The Beautiful Gardens of Lake Maggiore & Lake Como, an Enchanting 5-day holiday to Italy

Tour Dates
Tuesday 3rd - Saturday 7th June 2025

Treat yourself to an early summer holiday exploring the breathtaking island gardens that dot the Italian lakes of Como and Maggiore. Amongst the most beautiful and beguiling gardens in the world, these green gems are a joy for all the senses.

 Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025

 

 

Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025 -Promenade of flowering trees

 

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Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025

What we love

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Experiences you will treasure

Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como Giardini di Villa Melzi
Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como garden statue

What people say

 'This beats paradise all to hell,' Ernest Hemingway

How much is it?

From £1,645p/p
Single room supplement £350
Return BA flights from London Heathrow £275
Economy flights with luggage included
Escorted garden tours in Northern Italy lakes Lake Como and Lake Maggiore
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Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025 maniucured gardens

What's included in your holiday

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Itinerary - what you will do when

Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025 _ Bristol Hotel Stresa

Where you will be staying

Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como -Isola Bella2

Flight Details

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Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025 _Bellagio
Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025
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Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025 _fresco

A Deeper Dive

Isola Bella

Isola Bella Lake Maggiore garden

 

Now regarded as one the most famous and best-preserved Italian-style Baroque gardens in the world, Isola Bella was commissioned in 1632 by Count Carlo Borromeo, governor of the Lake Maggiore region. Having inherited this rocky island, the Count decided to turn it into a garden which he named after his wife, Isabella d'Adda. The garden took 40 years to complete, partly because all the soil had to be brought over by boat from the mainland.

The result is an elaborate fantasy. The Borromeo family motto might have been ‘Humilitas’, but their garden is a celebration of extravagance. Arriving from the palazzo, you pass through huge wrought iron gates and step out into a grassy piazza in front of  the vast, shell-shaped water theatre crowded with statues, putti and enormous scallops. At the top of it all stands the largest statue of all, Unicorn Ridden by Love – the symbol of Borromeo power and glory. In his Italian Gardens television series, Monty Don described this operatic concoction as "a tipsy drag queen of a garden ready to party all night long, and the next day too!" 

Baroque it might be, but Isola Bella is also a horticultural gem. The soil and mild climate enabled plants and trees rarely found in this latitude to thrive, and this was the first garden in Europe where camellias, rhododendrons and vast camphor trees became acclimatised.

The camphor have their very own terrace and the showpiece is the colossal Cinnamomum camphora. Planted as a sapling in 1819, it is now one of the largest of its kind in Italy.

The main terrace, 37 metres above the lake, is planted with a scented profusion of espaliered roses, hibiscus, oleanders and citrus. It is also the best place to appreciate the geometry of the Italianate garden with its parterre hedging of low-growing box (Buxus sempervirens), giant yew trees (Taxus baccata) clipped into cones and strategically placed potted citrus trees.

The planting is now looked after by a team of 16 gardeners, and it is spectacular - don’t miss the giant yew spiral off-set by another free-growing yew and a luscious Camellia hedge. Inspiration is guaranteed!

Isola Madre

Isola Madre lake Maggiore garden Italy

 

Described by Gustave Flaubert as “the most voluptuous place I’ve seen in the world,” Isola Madre's English-style botanical park was created in the early 19th century and has been a showcase for flora brought back from trips to far-off lands ever since.

The mild climate has allowed these rare flora to thrive: there is a unique terrace of proteas, the prehistoric flowers that are the emblem of South Africa, for example, while other highlights include magnolia groves; perfumed pergolas of wisteria; espaliers of citrus fruit; parterres of ancient camellias and rhododendrons; pools blooming with waterlilies and lotus flowers, and beds of hibiscus, morning glory and bougainvillea. Europe's largest specimen of the rare Kashmir cypress can also be found here.  Planted in 1862, it was uprooted in a tornado in 2006. However, it was quickly replanted and is growing still, supported by special cables.

Villa Taranto

villa Taranto Lake Como Italy Garden

 

Villa Taranto is one of the world's most important botanic gardens. It is the creation of Neil McEacharn, a Scottish captain who bought the villa in 1931 with the intention of creating a garden on the shores of his beloved Lake Maggiore that reminded him of his homeland.

McEacharn imported thousands of plants, sourced from all corners of the world and today the garden is home to nearly 1,000 non-indigenous plants and almost 20,000 genera and varieties of particular botanical importance. Look out for eucalyptus, azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, port wine magnolias, maples, camellias, dahlias, tulips, lotus, heathers, dwarf asters and hydrangeas. There are dozens of tropical plants too, including the giant water lily, Victoria amazonica, rare specimens such as the Tasmanian Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica), the handkerchief tree Davidia involucrate and two Metasequoia glyptostroboides which were given to McEacharn by Prince Borromeo in 1949 and in 1950.

The design is as varied and beautiful as the flora. Highlights include the ‘Valletta’, an artificial valley created in 1935 which is spanned by an arched stone bridge (and is where you will find that Davidia involucrate); terraced gardens with waterfalls, water lily and lotus pools; the Fontana dei Putti, named after the sculptures which adorn it and surrounded in summer by the giant leaves of Colocasia antiquorum (or elephant ears’), and a magnificent Dahlia Maze. Created from more than 1,700 plants in flower, subdivided into over 350 varieties including the huge ‘Emery Paul’ and the tiny, globe-shaped ‘Pompons’, it is a summer extravaganza.

Villa Carlotta 

Villa Carlotta Lake Como Italy Garden

 

Built in the late 17th century for Milanese silk merchant, Marquis Giorgio Clerici, Villa Carlotta on the shores of Lake Como is a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture. The villa has passed through various hands over the centuries and each inhabitant has left their mark, resulting in a storied treasure trove that transports you back in time to an opulent past.

Giovanni Battista Sommariva, who acquired the villa in 1801, was a passionate art collector. Sommariva bought a series of masterpieces by some of the greatest artists of his era, including Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Francesco Hayez, turning the villa into one of the Grand Tour's most important destinations. Hayez’ stunning 1823 canvas, The Kiss, depicting Romeo and Juliet is on show in the museum today.

The gardens are a place of rare beauty. The structure dates back to the time the villa was built. Clearly laid out as a formal or Italianate garden, a symmetrical axis runs through it from the gate to the clock on the building’s roof, while hedges, trimmed into geometric shapes, combine with fountains, statues and terraces.

The Citrus Tunnel comprising lemon, sour orange, mandarin, bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit and bergamot trees also dates back to the 17th century.

The Romantic Landscape Garden is the creation of botanist George II von Sachsen-Meiningen, husband of Princess Carlotta of Prussia who was given the villa (after whom it is named) as a wedding present in the 19th century. Sachsen-Meiningen planted magnolias, tree ferns and - most famously –more than 150 cultivars of rhododendrons and azaleas which thrive on the acidic soil.

The rhododendrons and azaleas explode into colour in spring, but Villa Carlotta is much more than a spring garden. There are ancient trees; a rock garden planted with seasonal herbaceous plants and succulents such as euphorbia, cactus, agave and aloe; roses ranging from the climbing 'Goldener 'Olymp, with its unusually large petals to the English classic 'Gertrude Jekyll', and a 3000 square meter bamboo garden containing more than 25 different species of bamboos, some of which are very rare.

Visiting Villa Carlotta and its gardens is a journey through history, art, and nature embodying the timeless beauty, cultural and horticultural richness of Lake Como. 

I Giardini di Villa Melzi

Villa Melzi Lake Como Italy Garden

 

Rising along the shores of Lake Como near Bellagio, nestled into the hilly landscape between the two branches of the lake, the gardens of Villa Melzi are some of the most beautiful in Europe.

The complex was created as the summer residence of Francesco Melzi d’Eril, vice president of the Italian Republic founded by Napoleon in the early 1800s. Melzi d’Eril commissioned the architect and ornamentalist, Giocondo Albertolli to design the villa and its gardens. Albertolli was one of the leading exponents of Neoclassicism and his vision was of a sober, elegant villa that would allow the surrounding landscape to hold centre-stage.

And it does! Designed by the architect Luigi Canonica and the botanist Luigi Villoresi as an English-style garden, it is an artistic and botanical jewel, home to many statues and monuments (don’t miss the monument to Dante and Beatrice by Comolli, which inspired Liszt’s Sonata to Dante), centuries-old trees, large hedges of camellias, and hundreds of exotic and rare plants.

Arriving at the boat dock, you are greeted by a long avenue of plane trees, pruned into umbrella shapes. This leads to the terrace in front of the villa and to gardens of azaleas and gigantic rhododendrons. These vibrant gardens enclose small spaces such as the hidden cave and the Japanese-style pond. The end of the garden is marked by the family chapel, designed by Albertolli and filled with neoclassical monuments. The Orangery is now a small museum of  Napoleonic memorabilia, evidence of Duke Francesco Melzi d’Eril’s loyalty.

Today the gardens are carefully preserved by the Gallarati Scotti family, the current owners.

Il Giardino della Valle

Della Valle garden lake Como Italy

Image courtesy ilgiardinodellavalle

 

Located on the southwest corner of Lake Como, this a small, green oasis was created in the 1980s by local gardener, Mrs. Pupa Frati from the wasteland of an illegal landfill along the surrounding wall of Villa d'Este in Cernobbio. Today it is a magical botanical garden blooming with 130 species of plants and filled with the sound of the stream that runs through it.

Dotted with benches and small wooden sculptures, this is a garden to spend time in. There is even an outdoor library filled with books donated by visitors. The garden supports the Little Free Library movement which contributes to the exchange of ideas and goods.

Stresa

Stresa Lake Maggiore Italy

 

Set 200m above sea level on Lake Maggiore overlooking the Borromeo islands with their elaborate palaces and ornamental gardens, Stresa has been known for its sophisticated atmosphere and genteel visitors since the late 19th century when glamorous villas such as the Villa Pallavicino and Villa Vignolo were built.

Its fame spread outside Italy with the opening of the Simplon Tunnel in 1906. Trains on the London-Paris-Milan line began to call at Stresa station, bringing and travellers and writers from all over Europe. Stendhal, Hermann Hesse and Lord Byron all wrote about the town’s beauties and Ernest Hemingway became a life-long fan having spent time here in 1918 recovering from a war injury – an experience he detailed in his novel, A Farewell to Arms.  The room (106) he stayed in at Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromées is now known as the ‘Hemingway Suite’ and his signature - Ernest Hemingway (an old client)in the 1948 guest book is a treasured gem.

Stresa is the perfect place to enjoy that Italian institution, the passeggiata, or evening stroll. The 2km-long lakeside promenade meanders through extravagant gardens and past grand Art Deco hotels and boasts one of the best views in Europe.

The Lake Maggiore region is famous across the world for its culinary delights. The cheese is fantastico thanks to the lush pastures of the valleys. Classic local cheeses are the ‘Ossolano d’Alpe, a cow’s milk cheese with a mild but tasty flavour; the celebrated ‘Bettelmatt’, which is only produced in the Antigorio and Formazza valleys, and ‘Mottarone’, with its characteristic straw-yellow colour. Ricotta and goat’s milk cheeses are also made on the high mountain pastures or in the dairies lower down in the valleys.

Cured meats are a speciality too. Look out for the mortadella of the Ossola (which is protected by the Slow Food organisation), the raw ham and violini di capra (cured goat’s leg) of the Vigezzo Valley.

Locally produced wines are the perfect accompaniment to these meats and cheeses; full-bodied reds such as ‘Ghemme Docg and ‘Nebbiolo from the Novara hills,  ‘Prunent’ and ‘Neuv Bruschett’ from the Ossola valleys, or the wines of the Angera area.

For the sweet toothed, there is a wonderful array of local speciality cakes and biscuits, such as the ‘Fugascine of Mergozzo and the ‘Margheritine of Stresa and – of course – there is gelato.  L'Angolo del Gelato in the Piazza Luigi Cadorna has been a Stresa institution since 1996. Each scoop of ice cream contains the best local ingredients and flavours range from classic favourites to bold innovations and there are delicious options for vegans too.

The small town centre is filled with tempting stores selling local produce from food and wine to jewellery, and clothes.

Bellagio

Bellagio Lake Como Italy

 

Located at the tip of the promontory where Lake Como splits into three branches, Bellagio is known as the ‘pearl of Lake Como’ and is one of the most glamorous and romantic destinations in the whole of Italy. The views of the lake and the surrounding mountains will take your breath away.

Bellagio is made for strolling. Arriving by boat, the best way to reach the centre is through the lively, colourful alleys of ‘Salita Mella or ‘Salita Serbelloni’.  

The centre – known as ‘Il Borgo’ – is a place of narrow cobblestone streets, brightly coloured buildings and charming squares. It is a shopper’s paradise, offering upscale boutiques selling local produce ranging from food to leather goods and perfumes. There are also plenty of bars and restaurants where you can stop and soak up the atmosphere.

The Basilica of San Giacomo, a traditional Romanesque church built between the 11th and 12th centuries, contains notable artworks and architectural elements, including an altar from the late 1500s and mosaics from the early 1900s.

Historical gardens to visit around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como 2025 _white peacock

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