the pearl of northern Italy
Discover the villas
Lake Como is a little jewel-like oasis just outside Milan. Its crystal blue waters, surrounding nature and luxurious villas have rendered this must-see destination in Northern Italy a popular resort since the days of the Roman Empire.
Today, most of the towns around the Lake Como shore are explored by tourists due the perfect mix of history and traditions. Next to century old buildings, picturesque alleys full of shops and antique Romanesque churches, do the villages provide a lot of sports facilities – the perfect destination for a relaxing or active holiday.
Villa Carlotta, in Tremezzo, has a rich story reflected by its botanic garden and important endless masterpieces of art that can be found inside the building and in its surrounding garden. The Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici built this charming property during the XVII century.
He chose a natural valley between the mountain and the lake, allowing for stunning panoramic views facing Bellagio. The architect in charge projected a majestic but classic villa surrounded by an Italian garden bejeweled with sculptures, stairways and fountains.
The art orientated Gian Battista Sommariva, famous politician and businessman, bought the villa in 1801 and rendered the it one of the most fundamental art retreats with works of Canova, Thorvaldsen and Hayez: Palamedes, Eros and Psyche, Terpsychore, The last kiss of Romeo and Juliet are only some of the masterpieces that enriches the extraordinary collection. In 1843 Sommariva sold the villa to Princess Marianne of Nassau who handed it over to her daughter Carlotta as a wedding gift – hence the villa was named after her.
George II of Saxen-Meiningen, husband of Carlotta, enriched the garden, driven by its passion, with botanical and romantic elements rendering it one of the most valuable gardens in Europe found today – it is known to have over 150 different sorts of flowers and many beautiful plants. The unique garden, mesmerizing views and exclusive art pieces rendered this palace famous until today and known as “a place of heaven”.
Bellagio, the so called “pearl” of Lake Como, is a village that manages to seduce everyone who travels there. Its romantic charm and incredible beauty, characterized by century old buildings and picturesque stairways filled with selected shops,
make it stand out within the Lake Como area. No wonder that the village is populated with world class hotels and restaurants that make Bellagio the perfect place to enjoy the lake’s breathtaking panoramas and glamour.
The historic walk tours allow you to get an insight the past and the fresh flavors of “gelato” or fine aromas of the “cafè” give that little extra, you can only find in Italy, to the day. Bellagio is the perfect place to relax body and soul while savor lake activities and the magnificent backdrop of the lake and its villas. Especially the villas are often admired by the tourists with their stunning gardens and architecture like, Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni, which are open to the public.
In fact, Bellagio was often used as a filming location of important movies including “Rocco and his brothers” (1960) produced by Luchino Visconti, a famous Italian register, or “Haunted Summer”(1988), by Ivan Passer , as well as “Frankenstein Unbound” (1990), directed by Roger, both important american film makers.
Beside is charming characteristics is Bellagio linked to some interesting facts:
- At Bellagio’s wharf you can find the last two Iariane gondolas calles “Rosina” & “Giulia”
- The moto house “Guzzi” has a type of motorbike that is called Bellagio
- It was the number one inspiration of the famous hotel “Bellagio” in Las Vegas
- In Hong Kong is a residential sky scraper called Bellagio
- Los Angeles has devoted a few things to Bellagio including Bellagio Road, Bellagio Way and Bellagio Terrace
Villa Erba is one of the most important Villas found on Italian lake areas. It was bought by Luigi Erba, from the Peluso family, owners of the famous Villa d’Este, to underline his wealth.
His brother, Carlo Erba, was the founder of the first pharmaceutical company in Italy. The restauration project of the Villa was conducted by two crucial architects: Angelo Savoldi e Giambattista Borsani.
Carla Erba, who married the duke Giuseppe Visconti in Cernobbio, inherited the Villa, located in Cernobbio on the lake shore, after her father’s death and was inhabited by her and her family including her son Luchino Visconti. In 1986 a public consortium bought the Villa to use it for exhibitions and congresses.
Luchino Visconti is considered one of the most important Italian film registers, due to his talent as a film and theater director and for his screenplays.
He began his filmmaking career as an assistant director on Jean Renoir's Toni and Partie de campagne, thanks to the intercession of their common friend, Coco Chanel. In fact, does the villa host an exhibition dedicated to the outstanding talent relationship with the villa, were he spent most of his summers there.
Did you know that the Villa had several significant appearances in the international cinema and pop music scene? In 2004, the villa was used as a primary location for the shooting of Ocean’s Twelve, whereas in 2005, the music video of Gwen Stefanie’s song “Cool” was registered on the villa’s grounds. Also was one of the last shows of Anastasia’s Live Tour hosted in the mansion’s garden.
A lakeshore story: John Legend
You might be asking yourself, what does John Legend has to do with Lake Como. Well, the answer is: Love – Chrissy Teigen. John and Chrissy (a model with Asian roots) met, thanks to a mutual friend,
on the cast of the video shoot for the song “Stereo” in 2006. The cast worked so well that the two started dating and 7 years and one day later on September 14th 2013, they wed on the banks of Lake Como at Villa Pizzo.
Villa Pizzo is located in Cernobbio and was built in 1435 by Giovanni Muggiasca merchant of Como. Over the years the Villa has changed several owner was subject to important modification of the garden’s and building’s layout, adding details like fountains, statues, paths and important stairways to it. Especially by Viceroy Ranieri of Hasburg who dedicated ho time to embellish the park passionately. In fact the various areas of the buildings are richly decorated with roses and trees.
John has proposed to her 2 years before the big day but they had difficulties working out a location that would reflect the rustic-chic, elegant but not too posh looking venue they had in their minds. Until one day the answer flashed their minds: celebrating their big day in the place they fell in love – Lake Como. One of their first holidays they spent together was at this “beautiful pearl” of Northern Italy.
They chose to stay at Villa d’Este while having the ceremony at Villa Pizzo. On top off the wedding, John, prepared a little surprise for the bride singing “all of me” (the legendary song John dedicated to his fiance) as a serenade during the big event. Actually the video to the song was shot only a few days before the celebration, featuring his wife, in a prestigious villa on Lecco’s (small village at Lake Como) shores. It shows intimate moments of the couple, ending with footage of their actual wedding day at Villa Pizzo. The video was meant to bring the relationship full circle, as John asked Elderkin, their mutual friend that introduced him to Chrissy, to direct the shoot.
In the 19th century, the duke of Lodi and Vice President of the Italian Republic, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, also close friend to Napoleon, decided to construct a paradisiac summer residence at Bellagio.
He purposely chose to build his villa in a location with breathtaking views and a mild climate to enjoy Lake Como to its fullest and escape the summer heat of Milan.
The task was delegated to the architect Giocondo Albertolli who also constructed his Palace in Milan. The duke was keen to have his summer villa in the neo-classical style reflecting the elegance of the surrounding villas and Villa Reale and Monza. However its garden was entrusted to Luigi Canonica and Luigi Villoresi who designed the Monza Park.
The great appeal of the mansion is it surrounding garden. It is crossed by many winding paths, that are bejeweled with Egyptians sculptures and Roman statues which contribute to the magical atmosphere of it.
Due to fashion of the period a lot of exotic plants were seeded, including beautiful a pond full of Japanese lilies, alternate with others that are centuries old.
During April and May tourist can admire the fascinating blooming of the azaleas and rhododendrons and be delighted by the charming views of Lake Como. Actually these grounds took an important role of Liszt’s (the musician) career as they are known to be the number one inspiration of his “Dante Sonata”, which is symbolized by the monument of Dante & Beatrice.
Today the villa is set up as a museum attracting a lot of visitors due to its incredible vegetation and the relics and prints of the First Italian Republic that can be found in the inner spaces. The present owner is Count Gallarati Scotti.
The story of Villa Serbelloni states back to the 15th century, when it was built for Marchesino Stanga. In 1566 the Sfondrati family acquired the majestic building and passed it on to Duke Alessandro Serbelloni in the late 18th century, who dedicated his body and soul to restoring the villa to the smallest detail,
creating a paradisiac surrounding parkland and careful decorated rooms. The villa has seen a lot of important individuals like Leonardo da Vinici, Emperor Maximillian I, Silvio Pellico, Queen Victoria, Manzoni and Parini, who spent long periods of time here as a tutor to the Duke’s sons.
After the Duke’s and his children death the building fell into disuse until 1870 when Antonio Mella rented it to open the Great Britain Hotel, which was then acquired by a Swiss company who turned it into Albergo Serbelloni.
In 1963 J. F. Kennedy stayed at the Grandhotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio. He was enchanted by the flight over the Lake of Como and by the breathtaking panorama that he said: “It is the most beautiful lake of the world”.
The hotel was taken over by Princess Ella Walker who donated it to the Rockefeller foundation. In fact today the villa is used as a scholar center of the Rockefeller foundation, hosting artist and scientist from all over the world. The charming grounds are open to the public that allow visitors to admire a large variety of plants, unique views over the Lake Como area.
Villa Oleandra is a fabulous 18th-century Villa and the most curious building you can find at Lake Como. Its story begins back in 1877 when a rich Milanese Hebrew family - Vitali - bought the palace. The famous Emilio Vitlai (an important portraitist of the 30th in Milan) spent his summers in the beloved “Oleandra” palace.
Later on the property was acquired by the Heinz family (ketchup), who used it for popular but private literature assembles known as the “Como Conversation”. During these get together themes like literature, travel and comedy where discussed in depth and summarized for the public by a few small magazines.
In 2001 George Clooney secured himself this fascinating mansion the Heinz Ketchup family estate and became one of the main attractions in the area. It is divided into 25 rooms and is located right at the lake in Laglio, a tiny hamlet few kilometers from the Swiss border. In order to be able to accommodate friends and family and a part of his admired motorcycles he purchased also two adjoining properties.
The entrance of George Clooney had a great influence not only on the surrounding area but also on the actor’s life, who in an press interview sates: "What changed my life in a very pleasant and unexpected way was buying the villa in Laglio. The idea started off as a pure investment decision. I thought maybe I would spend a few weeks vacationing there. But then I realized how beautiful life was in Italy and how it really helped calm me and not feel so pressured.”
This is one of the few Villa’s that can be considered a movie star on its own. Originally it was built in 1787 by a Cardinal. In fact the two original towers of the building are the left overs of the Franciscan monastery it once was. After the death of the Cardinal a Visconti bought the Villa making important changes to the building and its garden.
The beautiful mansion is located in Lenno a little village a few kms from Como, right at the edge of the water Lake Como on a small peninsula facing the blue waters and enchanting mountains of the surrounding nature. Beside the characteristic towers, is it well known for its beautiful gardens and elaborated terrace.
After a long period of abandonment the Villa was bought by and American business man who renovated it including its charming garden. Around 1974, Guido Monzino, a famous explorer, who led the first Italian excursion to climb the Mount Everest, acquired the mansion and filled it with artwork he collected during his many expeditions. When he died in 1988, he donated his home to FAI (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano) the National Turst Organization of Italy. Today the Villa is a little Museum, managed by FAI, allowing tourists to explore the beauty of this unique building.
Over the years the Villa became a famous “movie star” with several appearances in important films like A Month by the Lake (1995), Casino Royale (2006) and in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002), where it was used for the lake retreats.
A lakeshore story: Winston Churchill
In 1945, shortly after the World Water II, Winston Churchill, who just lost his elections as prime minister, decides to go on a holiday. He went to Lake Como, precisely Moltrasio, where he was hosted from a friend at Villa “Le Rose”.
Moltrasio is a small village on the Lake Como’s lake shore only near Como and the Villa. As the name of the Villa suggest, it was bejeweled with a large variety of flowers and floral decorations. In fact Churchill was overwhelmed by its beauty.
While staying there with his doctor and daughter he spent days strolling around the garden or sitting at the lakeshore painting the surrounding lake and valleys, letting him forget his post war depression. For him it was a place of complete peace, untouched by the violence of War.
One day he even let loose and went to the lake on a horse in his daily dressing gown to take a long and relaxing bath. The only problem was that it took him some time and two helpers to get him out again.
Rumors say that Churchill’s visit to Lake Como was not for holiday reason but destroy secret letters and documents in which he tried to convince Mussolini to make a separate peace with the Allies, subverting the Allies’ stated demand for an unconditional surrender of all the Axis countries.
However whatever the “true” reason for Churchill’s trip to the idyllic Lake Como was, he found a retreat that had no signs of the brutal war that had broken Europe.
Villa Fontanelle was built in the 19th century by Lord Charles Currie (a visiting Englishman) who during his travels fell in love with the shores of Lake Como. He had difficulties finding a mansion that was on sale so decided to create his own right on the edge of the blue waters.
In 1977 in the famous Italian designer Gianni Versace rescued the Villa from abandonment and restored it completely maintaining its former neoclassical glory. The project involved also its stunning gardens, including three cottages, a tennis court and a private waterfront.
At completion of the work it quickly became a hot spot for many friends of Gianni Versace, who rendered the building like a mini-palace with all its luxurious items including hundreds of oil paintings and other artworks. Celebrities, such as Sir Elton John, Sting, Diana, Princess of Wales and Madonna, regularly visited the Italian designer.
After Gianni Versace death, in 1997, the property became an empty building that was visited only by the American singer Jennifer Lopez and her husband Chris Judd for their honeymoon in 2001.
In 2008, the Villa came back to life, when it was bought for 33 million by a Russian millionaire Arkady Novikov, who won a money battle against David & Victoria Backham who were keen on obtaining the villa for holiday purposes.