Villa Balbianello Monzino
located near Lenno, on the west shore of Lake Como. 

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Built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini at the end of the XVIII century,
the Villa stands on the tip of a steep promontory
overlooking Lake Como, almost opposite Bellagio.

Today, the villa has the appearance desired by its last owner,
the explorer Guido Monzino,
with a rich collection of Chinese, African and pre-Colombian art,
precious English and French furniture of the 1700s
and the small museum with documents and mementoes of his expeditions.

Yet the true masterpiece is the panoramic terraced garden
dominated by the elegant "loggia" with three arches
rising on the highest point of the promontory.

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Church from the Middle Ages

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The oldest structure here is the church.
In the Middle Ages the area of Lenno was characterized by many religious settlements.
Of that period is the church of San Giovanni, with its two bell towers,
now incorporated into Villa del Balbianello.

In 1797 Cardinal Durini bought the neglected and decayed convent and turned it into a de-lux residence. He changed the medieval architecture of the building into Baroque style surrounding it with a beautiful garden.

Originally the church was part of the convent of Cistercian nuns under the rule of the See of Santa Eufemia of Isola Comacina. In the late Middle Ages it became a convent for Franciscan Friars and from 1535 until it was dissolved, for Capuchin Friars. All that remains from that period is the front face of the little church with its two slender bell-towers.

The little church can be reached both from the landing stage and the small harbor. 
From there you walk up winding paths which, at each step,
offer spectacular views of the lake, until you reach the villa and the Loggia.
On the way up you see big plane trees pruned every year into a candelabra shape,
ancient statues and wisteria.  In some parts it was necessary to cut a path out of the rough rock face which is softened, here and there, by clinging ivy. 

The garden is maintained to an exceptionally high standard.

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The setting on the Lavedo point, combined with the romantic arrival
at the water gates landing stage, turn the expedition into an Arcadian delight! 
Remote from lakeside tourism, exquisite Balbianello, set in sylvan woods of pine, soaring cypresses and oak, with pollarded plane trees and manicured lawn and flowerbeds, seems enchanted.

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The walkway uphill from the boat landing at the water gates

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With unparalleled views down the three branches of the lake,
and fronting the promontory of Serbelloni, the first villa was built in 1540,
but was later moved to a new site inland to protect from flooding. 

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The idealized giardino inglese has balustraded terraces with
sweeps of curving beds of roses, azaleas and wisterias along winding paths,
all pruned in graceful curves that follow the rock formations. 

Creeping Fig on the walls

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The Loggia

Cardinal Durini erected a casino with a loggia in 1790, open to the breezes
and today "trellised" with Ficus pumila (Creedping Fig)
and flanked by a library and music room (shown below). 

It was built a little beyond the house and right in
the middle of the headland.

The Loggia is the real architectural innovation of Balbianello,
as it is set parallel to the promontory. Guests could get two different views
of the superb lake scenery at one and the same time:
on one side Tremezzina - the very heart of the lake - and on the other,
the stretch of water towards the islet of Comacina.

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Architectural Notes

Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini already owned several villas at Mirabello near Monza
when he acquired the 17th century Villa Balbiano in the municipality of Ossuccio in 1787.
He then purchased the promontory known as the “Lavedo hump”
and erected a double pavilion composed of a library and music room
set in a large, picturesque park in a dominant position on its tip.

This companion of the principal villa differs from it in many ways, since these were the years when work began on Monza’s Villa Reale, while Vienna’s Belvedere Palace and Schönbrunn Castle provided even earlier models for the architecture of Lombardy. Villa Balbianello is thus a fine illustration of picturesque Neoclassical blending of architecture with the landscape beside Lake Como.

At the death of Cardinal Durinin, the villa became property of the
Porro- Lambertini family and later it passed to the
Arconati - Viscontis, who made some more architectural modifications.

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Tall, perfectly groomed Ilex hollies and pollarded planes
give vertical form and substance to the bones of the design. 
The romantic beauty of the situation leaves a memorable impression! 
The smoothness of the entire design creates great serenity.

Continuation of the Walkway with its baroque statues

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The villa overlooks Pliny's villa "Comedy" now submerged. 
Behind the villa are more gardens.

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Museum of Monzino Expeditions

The last owner, the explorer Guido Monzino,
was the first Italian to climb Everest (in 1973)
and reached the North Pole in 1971.

The library and map room contain Monzino's collections
relating to the Polar regions and mountaineering.

After his famous mountaineering feats and Arctic expeditions,
his last great enterprise was to turn Balbianello into
an international center for the study of explorations.
The meeting rooms were re-furnished with valuable English and French pieces of furniture;
superb collections of Chinese, African and pre-Colombian objects stood
side by side with an invaluable set of prints of Lake Como
and one of the finest collections of paintings on glass in existence.

Balbianello can usually, only be reached by water
(regular boat service from Sala Comancina, Como or Lenno).

The waking approach is open only on the last Sunday of each month, Apri-Oct,
by a sign-posted path of roughly 800 meters, which starts from
the church square in Lenno.
We were able to walk to it. It was quite a trek up hill!


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View from an outdoor café in Lenno, looking south toward the peninsula
where Balbianello stands (left, out of view). We hiked to the villa from here

North of Balbianello

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To the north is a spectacular view of Tremezzina,
the stretch of water between the two headlands of Tremezzo and Bellagio. 
This central part of the lake was one of the favorite holiday haunts of the Milanese aristocracy
and later, between the 19th and 29th century,
of a refined type of tourist for whom a tour of
Italy was "de rigueur."

Some Loose Ends in the History of Balbianello
A couple of oar-strokes away from Balbiano is the enchanting headland of Dosso d'Avedo, where all that was left at the end of the 18th century were the romantic remains of the tiny church. After unsuccessfully trying to purchase Isola Comacina, the Cardinal turned his attention to that wooded promontory, on the edge of which he finally achieved his dream of building a splendid solitary place, where, now and then, he could go to read, study, think and hold discussions on literary subjects and the arts in general with a few lettered friends of his.
The name he gave to this delightful place was Balbianello.

Villa Balbianello is on the extreme tip of a wooded promontory called Dosso di Lavedo, or D'Avedo, which juts out into the water on the west side of Lake Como just before Tremezzo and almost in front of Bellagio. Thanks to its rugged terrain, the peninsula has retained its extraordinary natural features, which emphasize the solitary and romantic nature of the villa and the park, situated on a sheer drop facing the stark mountains of Higher Lombardy and the Engadine Dosso d'Avedo and Balbianello have always been highly regarded for the uniqueness of the landscape, and were very popular, especially during the Romantic period, with artists and engravers who specialized in lake subjects.

Balbianello is a property of FAI, The Italian Environment Foundation,
a trust set up on the model of the National Trust in England.

For information about other FAI properties in Italy
Click here

AMonth on the Lake

Villa Balbianello was the setting for the English film,
A Month on the Lake
starring Vanessa Redgrave and Uma Thurman. 
The film has beautiful photography of the Villa, Lake Como, and the surrounding villages.
Set in the period just before World War II, it gives a good view into the
life of the
Lake Como resort area during its earlier summer heydays.
The movie is  available at and at video rental stores.

New York Times Review of the Film
Click here

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