Lake Como is probably one of Italy’s most fascinating places. Owing to its microclimate and the wonderful scenery surrounding it, it has been a magnet since Roman times for aristocrats and illustrious characters alike. So it should come as no surprise that some of the world’s most beautiful country houses are to be found on its shores. One of them stands out from the rest on account of its suggestiveness and character: the enchanting Villa del Balbianello.
The villa was built at the end of the XVIII century by Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini on the ruins of a small Franciscan friary. He aimed to create a peaceful residence, suitable for meditation, and chose a site on a picturesque wooded headland which juts into the waters of Lake Como.
The garden takes advantage of the natural steepness of the land and is set out on a number of suggestive terraces which are joined by delightful winding paths. Each view of the property was designed with a view to making the lake and surrounding scenery the main features of the scene.
Over the centuries the villa passed hands many times and was bought in 1974 by its last owner, the explorer Guido Monzino.
He was the heir of an important Milanese family which founded the Standa supermarket chain. He led or took part in 21 expeditions all over the world, including the first Italian expeditions to the North Pole and to Mount Everest. Villa del Balbianello recounts his adventures through memorabilia he collected, now housed partly throughout the house itself and partly in a museum on the fifth floor.
When Monzino was approaching death, being heirless he donated the villa to FAI (the Italian National Trust). Since 1988, therefore, it has been possible to visit and admire the villa in precisely the same condition as Monzino left it in.
In addition to being used in many films of international profile, Villa del Balbianello is often numbered as one of the world’s most suggestive and fascinating private residences. A title it fully deserves.
Lenno, January 2018