This Villa on the western shore of Lake Como was the most beautiful I saw on my 2 visits to Lake Como. It is near the town of Lenno and before I describe its many attributes I will pass on some instructions on how to get to Villa del Balbianello.
First of all, it is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays you can walk to the Villa via a very pretty path and then the road to the point of the Dosso di Lavedo, a wooded promontory that juts out to form a small peninsula. On Thursdays (the day we were there) and Fridays you must arrive by boat. Unfortunately we didn’t read the tiny signs on the closed gates in the park and started trudging along the road. We spotted another tiny sign telling us we needed to take the boat, so back we went to the beach. There was little signage indicating where the boat might be, but we saw a possible suspect arriving at the beach to pick up some waiting passengers and headed in that direction.
It was a great way to arrive at the Villa – go on Thursday or Friday. We soon forgave the confusion when we came round the point and got our first close up view of the beautiful gardens.
The last owner of Villa Balbianello was Guido Monzino, a very wealthy entrepreneur who doubled as an explorer and mountaineer. He acquired the property in 1974 and restructured the buildings and the magnificent garden. He redecorated the Villa, adding English and French antique furniture. He collected Oriental carpets, Ming and Tang porcelain, exotic African, Chinese, Mayan and Aztec objects. He also built a museum in the attic to exhibit the trappings from his expeditions to the North Pole and the first Italian ascent of Mount Everest. These things are all able to be seen on a guided tour of the house. It takes quite a long time but it is fascinating.
When he died in 1988 he left the Villa, along with most of the Dosso di Lavedo, to the FAI, along with enough money to maintain the property. His ashes are buried in the ancient ice cavern near the lake.
The garden is a combination of formal Italian and English style. Tall plane trees pruned in candelabra style line the path that leads up from the lake through grassy slopes. 2 very old oak trees are hand pruned into domes – aparently Monzino didn’t want his view of Bellagio interrupted and had the tree in front of his office window trimmed. The other one is done to match. Who could blame him for that?
The garden also contains beautiful specimens of holmoaks, camphor trees, magnolias and cypresses as well as azaleas, rhododendrons and wisteria which burst into bloom in late spring. The villa has been used as a setting for several films, including A Month by the Lake, Star Wars and one of the James Bond movies. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Thank you Guido Monzino!
The boat cost 6 euro return and the ticket which includes the garden and house tour cost 11 euro. If you book ahead it is slightly less. Allow yourselves a few hours here to really enjoy it.
Please check the details on how to get there before you go. It can be quite confusing.