Northern Italy:
Gardens & Villas  through the Centuries
A Pacific Horticulture Society tour
Sept 13-24, 2013            
                   Tour on Request.
Escorted by Josh Schechtel           Contact Sterling Tours

September 13, Friday: DEPART USA FOR VENICE, ITALY
September 14, Saturday: VENICE/ASOLO
Plan to arrive in Venice before 12:00 noon. We will be met by our Italian guide and private motor coach for a transfer
to the charming hill town of Asolo in the Veneto Region. A separate transfer will be arranged for those taking the pre-
trip Venice package.  Accommodations are at the Hotel Villa Cipriani, once the home of Robert Browning. The Villa
offers guests the timeless charm and atmosphere of a patrician residence. Set in the hills surrounding the historic
centre of Asolo, it is surrounded by a private garden of pomegranate trees and seasonal flowers.  Elegant guest
rooms feature high ceilings and antique furniture.  Asolo, known as "The City of a Hundred Horizons" for its
mountain settings, is one of the loveliest villages in Italy. The city has maintained a medieval look and is dominated
by the "Rocca" on top of the hill, protecting the city. Welcome dinner this evening at the hotel’s panoramic
Villa Cipriani, Dinner.

September 15, Sunday: VENICE/BRETNA CANAL
After a leisurely breakfast, we begin a day devoted to Andrea Palladio, whose designs and theories embodied
Renaissance architectural thought in the second half of the sixteenth century. Although Palladio's works lack some
of the grandeur of other Renaissance architects, he established a successful and lasting way of recreating ancient
classicism. We will take an excursion to Vicenza and see some of the great aristocratic villas along the Brenta
River. The Villas were status symbols, the summer residences of Venetian nobility who hosted sumptuous,
elaborate festivities here, accompanied by the music of Vivaldi, Pergolesi and Cimarosa.  We will enjoy a guided
walking tour of elegant Vicenza including the majestic, Palladian Olympic Theatre, designed by the great architect.  
It is the oldest covered theatre in the world. We will visit Villa La Rotonda, Palladio’s most famous villa, which
served as a model for Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The central dome, inspired by the Pantheon of ancient
Rome, leads to the round Sala. Our day includes Villa Valmarana al Nani, situated on a scenic bend of the river. We
tour the guest quarters, the most interesting part of the villa, containing original furniture and frescoes by
Michelangelo and Tiepolo.  Late afternoon and evening at leisure.   
Villa Cipriani, Breakfast.

We travel west today, stopping in Bellagio, called the “Pearl of the Lake”, which
sits on a promontory dividing Lake Lecco from the south branch of Lake Como.
Buildings are decorated with flags, boxes dripping with geraniums, and
bougainvillea climbing staircases. We will have free time for lunch and a stroll
through the pretty village.  We continue to Varenna for a visit to the beautiful
botanical garden at Villa Monastero.  As the name says, this is an ancient
monastery.  The Lake Como waters give the botanical garden here a more
magical appearance.  There are several interesting and beautiful trees: cedars of Lebanon, evergreen hedges,
African palms, American palms, agaves, yuccas, dragon-trees, citrus trees and oleanders.  At the end of the day,
we check in to superior rooms at the Albergo Terminus on Lake Como. Dating back to the early 19th century, this
composite, Liberty style building is typical of the taste of the Lombard aristocracy.  The hotel enjoys a splendid
position on the shores of Lake Como, in the heart of the historic town, close to the Cathedral and Cavour Square.
Albergo Terminus,  B,D

September 17: Tuesday: ITALIAN LAKE DISTRICT
Today we visit Villa Balbianello, dating back to the 13th century. In the 18th century, the Visconti Family enlarged the
villa and created the gardens. There is an allee of Linden trees and dramatic plantings of Cypress.  We continue to
Villa Carlotta, the villa that inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write his poem, By Sommariva’s Garden Gate.
There are terraced gardens featuring sequoias, palms, bananas, hundreds of varieties of rhododendron and
orchids. We will enjoy a special luncheon at Villa D’Este, a former 16th century princely residence, surrounded by a
25 acre park. This magnificent villa was once the home of Queen Caroline, Czarina of Russia and wife of an
English king. The property, now a hotel, has kept the luxury and magnificence of a bygone era and has beautiful
gardens from the Renaissance period.  The two most outstanding landmarks are the 500 year old plane tree and
the 16th century Mosaic with its Nympheum.  Apart from the topiary hedges and the bushes of bamboo, azaleas,
camellias, oleanders, rhododendrons and hydrangeas, there are roses and jasmine bushes. The trees include
chestnut, magnolia, oleafragrans, wisteria, palm, cypress, pine and many others.  The restaurant at this world
famous villa overlooks the beautiful hotel gardens and Lake Como.    
Albergo Terminus, B L.

September 18: Wednesday:  BORROMEO ISLANDS
We leave Lake Como today for quieter, but equally lovely Lake Maggiore.
Enjoy a full day excursion by private boat to the Borromeo Islands. We will
meet our local guide and discover the enchanting, tranquil atmosphere of
Isola Madre, the largest of the islands. The tropical gardens are filled with
rare plants and exotic flowers. Peacocks, parrots and pheasants roam
freely about. There are azaleas, rhododendron, camellias and ancient
wisteria as well as collections of hibiscus and ginkgo biloba. The 16th
century palace has period rooms with various collections including
porcelain. Isola Bella, in contrast, is a more formal island. Here we will
visit the Baroque Palace of Count Borromeo, and the exuberant gardens
that include oranges, pomegranate, yew and camphor trees, rare
camellias and jasmine. We continue to Isola dei Pescatori, where we will have a typical fish lunch in a preserved
fishing village. We return to Stresa to relax or wander through the shops. Later, we check into classic rooms at the
Grand Hotel Bristol, centrally located in Baveno (Stresa). The Grand Hotel Bristol is situated on Stresa’s waterfront
promenade on the picturesque lake that nestles up against the mountains extending into Alpine Switzerland. Once
the home of a nobleman, the hotel has retained its original elegance while adding modern amenities to all the
rooms and suites.  In addition, the Grand Hotel Bristol has a bar, restaurants, a garden with an open-air swimming
pool, and a wellness centre with hydrotherapy and an indoor pool. Tonight we will dine together in the hotel
restaurant overlooking Lake Maggiore and the romantic Borromeo Islands.   
            Grand Hotel, B, L D.

September 19, Thursday: PARMA/MONTERIGGIONI
We depart the Lake District traveling through Emilia Romagna, considered by many to be the gastronomical center
of Italy, in a country full of gastronomical centers!   We stop for lunch in historic Parma, a delightful city on the banks
of the River Po. Parma draws visitors from all over the world to sample the famous Prosciutto di Parma and the
great Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese made here. Our lunch will include regional specialties.  The historic Parma
city center, like almost every city in Italy, has a Romanesque Cathedral and Baptistry.  Many buildings are decorated
with Correggio frescoes.  The Farmacia di San Giovanni Evangelista, started by the Benedictine monks in the 13th
century is located here. After a brief city tour, we travel on to Tuscany. Our accommodations for three nights are at
Hotel Piccolo Castello, a lovely hotel in the countryside not far from Monteriggioni, perhaps the smallest walled city
in Tuscany.  This 4-star hotel immersed in the Tuscan countryside is surrounded by 5 miles of parkland. The
restaurant, which is within the walls of Monterriggioni Castle, features Tuscan specialties plus a wine bar where
fine Super Tuscans and traditional Chianti may be sampled.  Facilities include a heated swimming pool, a health
club with sauna, whirlpool baths, fitness equipment and a small spa.   
 Hotel Piccolo Castello,  B L.

Morning tour of Villa Chigi Cetinale, a 17th century garden on a dramatic
site. In the 20th century, the garden was restored by Lord Lampton. He
made an English-style flower garden with steps ascending to a sacred
wood. We continue to San Gimignano, a wonderful 14th century medieval
hill town with narrow, cobblestone streets, which seem to belong to
another century. Ramparts topped by fourteen towers of nobility encircle
the town. Originally there were 72 towers, which the lords built as high as
they could. There are spectacular views of the surrounding countryside
from various vantage points.   We will have a private walking tour by a local guide, with a chance to explore and see
some of the great works of art from the Middle Ages.  In the afternoon we transfer to a local villa/countryhouse
where we will have our cooking class.  We will learn the secrets of Tuscan culinary delights and partake of Chianti
Classico as we dine on the results of our efforts.   
 Piccolo Castello.  B D.

September 21, Saturday: CHIANTI AREA/SIENA
We spend the day in the Chianti area. We will take a quick peek at the Saturday Market in Radda before taking the
short drive to Villa di Geggiano. The villa, once a small lodge, was transformed in 1768 into a grand villa with a
garden and chapel for a  wedding of the Bandinelli Family. We enter through the tree-lined avenue of cypress and
oak. The garden is surrounded by high walls with huge pillars crowned by terracotta vases and statues of
monkeys. The garden is divided into two parts. The front has large lawns and low box hedges. The back is the
kitchen garden with geometrical beds and a semi-circular brick fishpond. We end with a wine tasting in the villa.
Next, we stop at Castello di Meleto, for a look inside at the lovely terraced small gardens overlooking the Chianti
Hills. We will have a short walking tour of Siena, a show place of Italian Gothic.  Siena has preserved much of its
original character. Gothic palaces, aristocratic mansions, narrow streets and medieval gates, walls and towers are
the heart of the city. The Piazza del Campo is the central square where the famous horse race, the Palio, is held
twice a year.  All the pomp and ritual of the Middle Ages live again during the big race. Nearby is the impressive
cathedral made from green, black and white marble.  We return to Piccolo Castello for dinner.
 Piccolo Castello, BD.

September 22, Sunday: FLORENCE
We depart Chianti for Florence.  Many of the historical sites of Florence are within walking distance of each other
around the Piazza del Duomo.  Our local guide will regale us with stories of the Renaissance City and help us to
fully appreciate the architectural splendor and history of this magnificent complex as we take a walking tour. The
Duomo, made of various colors of marble, is one of the most beautiful in Italy. The Campanile (bell tower) and
Baptistery with the famous Gates to Paradise, complete the complex.  In the Piazza della Signoria we will see the
famous copy of Michelangelo’s David ;  the real statue is at the Academy Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia). (Pre-
reserved tickets will be provided this afternoon for your choice of the Uffizi Gallery or Galleria dell'Accademia.) The
rest of the afternoon and evening are free.   Accommodations for two nights are at the boutique Cellai Hotel,
conveniently located in the centre of the town. Cellai Hotel Florence features original paintings and antiques in its
many lounges and reading rooms. Each of the individually decorated guest rooms have a classic style with warm
colors, wood or carpeted floors, and elegant furniture. Buffet breakfast is served by candlelight, in the former
workshop of a famous local sculptor.  The terrace on the roof overlooks the Florentine hills and rooftops of the city.
Cellai Hotel Florence, B.

September 23, Monday: FLORENCE
This morning we will have a short walking tour of the Florentine Artisans. We will
pass workshops of artists creating fine paper, leather goods and gold jewelry as
well as antiques dealers. The balance of the day is free for shopping, visiting
museums, or the famous Boboli Gardens.  In a world-famous location, adjoining
the Pitti Palace on the South Bank of the Arno River, Boboli Gardens is an outdoor
museum that contains several masterpieces of sculpture and architecture. Its
design influenced many other notable European gardens, including Versailles.
It was the Medici, in 1550, who began expansion of the palace garden, gradually
pushing it up the slopes of Boboli Hill. They used the services of Niccolo Pericoli whose designs were carried out
close in to the palace. Over the next two centuries, his successors added embellishments such as La Grotta
Grande, a grotto containing Michelangelo’s sculpture, the Four Prisoners, as well as Giambologna’s Bathing
Venus and de Rossi’s Paris and Helen. Over the decades, many designers added fountains, ancient Roman and
Renaissance Italian statuary, meadows, avenues lined with trees…even an artificial lake and island (L’Isolotto).
The final touch was a coffeehouse that opened in 1776 and still does a thriving business.   Tonight we will enjoy a
farewell dinner with wine at Ristorante La Giostra.  Twenty years ago the Hapsburg Lorena princes, Dimitri Kunz d’
Asburgo Lorena and his twin brother Soldano, decided to open a restaurant in Florence:  La Giostra, the Carousel.  
They pride themselves on respecting and preserving their tradition by paying attention to quality and to the
boldness of flavors found in authentic Tuscan cuisine.  This is the ideal place for our farewell dinner.   
 Hotel Cellai,  
B D.

September 24, Tuesday: DEPARTURE
Transfers provided to the Florence airport in the morning for return flights.  Transfers can be arranged to Milan
Airport at additional cost, for those using other airlines. B.

This Pacific Horticulture Society tour includes:
        10 nights accommodation in rooms with private bath
        Transportation by private motorcoach with professional driver
      10 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 6 dinners including special welcome and farewell evenings
        All entrance and admission fees for included visits
        Baggage handling of 1 suitcase and 1 small bag per person
        Local guide Francesca Donati.    Assistance of Pacific Horticulture Tour Escort, Josh Schechtel
        Taxes and service charges for included features.
        Donation of $200 to Pacific Horticulture Society

Not included:
        Airfare
        Items of a personal nature
        Porterage of excess baggage
        Airline baggage fees
        Activities, visits, meals, or transportation not specifically listed in the itinerary

Tour price for members of Pacific Horticulture Society is $4874 per person land only based on
double occupancy.  Add $728 for single occupancy.  An additional $50 applies for non-members of
Pacific Horticulture Society (we suggest
joining before signing up for the tour).

To print a copy of the itinerary, click
To review Terms and Conditions, click here

Sterling Tours, Ltd  2907 Shelter Island Drive Suite #105-262   San Diego, CA
92106      Tel: 619 299-3010     800-976-9497