Nature and Artifice
A journey through the wonders of the great gardens of Central Italy
$2,800/person (excluding airfare and transportation to Orte)
Dates: By Request in September and October 2023
Trip lenght: 8 Days / 7 Nights
Group size: 4-8
Our tours are designed for families or small groups of friends who will have exclusive use of the villa
A fascinating thematic journey tracing back in time the historic evolution of the art of Italian gardens. Site visits include the Unesco site of Villa d’Este in Tivoli, the Renaissance gardens of Villa Lante in Bagnaia, the Sacred Woods in Bomarzo, the park of Villa Borghese with visit to the renown Galleria Borghese in Rome, and the romantic garden of Ninfa south of Rome. This is an itinerary amongst nature and art, in the magic atmosphere of the most famous gardens to leave a mark on the Italian history and culture.
Day 1 Benvenuti in Italia!
Arrival at the Villa dell'Acquedotto. Today, after a detailed review of the tour program and a question and answer session, we will sit down together for a welcome dinner of typical dishes from the local culinary tradition.
Day 2 Villa Lante and gardens of the Castles Ruspoli and Orsini
The day starts with a special breakfast on the terrace, after which we reach the close-by town of Vasanello, a delightful hilltown of Etruscan origin, known in the past for being an important center for the production of pottery and ceramic. We’ll visit the evocative Orsini Castle, whose original core dates back to the XIII Century, and its gardens. At the lower level of the castle grounds there is an interesting Medieval thematic garden that presents elements and botanical species that are typical of that period. We will continue our outing heading to another neighboring town, Vignanello, where we visit the imposing 16th century Ruspoli Castle and its beautifully ordered garden that has maintained its geometric and formal plan nearly intact to this day. Lunch will be at a local restaurant in the main piazza. The afternoon portion of the tour takes us around the Cimini mountain to yet another hill town, Bagnaia, situated along a panoramic road connecting several other charming Hill Towns. The town of Bagnaia is worldwide renown for being home to one of the most splendid Italian Renaissance gardens: the Garden of Villa Lante. The Villa, designed by the architect Vignola for the Cardinal Gambara in the 16th century, represents the perfect example of the idea at the base of the Renaissance gardens. We will conclude our visit in Bagnaia at a gelateria on the main square. We arrive back in Orte in time for appetizers and dinner at the villa
Day 3 Sacro Bosco, Underground Orte and Cooking Class
Today we will visit the fantastic Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo, or Park of the Monsters, designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio in the XVI century on commission from the prince Pier Francesco Orsini. This is the same architect called on to complete the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica after the death of Michelangelo. The fantastical experience of Bomarzo is a stroll among statues of monsters, giants, dragons and illusionistic visions, all hewn from the indigenous stone of the area. It is a wonderland, just as announced by the inscription on one of its monuments: «You that wander the world seeking fantastic and marvelous sights come here, where there are horrible faces, elephants, lions, ogres and dragons.» After lunch in a local restaurant, we visit the ancient town of Orte, the Etruscan Horta, located on a high plateau at a bend of the Tiber River. A local guide will lead us underground on an exploration of the matrix of passages and rooms excavated by hand in the soft volcanic rock from started during the Etruscan period and expanded through the centuries until as recently as the 1900s. We conclude the day taking part in a cooking class presented by our cook and enjoying a relaxing dinner at home.
Day 4 Palazzo Farnese, Lago di Vico and Hilltowns
The day begins with a transfer to Caprarola, another hilltown in the Tuscia Viterbese located on the southern flank of Monte Cimino overlooking the Tiber valley with grand views far beyond. The outstanding feature of Caprarola and purpose of our visit is the magnificent Palazzo Farnese and its Gardens. The monumental compound was the summer residence of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), exemplifying the outmost refined cultural context of the Italian Renaissance courts. The Palace was designed by the most talented architects and artists of the time, among them Vignola and Taddeo Zuccari. The architecture of the palace and adornment of fescoes throughout the interior is truly awe-inspiring. The Gardens, called “Orti Farnesiani” (the same name as the Farnese family’s gardens on the Palatine Hill in Rome) are a wonderful example of the late Renaissance gardens. We take a beautiful walk starting at the formal gardens adjacent to the Palazzo, and progress through a wooded area of fir and chestnut trees, eventually reaching the scenographic Great Garden. From there, between fantastic sculptures, fountains and surprising water amusements we finally reach the more intimate and secret upper garden, with the hunting lodge. At the end of the visit we will descend to the historic town below, and have lunch at a restaurant featuring excellent local specialties. In the afternoon, after seeing the nearby delightful Lago di Vico, of volcanic origin, we head back to Orte, driving through picturesque Hilltowns dotting the slopes of the Cimini Mountains. We’ll conclude the day with dinner at the Villa.
Day 5 Villa d’Este and Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli: The destinations of the travelers of the Grand Tour
Right after breakfast we leave for Tivoli, the ancient Tibur, famous vacation spot for the Roman nobility who chose that location to build their lavish villas. It was here where Emperor Hadrian commissioned the construction of the imposing Villa Adriana, a residence for the otium or leasure. Following on this ancient tradition during the Renaissance, Villa d’Este, the summer residence of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, was also built. The Villa, an Unesco Site that will be explained by our guide, is famous for its splendid example of an Italian garden that has been a source of inspiration for the development and design of other gardens throughout Europe. Water is the absolute protagonist in this garden, designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio in 1550. Fountains, nympheums, waterfalls, water amusement features, wooded areas, and sculptural elements punctuate the grounds, all choreographed in the grand and exceptional. At the end of our villa tour we will have lunch at a local restaurant before taking a beautiful walk in the romantic Park of Villa Gregoriana. The park is located next to the great waterfall of the Aniene River, under the ancient necropolis of Tivoli, in a dramatic and lush landscape, dominated by the Temple of Vesta on the edge of the cliff. This fascinating place alongside Villa d’Este was a favorite destination among the travelers in the period of the Grand Tour. We will return to Orte on time for appetizers and a dinner prepared at the villa.
Day 6 Villa Borghese, Borghese Gallery, Trinità dei Monti
This morning we will reach the Park of Villa Borghese in Rome. The villa, called “Casino Nobile”(noble lodge), and Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s residence, was built at the beginning of the 17th century with the intent of creating a "villa of delights". The villa was converted into a museum, the Borghese Gallery, at the beginning of the 20th century. The Gallery is one of the most prestigious collections of art works from the 16th to the 18th century, with masterpieces by artists including Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Bernini and Canova. We then take a long walk in the extensive surrounding park: from the formal secret gardens from the 15th century, along the Casino Nobile, with the Aviary and the Sun Dial, to the neoclassical and 19th century buildings, to the lake with its romantic little island. After a brief Lunch break, we visit the adjacent Garden of Villa Medici, located in an extraordinary panoramic position above the city and the Villa itself. Today it is occupied by the Academy of France in Rome. The Villa, built in the Renaissance for the Cardinal Ferdinando dei Medici, used to be home to a collection of antiquities later moved to the Uffizi Gallery. At the end of the visit, we will walk down the famous steps of Trinità dei Monti to the Piazza di Spagna, stopping at the historic Caffè Greco for a nice break. Once back in Orte we conclude the day with dinner at a favorite local restaurant.
Day 7 Garden of Ninfa
Today we will visit the Garden of Ninfa, in the province of Latina, a world renowned historic garden, declared “natural Monument” by the Lazio Region. Part of a larger habitat of rare beauty amongst the ruins of a medieval town, small lakes, creeks and an incredible variety of exotic plants, the garden has evolved over the course of several centuries. The site was frequented since the Roman times, its name Ninfa coming from a small temple that once stood on the grounds of the actual garden that was dedicated to the Naiad Nymphs (goddesses of the spring waters). During the Middle Ages the town was contested by rivals precisely for the presence of its abundant water and destroyed in 1381. During the 16th century the Cardinal Nicolò Caetani created a “garden of delights”, a hortus conclusus, that was abandoned shortly after his death. In the 800s the mystery surrounding its ruins attracted foreign travelers who added the dead city, or the “Pompeii of the Middle Ages”, to the sites of the Grand Tour. The garden, cared over the course of the centuries by the Caetani family, has been a source of inspiration for famous writers and artists in the 900s, and to this day its undeniable charm still casts its spell on visitors. Upon leaving the garden, we reach the nearby Abbey of Valvisciolo, a beautiful and famous example of Romanesque Cistercian (who knows this word?) architecture. Lunch at a local restaurant will be followed by a walk in the beautiful historic center of the town of Sermoneta, once feud of the Caetani family. At the end of the day, we’ll have a grand celebration to recap our week of garden tours with dinner at the Villa.
Day 8 Arrivederci e Buon Viaggio!
After one last breakfast, the driver will accompany you to the train station of Orte. Thank you for having joined us!
Itinerary specifics subject to change