Just knowing that a place like Villa del Balbianello exists makes me happy.
But visiting Villa del Balbianello makes me even happier.
Perched on a cliff on the western shore of the southwest leg of Lake Como, Villa del Balbianello can be accessed by boat—an approach that sets the mood of romance right from the start.
My group of travel agents and journalists, on a fam trip sponsored by New Jersey-based Central Holidays, disembarked at the private marina and entered the gates to paradise. Climbing up the steep gravel path, my memory flashed back to the exquisite Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. (Note to Como Tourist Board: Don’t be offended by the comparison. If I had been to Balbianello first, the evaluation could easily be reversed.)
The chapel facade marked by two distinctive bell towers is all that remains of the convent of an order of Capuchin monks.
The present Villa and Loggia were constructed in the late 1700s by Cardinal Durini who wanted a quiet summer place to read books. After the Cardinal died, the property passed through several owners and was abandoned for nearly 40 years around the late 19th and early 20th Century.
Enter American soldier and statesman Butler Ames of Massachusetts who purchased and restored the property. The next owner Guido Monzino was a prominent Milanese businessman and avid explorer (he climbed Mount Everest in 1973.) He converted part of the Villa into a private museum filled with his collection of rare art pieces and souvenirs.
Fortunately for all of us, Monzino willed Villa del Balbianello to FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano, a private not-for-profit organization devoted to preserving Italy’s artistic and natural treasures. That’s how a lucky person like me—or you—can tour the grounds for 6€ (there’s an additional fee to enter the museum). There’s even a convenient public ferry from the town of Como up to the Villa stop (the town of Lenno).
For those with bigger bucks, the Villa is available for booking. Private weddings take place here and movies are made: the Bond film Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones to name two.
If you can’t get to Villa del Balbianello right away, don’t fret. You can visit via this delightful video that was taped in early spring. The plants are bare, just coming out of dormancy, but you get a wonderful perspective on the majesty of the Villa and grounds.
What spot would you nominate for one of the most beautiful in Italy?