Villa del Balbianello is a grand villa with splendid terraced gardens overlooking Lake Como in Tremezzina. The villa is located at the tip of a small peninsula named Dosso d’Avedo on the western shore of Lake Como’s southwestern branch. It’s garden is included among the Grandi Giardini Italiani, a list of some of the most illustrious gardens in Italy and Malta.
Villa del Balbianello is open to the public and data from 2015 show that it received over 90,000 visitors that year, making it the most visited of all the 50+ properties maintained by the National Trust of Italy (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano).
When the villa’s last private owner, the businessman and explorer Count Guido Monzino, died in 1988 he left the villa and most of the Dosso d’Avedo peninsula to Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano, together with an endowment to pay for maintenance. In 2016, the fund commenced a €400,000+ improvement project for the villa, including the jetty.
Villa del Balbianello or its surroundings have appeared in many different movies, such as:
- A Month by the Lake (1995)
- Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Casino Royale (2006)
Where in Italy is the villa?
Villa del Balbianello is located in Lenno, which in turn is a part of the comune Tremezzina in the Province of Como in Lombardy.
Lennos is situated roughly 60 km north of Milan and about 20 km northeast of the city of Como.
Lenno used to be its own comune, but in 2014 it merged with Mezzegra, Ossuccio and Tremezzo to form the comune Tremezzina.
History of the Villa del Balbianello
Before the villa
Before the villa, the tip of the peninsula Dosso d’Avedo was the site of a 13th century Franciscan monastery.
The remnants of two bell towers (campanili) from the monastery church are still present on the property today.
Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini
In the 18th century, Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini tried to purchase Isola Comacina, a small island in Lake Como. When this proved impossible, he instead purchased the nearby monastery and its land on the Dosso d’Avedo peninsula.
The purchase went through in 1785, and in 1787 the cardinal converted the monastery building into a private summer villa. Among other things, he added a loggia that opened up to two different Lake Como panoramas.
Luigi Porro Lambertenghi
After the death of his uncle Angelo Maria Durini in 1796, Luigi Porro Lambertenghi inherited the villa. With Lambertenghi at the helm, the villa became an important gathering spot for republicans, and for members of the Carbonari working for the unification of Italy.
In 1820, the writer Silvio Pellico was arrested at the villa by the Austrian government. Pellico had been a tutor for Lambertenghi’s sons, and the arrest prompted Lambertenghi to flee to Belgium where he received support from the Arconati Visconti family. Eventually, Lambertenghi sold the villa to Giuseppe Arconati Visconti.
The Arconati Visconti family made various changes to the villa, including the loggia and the gardens. When visiting the villa today, you can still see the Visconti emblem (a man in the mouth of a serpent) displayed proudly on the balustrade in front of the church.
Many notable artists and writers stayed at the villa with the Arconati Visconti family for shorter or longer periods, including Arnold Böckling, Giovanni Berchet and Alessandro Manzoni.
As the Arconati Visconti family gradually lost their power and financial standing towards the end of the 19th century, Villa del Balbianello was left to decay for more than three decades. Right before the outbreak of World War I, the businessman Butler Ames from the United States too a liking to the villa and offered to purchase it, but the Arconati Visconti family refused. Ames kept sending them increasingly big offers, until one of these offers was finally accepted after the end of the war.
Butler Ames purchased Villa del Balbianello in 1919, providing both the building and the gardens with much needed renovations. After his death in 1954 his family kept the villa for another 20 years, before selling it to businessman and explorer Count Guido Monzino.
Count Guido Monzino
The count didn’t change the exterior of the villa much, but he did redecorate the interior and filled the villa with numerous artefacts from this expeditions around the world. A lot of the furniture that he decorated Villa del Balbianello with wasn’t contemporary 20th century pieces; instead he favoured antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries – especially from England and France. Count Monzino also installed French-style panelling (boiseries) and tapestries on the walls, and adorned the floors with Oriental carpets.
In the late 1970s, the left-wing Italian-based terrorist organisation Brigate Rosse achieved notoriety by carrying out a number of high-profile kidnappings, assassination and robberies. After their assassination of Italian politician Aldo Moro in 1978, Count Monzino feared that he might be on their list of targets, and this prompted him to increase security at his villa. Among other things, he added a system of hidden passages linking various parts of the property together.