The romantic villas on lake Como, Italy

For a long time, lake Como, located in Northern Italy, has attracted people with artistic nature, to relax, get inspired and touch the beauty of nature in one of the most romantic places in the world. The legendary historic villas of lake Como are a great opportunity to step back in time and experience the lives of the rich noble families who lived there, the famous novelists who wrote, the composers, artists who painted and the people who fell in love, inspired by the charm of this heavenly Italian corner.

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Villa Carlotta

One of the most charming villas on lake Como, turned into a museum, is Villa Carlotta. It is a magical place where works of nature and works of art live together in perfect harmony. It was built in 1600 on initiative of Giorgio Clerici II, a merchant from Milan. Being President of the Senate of Milan, he set himself the ambitious task of building the most beautiful villa on the lake, making it a symbol of his success. The architect who was entrusted with the task created a simple building with a beautiful Italian garden surrounded by many elements – statues, fountains, staircases and of course flowers.


In 1801 the famous politician, banker and art patron Gianbattista Sommariva bought the villa. He refined the villa to the height of its opulence, adding various works of art. He also turned the garden into a large romantic park. The villa became a temple of 19th century art with works by Canova, Thorvaldsen and Hayes: Eros and Psyche and The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet are just some of the masterpieces that enrich its extraordinary collection. The building and its gardens occupy an area of 70 thousand square meters. Stendhal himself, who visited the place in 1818 was amazed by its beauty and described the villa in his work “The Monastery of Parma”.


At the beginning of the 19th century, Sommariva put the villa for sale. It was then purchased by Princess Marianne of Nassau and her husband Albert, son of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. They gave the villa to their daughter Carlotta as a wedding present to Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. After Carlotta’s untimely death, the villa was named after her and turned into a veritable floral oasis. The garden is most famous for its abundance of rhododendrons and azaleas (over 150 different species), and the bamboo garden, stretching over 3 acres, has combined the basic principles of the Japanese garden with over 25 types of bamboo, waterfalls, streams and stone statues. The Italians rightly call the park “a piece of Paradise”. The villa itself inside is a sort of museum of neoclassical art and design, with lots of marble statues, paintings, furniture and more.

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Villa Balbianello 

Villa Balbianello was built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini at the end of the 18th century. This is perhaps the most recognizable villa on the shores of Lake Como. In addition to scenes from Star Wars: Episode 2, footage from Ocean’s 12 and James Bond: Casino Royale were filmed here. Its beauty is largely due to its terraced gardens. The lack of suitable terrain for construction was pure luck for the creators of the villa – the steep stony slope provoked a project for a romantic garden in a mixed Italian-English style and elegant stone terraces over the water. From the loggia there is a beautiful view of the majestic lake: on the one hand, you can see the area of Tremezzina that opens up to the heart of the lake, and on the other you can gaze at Comacina Island.

Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini left the villa to his nephew, who later sold it to the Arconati family, who, after several generations, turned it into a peaceful summer residence. But as family members began to die, the cottage began to sink into oblivion until American businessman Butler Ames purchased it in 1919. Ames renovated the cottage and garden. In 1974, the Ames heirs sold the villa to the leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest, the Milanese businessman and explorer Guido Moncino, who filled it with rich collections, including artifacts acquired from his expeditions to the North Pole, China and South America.

Guido Moncino died in 1988. Before his death, he requested that his ashes be placed in a small building located on the site overlooking his beloved lake. Moncino left the villa to the National Trust of Italy, which undertook to catalog his collections, maps and books, and then opened the villa as a museum.

Moncino was extremely meticulous about the garden and the view of the lake. All the large flat trees have been trimmed to look like candlesticks and the old oak trees have been shaped like a dome so that the lake can be seen from all the cottage windows. Moncino’s coat of arms featured a snake, which is why some of the vines growing around the building were trimmed to resemble snakes.

Villa Meltzi

The gardens of Villa Melzi extend along the shores of Lake Como and blend harmoniously into the hilly landscape of the Bellagio Peninsula. The architectural complex consists of a villa, a chapel and a greenhouse. This exquisite masterpiece in neoclassical style was realized between 1808. and 1810 by the architect Giacondo Albertoli. Villa Melzi and its beautiful gardens were created for Francesco Melzi d’Erill, Duke of Lodi, Vice-President of the Republic of Italy under Napoleon and then Chancellor. Melzi’s “weakness” to the neoclassical style comes precisely from Napoleonic France. In such an environment, enriched with monuments, artefacts (among them a Venetian gondola transported to the Bellagio, at the express wish of Napoleon, and two precious Egyptian statues), rare exotic plants, hedges of camellias, plantations of azaleas and giant rhododendrons, of a villa, the chapel and the conservatory represent an ensemble in which the neoclassical style reaches one of its highest peaks.

The villa was decorated and furnished by some of the most famous artists of the time, together with Giocondo Albertoli, who was the author of much of the furniture and interior decorations. Besides him, the artists Andrea Appiani and Giuseppe Bossi, the sculptors Antonio Canova and Pompeo Marchesi should be mentioned. Today, the building, which is unfortunately closed to visitors, still houses many fine pieces of furniture in the dining room, the library, and the beautiful ceiling decoration of the Hall of Honor. The facade of the villa is simple, but enriched with a beautiful double staircase, as well as a large semi-circular terrace decorated with statues of Melegro and Apollo, the work of Guillermo della Porta.


You cannot miss the beautiful gardens of the villa designed by the botanist Luigi Villoresi, in collaboration with the architect Luigi Canonica, which were created by the construction of large retaining walls that divide them into several parts, each with its own characteristics and decorated with antique statues . The axis of the garden extends up the slope from the pond to a high point above the cottage. It is crossed by many winding paths. Beneath the trees that line the shore and at the points where the paths cross, Egyptian sculptures and Roman statues are placed, enhancing the romantic atmosphere of the garden. Many exotic trees are planted in the garden. The Japanese water lily pond surrounded by Japanese maple and cedar trees is charming. In April and May you can admire the azaleas and rhododendrons. All this beauty was described by Stendhal in his book “Rome, Naples, Florence” from 1817.


Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero is owned by the province of Lecco. This is one of the most interesting sights in the town of Varena. The villa captivates with its strategic location, its rich history and of course – the wonderful landscape that surrounds it.

DSC04252The name of the villa is associated with the function that the original building performed. From the 13th century to 1567 it was used as a retreat by the Cistercian nuns of St. Mary Magdalene. The monastery was probably founded around 1200, after the destruction of the island of Comacina during the war between Milan and Como. In 1569, when the monastery was dissolved, the building was purchased by the noble Paul Mornico, who transformed it into a private residence. In 1645, Lelio Mornico, son of Paul Mornio, completely changed the old monastery. In the following years, the owners of the villa changed many times. Its present appearance is due to the German industrialist Erich Walter Jakob Keyes.

The villa is currently owned by the National Institute for Scientific Research and has established itself as a scientific and cultural center. Since 2003, the villa has been converted into a house-museum with 14 rooms furnished with original objects and furniture belonging to the former owners. Style and taste characterize this unique jewel that has been shining on Lake Como for four centuries. In the 18th century, prominent Italian and foreign figures from the cultural and artistic scene visited the villa, which was then still inhabited. Particularly interesting is the marble staircase, the “King Farouk” bath, the Rosa and Nera rooms.

DSC04286The beautiful botanical garden is not to be missed! The villa is located in a beautiful park where citrus, cypress, cedar trees grow and stretches for more than a kilometer. Statues and bas-reliefs are located around the paths. The mild climate characteristic of the lake allows numerous botanical species from all over the world to grow here. Species are added every year. In 2013, over 1,000 new species were planted. At any time of the year, visitors can enjoy a real explosion of colors, shapes and aromas.

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Villa Olmo

The extravagant Villa Olmo was built in the 17th century by Marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi. Construction began in 1797 under the direction of Swiss architect Simone Cantoni. During this time the villa hosted such personalities as Napolean Bonaparte in 1797, Hugo Foscolo in 1808, the Emperors of Austria; Franz II in 1816 and Ferdinand I in 1838.

In 1824 the villa became the property of the Raimondi family, and in 1883 it was sold to Duke Guido Visconti of Vimodrone, who hired the architect Emilio Alemannia to restore it. The stables and the portico were destroyed, and a small theater was built inside the villa. In 1924, the villa became the property of the city and was used for art exhibitions.

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As we left Lake Como, I understood the emotional feeling one gets after visiting its tranquil shores, with its dramatic hills dotted with Romanesque churches, and as Franz Liszt once wrote: “I know no region more clearly blessed than heaven . In the midst of this friendly nature a man can breathe freely, the harmony of his relations is not disturbed by gigantic proportions, and he can love and enjoy himself, for he seems to do nothing but take his share of the universal happiness. “

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