Lake Como: Five glorious gardens to visit this spring

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Rachael Martin - [email protected]
Lake Como: Five glorious gardens to visit this spring
Villa Melzi is just one of the stunning estates that surround Lake Como. Photo: Lake Como Tourist Board

Lake Como's landscapes are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. And with spring in the air, what better way to celebrate than by planning a trip to some of its gardens?


Here are some to put on your list.

Villa del Balbianello, Lenno 

Star Wars lovers, you know the scene. The film is Episode II – Attack of the Clones, the setting is a lakeside terrace where Anakin and Padmé kiss, and the backdrop one of the most romantic views you’ll find on the whole of Lake Como at Villa del Balbianello in Lenno.

And it’s not just famous as a film location. Built upon the wishes of Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini at the end of the 18th century, it was a popular venue for literary retreats with intellectual and high society figures. When Durini died, it then passed to his nephew Luigi Porro Lambertenghi, the Italian patriot who hosted major figures of the Risorgimento, including Silvio Pellico, Giuseppe Arconati Visconti and Massimo d’Azeglio.

READ ALSO: A local's guide to Lake Como

It was Cardinal Durini who was responsible for the gardens, no mean feat due to the rocky nature of the promontory itself (known as the Balbiano from which the villa takes its name) that made both a formal Italian garden and romantic English garden impossible. The result draws from both, with sloping lawns surrounded by box hedges and laurel, terraces and much more.

Photo: Provincia di Como - Servizio di Turismo - Lake Como Tourist Board

Come in spring for the flowering of the rhododendrons and azaleas, and take the spectacular walk up from the church to the top of the promontory with its large sycamores, wisteria and statues.

Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo

This Lake Como favourite overlooking the Grigne mountains is named after Carlotta, daughter of Princess Marianne of the Netherlands, who gave her daughter the villa as a wedding present in 1850. Unfortunately Carlotta was unable to enjoy it for only a short time. Five years and four children later, she died an early death, and the villa passed to her husband.

READ ALSO: 17 of the most beautiful parks and gardens in Italy

Dating from the end of the 17th century, Villa Carlotta – or Villa Clerici, as it was originally known – was built by the Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici. The marquis also commissioned the gardens, a 17th-century Italianate layout with staircases, statues, fountains, terraces and geometrically shaped box hedges.

Photo: Provincia di Como - Servizio di Turismo - Lake Como Tourist Board

Eight hectares of gardens include cedars, olive trees, sequoia trees and exotic and rare plants, while the end of the 19th century saw the planting of the azaleas and rhododendrons, more than 150 species of which flower in April and May.

Don’t miss the rhododendron woods, planted to recreate those of the Himalayan mountains. Gustave Flaubert stayed here in in spring 1845 and loved both the garden, the villa and its art collection assembled in the early 19th century. Works include sculptures by Antonio Canova, Luigi Acquisti and Adamo Tadolini.

Villa Erba, Cernobbio

More links with the film world, this time at Villa Erba. The villa was where Luchino Visconti, Count of Lonate Pozzolo and one of Italy's most highly regarded theatre, opera and cinema directors, spent summers with his mother and brothers. More recently, it was used as a location for Ocean’s Twelve.

Way before that, between the 12th and 18th century there was a monastery of Benedictine monks on the site. The monks left in 1785 during the Austrian occupation, and around 1815 the Countess Vittoria Calderara had the villa built. The one you see today was rebuilt at the start of the 20th century, but the gardens date back it to its original construction, when the monks’ vegetable gardens were transformed into an English-style park.

Its lakeside gardens include ancient trees, beautiful flowerbeds, exotic flowers, and an elegant greenhouse designed by architect Marco Bellini. Don’t forget to look for the Japanese zen garden too.

Photo: Provincia di Como - Servizio di Turismo - Lake Como Tourist Board

The villa is now an international exhibition and congress centre. To visit Luchino Visconti's rooms, you’ll have to book in advance.

Villa Melzi d'Eril, Bellagio

The villa was built as a summer residence for Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Duke of Lodi and vice president of the short-lived Italian Republic during the time of Napoleon. The gardens were entrusted to architect Luigi Canonica and the botanist Luigi Villoresi, who also designed the park at the Royal Villa of Monza.

READ ALSO: Six delightful day trips within easy reach of Milan

The garden houses ancient trees, exotic varieties, some of which are very precious, and huge camellia, azalea and rhododendron bushes. There are also classical statues, including one of Dante and Beatrice that is said to have inspired Franz Liszt to compose his Dante Sonata in the villa's Moorish temple.

Photo: Provincia di Como - Servizio di Turismo - Lake Como Tourist Board

Don’t miss the Japanese pond with its water lilies, cedar trees and Japanese maple trees, while the Orangery has a collection of Napoleonic memorabilia and prints. 

Villa Monastero, Varenna

Villa Monastero takes its name from its original function: monastero means monastery. It started life at the end of the 12th century as a convent of Cistercian nuns. Then in 1567 the order was abolished by Pope Pius V, the nuns had to leave and the villa was sold.

It was bought by the Mornico family who named it Villa Leliana, and it remained in their hands for the next three centuries. In 1869 Carolina Maumari Seufferheld, a widowed Milanese noblewoman, bought the villa. Maumari was a relative of Alessandro Manzoni, author of The Betrothed, the famous 19th century novel set around the lake. She filled the villa with personalities from the world of arts and society during one of the estate's most illustrious times.

Photo: Provincia di Como - Servizio di Turismo - Lake Como Tourist Board

Come and visit the villa’s famous botanical garden, which continues for 2km along the lake and contains over 900 indigenous and exotic botanical species with terraces filled with cypresses, palms, citrus trees and yuccas. Visit in April to enjoy the flowering of the camellias and wisteria, and in early May for the hydrangeas and roses.




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