Villas on Lake Como: historical reflections on the gentle waters of the Lario (Lake Como)

  • Lake Como

A journey through the centuries amongst historic villas and enchanting gardens

Oh, if only the waters of the Lario could speak… 

…they would tell us incredible stories of illustrious figures who had built golden villas on its shores, where they spent days of peace and tranquillity, far away from worries, wars and politics.

…they would confirm that the Historic Villas overlooking Lake Como are spectacles not to be missed by all those who cross the lake on boats and ferries.

…they would suggest that we go ashore and visit the Villas on Lake Como because their beauty is a heritage accessible to everyone which deserves to be seen and known.

Villa d’Este: Renaissance ambiance in the world’s finest hotel

The town of Cernobbio can perhaps pride itself on the highest concentration of historic villas on Lake Como:  Villa Bernasconi, Villa Pizzo, Villa Erba… All incredible locations worthy of at least one visit in a lifetime, but at the same time, mere courtesans, albeit prestigious ones, of one of the lake’s most famous villas: Villa d’Este.

With a majestic Renaissance structure and the warm colours of its façades, this 16th century villa took nothing less than 50 years to complete.  Today it is an elegant and refined hotel, providing hospitality to well-known figures from politics and show business. 

The property and the beautiful garden that surrounds it contributed to its selection as the “world’s finest hotel” by Forbes magazine in 2009.

Villa Carlotta: a history of azaleas, nobility and art masterpieces

Villa Carlotta, a place of exceptional beauty, stands very close to the Navigazione Laghi landing in Tremezzo

Commissioned by the Marquises Clerici in 1690, it later passed to Count Sommariva, who gave it the neoclassical style that still characterises it today.  However, the villa owes its name to Duke George II of Saxony, Meiningen, who decided to honour his wife, Princess Charlotte, in this way.

Entering Villa Carlotta means breathing in art in all its forms, through three floors richly appointed with prestigious antiques and embellished with unique artistic masterpieces, including works by Hayez and Tiepolo and sculptures by Antonio Canova.

The park outside will certainly not disappoint.  Here, in spring, an enchanting botanical garden with more than 150 different varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons offers a unique and spectacular blooming.

Those who travel on board a NaviComo ferryboat should remember that there is a €1 discount from Navigazione Laghi on the admission price.

Villa Melzi d'Eril: many styles in perfect harmony

The blinding white façade of Villa Melzi d’Eril, commissioned at the beginning of the 19th century by Francesco Melzi d’Eril, stands out in the enchanting landscape of the Gem of the Lario. 

Bellagio indeed is home to this building of rare beauty, which encompasses so many different styles that seem to create a melting pot of cultures and traditions: the prevailing neoclassical style provides the backdrop for original Egyptian statues, decorations attributed to Canova and a not-to-be-missed immaculately-kept garden with centuries-old plants, azalea woods, camellia hedges, giant rhododendrons, a road lined with plane trees and colourful magnolia flowers. 

Natural elements that harmoniously embrace a pond echoing a Japanese style, a small Moorish-style kiosk, the family chapel, the old orangery and a panoramic terrace with lion statues.  Not to mention the presence of a Venetian gondola, brought here by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.

Villa Olmo: breathing in the atmosphere of the Grand Tour

Villa Olmo is one of the most impressive and sumptuous buildings in Como and on the entire lake. 

Before its construction at the end of the 18th century, here stood a centuries-old elm tree that gave it its name. 

Also in the magnificent garden, which has now become Como’s main public park and home to horse chestnuts, Lebanese cedars and giant sequoias, as well as a fine neoclassical temple, no less than Napoleon Bonaparte, Ugo Foscolo, Ferdinand I Emperor of Austria and Garibaldi once strolled here. 

In a word, if between 1700 and 1800 the Grand Tour of the noble scions of Europe also passed through here, the merit is also partly due to this neoclassical masterpiece which is Villa Olmo, where today the Municipality of Como holds exhibitions, meetings and conferences.

Villa del Balbianello: an incredible journey awaits you

Guido Monzino, Villa Balbianello’s last owner, was an adventurer: the first Italian to reach the summit of Mount Everest.  The mementoes of a lifetime of exploration, his art collections and artefacts acquired from around the world are all preserved here, in the villa that he bequeathed to the FAI(Fondo Ambiente Italiano-National Trust of Italy).

But Monzino was not the only one to enjoy the villa, nor the extensive and luxuriant park that surrounds it, or the small jetty and steps leading from it to the upper floors. It was Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini who first lived here, and it was here, over the years, that important figures such as Silvio Pellico, Alessandro Manzoni and Giovanni Berchet were given hospitality.

They would almost certainly have read the inscription that still greets visitors today:  “Fay ce que voudras” (Do whatever you want) and looked out from the splendid loggia to admire one of the best views of the lake.  

The location of the villa, after all, perched on the promontory of Lavedo, not far from Lenno, has also been the location of famous Hollywood sagas such as 007 and Star Wars.

Navigazione Laghi: discover the Villas of Lake Como on board a ferryboat

The villas overlooking Lake Como are some of Italy’s most fascinating villas, each with its own special features, history, art and architectural style. 

Yet they all have in common a detail that the attentive visitor should not underestimate: they can all be reached by lake on board a NaviComo ferryboat.

So now, you need only set sail on a Navigazione Laghi ferryboat, which is the safest and most exciting way to sail the waters of Lake Como, and feast your eyes, admiring these prestigious reflections of history shimmering in its gentle waves.

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