British Residents’ Association of Switzerland

Visit to Villa del Balbianello

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With the perfect weather, the arrival by boat which goes back and forth every 15-20 minutes for visitors to the Villa, set the mood for this day. Romantic Lake Como, fascinating collections in a villa left intact by the previous owner to the FAI, and lovingly maintained by them, followed by lunch outside further along the lake, all the ingredients for a great day out. 
Penny Osti

It’s October, like Keats, we „think that warm days will never cease „.  We drove to Italy and descended to the western shore of Lake Como,  it’s  waters bathed in sunlight.  At Lenno we boarded a motorboat  for the short ride south towards Punta di l’avedo a peninsula jutting out into the Lake.  To approach this massive rocky promontory  from below in a boat was  impressive.  The Villa del Balbianello,  red roofed and sunwashed,  rising up the hillside in a patchwork of green, the building outlines clearly defined against the backdrop of a blue sky and the darker blue of the water below and mountain peaks beyond was the stuff of dreams.   One can easily get lost in the romance of it all,  we momentarily shared an emotion in common with previous  generations of people who also were enraptured when they first caste eyes upon the location and began to dream.

Like stepping into a 19th century landscape painting,  we disembarked excited with anticipation. To arrive at the entrance to the Villa you climb a winding path through beautiful  mediterranean flora under tall canopied plane trees to a viewing point surrounded on two sides by stone sculpted balastrades supporting ornate urns filled with blooming geraniums.  Turning from the views of the lake, the visitor is faced with the facade of a church with two towers. This is the only remaining part of the original building on the promontory,which was later converted into the Villa’s kitchens.  For life began for the Villa, as a Convent for Frairs.  In 1781 a well travelled retired Cardinal, Durini of a Lombardian aristocratic family, bought the land and began to build.  He is remembered for he laid out the gardens and had designed  the most striking Loggia. It stands at the highest point in the gardens above the Villa. It is breath taking, because it has a central columned portico which allows an individual to view both the warm sheltered southern side of the garden, across the lake to the Island of Comacina. While, almost simultaneously  allowing  them to take in the panorama to the north across the Tremezzina Bay towards the picturesque town of Bellagio and the Alps from where the cooler winds blow. The walls are latticed with living fig vines trimmed artistically down the years. Pristine ivy is pruned into garlands  and topiary of bushes,  hedges and trees, an oak and camphor tree giving shade,  are shaped like huge umbrellas. Our guide took us from the Loggia with it’s map room and music room once joined to the Villa by a secret passage, to explore the interior of the Villa itself. Balbianello remained the Summer residence of interesting  political aristocratic Italian families in 1800s only after WWI was an American Butler Ames, finally able to buy it. He had fallen in love with it in 1904 although neglected, it still held this romantic fascination. Our guided tour was intimate being no more than 10 persons being shown around at any one time. This is because the FAI (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano) The Italian National Trust has lovingly restored and maintains the Villa/Museum and gardens with a deep respect due to the wishes of the last owner Guido Monzino. In his bequest to FAI, he left a fund for this purpose. He died in 1988 at the age of 60 of hereditary heart disease he was a chain smoker. He is buried in the garden. His wealth came from a family owned Italian supermarket chain called Standa, but his personal accomplishments were many as he had been a World Explorer. He bought Balbianello in 1974 and had it modernised and refurbished to retire there. Now it is home to his eclectic Art Collection, which is sumptuous, mainly rare sculptures from ancient world civilisations. The attic is devoted to the travel memorabila of his 21 expeditions.  Inuit sculptures and artifacts from his journey to the North Pole in 1971 and his climbing Mount Everest in 1973. The rooms on 7 floors, are richly furnished with oldfashioned styles to fit the ornaments on display.  He istalled modern comforts such as a lift.  Paintings on glass hang in most rooms, part of a unique collection.  Opulence, yet the real luxury beckoned, drew you to every window, the beautiful vistas .  So with our senses o’er-brimmed, we retraced our steps for a lunch al fresco at the restaurant Belle Isole in Griante across the lake from Bellagio.  Romantic Lake Como.

Jennifer Pappert-Hall