Villa del Balbianello

This villa, on a promontory jutting out of the west shore of Lake Como, was built in the 18th century for the Cardinal Durini, on the site of a former Franciscan monastery.  The towers of the old monastery church were incorporated into the design of the villa.  It is a really magical place, for the way that the building and gardens work together in harmony with the lake to produce magnificent vistas at every turn.  You can either walk to the gate of the villa from Lenno village, or take a more scenic and romantic route by boat, which picks up near the Lido.

In the early 20th century the villa had fallen into disrepair, but was rescued by the American General Butler Ames, who set about restoring it.  Later it was owned by Guido Monzini, an explorer and adventurer who was the first Italian to scale Everest. The villa now belongs to the FAI, the Italian version of the National Trust, and the interior is dedicated to mementoes of Monzini’s adventures.

One of the buildings of the Villa Balbianello, used in Casino Royale

Part of the fascination of the gardens of the villa is the way they coil around the promontory in a very informal un-Italian fashion.  The particular challenges of the site made it impossible to create a typical Italian garden and so the designers went for a ‘giardino all’inglese’ working with the landscape rather than against it.  It has provided evocative settings for the love scene in Star Wars II and James Bond’s recovery from a shooting, in Casino Royale. 

The villa is open from mid-March to mid-November, from 10 till 6.  Most visitors just go to the gardens, and the admission charge in 2011 was €5 (children half price).

If you’re a member of the National Trust in the UK, take your card with you, and you might get a discount.