Five Gorgeous Villas on Lake Como You Must See

Since Roman times, Lake Como has been a favorite retreat for the wealthy, who have built beautiful villas with gardens along its shores, starting with author Pliny the Younger, who built the Comedia and Tragedia resorts here. Here are five you don’t want to miss.

Villa Carlotta – Facing the Bellagio peninsula in Tremezzo, Villa Carlotta was built for the Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici in 1690 and extends over  17 acres. It includes an Italian garden with steps, fountains and sculptures, including some by Antonio Canova and Luigi Acquisti. French writer Stendhal was a guest in 1818 and mentioned the property in the opening pages of his famous novel, La Chartreuse de Parme. In 1843, the villa was purchased by Princess Marianne of Nassau as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta, after whom the villa is now named. The villa includes a museum of agricultural tools.

Villa d’Este – Located in Cernobbio, 2 kilometers northwest of Como,  Villa d’Este and the surrounding 25-acre park have undergone significant changes since they were built in 1568 for the cardinal of Como, Tolomeo Gallio, as his summer residence. At the time, it was called Villa del Garovo. Around 1815, it hosted Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the future King of England George IV, who gave it the name of Nuova Villa d’Este. The landscaped gardens in the English style date back to this period. In 1873, it was turned into a luxury hotel, Villa d’Este, whose rooms average a cost of €1,000 a night. It regularly features in the top lists of the best hotels in the world.

Villa del Balbianello – Lying on a small wooded promontory on the western shore of the lake, near the Isola Comacina, Villa del Balbaniello was built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery for a cardinal. The two towers are in fact the campanili (bell towers) of the convent church. After changing a few owners, in 1974 it was bought by the explorer Guido Monzino, leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. Monzino filled it with rich collections, including artifacts acquired during his expeditions, and, when he died in 1988, he left it to FAI (Fondo per l'Ambiente Italiano), the National Trust of Italy. The villa is famous for its elaborate terraced gardens and houses a museum devoted to Monzino’s work.

Villa Melzi – Located in world-famous, chic Bellagio, Villa Melzi was built in 1808-10 in the neo-classical style as the summer residence of Duke Francesco Melzi d'Eril, who was vice-president of the Napoleonic Italian Republic. The villa was decorated and furnished by famous artists of the time. Stendhal must have loved the villas on Lake Como as he was a guest here as well. The villa’s English-style gardens feature big rhododendrons as is common on the lake, and include an orangery, a chapel, statues, rare exotic plants and a Japanese garden.   

Villa Serbelloni – also in Bellagio, Villa Serbelloni is believed to have been the site of Pliny the Younger’s villa Tragedia and was built in the 15th century. Its park, with 18 kilometers of paths and a large collection of plants, was created at the end of the 18th century by Alessandro Serbelloni and features splendid views over the Como and Lecco branches of the lake, as well as the Alps. Today, the villa hosts the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, a 50-acre international conference center set up and managed by the Rockefeller Foundation since 1959, which also operates a "scholar-in-residence" program for artists and scientists from around the world. 

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