Fantastically elaborate, brimming with sculpture and symbolism, the villas of central Italy embody the high art and low political intrigues of the Renaissance. Rapidly expanding under the emperors they reached their apogee in fantastically elaborate houses and gardens, brimming with sculpture and symbolism and embodying high art, low jokes and political intrigue.
Built for popes and princes, these villas hark back to a much older tradition, when Roman Emperors would retreat to their palaces in the Sabine hills. We explore the villa in its many and various forms, from the rustic farms of antiquity, beloved of Roman poets, to the vast complexes of later eras, when villas reflected their owners’ wealth and status.
- Spectacular villas built by classical and Renaissance grandees with their elaborate gardens and fountains
- Be astonished by the unique Mannerist sculptures of the Gardens of Bomarzo, colloquially known as the ‘Park of the Monsters’
- From austere Roman farmsteads, to imperial hunting lodges, the classical origins of Italian villas
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- Low Single Supplement
- All Inclusive
We fly to Rome and transfer to Frascati.
We drive into the beautiful Sabine Hills, the retreat of Renaissance princes and Roman Emperors. Our first stop is at the rustic Villa of Horace, Licenza. Onwards to Arcinazzo Romano where we view the sprawling remains of Emperor Trajan’s villa and hunting lodge. No doubt providing the Emperor with some ‘R and R’ after a hard campaign subduing the edges of Empire... In the afternoon visit Subiaco, Sacro Speco and St. Benedict’s first abbey founded near the ruins of Nero’s villa.
We have special access to the Barberini Gardens, laid out over the remains of a grand villa of Emperor Domitian.
The gardens are attached to the Papal Villa at Castelgandolfo. We continue to Lake Nemi, where excavations recovered the remains of two ‘floating’ villa ships, built by Caligula. Having survived the end of Rome, the ships were sadly destroyed in WWII, but a museum tells their story. After lunch, we continue to Frascati and the baroque Villa Aldobrandini, with extensive gardens and 17th century ‘water theatre’.
We travel north to Farfa Abbey founded c.600AD by St. Lawrence the Syrian, in a ruined villa. At the height of their power, in the 12th century, the monks of Farfa owned over 600 churches and 130 castles. Not quite how one imagines a life of monastic poverty! We visit Falerii Veteres the Roman successor to the ancient town of Civita Castellana (Falerii Veteres). Originally an Iron Age settlement, called Falerii, the town was abandoned until the early Middle Ages. It was then repopulated and became a flourishing independent commune, often contended by the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire.
We spend the morning at Caprarola to visit the staggering conception of the Villa Farnese built by Alexander Farnese, nephew of Pope Paul III, to an elaborate architectural scheme of the architect Giacomo Vignola. The mannerist and ‘wild’ gardens conceal a ‘secret garden’ and smaller villa. Then on to the Orsini (Odescalchi) castle by Lake Bracciano. One of the largest strongholds in Italy, in the 15th century the Orsini family managed to repel attempts by Pope Alexander VI and the notorious Cesare Borgia to capture it. The castle was rebuilt as a luxurious fortified retreat and houses a museum.
We enjoy a day of gardens today. The famous mannerist gardens of Villa Lante at Bagnaia are our first stop. They consist of an extravaganza of 16th century hydraulic engineering which has created cascades and the famous outdoor water dining table. We later visit the enigmatic Park of Wonders (Park of Monsters) at Bomarzo. This ‘sacred wood’ is home to carved, moss-covered monsters and giants.
We catch a glimpse of how the other half lived as we stop at Calcata in the Treia valley on our last day. The valley was originally inhabited by local farmers who tunnelled their way through the soft tufa stone to build their dwellings. We continue to Rome for our flight to London.
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included - dinners with wine
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
- Hotels - 4 nights accommodation in a modern 4* hotel which has been fashioned from two separate former late-19th century mansions. 3 nights stay in the historic town centre of Civita Castellana, only 50km from the historic Duomo. The heart of the old town is a warren of lanes lined with tufa houses and mansions.
- Flights - Scheduled return flights from London to Rome
4 nights accommodation in a modern 4* hotel which has been fashioned from two separate former late-19th century mansions.
3 nights stay in the historic town centre of Civita Castellana, only 50km from the historic Duomo. The heart of the old town is a warren of lanes lined with tufa houses and mansions.
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