The famous Villa Carlotta occupies one of the most gorgeous settings facing the Lago di Como in the village of picturesque village of Tremezzo. The Villa is named for the daughter of Princess Marianne of Prussia who purchased it in 1856 as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta and son-in-law, Prince George of Sax-Meiningen. The new couple were thoughtful owners & expanded the original gardens, and paid particular attention to the planting of a more exotic variety of plants, flowering trees, and even palms and eucalyptus. The gardens are particularly spectacular in early spring when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom. Too bad for us, we were a full month early to see any of this from the lake.
In 1915, the Italian government seized the villa and from that point on the villa was deemed state property and became a public museum devoted to neoclassical art including both paintings and sculpture. Two of its most famous works are "Love and Psyche" by Canova and "Mars and Venus" by Acquisti.
Viewing the Villa Carlotta from Lago di Como gave me a good opportunity for taking pictures of its imposing edifice as a whole, but wasn't close enough to see the outstanding detail of the exquisite rod iron gates. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) The golden "C" topped by a crown in the middle of the gate is not a reference to Carlotta, but to "Clerici", the family who the Villa was originally built for. On the highest level of the Villa, notice the enormous door and balcony, and just above it the grand clock. Most pictures make it appear that the Villa is white, but when I saw it, it seemed to be a beautiful pale shade of pink or mauve.
The Villa is open from April through September daily from 9 am to 6pm; the shoulder months of March and October brings reduced hours: 9 - 11:30am and 2 - 4:30pm.
If arriving by lake, follow the lakeside promenade north where the statues line the lakefront and you will see the exquisite scrolling rod-iron gate.
The stately and unmistakable Villa Balbianello occupies the end of the Lovedo peninsula at Lenno. Like other villas, it has been the property of many owners but its most well known name is derived from old owners, the Balbiano's. It is also known, though to a lesser extent, as "Villa Arconati" which is the name of another owner.
The building which dates to about 1787, sits on a rocky outcrop on the lake, and is distinguishable by the gnarly trees -- they were bare when the accompanying photo was taken which I thought made it even more memorable. The twin bell towers attached to the little church and convent also make this villa very distinquishable I think. Inside the villa there is a collection of vintage prints, furnishings, tapestries and objects collected by the last individual owner, Count Guido Monzino, who collected voraciously during his explorations and travel. who bequeathed the property to the Italian National Trust in 1988.
There is some conflicting information as to whether the interior of the villa is open to tours. However, the gardens are open for tours from mid-March to the end of October. It is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays but please call for more exact information and details.
Varenna is another lovely colourful town on the Como lake, just opposite of Bellagio, on the Lecco's side of the lake. It is a very picturesque town, with various coloured buildings, lovely promenade, little coves and secret places to escape from the crowd, many lovely cafes and restaurants...
Above is the beautiful castle, Castello di Vezio, and nearby there is a famous Fiumelatte (Milk River), one of the shortest rivers in the world, just barely over 200m.
If you have the time, don't miss driving up under the mountain grigna, you can arrive by car till 1500m (Varenna is at cca. 200m), and the view along the way is BREATHTAKING! There are many viewpoints to stop and amdire the landscape.
Up there it's much colder, and in autumn, winter and spring, usually snowy, it starts snowing very early.
Lecco is another beautiful town easily reachabke from Bellagio, either by ferry or car. There is also a bus but I wouldn't recommend that, it's long and a hassle. Lecco is the biggest town in the area, together with Como. it numbers more than 50.000 souls and it's an economical and cultural center as well. The lakeside and the center as especially beautiful, and the hiking in the mountains behind unforgettably thrilling! Check out my Lecco page for more!
Menaggio, another magical name you hear in the lore of Lago di Como! Situated almost directly opposite or due west of Varenna, the waterfront promenade of Menaggio resembles the Mediterranean more so than what you think of as northern Italy. The beautiful waterfront promenade is graced by scrolled ironwork and lamplights, swaying palms and a profusion of flowers in summer and spring. Piazza Garibaldi spills down to the waterfront, and the little marina there abounds in fishing and sailing boats. As with other little villages surrounding the lake, all avenues seem to lead uphill.
Both of the professors I work for have travelled twice to Menaggio for conferences at the remarkable Villa Mylus Vigoni which is perched on the green slopes of Menaggio. The Villa, its art collections, gardens and museum were bequeathed to the German Federal Republic by its last owner, and is now the setting (like the Villa Serbelloni) for high level conferences, etc. Guided tours are given.
The only building I had time to go in was the Church of Santa Maria, also called the "Church of the Crucifixes", just off the piazza on a narrow, pedestrian street. Small with a beautiful rosetta window, the church was cozy and there was a slight perfume of incense in the air. I looked for any written information about the church but there was none to be found. I later found that a plaque embedded in the outside wall that I had been looking at was a memorial tablet of Lucio Minicio Esorato, a Roman thought to be the founder of the village.
Since I was not able to get a personal photograph from a higher elevation, I thought the opening photo which is a postcard I purchased there would give readers a better idea of what Mennagio looks like on the whole.
During our boat tour of Lago di Como, the tour guide/boat pilot told us that the estate in the accompanying picture once belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor of England's royal family. The Duke actually was to be coronated King Edward VIII of England but gave up the throne in 1938 to marry a commoner, Wallis Warfield Simpson (an American divorcee).
As hard as I tried, I have not been able to find any additional information about the estate such as any current names given to the property, the years that the Duke & Duchess owned the property, etc. If someone has information about this place, please drop me a note.
As you can see, although it does not appear to be built in the same fashion as other historic villas on the lake, the grounds and landscaping are simply gorgeous. I particularly love the Italian cypress trees.
At first glance I was unsure of exactly what these structures were as I had never seen anything similar. I guess I should have known that these were cemetery crypts as explained by our waterborne tour guide. The Italians have adapted to the lack of flat land around the lake, and have constructed terraces, where possible, for uses such as this. You can see that each crypt or section is architecturally personalized, and seems unique. I'm not sure I'd like to visit my loved ones interred in such a cemetery, but a lakefront resting place is certainly something special.
Sorry to say that if our tour guide told us anything about this "villa" I don't recall it. I just remember thinking that it was a beautiful example of Italian architecture and the gardens and lakeside "gazebo" were so pleasing to the eye, I could imagine it as the setting for characters in a historical period novel! For my personal tastes, this was the most beautiful villa on Lago di Como. This magical-looking place was in the town of Varenna. I wonder what life is like here, I wonder who lives here, I wonder, I wonder..........!
Loppia is a very small fishermans hamlet on the western side of the Bellagio peninsula. Only about 10 minutes walk from Bellagio town centre, there's not too much there apart from the Hotel Silvio where we stayed, a tabacconist/bar and a nice looking restaurant.
A couple of miles up the train track from Varenna is Bellano, which we visited to see L'Orrido (Gorge). I was a bit disappointed, gorge was deep, but not very long and not much water flowing, but maybe there hadn't been too much rain recently... still, it only cost a couple of Euros. Open from 10am till 11pm in the summer (till 7pm in winter)
If you have an extra day in Bellagio grab a sandwich and comfortable shoes and head across the lake to Cadenabbia. The village doesn't look much as you come across the water, though the gardens of Adenauer's Villa la Collina are pretty (and if you ever get the chance to stay there take it, as we did). But persevere, turn right along the lake front as you get off the boat and then take the road that winds up the hill. If you are feeling fit you can take the stops that go up beside the Anglican Church - the oldest in Italy - and follow them up to the ancient village of Griante. The dangers of life in medieval Italy are exemplilfied in the thick walls of the houses and the defensibility of every one of them. Look our for the Via San Martino and follow the pilgrim way up the hill. Unless you are fit allow lots of time. The locals told us it would take us an hour but it was nearer two by the time we had stopped to admire the views from the chapel of ease half way up and looked at all the wonderful wild flowers forming a carpet on the woodland floor and talked to a couple of donkeys over a wall. The path is kept in good condition and there are stations of the Cross at regular intervals but shoe soles need to be thick enough to deal with cobbles. When you get up to the Chapel it is worth every bit of thé effort you put into getting there. And you get back down much faster than you came up. Look out for ancient frescoes on the houses in Griante and bridges crossing the narrow street at first floor height.