The author of The Telegraph's weekly gardening column, Thorny Problems, Helen is a passionate hands-on gardener. She has written several books about gardening including Gardening in Your Nightie. She is also a lecturer, teacher and broadcaster whose credits include the BBC's Gardening from Scratch and Gardening Week
Nature and Gardens
Italian Lakes with Helen Yemm
We are delighted to announce a new 2021 date for this popular tour.
For up-to-date advice on travel and COVID-19, see our homepage.
The lakes of Northern Italy have long inspired poets, painters and botanists with their attractive Renaissance villas, benign climate and glorious gardens that perfectly complement the natural landscape. On this eight-day escorted tour you'll discover them in the company of our popular gardening columnist, Helen Yemm, writer of the weekly Thorny Problems page.
Helen will join you in Lake Como for visits to three villas and their stunning gardens. These include the beautiful, 18th-century Villa del Balbianello, with its fragrant rose terraces and classic three arched 'loggia', and Villa Carlotta, with its spring displays of azaleas and rhododendrons.
Helen will also answer your own Thorny Problems during an exclusive talk and Q&A session. You'll be based for the duration in two four-star hotels, one on Lake Maggiore and the other at the foot of Lake Como. Other highlights include a visit to see over 500 varieties of camellia at the private residence of Andrea Corneo, President of the Italian Camellia Society, a private tour with the owner of Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, and a visit to the three Borromean islands, Bella, with its terraced gardens, Madre and Pescatori. There will also be a free day for you to relax and enjoy the stunning scenery around Lake Como, which is surrounded by opulent villas - including one owned by George Clooney.
"I am really looking forward to sharing the delights some of my favourite gardens of the Italian Lakes at such a brilliant time of year, when they are surely at their most colourful."
Please note a good degree of mobility is required to get the most out of this holiday as there are a large number of steps at many of the gardens.
Reasons to book
Helen Yemm's expertise
Discover the Italian Lakes
Exclusive access and garden tours
Boat trip to the Borromean islands
Boutique hotel stays
Your expert guide
- Return flights from London to Milan (regional departures available on request)
- Exclusive talk and Q&A by Helen Yemm
- Four nights' dinner, bed and breakfast at the four-star La Palma Hotel in Stresa
- Three nights' dinner, bed and breakfast at the four-star Hotel Barchetta Excelsior, Lake Como
- Private visit (including lunch) to the private garden of the President of the Italian Camellia Society
- Exclusive guided tour of the garden at Villa Cicogna Mozzoni with the owner
- Visits to Isolas Bella, Madre and Pescatori and the gardens of the villas Taranto, Pallavicino, Carlotta and Balbianello
Day1Fly to MilanMilano, Italy
Following your flight from London to Milan you will be met and transferred to your home for the next four nights, the four-star Hotel La Palma in Stresa, which boasts beautiful views over Lake Maggiore. The hotel, set in its own beautiful gardens, is directly on the lakefront opposite the promenade and just a five-minute walk into the centre of town. A welcome drink will be served before dinner this evening.
Day2Exclusive private garden visitLake Maggiore ,
Today you'll visit the private garden of the President of the Italian Camellia Society, Andrea Corneo, which is just above the shores of Lake Maggiore and surrounded by mountains. Due to the combination of acidic ground, a mild climate and frequent rainfall, the garden has housed a remarkable collection of camellias since the 1950s and there are now 500 plants and 318 cultivars. Lunch here is included, and you'll return to your hotel for dinner.
Day3Borromean IslandsIsola Bella, Italy
Today, you'll spend a full day exploring the famous Borromean Islands starting with a cruise from Stresa to Isola Bella. Here you'll explore the vast baroque palace built from the island's rock and surrounded by terraced gardens inspired by the 'Hanging Gardens of Babylon'. The palace was constructed in the 17th century and became known for its lavish parties, attended by the cream of European nobility, while the gardens feature an ornate parterre with low box hedges and brilliantly coloured flowers, a pond adorned with blue and pink water lilies, and lush plantings of oranges, grapefruits and orchids. You'll continue to Isola Pescatori, the 'island of shermen', with its narrow cobbled streets and pretty harbour, and Isola Madre, where tropical and Mediterranean plants, citrus fruits, crape myrtle, hibiscus, bougainvillea, protea and agaves all flourish.
Day4Villa Taranto and Villa PallavicinoStresa, Italy
You'll visit two more fascinating gardens today. First up are the gardens of Villa Taranto, which are full of rare plants from around the world. Villa Pallavicino has been built in the grounds of an immense park, with chestnut woods growing alongside rare exotic plants, and animals from the zoological garden wandering freely in the grounds. The villa, which overlooks one of the most charming parts of Lake Maggiore, is a stunning example of mid-18th-century architecture.
Day5Villa Cicogna Mozzoni with HelenComo, Italy
Today, after checking out of your hotel, you'll be joined by Helen Yemm for a visit to Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, in the foothills between Varese and Lake Lugano. Here, you'll enjoy a private guided tour with the owner and hear Helen's expert insights into the garden, which is set over seven levels and has a formal Italian walled garden with box hedges, water basins, fountains and a grotto. You'll then travel to the town of Como and check-in to the four-star Barchetta Excelsior hotel for the next three nights.
Day6Villa Carlotta and Lake ComoComo, Italy
Helen Yemm will join you once again as you travel along the motorways and lake shore roads for an enchanting day on Lake Como, so similar and yet so different from its larger neighbour, Maggiore. On arrival in Tremezzo you will have time to enjoy the elegant 18th century Villa Carlotta, where, in the spring, azaleas and rhododendrons burst into a simply dazzling display.
Around the house the layout is formal with lemon arbours on the terraces and tall camellia hedges while further away from the villa we will discover a relaxed English-style garden in the woodland, dotted with unusual trees. Imaginative planting includes twining climbers, jasmine and roses while in the more natural garden a dell of tree ferns, palms, eucalyptus, Japanese maples and cactus reveal the microclimatic conditions with banana and flowering orchids creating an exotic semi-tropical jungle effect. The house itself has its own story to tell, full of neo-classical art treasures including paintings by Hayez and sculptures by Canova.
This afternoon is free for you to explore at your leisure and this evening, dinner will be served in the hotel, before we enjoy a talk and Q&A session with Helen Yemm.
Day7Villa Balbianello and farewell dinnerComo, Italy
Today you'll catch the ferry to visit the gardens at Villa Balbianello on the Lavedo point which, combined with the romantic arrival at the water gates landing stage, turns the expedition into an arcadian delight. Remote from lakeside tourism, in a sylvan setting of pine, soaring cypress and oak, with pollarded plane trees, manicured lawns and flowerbeds, the garden is maintained to an exceptionally high standard by the Italian National trust or FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano). With unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake and fronting the promontory of Serbelloni, the first villa was built in 1540, but was later moved to a new site inland to protect it from flooding.
This afternoon is yours to shop and sightsee at leisure. It is very easy to hop on board one of the many ferries or hydrofoils which go to many places around the lake, including the famous village of Bellagio, where you may have lunch and visit the Villa Melzi d'Eril (admission not included). Your tour manager will be on hand for further guidance on how best to spend your day. Later, return to the mainland to your hotel, where you'll enjoy a farewell dinner this evening.
Day8Return to the UKMilano, Italy
After breakfast today you'll check out and be transferred to Milan to catch your flight back to the UK.
Hotel La Palma
Situated directly on the waterfront in Stresa, with picturesque views over Lake Maggiore
With a panoramic spa and rooftop swimming pool, this is one of the finest hotels Maggiore has to offer. Rooms face towards the mountains and the heights of Alto Vergante, designed for those who love the open air. The Sky Bar offers stunning views over the lake and is the perfect spot for an aperitivo in the fresh lakeside air, or for a swim in the Sky Bar Pool, with a view onto the lake and its magnificent islands. There's also a jacuzzi up here on the seventh floor.
- 24-hour front desk
- Fitness centre
- Swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna
- Poolside bar
- Bicycle rental
Hotel Barchetta Excelsior
Four-star hotel in in the heart of Como
At the Hotel Barchetta Excelsior you are surrounded by beauty: the villas with their gardens, art exhibitions, silk outlets, boutiques, romantic boat trips, renowned golf clubs.
Comfortable and quiet rooms offer views of the surrounding streets and the cathedral's dome and guarantee total privacy. Suites offer stunning views of the lake. All of them feature elegant and minimal furnishing with modern comforts. There is a lovely bistro and bar, and a summer terrace for alfresco dining.
- 24-hour reception
- Dry cleaning service
- Bar and bistro restaurant
- Shopping area
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