Villa del Balbianello
Villa del Balbianello should be a priority to visit when you are in the Lake Como area. The lake boasts many beautiful villas, many of them lining the waterfront. The majority however, are in private hands.
Villa del Balbianello is a special exception to this. Built in the late 18th century, it was held privately until 1988 by five different owners. Following the death of the final owner, Guido Monzino, it was bequeathed to the Italian National Trust. As a result, it is also now accessible by the public.
It is an incredible property and some film directors have also been lucky enough to use it for their movies. A Star Wars movie and James Bond’s Casino Royale were filmed here. No super buzz for me given I am neither a Star Wars nor James Bond fan. I’m sure others will think this link to the villa is cool though.
Guido Monzino, the last owner was from Milan and an heir to the La Standa retail stores. Monzino owned this villa from 1974 until his death at 60 in 1988.
Mr Monzino was a keen traveller, who went on some extensive expeditions, including to the North Pole and Mt Everest. He was also an avid art collector, and his private collections adorn most of the rooms in the villa. But, he knew he was unwell after an expedition to the North Pole in 1974 and so set about building his collections. He then prepared for it all to be handed over to the Italian National Trust upon his death.
Music room and library
This part of the house is covered in carefully manicured and maintained ficus. On the left-hand side of the building (as you face it) is the music room and the library is on the right. In the music room, all the furniture in here is French. This room also contains a collection of original maps.
The library, containing over 4,000 books and two hidden staircases that go all the way to the lake. The books are all non-fiction, of largely travel, expedition and geography genres.
This study was used by Monzino. He lived here in the summertime, and in Milan for the rest of the year. This is a very British room and the desk is made from mahogany.
All furniture and inclusions have been left exactly the way it was when Monzino died in 1988.
His art collections came from Africa, pre-Columbia and ancient Greece. Also China and Egypt, which are some of the most precious.
The upper loft is full of his personal travel collections. It even includes original equipment from his North Pole expeditions.
The bedroom reminded me of English palaces and French Chateaus. This was probably largely because the influence here is largely French from the 15th and 16th centuries. But, even the bed is like all the royal bedrooms of yesteryear. All chandeliers in the house are French manufactured except one that was manufactured in Venice. The tapestries on the bedroom wall are Flemish from 16th century.
This bar had a specially made piece of furniture to ‘hide’ the drinks. The bookcase was English made to look like it contained real books. The books were actually fake but were still made with leather, thus making them appear especially authentic. Under the books, were two hidden fridges. This room opened directly out onto the garden at lake level.
This room contains 18th-century French wood panelling. Monzino didn’t want to alter the panels (which were too long for the room) so he had the room lowered to make them fit. This room now sits slightly underneath ground level. This room contains French furniture and the most precious pieces of the Chinese art collection.
The dining room had an incredible view of the lake. Here French tapestries from the end of the 17th century lined the walls.
The most ancient side of the building is the breakfast room. Here, it is built inside the walls of the former Franciscan monastery. The walls are incredibly thick and if you look at the roof, you will know that it was a former church.
The kitchen no longer exists in its original form as it has been converted into the Villa Del Balbianello bookshop. All that is left is a case full of some pretty amazing kitchen knives along the corridor leading into the former kitchen.
The clock below is out of the clock tower that sits outside the former monastery. It is still connected to the tower but has been brought inside to help with its preservation.
A private apartment exists with access to the lake level. The private apartment contains a bedroom, living area and bathroom.
The private apartment also contained this very special English red cupboard, made in 1710.
Gardens of Villa del Balbianello
How to get to Villa Del Balbianello
Villa Del Balbianello may be reached by walking from Lenno. It’s about 1km, uphill, and on cobbled walkways. With reasonable fitness, it will take 20-30 minutes. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi boat from Lenno lakeside.
If coming by bus from Como, take the SPT bus C10 and stop at Lenno. From here, the remainder must be walked or via taxi boat, as per above. If you are driving, park in the car park at via degli Artigiani and continue by foot or taxi boat.
When is Villa Del Balbianello open?
Villa Del Balbianello is open every day except Monday and Wednesday from 10 am – 6 pm, with the last entry to the garden at 5.15pm. It is also closed on public holidays. The last entrance to the garden is at 5.15pm and the last villa entry is 4.30pm.
Villa Del Balbianello entrance fee?
Unless you have access to a concession, the Villa Del Balbianello entrance fee is very expensive. For the general public, it is €10 to visit the gardens only. We highly recommend taking a tour. €20 covers a 60-minute tour with an English speaking guide. The guide will also speak Italian. If you want to take photos inside the house, an additional €3 is payable.
Concessions are also available for children and members of the National Trust. FAI members receive free entry.
For further information contact the Villa Del Balbianello official website.