Gardens, Wine, Art, Food, and Markets—Italy, Monaco, and France with the JC Raulston Arboretum

Thursday, June 22 through Monday, July 3, 2017

Join JC Raulston Arboretum and a jolly band of food, wine, and garden lovers on an in-depth exploration of the Italian Lake District, Monaco, the Italian and French Rivieras, and Provence.

Your garden adventure is set to commence on the shores of Lake Como where you will stroll through stunning gardens and charming lakeside towns with breathtaking views. Our garden adventure continues as we head south toward Menton on the French Riviera. We'll explore some of the planet's most beautiful gardens and visit the botanical gardens of Monaco. We then make our way to Arles, one of Van Gogh's homes in Provence, and a charming town full of great restaurants and Roman archeological treasures. It was here that Van Gogh painted his famous café scenes and lived with Paul Gauguin in the Studio of the South. The hill towns beckon, so we've planned excursions into the countryside to soak up the sunny ambiance and one of the famed Provençal open-air markets. We'll end our journey in Nice on the Côte d’Azur. Join the JC Raulston Arboretum and savor all that Provence, the Riviera, Monaco, and Lake Como have to offer: wine tastings, world-class art, Roman ruins, lush gardens, and Provençal markets are all included.

Lake Como

Your Journey

3 Nights Lake Como, Italy's Lake District
3 Nights Menton, French Riviera
3 Nights Arles, Heart of Provence
1 Night Nice

Inside Experiences

Multiple garden and villa visits as listed on the back page of your itinerary ♦ Colorful Provençal markets ♦ A private tour of Van Gogh's legendary asylum in St. Remy ♦ Wine tastings in the Rhône Valley ♦ The Roman arena of Arles and the Roman ruins of the Pont du Gard ♦ Traditional dining in neighborhood cafés and bistros ♦ Excursions to towering hill towns ♦ Historic walks with local experts ♦ Time for personal discovery

It's Included

  • Travel with the JC Raulston Arboretum
  • Guided by an Earthbound Expeditions expert guide
  • Entrance fees and guided visits of multiple gardens (see back page of the itinerary for details)
  • Ten nights of accommodations in charming, centrally-located four-star hotels
  • Transport by private air-conditioned coach
  • All breakfasts plus 11 additional multi-course meals featuring regional specialties
  • Wine and hors d’oeuvres happy hours with your garden hosts
  • Museum entrances and tours led by knowledgeable guides
  • Outings to village markets, Roman ruins, vineyards, hill towns
  • Wine tastings with the producers in Provence
  • Gratuities for your driver and guides
  • A specially prepared reading list

Trip Facts 

12 Days/11 Nights
*$4,450.00* Double Occupancy Land (space is limited)
$995.00 Single Supplement (waived if you are willing to share and a roommate is found)
Group flight departs from Raleigh on Thursday, June 22 at 1:30 pm.
Journey begins in Varenna on Lake Como at 6:00 pm on June 23, 2017
Journey ends in Nice on July 3; Group flight returns to Raleigh on July 3 at 2:45 pm.

*Small group comfort charge of $250.00 will be added to groups smaller than 28.

Save $200.00

Pay your final balance by check and save $100.00, travel alumni save $100.00.

$1,599.00 Delta Air Group Flight Option (all taxes and transfers included in Europe)

June 22: Raleigh to Milan Malpensa with transfer to Lake Como
July 3: Nice, France to Raleigh

Activity Level

This is a walking tour. Plan to walk on cobblestone streets, visit terraced gardens with steps, uphill walks, city and museum tours with stairs, standing and walking, and stay in a three-story hotel with no elevator. All guests should be able to walk independently (unassisted) for at least one hour at a time and up to three miles at a leisurely pace.

Itinerary—Your Garden Adventure Begins

Day 0: Thursday, June 22, 2017

Depart the USA for Bella Italia

Today say "arrivederci" to the USA and make your way to Italy's majestic Lake District.

Day 1:  Friday, June 23

Buongiorno!  Meet in Bella Italia on the Shores of Lake Como

Many identify the Lake District as Italy’s most beautiful region and Lake Como certainly is a wonderful place to start our garden journey. Take some time to enjoy the rich atmosphere of this northern Italian gem. Garden lovers might wish to tour the nearby gardens of Villa Cipressi before meeting your guide and hosts this evening for a welcome orientation and multi-course dinner. Sleep in Varenna (D)

Note: Earthbound Expeditions will be offering a complimentary transfer at 12:00 pm from Malpensa airport in Milan to the hotel in Varenna on Lake Como. For those who do not mind a little adventure, you may decide to arrive a few days early, in which case you would transfer independently to the hotel. From Malpensa airport in Milan, simply catch the public bus or light rail from the airport to the Milan Central Station, where you can purchase tickets for the nearly hourly departures to the Varenna-Esino station. There are two airports in Milan: Malpensa and Linate. The complimentary transfer at 12:00 pm will be from Malpensa airport.

Day 2: June 24 – Stunning Lakefront Villages

Today we will set out to discover some of Italy's most beautiful gardens. Traveling by small ferry we'll visit the world-renowned village of Bellagio. Highlights include a visit to the Villa Serbelloni and Villa Melzi.

Your guide will offer a comprehensive orientation before setting you free to explore this elegant lakefront town at your own leisurely pace. Sleep in Varenna (B)

Day 3: June 25 – The Villa Carlotta

Today we set out to explore the gorgeous gardens of Villa Carlotta. With its magnificent botanical garden and art masterpieces, the 70,000 square meters of gardens and museum will certainly be a highlight of your stay on Lake Como.

The beautiful villa was built at the end of 17th century by the Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici in a natural basin between lake and mountains, facing the dolomite Grignas and the peninsula of Bellagio. The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet is only one of the masterpieces in this extraordinary collection.

The gardens of Villa Carlotta chiefly owe their reputation to the spring flowering of the rhododendrons and azaleas, consisting of over 150 different sorts.

The gardens are worth a visit in every period of the year. There are old varieties of camellias, century old cedars and sequoias, tropical plants, a rock garden and fern valley, rhododendrons and bamboo garden, an agricultural tools museum and, of course, the sweeping views of Lake Como. Sleep in Varenna (B)

Note: It's often said that there are two types of travelers: those who prefer to take it slow and soak up every beautiful moment at a leisurely pace and those who define the perfect vacation by the number of activities they can squeeze into each day. This is one of those days where you’ll have a choice. Soak up the gorgeous beauty of Lake Como and enjoy every moment in Italy's stunning Lake District or enjoy an independent optional journey and head to Lugano, Switzerland for a fun-filled day of sightseeing. No matter what you choose, it's a win-win!

Day 4:  June 26 – “Bonjour la France!”  The Italian Riviera and Menton, France

After breakfast, we say "arrivederci" to Italy and drive south to the Mediterranean Sea. Before crossing into France, we'll spend some time in Ventimiglia, Italy, gem of the Italian Riviera and the last town before crossing the border. We'll visit the Hanbury Botanical Gardens, created in 1867 by an English family who adored nature.

In the afternoon, we'll drive to Menton, France. Located in Europe's mildest climate and sheltered by the high Maritime Alps, orange and lemon trees bloom here even in winter. (It is said that Menton's first lemons were planted by Eve.) Picture-postcard pretty and with year-round seaside sunshine, Menton is where the British inadvertently invented the French Riviera. When the widowed monarch Queen Victoria arrived in 1882, the city already boasted 5,000 British residents busy building mansions and planting tropical gardens. Enjoy a stroll on the promenade and relax in your beautiful surroundings. Join the group this evening for your first dinner in France. Sleep in Menton (B, D)

Menton, France – "Ville des Jardins"

"My city is a garden" – The slogan for the city was not chosen at random. With an exceptionally mild climate and 316 days of sunshine a year, Menton is a paradise for botanists who have acclimatized exotic plants from far away destinations. The sub-tropical species flourish and grow at ease in sun-soaked Menton.

Day 5: June 27 – Exploring the Gardens of Menton

It is practically impossible to stay in Menton without strolling down the main pedestrian street, the rue St. Michel. This central street is a must for all visitors as it is packed with shops and restaurants. In the morning, we'll pay a visit to a nearby colorful food market in Menton. The municipal market is located between the old port and the old city. Overflowing with colors, exotic aromas, and flowers from the south of France, look out for Mentonnaise specialities such as lemons, spices, barbbajuans (fried vegetables and rice), and socca (flat cake made of chickpea flour and olive oil). The warm welcome you'll receive from the shopkeepers will give you a glimpse of the friendliness of the locals.

After a multi-course lunch, we'll tour the Jardin Serre de la Madone (Hill of the Madonna). Spend the afternoon and evening relaxing by the sea. Sleep in Menton (B, L)

Day 6: June 28 – An Outing to Monaco 

This morning we are off to the regal principality of Monaco. With an area of just 0.78 sq miles and a population of 36,371, Monaco is the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. Prince Albert of Monaco resides in the 12th century Palace of Monaco along with his family as the Grimaldis have done for the last seven centuries.

Delighting all of the senses, the spectacular gardens of Monaco offer everything from lush, flowering roses and exotic cacti to serene Japanese landscapes. Unique plants of native and foreign origin dot the Principality—from the casino terraces to the median strips along the esplanades—in a panorama of carefully tended and stunning displays. From the hill where the palace is perched, you can soak up the fantastic views of the bay and the high-rises of Monte Carlo. We'll stroll through the Exotic Gardens and the Observation Cave. We'll pay our respects to Princess Grace before returning to Menton. Sleep in Menton (B)

Day 7: June 29 – West to Van Gogh's Arles via St Jean Cap Ferrat

This morning, we'll drive west along the magnificent coastline of the Côte d’Azur, visiting St. Jean Cap Ferrat and the seldom seen and highly prestigious botanic garden, Les Cèdres. We'll then take a short walk to Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild's villa for lunch before visiting the garden. Laid out as a series of rooms: Spanish, Florentine, Japanese, and Provençal, the garden is a delight to see. Set in front of the villa is a formal French water garden, which leads up to a temple surrounded by Aleppo pines. The villa interiors contain the original Ephrussi furnishings, paintings, and collections, which can be viewed. Refer to the back page of your itinerary for more details.

Our journey continues on to Arles, located in the heart of Provence.  Sleep in Arles (B, D)

Day 8: June 30 – A Day in Arles

Today, you'll enjoy an in-depth walking tour of Arles. The Roman arena is included in your visit. A gem of Provençal history, ancient Arles, with its seven UNESCO World Heritage monuments and sites, roused the passion of Picasso. Arles inspired the artist with its arenas and corridas, reminding him of his Spanish roots. Picasso's works, including his famous l’Arlésienne, focused on the town starting in 1960 and the artist bequeathed 57 drawings to the Réattu Museum.

After lunch, the afternoon is yours to explore this ancient Roman town. Sleep in Arles (B, L)

Wine, Food, and Terroir in France

The French word "terroir" (from terre, "land") is the set of special characteristics of geography, geology, and climate of a certain place, that interact with a plant's genetics, and is now often found mentioned on packaging of many agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea. The concept has also crossed to other Protected Appellations of Origin (PDOs a form of geographical indication), products such as cheeses.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. The concept of terroir is at the base of the French wine Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) system, which has been the model for appellation and wine laws across the globe. At its core is the assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site. The amount of influence and the scope that falls under the description of terroir has been a controversial topic in the wine industry.

Day 9: July 1 – Le Pont du Gard, Avignon and the Wines of the Côte du Rhône

This morning, we make our way to Europe's best-preserved Roman ruin, the 2,000-year-old aqueduct, le Pont du Gard. We'll admire this aesthetic feat of Roman engineering and beauty before continuing on to Avignon. We will enjoy lunch together before exploring the summer Palace of the Popes. Time-permitting, we'll take in the Angladon, a museum which houses works by Picasso, Modigliani, and Van Gogh. 

After our visit to Avignon, we are off to taste some wines of the Rhône Valley. This remarkable area was the first region to produce wine in France. It is said that the first vine was planted by wine growers from Marseille (known then as "Massilia"). Using the nearby Rhône River, the bottles of wine could then be easily transferred to the harbor of Marseille. The Romans were next to further develop the vineyards, with the oldest remaining vineyards being Côte Rôtie and Hermitage. During the Middle Ages, monasteries began to manage vineyards such as Châteauneuf, which was renamed Châteauneuf du Pape when the popes began spending their holidays there. Enjoy a farewell lunch with your host today! Sleep in Arles (B, L)

Day 10: July 2 – Market Day in Aix-en-Provence

It's market day in Aix-en-Provence and the town is also the birthplace of Paul Cézanne. Cézanne, who spent most of his life in Provence, was 42 years older than Picasso, and never met his disciple. It was Cézanne's work that inspired Picasso. Picasso made no secret of the debt. "Cézanne is the father of us all," he said soon after the French painter's death, in 1906. It was a relationship that revolutionized modern art. Time-permitting, a visit could be made to Atelier Cézanne, the artist's studio. We'll celebrate our time together with a farewell lunch in Aix-en-Provence before continuing on to Nice in preparation for our early flight tomorrow morning. Sleep in Nice (B, L)

Day 11: July 3 – Your Journey Culminates in Nice

Your garden journey concludes this morning. A transfer to the Nice airport is included for those departing on the group flight.

If you have the time, you may consider extending your vacation in Nice or taking the high speed train to Paris for a few days in the City of Light!

About the Gardens

Villa Cipriessi (Varenna, Italy)

Villa Cipressi is a series of buildings and gardens of great historical interest built principally between 1400 and 1800. Also a hotel, the property has hosted a number of members of the European elite, including Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and his family and a number of Nobel laureates. In 1980, it was bought by voluntary public subscription by the People and Friends of Varenna and now it is run by a private association of volunteers who ensure, over and above everything else, that it participates in the prestigious international cultural manifestations which take place at the nearby Villa Monastero. It is also a hotel.  The terraced garden overlooking the lake deserves a visit and it open every day from April to October from 9.00 am to 6.30 pm.

Villa Serbelloni (Bellagio, Italy)

Built in 1605 and located in the high part of Bellagio, this villa belongs to the Rockefeller Foundation that utilizes it for conferences and studies. The big park is accessible to the public and occupies a great part of the headland with pathways that last for almost 18 kilometres. It is possible to see cypress and olive trees mainly, hedges that outline the terraces, and the geometrically landscaped flowerbeds. The views overlook the two arms of the lake, with views of extraordinary beauty.

Villa Melzi (Bellagio, Italy)

On the lakeshore in Bellagio, this villa was built for Duke Francesco Melzi d'Eril and today is still a private property. The project was given to the architect Giocondo Albertolli and the works were carried out between 1808 and 1810. The spectacular garden is open to the public for visiting. It was achieved by adapting the ground with terraces and rises, adding tropical and exotic essences, valuable sculptures among which stands the famous group with Dante and Beatrice, a Moorish temple and a Japanese pond. Even the orangerie is today transformed into a small museum and you can also visit the family chapel. 

Villa Carlotta (Tremezzina, Italy)

The villa, the stairway, and the landscaped garden were built for the Clerici family towards the end of 1600. Later, it became property of Count Sommariva, who partially modified the style of it under neoclassical influence, and after that it passed to Princess Marianna of the Netherlands, who gave it to her daughter Carlotta as a wedding present. Inside, there is a significant museum with statues, paintings, and original neoclassical furniture, including valuable sculptures by Antonio Canova and canvases by Francesco Hayez. On the second floor, there are 18th century decorations and rooms with period furnishings. In the garden, it is possible to admire trees and plants coming from every part of the globe: citrus arbors, mighty camellia hedges, austral arbor fern, palms, tropical plants, rare centennial conifers, and bamboo collections. In springtime (April–May), it is possible to see an incredible azaleas flowering of which there are circa 150 varieties at the villa. From the gardens and the terraces of the villa, the view looks out to the center of the lake, Bellagio, the Grigne and the Legnone. 

Villa del Balbianello (Tremezzina, Italy)

On the Lenno headland, there is the breathtaking Villa of the Balbianello, built in 1700 on the orders of Cardinal Durini, incorporating an ancient monastery. Today, it is property of the FAI (Italian National Trust). This is one of the most stunning corners of the lake. The wonderful panoramic lodge overlooks Bellagio and Comacina island. On the highest floor of the property, there is a unique museum exhibiting the art collections and travel memoires of the former owner, explorer Guido Monzino, who was passionate about expeditions and a man of great knowledge. In his will, the villa was left to the Fondo per l' Ambiente Italiano (Italian Environmental Foundation) as a testamentary legacy. The garden is characterized by terraces and balustrades and accurately follows the shape of the rugged ground, formed by steep rocks in some points and milder, gentler slopes in others.

Hanbury Botanical Gardens (Ventimiglia, Italy)

The gardens were established by Sir Thomas Hanbury on a small, steep peninsula jutting southwards from an altitude of 103 meters down into the Mediterranean Sea. In 1912, the Hortus Mortolensis, the catalogue of the garden, contained 5,800 species, although the garden itself had more. The gardens were severely damaged in World War II, when they became a no-man's land and in 1960 Lady Hanbury sold them to the State of Italy, with responsibility passed to the University of Genoa. Restoration has been gradually proceeding since 1987 and the site was declared a nature preserve in 2000. On June 1, 2006, the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali submitted a proposal for the inclusion of the gardens on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Today, nine of the gardens' 18 hectares are under cultivation, and contain about 2,500 taxa. Many of the species are plants of Mediterranean climates from the six Mediterranean climate zones of the world. Major collections include agaves, aloes, and salvia, palms, succulents, Australian trees, citrus, and cultivated flowers.

La Serre de la Madone (Menton, France)

For gardeners the world over, the greatest British legacy in this region of Europe are these subtropical gardens left by Lord Radcliffe and Major Johnston. The garden was created in 1924–1939 by Lawrence Johnston, who had earlier created in Britain the celebrated Hidcote Manor Garden (1907). It lies on a hillside in the Gorbio Valley, with a farmhouse to which Johnston added two large wings. Johnston traveled the world collecting plants, and La Serre de la Madone offered an excellent site for plants from subtropical regions. Over the years, he created a series of terraces among old olive trees, planted and tended by twelve gardeners.

A printable version of this trips announcement is available.

Please see pricing information above in "Trip Facts" section.
To make your reservation, please contact Earthbound Expeditions at (800) 723-8454.
For more information, please contact Earthbound Expeditions at (800) 723-8454.