As a great lover of historic villas I can only be fascinated by the treasures of Lake Como. Overlooking the lake there are in fact some of the most beautiful villas and gardens of Italy. Many villas are private and not open to visitors (like the famous villa of George Clooney in Laglio) but many others have been transformed into museums and are truly magnificent.
Villa del Balbianello is incredible and it is no coincidence that it was chosen as a set of different films. Here were filmed episodes of Star Wars The Clone Attack (2002) and James Bond 007 Casino Royal.
It is located in Lenno, 30 km north of Como on the tip of the Lavedo peninsula, therefore it is surrounded by the lake on 3 sides and its enviable location makes it one of the most scenic villas of the lake.
It was built at the end of the 18th century by Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini on the remains of a small Franciscan convent (of which remains the facade of the church with the two bell towers) and it was used as second holiday home on the lake. After several owners, in 1919 it was acquired by an American general, whose heirs sold it in 1974 to its best-known owner, the entrepreneur and explorer Guido Monzino.
Mr. Monzino was heir to a wealthy Milanese family and had an innate passion for the mountains and exploration. From the 1950s, he led expeditions around the world, from Africa to the North Pole, via the Himalayas. In 1973 his team planted the first Italian flag on Everest.
Just inside the villa you will see a spiral wooden staircase built with a special technique. The pieces of wood are interlocking, not even a screw has been used and surprisingly the staircase does not even a squeak.
It is amazing the care that Monzino dedicated to the furniture of the villa. Apart from the English-French furnishings and the walls lined with expensive silk, from room to room you can admire collections of prints with views of the lake, paintings on glass and rare objects of ancient art originating in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, from Africa and South America. One room contains the sleigh with which Monzino arrived at the North Pole and relevant objects of his explorations. After all, we’re looking at a man who’s been to the farthest reaches of the earth.
In the villa there are secret passages that allow you to move without being seen from the highest floor of the house to the pier on the lake. A perfect escape route!
However, the gardens of Villa del Balbianello are perhaps the most surprising element. Perfectly harmonized with the surrounding lake they follow the course of the terrain in an impeccable manner.
Lots of trees and hedges are trimmed and designed to perfection. For example, the ficus that surrounds the columns of the three-arcades Loggia is shaped like a snake. The Loggia is the most panoramic point of the garden, and alone would be worth the entire visit.
In the center, on the floor, you can see the compass made in memory of Monzino’s expeditions around the world.
The villa can be reached on foot or by taxi-boat. On foot there are 2 different paths that start from the parking, the first is about 1 km while the second crosses the forest and is twice as long.
The taxi-boat service departs from Lido di Lenno and costs 8 euros return or 6 euros one way. My advice is to get there by taxi-boat and then walk back. Reaching the villa by boat you will have the view from the lake and it is really worth it.
Guido Monzino died without heirs in 1988 and left the villa to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI, an italian foundation) in order to maintain the original appearance of the property. Monzino requested that the two historic gardeners would continue to work in the villa even after his death until their retirement.
Here it is as if time stopped, it seems to live a fairy tale.
Have a nice trip! 🙂