Fourth in a series on Lombardy, Italy
This article might more properly be referred to as “Sights Along the Southwest Arm of Lake Como”. With only three days at Lake Como (one of which was mostly consumed by jetlag) we only covered the areas between Como and Bellagio. Rachel talked me out of taking a trip to Lecco on the southeast arm of the lake on Sunday in favor of taking it easy and exploring Como city more.
Villa Geno Fountain
I’m not sure this is the official name, but it’s the fountain on the east bank of the lake just north of downtown Como. It’s visible from the Como waterfront but ferries go very close to it. The fountain and its small park seem to be a popular picnic and sunbathing spot on warm days.
The villages along Lake Como look pretty similar- pastel colored buildings (though more muted than in Linguria) with at least one church with a tower. In contrast, the villas are largely unique designs. One particular villa with a prominent tower caught my attention- I later identified it as Villa Erba in Cernobbio, just north of Como. You may remember it as the French cat burglar’s mansion from the film Ocean’s Twelve.
A pretty town on the east side of the lake arm north of Como, Nesso doesn’t seem to have as many villas as nearby areas on the west side of the lake. On a future visit, I’d like to stop briefly to take a look at its ancient Roman bridge. I didn’t get into position to take the shot until we started to pull away, so the photograph isn’t going to win any awards.
Coming from the United States, where there are few buildings older than 300-400 years, I’m constantly in awe of engineering marvels in the Old World that have not only stood the test of time for millennia but are still in use for their intended purpose.
Villa del Balbianello
Villa del Balbianello is a mansion and garden located on a peninsula southwest of Lenno. It’s one of a handful of villas on Lake Como (such as Villa Carlotta in nearby Tremezzo) that are open to the public as museums. Villa del Balbianello is perhaps a 30 minute walk from the ferry dock in Lenno. From the southwest end of the harbor, a sort of water taxi is available to shuttle you to the villa’s lower gate. Neither option is exactly handicapped-friendly, entailing stairs and/or walking along an access road that is fairly steep at times. The access road has very limited traffic- it might be restricted to staff. There also is a roundabout walking route (which we didn’t have time to try) that’s supposed to take 45 minutes. The villa was begun in 1787, incorporating parts of an earlier monastery (notably the towers).
With its picturesque views and walls, Villa del Balbianello has been used in the filming of several motion pictures. It served as the MI6 hospital in Casino Royale (2006) and Star Wars: Episode II. In the latter, the building was replaced but the ornate walls remain, particularly prominent in the wedding scene between Anakin and Padmé .
The villa is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays. Adult admission is €8 for the gardens and €15 for the gardens and a one hour tour of the villa. The villa interior is accessible only with a tour guide (English-language tours are available). There is an extra €3 fee (!) to take pictures inside the villa’s buildings. If you’re going at all, you may as well splurge for the tour. The grounds are nice but nothing exciting. There are some trees cropped into umbrellas or candelabra shapes and beautiful wisteria flowering in places, but I would have to say our local Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is a lot more impressive.
The interior of the villa is quite nice and complete with secret passages. The last owner (who donated the estate upon his death) filled the home with books, artifacts from his expeditions, artwork (particularly reverse glass paintings) and antique furniture especially from England and France.
The tour finishes at the gift shop on the lowest level of the villa, near the gate for those coming by water taxi.
The town of Bellagio sits on a peninsula where all three arms of Lake Como meet. Bellagio seems to have lent its name and little else to the Las Vegas resort of the same name. The ostentatious luxury of the Las Vegas Bellagio seems to have more in common with the villas further south and west along the lake than the town of Bellagio, which only has fairly subdued villas. It seems Bellagio residents are tired of people asking them where the fountain is. The town is very pedestrian friendly- a lot of the streets or alleys going uphill are pedestrian only, with steps.
Bellagio is worth a visit for what it is- a beautiful little town and a perfect jumping off point for exploring the rest of the lake. All destinations on the lake served by ferries are accessible from Bellagio. There are plenty of craft shops and restaurants. We enjoyed window shopping. Notable finds out of our price range included hand painted (full, not empty) wine bottles, ornate (and enormous) chess sets, and my personal favorite, a walking stick with a metal bust of Mussolini on the handle. I regret that we didn’t have time to rent a kayak from Bellagio Water Sports to paddle around the lake.