Villa del Balbianello is a villa located in Lenno, Italy, on the tip of a romantic peninsula with a beautiful terraced garden overlooking lake Como. The villa is popular among tourists as the villa has a rich history and it has been featured in several films, including A Month by the Lake (1995), Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Casino Royale (2006).
A brief historical introduction of Villa del Balbianello
The villa was built in 1787 when Cardinal Durini acquired the peninsula. The villa was built as a quiet summer residence where he could engage in literary studies. A small group of franciscan friars lived in the place until the 16th century. Their presence is marked by the narrow facade of the church characterized by twin bell towers of the convent church.
After the Cardinal died in the late 18th century, the villa was passed to his nephew and patriot Luigi Porro Lambertenghi. He transformed the villa from a place for serene meditation to a haven for masons. Lambertenghi was forced to leave Italy and spent his time in voluntary exile in Belgium. That was when he sold the property to his friend, Guiseppe Arconati Visconti.
Visconti and his wife made improvements to the villa and turned the place into a prestigious summer salon. However, the buildings fell into a state of neglect after a time of prestigious glory as the Visconti family was slowly dying out. At that time, the villa was abandoned for thirty-nine years.
Butler Ames, an American general, acquired the villa in 1919 and commissioned important renovations. In 1947, his heirs sold the villa to explorer Guido Monzino after his death. Monzino was the leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. He was a fervent collector and filled Balbianello’s property with rich collections of art pieces and souvenirs he acquired during his expeditions.
Monzino died in 1988 and left Balbianello to FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano – The National Trust for Italy) according to his will. He even left a trust fund that helps to cover maintenance costs up until today.
As Monzino turned Balbianello into a private museum, the villa is filled with rare and ancient objects from lost African civilizations (e.g. Dan and Dogon masks), Aztec culture and Mayan terracotta figures. Even though the villa is filled with objects from around the world, the interior is decorated with English and French furniture from the 18th and 19th century in combination with oriental carpets and Italian styled lamps. The experience of the villa is like entering into Monzino’s personal space, which contains the equipment he used during his expeditions as well as personal photos.
The luxurious garden is created vertically and is characterized by its terraces. The garden is shaped by the huge plane trees in different shapes, magnolias, ivy vines and numerous statues. The panoramic terraced garden offers a great view, providing a double panorama on the Loggia. It seems like every element of the garden is related to the lake and its environment. Nevertheless it’s marked by the geometric Italianate-styled gardens that has been slightly dipped into the nature of a French park.
Is it worth to visit Villa del Balbianello?
It depends, if you’re a major fan of Star Wars you would probably think it’s awesome to walk around the former set of Anakin and Padme’s marriage scene. If you’re interested in gardens, culture and history, it’s also a great place to visit and just walk around. If you’re not so fond of tourists.. then it’s a good idea to skip this villa or come really early. The villa is a popular place and it can get pretty crowded. We were there early in the morning when it opened, but towards the end of our visit (around lunch-time) we noticed more and more tourists coming in.
How to get to Villa del Balbianello
The villa has a long driveway, but no space for cars to park. There are maybe one or two places along the road where you can park your car, but the villa itself does not have a big parking lot. Therefore, most tourists walk their way to the villa and park their car near Lenno’s (the town) center. The walk through a forested area and it’s slightly steep as the entrance of the villa is located quite high on the peninsula, which makes the terraced garden possible. It’s also possible to come by boat from Lenno, but it will cost you about 7-8 Euros.
Opening hours & Tickets
The villa is opened from mid-march to mid-november from 10am to 6pm. However, it is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays, unless it is a national holiday. I know how hard it is sometimes to wake up early, but take it from me, you’ll be really glad to go early once you’re there. The advantage of going out early is that it’s not that warm yet, it’s not that busy and there are not that many boats that come to view the villa from the water (which is a disadvantage because they block your scenic photographs – ha!).
Ticket-prices depend on several factors. First, what you want to visit and second, in what category you’re in. Because apparently you can’t enter when you’re under 4 and you’re an adult when you’re 15 😉
Only the Garden:
Children (4-14 years): € 3
National Trust members: € 5
FAI members free admittance
Villa and Garden
Tours inside the Villa, limited to a maximum of 15 people, are conducted by a tourist guide.
They take approximately 60 minutes.
Compulsory guided tour without reservation in Italian and English
Adults: € 15
Children (4-14 years): € 7
National Trust members: € 10
FAI members: € 4
(Prices consist of the ticket for the Villa, for the Garden and the guided tour)