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25 May 2017

ACE Staff Member Amelia Smith shares a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, and what it's like to experience an ACE tour.


Behind the Scenes at the Villas and Gardens of Lazio

Here at ACE we are always looking for ways to improve our tours, and last week, I was able to accompany Tour Director Dr. Peter Higginson and a group of lovely ACE clients on a tour of ‘Villas and Gardens of Lazio’ in Italy, as part of my role in Product Development.

We are already looking ahead to our 2018 tour to Lazio and having the opportunity to observe tours ‘on the ground’ is invaluable in helping plan even more exciting departures for the future.

The ACE Tour Group at the Bomarzo gardens with Tour Director, Peter Higginson

Under the expert guidance of Peter, we visited a number of famous Renaissance villa complexes, as well as some of the region’s hidden gems.

We were bowled over by the beauty of the sites – particularly in the dappled May sunshine with the smell of roses and orange blossom in the air – but our appreciation was heightened by the insights Peter gave into the social context in which these amazing gardens were created, and his ‘unlocking’ of the fascinating iconographic schemes at play in their design.

We were also very lucky to benefit from the knowledge of some of our clients, on topics ranging from music to ancient manuscripts.

We didn’t just soak up the atmosphere and gain an understanding of Italian culture during our site visits, however.

Coach journeys, which enable participants to effortlessly traverse the region to visit multiple villas and gardens, were an opportunity to marvel at the stunning scenery.

Mealtimes offered the chance to sample the local cuisine, with highlights including the region’s famous hazelnuts (Nutella and Ferrero Rocher apparently source their hazelnuts from Lazio!), pecorino and Frascati wine.

The excellent Spaghetti alle vongole at the Villa Grazioli, Italy

Our private lunch in the historic interiors of the Castello Ruspoli in the company of its present owner was a particular highlight for many on the tour, and our stay at the Park Hotel Villa Grazioli (a Renaissance villa complete with 16th and 17th century frescoes) enabled us to immerse ourselves fully in villa life!

Back in the ACE office at Stapleford Granary, the notes I compiled on this tour – on everything from content to logistics, journey times to gelato stops – will be taken into account when planning future tours, to ensure our product is the best it can be.

Amelia Smith

Amelia is the newest member of ACE's product team. She joins us after finishing a PhD on eighteenth-century art collecting, patronage and display in the country house, focusing on the case study of Longford Castle in Wiltshire. Off the back of this research Amelia has also authored a book on Longford Castle's collection, which will be published later this year. 


From the age of antiquity through the Renaissance and Baroque periods and up to the present day, the villa and country garden have served as centres of rural leisure, aesthetic reflection, philosophc debate and even political strategy. Nowhere is this multiplicity of roles more in evidence than in those in the countryside of the Roman campagna. If you’d like to experience ‘Villas and Gardens of Lazio’ next spring, do register your interest by emailing the ACE office,