My first glimpses of Italy were in the movies. Mostly I watched American or British films - "A Room with a View," "Stealing Beauty," "Roman Holiday," "Enchanted April." It was the quirky British film "A Month by the Lake" that really captured me. I don’t know if it was the unconventional romance, the pre-war time period, or the charms and accents of the Italian actors that first drew me in but it was definitely the unforgettable setting of Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como that most grabbed my imagination. Could such a place be real or was this just movie magic?
I saw the villa in person for the first time in 1996 from the deck of one of the boats that crisscross Lake Como. I wasn’t able to visit the villa on that trip, but I vowed to return someday. Someday came last fall when I had the chance to tour the villa and its spectacular gardens. No movie magic needed – the reality was even better than what was captured on film.
The villa sits high on a spit of land jutting into Lake Como, just outside the town of Lenno. It is surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by dense woods. Could there be a more beautiful landscape? The villa dates to the 18th century, even earlier if you count the monastery that predates it, part of which was incorporated into the villa’s structure.
It is thanks to the most recent owner, Count Guido Monzino, that this stunning property is open to the public. It remains much as it was at his death in 1988, giving visitors a peek into the home of the larger-than-life Monzino, an adventurer and explorer. He loved the villa so much that he chose never to leave – he is entombed on the grounds. I like to believe that he continues to enjoy the pleasure his home gives to all who visit.
There are two ways to arrive at the villa. The first is by land, over a somewhat steep path. The second is by motorboat from the village of Lenno and this is what I recommend. The drama of disembarking at the private boat landing and climbing the steps to the garden transports the visitor to an earlier age and a different, glamorous lifestyle.
The house is a marvel, complete with secret passageways, dramatic views, art, artifacts, and beautiful furnishings. I was most envious of the apartment within the villa, commanding one of the best views of the lake, which the Count designed as the private quarters of his mother (if my children are reading this, settling one’s mother in an apartment within a villa on Lake Como is a splendid idea).
Without doubt the most stunning aspects of the property are the loggia, perched on a rise above the house with glorious views up and down the lake, and the terraced gardens with winding walkways lined with flower-filled urns, greenery, manicured trees, and beautiful statues, all with dramatic lake views.
The drama, beauty, and history of Villa del Balbianello make it a must-see on any visit to Lake Como. The villa, a Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) property, is open from mid-March through mid-November (closed Mondays, Wednesdays, and some holidays). Please visit the official website for current hours and guided tour prices. And don't miss the gift shop! -post by JB
Contact information: http://eng.fondoambiente.it/beni/villa-del-balbianello-fai-properties.asp