Between the villages of Cadenabbia and Tremezzo sits the Villa Carlotta, one of the most prominent and beautiful buildings on Lake Como. It was built at the beginning of the 18th century by Marchese Giorgio Clerici, and after passing through the hands of the Marchese Giambattista Sommariva, was bought in 1843 as a wedding present to the Princess Carlotta of Prussia, from her mother the Princess Albrecht. Carlotta laid out the magnificent wooded park in the Romantic style, and the gardens are renowned for their spring displays of azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias.
Entering the grounds from the admission kiosk near the gate on the road, you reach the villa by ascending through a series of terraced walkways, linked by spectacular flights of balustraded stone steps. This is a very theatrical-looking formal Italianate garden with the distinction of having this vertical element of climbing up to the house – very impressive. One of the walkways leads through a rose garden to the northern edge of the park where the former hothouses have been converted into a pleasant cafe, with friendly staff and reasonable prices. Beyond the formal gardens to the front, the park gives way to a series of informal gardens, with lots of botanical interest, such as the bamboo garden and the tree fern garden, nestling in the valley of a small stream that cascades through the park.
The interior of the villa is also interesting, particularly for the beautiful painted ceilings, and sculptures by Canova. The upper floor is remarkable for being mostly a huge gallery, with enormous windows at both ends, to allow cool air to waft through in the heat of the summer. The view from the terrace extends over the lake to San Giovanni and the Villa Melzi opposite. You can just imagine how the rival aristocrat gardeners would glare at each other across the water.
Throughout the season concerts are held in the Villa. They are not very well publicised but are very popular, so ask for a programme at the entrance kiosk. It is a feast for the senses to stroll on the terrace in the moonlight, while listening to beautiful music and enjoying the scent of the flowers. Be a 19th century aristocrat for an evening!