Best gardens to visit in the Italian lakes
If beautiful gardens are your idea of paradise then a stay on the Italian lakes is a must. The country comes into bloom from May to September, so you can spend your holiday strolling around elaborate formal gardens and parks, admiring a kaleidoscope of plants and flowers. Here are some of our favourites…
Sigurtà Garden Park, Peschiera, Lake Garda
Dating back to the 1400s, this park’s been owned by the Sigurtà family since 1941 and they’ve put a lot of love into it since.
Spend a day exploring the 148-acre area, which has won awards for being one of the most beautiful in Europe. The most well-known spot is the Viale della Rose, a 1km path lined with over 30,000 roses. You can also wind your way through the Labyrinth – a geometric maze with a domed tower in the middle – visit the 400-year-old Great Oak tree, and stroll around the Great Turf, a lawn surrounded by trees and ponds filled with koi carp.
The owners are especially fond of the Officinal Garden, which is home to 40 types of plants that have therapeutic or medicinal properties. And if you’ve got kids with you, they’ll love the visiting the donkeys, sheep and goats in the farm, or looking for fallow deer in the valley.
Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo, Lake Como
This villa has been one of the gems of the lake since it was built in the 17th century. Out the front is a terraced Italian garden, with neat hedges, fountains, flowerbeds and citrus tunnels overflowing with orange, lemon and grapefruit trees.
The rest of the park is spread across the hillside, so you can explore at your own pace. See the bamboo forest, fern valley and succulent rockery – not the mention the colourful fields of azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias, the most famous plants in the Carlotta’s collection.
Higher up is an area that was once used for agriculture, and is now home to olive trees and a vegetable garden. And at the very top of the hill, you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views across Lake Como.
Heller Garden, Gardone, Lake Garda
If you’re a fan of nature and art, and visit to the Heller Garden is a must. It’s owned by Austrian musician and artist André Heller, who poured his passions into the garden. You can spot 3,000 plants from around the world – from the Alps to the Himalayas, and Australia to Africa – mixed with sculptures and artworks donated or commissioned by Heller himself.
In the centre is an area designed to look like an alpine valley, with pine trees, rocks and springs backed by views of the Dolomite mountains. The rest of the garden is overflowing with plants, from tulips to cacti, as well as ponds, streams and waterfalls that give the place a really calming feel. Follow the winding paths and see what you stumble across, keeping an eye out for the Buddha statues, pop art and giant geodes along the way.
Isola Madre, Lake Maggiore
The biggest of the three Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore, ‘Mother Island’ is a real Eden. The garden covers the whole island, and plants from all over the world thrive here thanks to the area’s unique microclimate – so you’ll see palm, maple and banana trees next to Australian eucalyptus and Asian camellias. Flowers bloom throughout spring and summer, so no matter when you visit, you’ll be dazzled by the riot of colour and aromas. There’s even a plant that smells like popcorn.
The ornate villa in the middle is shaded by a huge cypress tree that’s hundreds of years old and is guarded by a bamboo grove to protect it from strong winds.
And if you keep an eye out, you’ll see some of the island’s residents strutting around – it’s home to over 100 birds, from peacocks to pheasants.
Isola del Garda, Lake Garda
Once a game reserve, and later home to a monastery, Lake Garda’s biggest island is now a must-do for nature-lovers. It’s privately owned by the Cavazza family but they open up their home every summer so you can take a boat trip over to explore the garden and woods.
Start at the Venetian villa, which is surrounded by manicured hedges, flowerbeds and fruit trees growing everything from lemons to pomegranates. There’s also a park area, where you can stroll among cypress trees, poplars, firs and bluebells. Lots of the plants here are common to the Lake Garda area, but there are also more exotic types from across the Mediterranean and around the world.
You might even meet some of the island’s feathery residents, like the grey herons and swans.
Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Lake Como
A short walk along the lakeshore from Bellagio, the grounds of Villa Melzi are the perfect place to spend a few quiet hours. Trees are the speciality here, and the open lawn areas are surrounded by over 50 different kinds, like cedar, maple and a whole avenue of plane trees. Tucked in between them, you can stumble across Roman and Egyptian statues, an orangery that often hosts art exhibits, and a Japanese garden with a pond full of fish and water lilies. In springtime, the rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom, adding a rainbow of colour to the park.
The actual villa isn’t open to visitors, but you can climb the steps out the front to see the best views across the lake. Then find a spot on the shore and settle down to soak up some sun, peace and quiet.
Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone, Lake Garda
This estate is definitely one for the list if you like history – the name translates to ‘The Shrine of Italian Victories’ and it’s a monument to the country’s military past. It used to be the home of controversial poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, who filled the house and garden with bizarre artefacts from his life.
Most of the grounds are fairly wild, with a natural jumble of trees, flowers and plants. A river flows down through the middle, and there are endless statues, fountains and carvings scattered around too. Highlights include the violin-shaped pond, the fountain of Aphrodite and the amphitheatre, which has amazing views across the lake and is still used for performances throughout the summer.
But the stand-out is the Puglia – a real WWI warship that was brought here and rebuilt into the side of the hill.
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
‘Beautiful Island’ definitely lives up to its name. The Baroque palace is impressive, but the gardens are even more so. They flow across ten tiers, with a seemingly endless spread of manicured flowerbeds, ponds and statues. The Garden of Love is all boxwood hedges and citrus trees, while the Winter Garden is home to exotic and rare plants from around the world.
The crowning jewel is the towering stone theatre, which is draped with flowers and decorated with statues that represent art, love and nature. At the very top is a unicorn, the historic symbol of the noble Borromeo family who still live on the island. And around it, wandering white peacocks add a final elegant touch to the scene.
Parco Arciducale, Arco, Lake Garda
Just inland from Riva, this ‘living museum’ is run by the Museum of Natural Sciences, so it’s all about education and the appreciation of nature. It’s actually an arboretum, which means it’s mainly dedicated to trees and shrubs, with over 200 types from all over the world.
The mild climate of Lake Garda makes it the perfect place to grow all kinds of exotic plants, and this park has mini landscapes that are designed to mimic their natural environments – so you can stroll from the conifer grove to the bamboo jungle, and see Asian palm trees, Australian eucalyptus and one of the oldest sequoias in Europe. The lemon house is home to all kinds of citrus trees, from oranges to grapefruit. And everywhere you go, you’ll see signs with info about the different plants, so you can learn a thing or two while you’re wandering.
Want to get back to nature? Take a look at our latest Lakes & Mountains deals.
Pssst. Head to the Discover homepage for our latest articles.