Villa Balbaniello: A Gem on Lake Como
A visit to Lago di Como is not complete without a stop at Villa Balbaniello. Set on a romantic peninsula on the south-west brank of the lake in Lenno, the property is as stunning as its history interesting. Whether you are passionate about pristine gardens, European history, antique furniture, romantic panoramas or intrepid world travel, this is a visit not to miss.
For those who want to travel in comfort and style, the Italian Concierge can arrange for a private boat to bring you to the villa. For those who prefer to self escort, you can arrive by car and walk the 20 minute trail to the villa, or take the public boat which offers round trip boat service for 7 Euro per person.
Set on a small wooded peninslula on the site of a Fransican monastery, the villa was originally constructed by Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini in 1787. Up until his death in 1797, Cardinal Durini used the property to a peaceful retreat to indulge his literary passion. The original façade, bell tower and church of the monastery were preserved and incorporated into the villa’s construction. The dining room, for example, was built in the nave of the church, while the original mechanism of the bell tower is on display in breakfast room. Before he commissioned the construction of this property, the Cardinal had another villa on Como called “Villa Balbiano,” a larger property thus naming his new gem little Balbiano or “Balbaniello.”
After several Italian owners including Durini’s nephew, the property had fallen into a state of neglect when American businessman and WWI General Butler Ames stepped in. Originally from Boston, Ames came to Lake Como to visit friends and fell in love with the site. He purchased the property and made significant repairs and improvements to the villa and garden.
In 1974, Ames’s successors sold the villa to wealthy heir turned explored Guido Monzino. The son of a wealthy Milanese family, Monzino’s father founded the first department store in Italy, La Standa. Guido went on to reburbish the villa and fill it with precious antiques, chandeliers, paintings, outstanding collections of books and maps, and artifacts from around the world.
Uninterested in business, Monzino used his inheritance to finance over 20 expeditions to remote locations around the world. He led the first Italian expedition to Mount Everest, and traveled to every corner of the globe including the North Pole. Monzino wrote over 20 books on his intrepid travels, and acquired one of the largest private collections of books on alpinism and artic exploration to date (over 4,000 volumes). Upon his death in 1988, he left the villa to the Italian National Trust (FAI- Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano).
Monzino curated the property’s meticulous gardens, including a loggia perched on the highest point of the peninsula, offering stunning views of the lake from two sides. He filled the home with King Louis furniture, French and Italian chandeliers, and installed an elevator to service the home’s six floors. The villa has four bedrooms, with 2 guest apartments, and at the time of inhabitance a tennis court and pool.
Villa Balbaniello is home to Monzino’s impressive private collection of Mayan, Aztec, Egyptian, African artifacts, as well as artifacts, maps, and professional photographs from his extensive expeditions around the globe. The villa turned museum has been open to public since 1996. Closed Mondays and Wednesdays, the property is open for visitors from mid March to mid November. We at the Italian Concierge can arrange a private guided tour to learn all of the secrets of this fascinating property. If you fall in love with the villa as most do, you can event rent the property for private events. For more information, contact your Italian travel specialist, Joyce Falcone The Italian Concierge.