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Visiting villas and gardens around Lake Como

Visiting villas and gardens around Lake Como

Apr 9th, 2008, 10:37 PM
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Visiting villas and gardens around Lake Como

Dear Fodorites --

I am going to Lake Como (with my base being in Varenna) in late May. I've looked at several guidebooks and am overwhelmed with the number of villas that can be visited. Below is the list I've compiled that I'm hoping to narrow down. Are any of these particularly wonderful or not worth bothering with? Are there others that you would recommend?


Thanks in advance!
hlocke1 is offline  
Apr 9th, 2008, 10:44 PM
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Realizing now that I also should have asked, are some of these just hotels? =)

Thanks in advance!
hlocke1 is offline  
Apr 9th, 2008, 11:17 PM
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I have been a few of them.

I liked


in this order. Monastero and Cipresi are small gardens. Monastero was the prettier of the two, but Cipresi, being along the cliff, has a better view of the lake as well as a view of the Monastero.

Balbianello was closed for filming.

The review for Serbelloni was not impressive enough to go through a hassle of scheduling a visit. I think the Villa Serbelloni Park is by guided tours only, offered Tue-Sun, 11 and 15:30 only.
greg is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 12:42 AM
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We liked the gardens at Monastero but thought the villa itself was pretty ordinary. We waited for the villa to open and in hind sight should have just "done" the garden. Walk right to the end of the garden as far as your can for the most fabulous views of Varenna an absolute photographers paradise. Try and go earlier rather than later in the day as we found (Sept) that the lake became really hazy.

I thought Villa Carlotta well worth the visit, particularly the villa. In May you will have the Azaleas so it should look amazing, in Sept. there were not many flowers, but still a very pleasant walk. Loved Balbianello garden, couldn't get into the villa. This is number one priority!!!!!! Do anything you can to get into this garden. The serenity, just gorgeous.

I think Cipresi is just a hotel but I am sure you can just walk around. We had dinner there actually which was very good. We didn't realise you had to schedule a visit to Serbelloni, I thought it was open most of the time according the brochure, but it was definitely not the case.

Can't help with the others. You will love Lake Como!!

schnauzer is online now  
Apr 10th, 2008, 03:21 AM
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Hi hlocke,

may I suggest that if you are serious about visiting more than one garden, you get hold of The Garden lover's guide to Italy by Penelope Hobhouse?

the ones I like the look of, based on the book, are
Villa carlotta,
villa del balbianello
la mortola
castello di aglie

I also have anther book, "italian gardens" by alex ramsey and helena attlee, which might be useful if you can't get hold of the hobhouse.

hops this helps,

regards, ann
annhig is online now  
Apr 10th, 2008, 03:24 AM
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Our favorite was Villa Balbianello....a more dramatic setting than the others that we saw (Carlotta, Monastero and Cipresi). They were all lovely though.
Judy is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 03:28 AM
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ps - have a look at www.grandigiardini.it - up to date info about italian gardens, opening hours, etc.
annhig is online now  
Apr 10th, 2008, 06:40 AM
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great post, hlocke! i am interested in the same question.

dina4 is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 07:11 AM
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I would have liked to see Balbaniello, just because of the movies that have been filmed there (including, I believe, Star Wars, Episode 2; A Month by the Lake; and the latest Bond film, Casino Royale). We did visit Carlotta and it was lovely, easy to get to from Varenna and highly recommended. We did the gardens at Monastero, but didn't see the villa at (don't think it was open when we were there). I liked the gardens quite a bit.
china_cat is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 09:30 AM
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The way that I understand it - Monastero and Serbelloni are garden only tours.

d'Este and Cipresi are operating hotels.

Balbianello and Carlotta are tours of both buildings and the gardens.
I have not toured Carlotta. We have toured Balbianello - english language tours are available and Balbianello is out on a point, so I suspect that the views are superior.

I don't know about Tramezzo.
Big_Red is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 10:24 AM
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Thank you, everyone! Your responses have been really helpful. It sounds like Villa Carlotta is a must do. Glad to hear your thoughts on the others, as well.

Also, thanks to Annhig for the reading and web recommendations. When I clicked the link, the image on the home page made me drool. Looking foward to exploring that further. =)
hlocke1 is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 02:26 PM
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Hi Heather,

I organize garden tours and have taken groups to visit gardens on Lake Como a number of times. Villa Monastero is lovely, a long, narrow garden stretched out along the lakeside. This is a good garden and is, for the most part, well cared for. It is run by a foundation and has regular opening hours. Villa Cipressi is just next door. It is now run as a hotel, there is a nice restaurant, when the weather is good you can sit out and have lunch under an arbor overlooking the garden and lake. The garden isn't as interesting as Monastero's, but there are some lovely views and it's a nice place to walk after lunch. You can purchase a combined ticket for both gardens for little more than the ticket to Monastero only. Tickets are available at the entrance to Villa Monastero. One of the best reasons to visit these two gardens is for the walk through Varenna from the ferry dock - along a narrow promenade, through narrow streets and passageways - but they are also very beautiful on their own.

In Bellagio there are two gardens worth visiting. Villa Melzi is a short walk along the waterfront from the ferry docks. It is a park with lovely views, a small Japanese-style garden, an avenue of pollarded plane trees and a small exhibit of statuary. It is open most days and hours.

Villa Serbelloni is in the hills above Bellagio. It belongs to the Rockefeller Foundation and is the site of a study program. Access is only by guided tour, and the guides are very protective of the privacy of visiting scholars. Tours are generally given twice a day, morning and late afternoon. When I have been, tours were about 11 am and 3:30 pm. If you are interested, in Bellagio go up the hillside, past the Grand Hotel Serbelloni (no connection with the garden), toward the church. The ticket office is across from and to the right of the church. It generally opens 30 minutes or so before the tour is scheduled to depart. The tour itself is a long but not hurried walk up the drive into the property, and then a gradual climb to the top of the garden where there is an ancient Iron Age fort.

Villa Carlotta is at Tremezzo and is beautiful any time of year, and the opening hours are very accessible, as is the garden, by ferry. The house is now a museum of decorative arts, with sculpture by Antonio Canova and others.

Villa Balbianello is exquisite and well worth the trouble it takes to visit it. Most days access is only by boat from nearby Lenno. It used to be open by road on Sundays also - I'm not sure if that is still the case. The house is open only for guided tours, which can be arranged in Lenno, but you may visit the garden without joining a tour. It's well worth trying to visit the house, as it is very interesting.

Here is a link to my photographs of these gardens: http://gardentouring.fotopic.net/c767591.html You can take a look and see for yourself.

Further down the lake, nearer the town of Como, is Villa D'Este. It is now run as a luxury hotel and you may visit the gardens if you have a meal there. Otherwise, they try to keep gawkers and casual visitors out. The atmosphere seems a little elevated at first, but the people there are lovely. They even arranged a boat for us to take us back to our hotel in Moltrasio one time. Brunches and lunches are wonderful, but expensive - a place for a special celebration, perhaps. I took a group of mothers & daughters there for Mothers' Day one year and everyone enjoyed themselves enormously. The staff made a great fuss over the mothers.

Here are more photographs, with Villa D'Este included: http://gardentouring.fotopic.net/c771444.html

You can easily do two or three of the gardens in the Varenna-Bellagio-Tremezzo triangle in a day.
julia1 is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 03:38 PM
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Be advised the group tours may prevent an individual from seeing Serbelloni. On the day I wanted to visit, I was the first person to try and sign up for a tour, only to be told both the morning and afternoon tours had been pre-booked by groups (only a certain number of people are allowed per day and the groups took all the slots). So if you are spending a few days in the area, it won't hurt to check and make sure the tour date you've picked hasn't already been filled by pre-booked groups.

I went to Villa Melzi instead and it was nice, but Serbelloni would have been better.
BTilke is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 03:40 PM
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Apr 10th, 2008, 03:55 PM
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Jan_604 is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 04:57 PM
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ldh is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 05:15 PM
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The villa Melzi gardens are worth a visit if staying in Bellagio.
Michael is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 07:20 PM
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Wonderful advice from Julia !
The best gardens I have found in that general region is Villa Taranto on Lago Maggiore.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 07:39 PM
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FYI, the Serbelloni tours are for 6-30 people. There must be at least 6 people signed up, or the tour is cancelled. Once a tour has 30 people signed up, the list is closed.
Jean is online now  
Apr 10th, 2008, 07:44 PM
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Wow, Julia. Thank you so much for this wealth of info. I really appreciate it! My husband and I are, coincidentally, taking our mothers. =) Your photos are gorgeous, so I can't wait to pour over them a bit more.

BTilke -- thank you for the Serbelloni tip. That must have been quite disappointing, so I'd prefer to avoid such a situation!

Cheers for your tip, as well, Bob!
hlocke1 is offline  

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