New among the enticing Hidden Italy walking tours are two guided options expressly designed for those with a passion for great gardens. Both are two-week journeys weaving gentle walks into off-the-beaten-track explorations of standout regions: choose from the Gardens of Tuscany or the brand new Gardens of Piedmont tour, departing for the first time in May 2017 to walk in the footsteps of the Savoy royal family.
The Gardens of Piedmont itinerary takes in UNESCO-listed royal palaces and gardens in and around Turin – ruled by the Savoy family for nearly 800 years, one of Italy’s finest wine-producing areas at Le Langhe, also UNESCO-listed for its unique landscape and traditions, high altitude gardens in the foothills of the Alps and the luxuriant gardens of Stresa and the Borromeo Islands on Lake Maggiore, the most romantic of the Italian lakes.
In Tuscany, the tour visits the gardens, both famous and hidden, classical and modern, that form the true heart of the region. The trail also visits two national parks, one of Italy’s finest vineyards and a cutting-edge biodynamic farm.
Both tours will be small groups of 7-15 guided by art historian, landscape gardener, author (Blue Guides to Italy) and Florence University lecturer Paul Blanchard. The itineraries intersperse sightseeing with short walks along well-marked country trails ranging from 4-14 kilometres, a maximum of four hours walking a day, which can be shortened or skipped if desired.
“Paul is a wonderful guide offering genuine insight into the extraordinary gardens, history and landscape of these glorious regions of Italy,” says Hidden Italy director Simon Tancred, who has specialised in walking tours around Italy’s lesser known tracks for 20 years. “As with all Hidden Italy tours, expect your accommodation and food to be as much a highlight as the remarkable places Paul will introduce you to each day.”
The Piedmont itinerary spends three nights in four different places: a chic 4-star hotel in a historic building in one of Turin’s most beautiful residential areas; a beautiful vineyard estate of an ex-president of the Italian Republic in the Langhe; a magnificently restored former Carmelite convent high in the Alps, and a lovely family-run hotel on a picturesque island on Lake Maggiore, whose previous guests have included Toscanini, Hemingway, and Charles and Diana.
The Tuscany gardening tour features stays in an elegant hotel on the ‘left bank’ of the Arno River a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio; a magnificent 16th century estate set in parklands outside Lucca; a beautifully restored ‘borgo’ surrounded by olive groves with views of the sea; and finishes in self-contained apartments in the pedestrian centre of one of southern Tuscany’s most charming towns.
Fine meals to replenish in style at the end of each active day are another signature feature of a Hidden Italy tour. In Piedmont, walkers can look forward to regional specialties of truffles, garlic, game, crisp vegetables, cheese and rice served in memorable locations. Two of the highlights will be the group’s own chef for the three nights on the Langhe estate and a farewell dinner in a private home on one of the Borromeo Islands.
Gardens of Tuscany departs Florence 5 May 2017 and Gardens of Piedmont departs Turin on 20 May 2017. Both are fully guided and priced at $7700 per person, twin share inclusive of 12 nights’ accommodation, all breakfasts and most lunches and dinners, all transfers, taxes and service charges and paid admissions.