In Lenno, a small country on lake Como, you’ll find villa Balbianello.
As many others villas on Lake Como, It was the buen retiro of its many rich owners and but it was also the set for some scenes of Star Wars – Episode Two and Casino Royale with Daniel Craig.
Villa Balbianello has one of the most spectacular and romantic views on the lake Como. It has an interesting story and its garden is a jewel. I worth a visit even if you’re not a Star Wars or James Bond fan.
Get there on the road of the Queen
You can reach it from Milan in about 45 minutes by the A9 motorway (towards Switzerland). Take Como Monte Olimpino exit and follow indications to Menaggio to the small town of Lenno.
You’ll drive on a road along the lake that also has an interesting story. Its name is Strada Regina: the Queen Road or the Road of the Queen. The name is traditionally linked to the passage of the Longobards’ queen Theodolind. Actually Romans called it Via Regia, meaning simply main road. Romans unified the very old paths running along lake Como towards mountains and Switzerland. So you are driving on a path where people have travelled and traded since prehistoric ages.
When you’re in Lenno find the place called Tramezzina and follow the indication villa Balbianello. Since you can’t enter by car, I suggest to take a walk from the small town square to the entrance. you’ll have to walk about ten minutes, but it will be very pleasant. You’re in a lush wood with a lush greenery thanks to the lake’s climate. There’s even bamboo, which is really odd for Italy.
As you enter, you will be astonished by the beauty of the garden.
Paths surrounded by statues and sycamores gently descend from the house to the lake, where there are two small docks. Up on the hill you’ll reach the loggia, with the most beautiful view of the lake Como, where Anakin Skywalker meditates on his destiny in Episode two.
(By the way, if you want it as a location for your wedding, you can contact them and try have it).
Just below the loggia, in front of the lake, the secret wedding of Anakin and Padme is set.
In front of the entrance James Bond recovers after tortures in the movie Casino Royale.
But I prefer the other side of the garden: the majestic umbrella-trimmed tree is like a natural cathedral dome.
Forgetting Hollywood, villa Balbianello offers a view on Italian history, other than on the Como lake.
The house was built by a cardinal at the end of XVII Century. Of course, even at that time rich people spent heir holidays on lake Como, it has not started with George Clooney. The cardinal’s nephew Luigi Porro Lambertenghi inherited the house at the beginning of 19th century. He was an Italian patriot when the region was still under Austrian Empire. One of the main Italian patriots and writers, Silvio Pellico, worked here as teacher of Porro’s children. He would wistfully remember the period at Villa Balbianello in jail.
Later the house was sold to another moneybags, the Marquise Giuseppe Arconati Visconti. You must have at least two surnames to own Villa Balbianello. Arconati and his wife were also patriots and intellectuals: they hosted many writers, activists and politicians. In 1919 the American General Butler Ames bought the house who started the first restoration. His heirs sold it finally to the most important of Villa Balbianello owners, the entrepreneur, adventurer and traveller Guido Monzino.
Guido Monzino is an interesting character, too.
His family founded one of the first franchised department stores in Italy and he led it until a major multinational acquired it in the Sixties. So he had time and money enough to dedicate his life to hos main passion: travelling and explorations. He joined 21 Italian expeditions to, among others, Arctic, Hymalaya, African mountains and deserts. In 1971 he was the second one to reach the North Pole with dog sleds.
That’s why in one of the rooms next to the loggia the library is full of books on travels and exploration. It is one of the largest collections on that topic in Italy indeed. Visiting the villa you’ll also see objects Monzino collected during his travels and memories of he expeditions.
The villa is open only in summer, to preserve the collections from humidity. In winter you can visit the park and the two rooms of the loggia.
In 1975 the explorer donated Villa Balbianello to Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the Italian National Trust, which still manages it and opens the villa to the public.
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