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


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


4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

HELEN CLEMENTS (2 months ago)
What a wonderful place to visit. This villa and it’s beautiful garden are one of the most beautiful places I have visited. The tour guides are lovely, so informative about the owner, the contents and their admiration for the man who owned it. Totally fascinating story of this explorers life and his residence. Many films have had scenes taken on this Island including scenes from Casino Royal and Star Wars. Well worth a trip to see the gardens with its views across the bays from every outlook.
Vinh Vinh (2 months ago)
One of my highlights during our stay at lake Como. The house, together with the garden and the view, crafted a picturesque scene that is well-deserved after a 1-km hike to the villa. I definitely recommend buying the ticket for inside the house too, not just for the garden. Beautiful and most exotic collections of the famed explorer Guido Monzino awaits you inside.
Charlie Lewer (3 months ago)
Amazing villa to visit which was one of our highlights during our stay in Lake Como. Be prepared for a 20 minute walk uphill or alternatively you can get a boat to take you around to the other entrance. Highly recommend attending early so it is quiet for you to walk around the gardens. Also the guided tour of the interior was really good and insightful, highly recommend doing that as well.
Mark LoGiurato (3 months ago)
Beautiful experience visiting the well taken care of gardens. If you walk from town be prepared to hike up hill in many spots and remember to bring water. I recommend taking the boat over for older folks. There is a book shop on site that sells water. Get tickets in advance to the gardens as it can get busy.
Roman Nagibin (4 months ago)
This is the most amazing place on the lake Como we have seen. Gorgeous garden and very interesting history of the villa creates a unique experience for any visitor. Everything is in pristine condition and the view from any point of the villa is breathtaking. It's not very easy to get there, but it's definitely worth your time/money.
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