Thursday, March 12, 2009

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy

In my guest post at Relyn’s blog "Come Sit By My Fire", I talk about planning my trips loosely and waiting for serendipitous moments.

On our last day of our trip to Italy in 1995, we were on a ferry boat on Lake Como on our way to Bellagio when I struck up a conversation with one of four ladies from Dallas. She told me that they had already spent three weeks with their families in a villa along the lake and now they were spending their final week with just the moms. They familiarized themselves with just about every ferry stop along the lake and their favorite outing was going to Villa del Balbianello. She encouraged us to get off the next stop, rent a water taxi to the island, and take the tour. This was our only day at Lake Como so our time was precious, and I did not read about this villa in my Italy travel books, but I could tell this lady knew what she was talking about. We only had minutes to reach consensus but we chose to follow the advice and get off at the Lenno stop.

We could see the Punta Belbianello from the water taxi.

We walked up the highly manicured garden path.

We were fortunate that a tour guide was available to give us a tour on the spot. Normally, reservations are required but we had a little more clout because there were six of us. Our tour guide spoke impeccable English and was very knowledgeable. The villa was built in 1787 for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini who lived there until his death in 1796. The two prominent towers are the campanili of the church he built. The cardinal’s upstairs chambers were connected to the downstairs apartment via a one-way door. I guess visitations were by invitation only.

The second owner Giuseppe Arconati Visconti added the loggia and improved the gardens.

They trained the ivy on the loggia to look like the snake depicted in the family crest.

In the next century the villa was owned by the Porro-Lambertenghi family. By the 20th century the property had fallen into disrepair when an American politician and military office, Butler Ames, bought and renovated the villa and the garden.

In 1974, Guido Monzino became the final resident. He was a mountain climber and explorer, who in the previous year led the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. He worked with landscape architect Emilio Trabella to renovate the gardens and he filled the villa with his fantastic artifacts he collected during his 21 expeditions to the farthest and most remote places on the earth. In 1988, Monzino died and left the villa to Italy under supervision of the Italian National Trust, Fondo per L’ambiente Italiano with a stipulation that it be left exactly as it was when he lived there.

We were not allowed to take any photos inside the buildings, but I got permission to take two out the windows.

To me, the inside of the villa was even more impressive than the outside because Monzino had impeccable taste in art. He was a disciplined and focused collector who only displayed the very best. The map room contained his impressive collection of the exploration maps he acquired to research his expeditions. The library next door has more than four thousand volumes of books dedicated to alpine and polar expeditions. One room housed one of the eight dog sleds that carried him on his 1971 expedition to the North Pole. The walls of another room were covered from wall to wall with beautiful etchings of only Lake Como. Room after room had impressive artifacts from China, Africa, indigenous art from the Incas of South America and Northwestern art of the Eskimos. What I found to be most interesting was that all of his artifacts, whether they are a Tong dynasty statue or an Incan idol, had very serene expressions on their faces. I think he must have been a very kind man. He gathered the largest collection of reverse paintings on glass, many of which were displayed in the downstairs apartment he remodeled for his mother.

The surreal beauty of the setting has made this villa a popular place for cinema. George Lucas chose this location for the lake retreat in “Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones”. See how he altered the roof lines here. George Clooney and Julia Roberts visited this villa in “Oceans Twelve”, and the 2006 version of the James Bond film “Casino Royale” featured some outdoor scenes here. A print ad was being shot as we were leaving.

We took one last long look at the view,

and departed through the boat exit.

We were grateful that we received this great last-minute advice from the ladies from Dallas and did not feel any regret that our time in Bellagio was cut short.

Family crest from Wikimedia


Ruth said...

That's some pretty good advice it seems. The last scene is incredible!

The clarity in all the lake shots reminds me how much I'd like to visit Lake Como.

BTW, I posted a new post at Paris Deconstructed! I had been working on a Paris post at synch-ro-ni-zing, and I worked myself up into revisiting that space. So thank you for your timely comments there!

Emily said...

Did you take those photos?? My goodness. That is about THE most beautiful place I've ever seen. I'm sitting here in a sweat shirt and slippers shivering. That place looks magical to me right about now :)

Anonymous said...

Your pictures are absolutely beautiful! I too have a secondary career. A new blog endeavor at and selling flowers just because I want to at

Maybe fate brought me to your blog b/c of my own dutch/italian heritage:)

Keep up the great work!

LoisW said...

My heart aches.... I want to go back! Your pictures bring it all to life.
Thanks for the memories.... <~~~~ Think Bob Hope singing

Anonymous said...

What a serendipitious day! I would love to visit there; must add it to the list. Wonderful photos!

Rebekah said...

The pictures render me speechless. It must be electric with magic. So beautiful!

Relyn Lawson said...

WOW, WOW, WOW!!! I want to travel with you. What I really want to do is learn how to talk to strangers. I stink at it. But, look at the gifts it brings.

Lawyer Mom said...

Thank goodness you you summed up those Big D women accurately and jumped off the boat to see that villa. Gorgeous. Wow.

A Cuban In London said...

It took me about fifteen minutes to read you post. No, not because I am a slow reader but because the images you included in your post are spellbinding. I just could not take my eyes off them! I would b readinga sentence (... in 1995...) and my eyes would veer off in the direction of the images. Wow! Many thanks for this lovely post.

Greetings from London.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
I highly recommend that you place Lake Como high on your travel wish list.

I am looking forward to seeing your new post on your wonderful Paris blog!

Dear Jemm,
Yes, I took these photos with Photoshop as my copilot. I had to remove my family members from some of these shots.

Dear Kelly,
Thank you! My, we do have a lot in common. Welcome to dutchbaby!

Dear Middle Aged,
Thanks for singing! My heart ached when I wrote this post. Sigh...

Dear Paris,
Thank you. I hope you go there soon; you will not be disappointed.

Dear Rebekah,
All of Lake Como is magic, but this villa brings out the best in her.

Dear Relyn,
I am so surprised to hear you say that. I would have guessed that you would be great at it. Once in a while, there is a benefit to being a chatterbox.

Dear Lawyer Mom,
Thank goodness, indeed. Those women were very entertaining. You should have seen them trying to convince a waiter to keep a restaurant open past siesta time. Welcome to dutchbaby!

Dear Cuban,
I'm so glad you enjoyed coming along on my journey.

Sherri said...

Love your pictures. I need to go back to Lake Como! Isn't it breathtaking!?

robin laws said...

you do take wonderful trips and i am so glad you have them to share vis photographs ands your excellent docent skills!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Postcards,
Thank you! L ake Comois so magical, it's almost impossible to take a bad photo there. We were only there overnight; next time we plan to stay for much longer. Welcome to Dutchbaby!

Dear Robin,
I'm tickled you came along!

CC said...

Voglio andare immediatamente!!
I love Italy, have been there several times but not to Lago Como.... yet.
Thank you for sharing these exquisite pictures.
Grazie tante!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear CC,
Lei deve andare subito! Lago Como è magico!

You are most welcome!

AntigoneHG said...

Does anyone know what kind of red flowering plants those are?

Dutchbaby said...

Dear AntigoneHG,
The ones in the large urn are geraniums and if my memory serves me, the small red ones were impatiens. Thanks for visiting dutchbaby.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...