Villa del Balbianello

View of villa by guest photographer Angelo Rossi

As Villa del Balbianello appeared in both a James Bond and a Star Wars movie (Casino Royale and Attack of the Clones, respectively), I was expecting something amazing. I was not disappointed.

The loggia offers sweeping views of Lake Como

Villa del Balbianello sits on a promontory above Lake Como. It, along with its extravagant gardens, are built vertically and seem to tumble toward the water.

Garden as seen from Lake Como

An elegant open loggia with three arches crowns the highest point of the promontory. From there, visitors can enjoy two different panoramas of the lake.

Monzino’s library and reading room

No detail escapes elaborate decoration

Ornate railing

So, who found this spot first? A small Franciscan friars group occupied the site in 13th century and, of course, built a church. Though the church now houses the villa’s kitchen, the façade and bell tower remains.

Church

Bell tower

The villa was built in the 1700’s when Cardinal Durini acquired the peninsula, Punta di Lavedo. Durini wanted a quiet summer residence in which to read and study. After he died, his nephew Luigi Porro Lambertenghi transformed the home into a haven for masons before selling the property to his friend Giuseppe Visconti, who turned the villa into a summer salon. After the Visconti family died out, the villa was abandoned for decades. In 1919, American Butler Ames purchased it and began a major restoration. After his death, his heirs sold the property to Guido Monzino, a wealthy Milanese businessman and explorer. Monzino was the last owner.

Original fireplace incorporated into the landscaping

The villa is just as Monzino left it, filled with his invaluable, impeccable collections of books, maps, tapestries, African and Asian objects and 18th and 19th century English and French furnishings. The top floor is a museum of his expeditions, which includes the North Pole and Mount Everest. The interior is five levels with an intriguing secret escape passageway leading throughout.

This giant green oak tree is cut like an umbrella. It takes two men two weeks to trim it.

Every path is adorned

Open mid-March – mid-November, 10-6, closed Mondays and Wednesdays

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