitage makes this visit unique and exciting. The shaft of light slanting through the narrow windows of the cell emphasises the outlines and folds of the garments, creating an atmosphere of an oriental altar. The whole ambience, with its play of light and shadow and its mysterious angles, impresses and fascinates the visitor, who finds himself in a place deeply permeated with the sacred and mysterious.
The Hermitage and adjoining ancient tuff quarry (5 minute walk from Pienza) can be visited by appointment
Stop at the Benedictine Abbay of Monte Oliveto Maggiore for a leisure visit. On to the Hotel Dinner on your own. Overnight stay.
DAY 4 – Siena Breakfast and departure for Villa and gardens at Chigi Cetinale in Sovicille. The garden is arranged along a straight axis marked by a low wall crowned by marble busts. The axis continues along a boulevard defined by cypresses and leads to the villa upon passing through a monumental gateway. This is decorated in the internal part, on both sides, by two niches hosting statues and on the top part by obelisks and ornamental busts
Next travel to Siena for a afternoon guided walking tour of the town and time to explore this splendid city, one- arch-rival of Florence and home of the Palio. Visiting Siena, you will soon catch on to a few things. The first is fundamental – the Palio horserace has nothing to do with you. If anyone is kind enough to explain the rules of the Palio to you, they will seem absurd, senseless and even immoral since they involve drawing horses by lot, bargaining over jockeys, blessings that have a pagan touch to them, as well as, ceremonies, sham and corruption. Jockeys are allowed to “buy” alliances – and pay on the nail – to ensure their victory or the defeat of the contrada’s enemies (contrada = district). Anything goes at the crucial moment (in which television plays an increasingly large role) when victory is sweet, of course, but the defeat of one’s enemies is even sweeter. Yet this is the “city-state” par excellence, ruled by unparalleled ethical and aesthetic principles. Do not try to understand what will seem to you to be glaring contradictions, but are not, in actual fact. The first law of survival here is this – try not to disturb the Sienese when they are engrossed in the business of the Palio. In those days visitors are not welcome – and their curiosity is even less so.
For the wine lovers, a stop at the impressive Enoteca Italiana located into the Medici’s Fortress, is a must. There you can visit a large permanent showroom with more than 2000 Doc and DOCG wines coming from all over Italy and let you indulge in a guided tasting of some of these great wines. Galileo Seminar III and dinner. Overnight at the Hotel.
DAY 5 – Siena
Breakfast and departure for the gardens of Villa Geggiano in Chianti.
This building, owned by the Bianchi Bandinelli family from the first half of the 16th century, was originally a much smaller lodge, which in 1768, was transformed into a grand villa with a garden and its own chapel on the occasion of the wedding of Anton Domenico Bianchi Bandinelli and Cecilia Chigi. A long tree-lined avenue, with cypress in the first part and Holm-oaks further on, leads all the way to the entrance gate, parallel to the teatro di verzura, the outdoor theatre on the south side of the garden. The rectangular villa spreads over three floors, with a central tower that adds an extra floor to the building. There are two blocks to the sides of the building: the one to the right contains the Madonna of the Rosary family chapel. The side of the building facing the garden, at the centre of which is the doorway surmounted by a balcony decorated with flat pilaster strips and string-courses. The garden divides into two areas: the one in front of the villa is known as the Piazzone; the other is the kitchen garden. The Piazzone is laid out parallel to the front of the building, with large lawns at the sides edged with low box hedges and ending at the southern end in the 18th-century teatro di verzura. This slightly raised theatre is surrounded by tall laurel hedges and consists of a proscenium made up of twin arches, surmounted by triumphal pediments into which the crests of the Bianchi Bandinelli and Chigi Zondadari families are inserted. The arches have niches containing the statues of Tragedy and Comedy, by the Maltese sculptor Bosio. Vittorio Alfieri performed one of his tragedies here in the late 18th century. The entire garden is surrounded by a high wall into which six gates open, flanked by monumental pillars crowned by terracotta vases and statues of monkeys. There are two openings to the south, at the sides of the theatre, two to the west, leading into the kitchen garden, one to the east, leading out to the countryside and one to the north, alongside the villa. The kitchen garden, which occupies a square portion of land to the west, ends in a semi-circular brickwork fishpond and is organised as an Italian-style garden with geometrical beds arranged around a well. Overnight in Siena.
DAY 6 – Florence Breakfast and depart to Florence. Lunch on your own. Afternoon at leisure for individual activities, shopping and exploring the town.Trek to Piazzale Michelangelo. Stroll the main street and ancient Arcetri in the hills overlooking Florence and location of Convent of St Matteo, home of Galileo’s daughter Maria Celeste. Dinner at the Ristorante Omero, across the street from “Il Giollo”, Galileo’s last house. Overnight stay in Florence .
DAY 7 – Florence Breakfast at the Hotel and visit to the Museum of History and Science Free time to enjoy Florence. An interesting experience for you to live is the visit to the Artisan Quarter, the neighbourhood of Santo Spirito, famous for its artisan’s bottegas, or workshops (optional tour). Participants get a behind the scenes glimpse at gilding, restoration, furniture painting, bronze work, and marble inlay. afternoon departure for gardens at Villa Gamberaia.
Set on the hills of Settignano, close to Florence, yet immersed in the tranquillity of the Tuscan countryside, the Villa Gamberaia enjoys an exceptional position overlooking the city and the Arno valley. Strolling through the celebrated Italian gardens, visitors can contemplate the beauty of their design and their unique setting in the surrounding Tuscan landscape. Rich in history, the Villa Gamberaia discloses its charms little by little to those who allow themselves the time to look, think and explore. Return to Florence on your own.
DAY 8 – Florence Breakfast and self guided visit to gardens in Villa La Pietra and Villa Le Balze in Fiesole. In the afternoon time for visiting the gardens of Villa Medici. This Medici Villa has gracious terraces, as Alberti recommended, cut into a stony hillside. There are panoramic views of the River Arno and Florence. Sites for earlier villas had been chosen because they were easy to defend, or because of their rich agricultural surroundings. Giovanni de Medici, Cosimo’s overweight, libidinous, cultured and favourite son was a child of the renaissance. He cared for art, music and beautiful views. Michelozzo Michelozzi designed the villa. After Giovanni’s early death, it was inherited by Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent. Had it been built 50 years earlier, the garden would surely have been enclosed in the medieval way. Had it been made 50 years later, the terraces would have been joined with great flights of steps in Bramante’s manner. As it is, the terraces have lawns and are shaded by paulownias. Paths are lined with lemon trees, brought out in the summer, and with geranium-filled terracotta pots. Originally, the upper terrace is likely to have been used as an extension of the house. The lower terrace was probably a vegetable garden. There is a secret garden (giardino segreto) which has wonderful views, to aid one’s contemplation. Cosimo’s Platonic Academy moved here, from Careggi. Horace Walpole’s sister added the coach driveway in the eighteenth century and an English architect designed the box parterres in the twentieth century. Galileo Seminar VI. Dinner on your own. Overnight stay.
DAY 9 – Florence Breakfast and depart for Pisa. Guided visit of the city and birthplace of Galileo by Prof. Shore of the University of Pisa. Walk to Piazza dei Miracoli with the leaning tower and the beautiful Cathedral and Baptistery. Back to Florence on your own. overnight stay.
DAY 10 – Castle Gandolfo Breakfast and depart for Rome area . Stop at the famous Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo. The park of Monsters of Bomarzo was devised by the architect Pirro Ligorio (he completed the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Rome after the death of Michelangelo and built Villa d’Este in Tivoli) on commission from Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino, only to vent the heart broken at the death of is wife Giulia Farnese. The park was born in 1552 as “Villa of Wonders” to be the only one of its kind in the world. The Park of Monsters remained in oblivion till 1954 when it was bought by Mr Giovanni Bettini who with loving care has managed it. A visit to the park will unfold in a series of stages ranging between mythology and fantasyIn the afternoon drive to your Hotel in Castel Gandolfo Dinner on your own. Overnight stay.
DAY 11 – Castle Gandolfo Breakfast and the visit to Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo. A tour may begin at Via Ercolano: here were the Torlonia Gardens, today occupied by vegetable garden patches for the residents and by the Ibernesi Archeological Park, which contains some of the remains of Domitian’s Villa. From here Castel Gandolfo spreads out splendidly against the sky. Continuing down Via Ercolano one reaches Villa Torlonia, restored in 1817 by the architect Giuseppe Valadier. The main façade facing the park is composed of a porch with six Doric columns which support a terrace. Rising above these are six columns with Ionic capitals, upon which rests a triangular pediment sculpted by Thorvaldsen. Just beyond the entrance to Villa Torlonia is the complex of buildings which once belonged to the Jesuits. The Villa was acquired by the Society of Jesus in 1667, and Goethe stayed there during his second trip to Italy. In 1963 Duke Torlonia ceded it to the Vatican. Shortly after Villa Torlonia one comes to Villa Cybo. This luxurious residence was purchased in 1717 by Cardinal Cybo, and sold in 1772 to Livio Odescalchi, who turned it over to Pope Clement XIV. It has a fine fountain, called that of the “laundresses” from the two female figures portrayed washing clothes in the basin. Another magnificent residence is the Palazzo Del Drago, built by Cardinal Alessandro Albani in 1746. From there one reaches the elegant Piazza della Libertà, with Palazzo Pontificio on the north side and the Church of San Tommaso da Villanova on the east. A plaque above the portal of the Papal Palace reads: “Alexander VII Pontifex Maximus has enlarged, rebuilt and completed in the year of salvation 1660, the house of Urban VIII, a small retreat for the soul and the body, built before heaven and in the light of the sun and situated in the celebrity and amenity of the area.” A wealth of art works can be found on the upper floors of the palace, where there are the rooms for audiences, the pope’s apartment, the service rooms and three chapels. The primitive design of the entrance gate to the palace garden, surrounded by walls, is the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In 1661 the square faced by the Papal Palace was beautified with another Bernini masterpiece: the Fountain. Its design was inspired by the plan of St. Peter’s , and is similar to that of the fountain of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome.
Exiting from the eastern side of Piazza della Libertà is the road that leads to the belvedere on Lake Albano. Also on this side there is the superb Church of San Tommaso di Villanova, one of Bernini’s most beautiful works. It has a Greek cross plan, with a dome that rests on Doric pilasters. The high altar has a painting of the Crucifix by Pietro da Cortona. The façade is articulated by pilasters, a wide cornice and a pediment bearing the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII. Corso della Repubblica begins on the fourth side to the square, crossing the entire medieval village – with “the houses sloping down from the jagged edge of the ancient crater” – before ending at piazza Cavalletti, from which one reaches another scenic outlook with a view of Lake Albano and Monte Cavo. Opposite the scenic outlook is the entrance to Villa Barberini, a papal residence with sober architectural lines, with one wing facing the lake, divided into three floors and built in the 17th century, and another wing facing the marina, with four floors.
A Holm oak-lined avenue leads from the palace to the Magnolia Garden, which is in the Italian style, with flower beds bordered and separated by box-trees. Via Gramsci takes one from the centre of Castel Gandolfo to the shore of the lake. Along the last stretch of this road, on the left, is the entrance to the Doric Nymphaeum. This structure goes back to the time of the Roman Republic, and was probably part of the villa of Clodius. According to some scholars this is one of the sacraria erected in honor of the ancient gods of Alba Longa. Continuing, one comes to Via dei Pescatori, which skirts the western lakeshore. Just a ways ahead on the right of Via dei Pescatori is the Bergantino Nymphaeum, also called the Baths of Diana from a mosaic depicting the goddess of the hunt. This nymphaeum occupies a large cavern excavated in previous times. Traces of paintings have been found on the walls, but it is certain that there were also marble decorations. Sculpture fragments were unearthed during the excavation in 1841.
Further down the Via dei Pescatori one quickly reaches the spot where the Lake Albano outlet is located: this tunnel, almost a kilometer and a half long, was dug out by the Romans and begins with a monumental chamber. Shop or relax in it up to you and your desires. Overnight stay.
DAY 12 – Depart Return your rental car to the Rome airport for flight home.
Your outstanding experience includes all these wonderful services: This tour can also be changed to include different locations in Italy; we can customize every tour we offer
• 4 star centrally located in Rome, buffet breakfast accommodation • 4 star country hotel in (Siena) buffet breakfast accommodation • 4 star centrally located hotel in Florence, buffet breakfast accommodation • 4 star historic hotel in Castel Gandolfo in, buffet breakfast accommodation • Compact rental car for the above itinerary • Guided walking tour : HD Galleria Borghese – HD Siena • Our assistance on the spot • Entrances to the gardens listed above are subject to prior approval
Prices from Euro 2799 per person (2599 GBP) not including airfare to/from Italy
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