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

4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Elna Jelstrup (13 months ago)
One of the prettiest places ever. Every direction was perfect. The trees and landscape are beautifully maintained with views of the lake and mountains in every aspect. Mountains recently snow covered to add even more drama. Been searching for such a place to visit.
Ameerah Aydi (14 months ago)
Nice place with many great collections and stories, i just thought there would be more to do. The guide was nice and very clear. The way up to the house was a struggle, you have to be really fit to get there easily, otherwise you would be out of breath and really tired trying to reach the house. There is a nearby water taxi to take you right at the house in about 5 minutes for 7 euro one way. Highly recommended to preserve time and effort, it takes off every 20 minutes i guess.
Natalia M (14 months ago)
Very nice place with beautiful location, about 40 min drive from Como. Limited parking space. If you want to walk from parking space, take into consideration, its quite uphill and not very much for elderly people. You might consider a boat instead. All property is on the hill, but the gardens are not so difficult as walking through the park. Gardens are beautiful, well maintained, view amazing. We were lucky with the weather. We had also 45 min guided tour of the villa, but personally i did not like it and would skip it. The stroll in the town is nice and offers lots of food possibilities. Nice ice cream shop.
S M (15 months ago)
Beautiful villa full of history and stories. A must-do. Gardens and their views are just gorgeous. The villa can also be enjoyed from the lake. Recommend the tour of the villa. Note 20min walk from the ferry stop in Lenno
Tokilla Finch (15 months ago)
Great view over the lake, from both sides of the estate. The gardens are nice although not that big. The guided tour is interesting but as usual you cannot take your time and enjoy everything as if the tour wasn't guided. Overall, very expensive and my rating reflects the value for money rather than the absolute value
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