Villa del Balbianello

Lenno, Italy

A Franciscan monastery had existed on the tip of the peninsula of Dosso d'Avedo since the 13th century. The two towers which remain on the property are the campanili of the monastery's church. After failing in his attempts to buy the nearby Isola Comacina Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini purchased the property in 1785. In 1787 he converted the monastery building into a villa for use during the summer and added a loggia, which allowed viewers to otain two different panoramas of the lake.

After the cardinal’s death in 1796, the villa passed to his nephew, Luigi Porro Lambertenghi. During Lambertenghi's ownership the villa became a seat of republican activity and members of the Carbonari met here to discuss the unification of Italy. Among Lambertenghi's guests at the villa were the writer and patriot Silvio Pellico, who tutored Lambertenghi's sons. In 1820 Pellico was arrested at the villa by the Austrian government which forced Lambertenghi to move to Belgium, where he was supported by the Arconati Visconti family.

Lambertenghi subsequently sold the villa to his friend, Giuseppe Arconati Visconti, grandfather of Luchino Visconti. Visconti made improvements to its gardens and the loggia. To this day the balustrade in front of the church bears the Visconti emblem of a serpent with a man in its mouth. During the period of Visconti ownership the villa hosted politicians and writers Giovanni Berchet, Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Giusti, as well as the artist Arnold Böcklin. The gradual decline of the family resulted in a lack of interest in the villa, which for more than 30 years was left to fall into a state of neglect.

Just prior to the commencement of World War I American businessman Butler Ames saw the villa for the first time. He made an offer to purchase it from the Arconati Visconti family and was initially rejected. He kept returning with ever larger cash offers until in 1919 he was successful in obtaining ownership. Ames renovated the villa and its garden.

In 1974, Ames's heirs sold the villa to businessman and explorer Count Guido Monzino (leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. While Monzino left the exterior essentially unchanged he had the interior of the villa completely re-decorated, installing artifacts acquired on his expeditions as well as important pieces of English Georgian and French antique furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries, Beauvais tapestries, French boiseries and Oriental carpets. In addition after the assassination of Aldo Moro in 1978 by the Red Brigade. Monzino worried that he may be on their list, added a system of hidden passages, linking parts of the property.

Monzino died in 1988 and left the villa along with most of the Dosso d'Avedo and an endowment to pay for maintenance, to the Fondo per l'Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust of Italy. Its grounds now form part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.

Today the Villa del Balbianello is the most visited among the 52 FAI properties with over 90,000 visitors in 2015.

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Address

Via Comoedia 5, Lenno, Italy
See all sites in Lenno

Details

Founded: 1787
Category: Palaces, manors and town halls in Italy

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

T Young (17 months ago)
A very pretty garden. Didn't go into the villa. Gardens alone were 10 euro. Villa + garden 20 euros but we never felt like we wanted to go inside the villas. Quite a walk from the gate to the actual villa. 20 mins with some uphill. Closes 6pm so make sure you go with at least an hour to spend there.
Sawo Lav (19 months ago)
Impressing Villa and one man’s life story. Guided tour was so involving and informative, I really want to go back. Keep in mind, you have to walk up the hill to the villa. Views and the garden are absolutely stunning!
Wilson Chew (20 months ago)
Wonderfully beautiful setting, and a very interesting history. I would recommend taking a guided tour with the guides, who are excellently trained and know a lot about the history of the villa.
Oliver Barber (2 years ago)
Most beautiful house I've ever seen. Only getting 4 stars because it was €36 for 3 adults and a 7 year old with half the house closed!! Italy, yet again doesn't quite deliver on the "value" front - state owned property...
Frankie Lau (2 years ago)
My wife and I held a wedding here on 23 Sep 2018. It was marvellous. All of our guests loved the wedding. The villa was very, very, very beautiful (sorry for my lack of vocabulary to describe its beauty). Elegant yet natural. One thing we noticed as bride and groom was that the vendor list required by the villa was carefully made so that all vendors were very smooth on the wedding day and exceeded our expectation. We had one of the best moments of our lives at this villa.
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