As I've mentioned before, it's tough for me to pick my favorite villa on Lake Como. They all have their unique details and unique stories. Villa Monastero seems to go on forever and is lush with a wide variety of flowers. It also has life - it is now an education center. Villa Carlotta made me sad on my first visit. Such a beautiful home, a wedding present, named after a young woman who died within five years of her wedding. It felt so empty to me the first time. She died in the mid-1800s, and Italy confiscated the villa from the family at the onset of WWI - I wonder how long it's been since someone lived there? There are many other villas to mention, but, I digress.
Villa Balbianello is found at the tip of a rocky peninsula jutting out into Lake Como. You have two ways to get there: by boat, or by walking from Lenno (and only on certain days as they close the gate to the property otherwise). On one side of the peninsula is the Gulf of Diana, where Isola Comacina is found. On the Lenno side is the Gulf of Venus which is the start of the Tremezzina, the most beautiful part of the lake.
A few of the photos below were taken from a seaplane; Aeroclub Como (in Como) will take you up for a ride and while you visit the lake you will see many of their planes buzzing about all day long.
Villa Balbianello, to me, seems full of legends; you step into another world when you visit. Originally a private, secluded retreat of a Cardinal, eventually it made its way into the hands of Italy's James Bond. Well, I think of him as James Bond, anyway.
Fay Ce Que Voudras ("do as you please/do what you want") is what you see engraved on the entrance gate when you arrive by boat. Guido Monzino, a son of a wealthy Milanese businessman, bought the villa in the mid-70s. To call him a world traveler would be an understatement. He was the first Italian to scale Mount Everest (1973). A few years previous to that, he led the first Italian expedition to the North Pole. He climbed Kilimanjaro and the Matterhorn when younger. What didn't he climb, actually. And then he bought this magnificent villa and filled it with all the artifacts of his memorable life. Sadly he only lived there for 14 years, as he died, too young, at age 60. He was buried on the grounds of his beloved villa. He willed the villa to the FAI (Italian national trust) which is why mere mortals like us can now visit.
A visit to the villa will highlight his library and the map room. His expedition room, full of treasures from his travels including the sled he used on the North Pole. His extensive art collection. His bedroom, with views over the lake and with a secret stairwell to another water entrance. His smoking lounge, redolent of dark, heavy leather chairs and cigars. It looks as if he just popped out for a second to get another bottle of scotch. Think of the evenings there with friends, over scotch and cigars, telling his travel tales.
I fell in love with the villa before I even visited. A must-see which will have you dreaming of Lake Como is the movie "A Month by the Lake". Vanessa Redgrave, Uma Thurman, and Edward Fox star, and their hotel was played by Villa Balbianello. The movie is charming if somewhat thin on story but I still love it and watch it a few times a year. The filmmakers clearly wanted to make Lake Como the star just as much as the characters.
Next up: a wander around the property...