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Posts Tagged ‘Isola Bella gardens’

Villa Balbianello
Lenno Lago Como

Italians have always been passionate about gardens. Whether their hands work the soil for their kitchen or if the ground is meant to produce places of retreat and beauty, the Lake Region offers within a relatively small geographic area more gorgeous gardens than any other comparable region in bella Italia.

Many years ago, I was privileged to make the acquaintance of Alessandro Tombelli who is both a garden historian and a landscape designer. From the city of his birth, Florence, he has traveled the world to work in gardens as far flung as Chicago and Sicily. His passion for the lush verdant land is unquenchable.

In the years we have worked together, he has proudly shared his incredible knowledge of gardens, particularly those in the lake region. His 2008 book, The Garden Connection, tells the story of his life, lived amongst the beauty of Italian gardens.

Over many seasons, I have had the opportunity to return to many of the gardens Alessandro first shared with me. While what follows is hardly a complete list of the gardens in the lake region, these are the ones I know and love the best.

Cernobbio-Villa de’Este

As visitors take in the ravishing beauty of the coast road north of Como toward Tremezzo, they can hardly believe the stunning beauty of the Villa d’Este. To use the words ‘awe inspiring’ seem futile. Originally named the Villa Garrovo, its name was changed by the wife of George IV’s wife. This now famous five-star luxury hotel maintains a gorgeous garden. You can visit the gardens by parking at the hotel and asking at the desk. Inquiries are always welcomed.

In the event you are intimidated by the luxurious surroundings of the lobby, keep a mind this story a friend once told me.

In the early 1950’s a young newlywed couple from England were making their way, late at night, in a small sports car along the lake. As they left Como, they decided to stop at the first hotel they saw. They approached the front desk at Villa de’Este and, with few coins in hand, explained to the manager that they were just married and hoped to pay for a room at the hotel. The manager took a long look at them, called the porter to the front and the couple was courteously escorted to the Bridal Suite of the hotel. The couple returned every year that health allowed, and were always treated with the utmost courtesy. Such service remains a hallmark of a hotel known for an incredible garden.

Tremezzo-Villa Carlotta

Further north along the western shore of Lago Como, near Tremezzo, is the Villa Carlotta. This stunning villa ascends the steep flanks of alpine foothills from lake to garden. Constructed between 1690 and 1745.  Owned by one Marquis Clerici, the gardens have become a well visited botanical garden. There are, during high season, hoards of tourists, yet this is a space of green and flowers well worth the visit.

Chapel Villa Melzi
Bellaggio, Lago Como

Bellagio – Villa Melzi 

Ah, Bellagio. The approach by ferry from the docks at Cadenabbia is breathtaking. Deep glacial depths of the lake, the reflection of a rainbow of colored stucco palazzi on the surface of the water, the haze shrouded alps in the distance all conspire to move visitors into a dream. As you disembark at the ferry dock, and walk to the right, you are quickly guided to the entrance of the gardens at Villa Melzi, yet another treasure of a garden, this time on the eastern shore of Lago Como.

The villa was constructed as the residence for Francesco Meli d’Eril, who was the Duke of Lodi and, later, the Vice President of the Italian Republic under Napoleon.  He retired to the villa and devoted his energies to the English garden. Subsequent owners have added to the complexity and beauty of the estate. Stendhal wrote of the garden’s beauty, and of the villa’s extraordinary location along the lake, in his book  “Rome, Naples, Florence.”

Lenno -Villa Balbianello

Garden view -Villa Balbianello
Lenno – Lago Como

(The photo at the beginning of this post is a view of Balbianello ).

I have saved the most beautiful villa and gardens for last. Villa Balbianello was built in the lake side village of Lenno. Located not far from Tremezzo, the villa occupies a promontory that thrusts itself out into the cerulean waters of the lake, the golden stucco towers and emerald green Italian cypress sentinels along the shore. This villa was built in 1787 on the grounds of a Franciscan Monastery. The church towers of that monastery still stand. It was after decades of neglect that an American Army office by the name of Butler Ames purchased and restored the property. The first man to lead an Italian team to the summit of Mount Everest, Guido Monzino, purchased the property in 1974 and lived there until his will donated the property, in perpetuity, to the National Trust of Italy.

I now head west to the shores and islands of Lago Maggiore.

Lago Maggiore

Isola Bella – Gardens of the Borromeo Villa

View of Isola Bella and Gardens
Lago Maggiore, Lake Region

It was in 1632 that Carlos III of the House of Borromeo began to build a villa dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda. The island, originally named l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto,  is named in Isabella’s honor.

The completion of the villa and gardens was delayed by  epidemics  of Plague and political power plays.It was not until the latter part of the 18th Century, under Gilberto V Borromeo, that the villa and its gorgeous gardens were finally completed.

The gardens and villa were designed by the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli. In 2008 the gardens reopened after detailed three year restoration and the results show. From the upper level garden terrace with its multilevel grotto to the views of the lake and villages along the lower steps of the south garden, this is one of the finest and most beautiful gardens in Italy.

Please see, also, the July 2012 blog post Borromeo Islands-Isola Bella.

Verbania – Villa Taranto

As visitors continue east from Isola Bella across Lago Maggiore, they will have the opportunity to disembark at Villa Taranto. From the dock, little can be seen of the spectacular gardens above. It was in 1931 that a Scottish Captain, Neil McEacharn, came across the property and decided, within hours, to purchase it. The previous owner, the Marquise of Sant’Elia, was thrilled to be rid of something he considered a monumental responsibility.

McEacharn went to work, first naming the villa after a distant relative who was awarded the Dukedom of Taranto by Napoleon.The results of the Scottish Captain’s, and of the estate’s administrator Antonio Cappelletto’s, efforts show an extraordinary level of dedication. The gardens now contain one of the finest botanical collections found anywhere. The entrance gate to the estate is easily reached from the ferry landing in about three minutes.

Lago Orta-Orto San Giulio and the island of San Giulio

Tiny Lake Orta lies west of Lago Maggiore, an easy forty minute drive from the lakeside village of Stresa on the western shore of Maggiore. Not known for a large number of gardens, many consider the lake ‘the jewel of the Lake Region’ in and of itself. Here are two places you will enjoy visiting as time allows.

Villa Bossi
Orto San Giulio
Lago Orta

Villa Bossi

The village of Orto San Giulio uses Villa Bossi as the municipalities town hall. The gardens, known for their extraordinary compact beauty, run from the stunning rear facade of the villa to the lake.

The gardens are open every day and, on frequent occasions, are closed for private weddings and receptions. The views over to the island of San Giulio from these gardens is unforgettable.
Isola San Giulio

I have included the island of San Giulio, located about 100 meters from the shores of the village of San Giulio, as it is a lovely island. Cobblestone walkways ring the ancient convent and church, yet the views between villas, the glimpses of the lake and alps create the sense that visitors are surrounded by the gardens of Italy’s Lake Region. An earlier post on our blog, Lake Orta-Jewel of Italy’s Lake Region, has more details for those who are interested.

IF YOU GO:

LAGO COMO:

Villa d’Este

Via Regina, 40

22012 Cernobbio

Tel: +39 031 3481

No ticket required for garden visit.

Tremezzo-Villa Carlotta

Villa Carlotta

Vila Regina, 2

Tremezzo, Provinica di Como

Tel: +39 (0)344 40405

Entrance tickets: Euro 9.00 per person (check at desk if over 65 years of age for possible discount)

Season: Mid March to end of October (Check web site for details about season schedules)

Bellagio-Villa Melzi

Villa Melzi

Via Lunolario Manzoni

Bellagio

Tel: +39 339 4573838

Entrance Tickets: Euro 6.00 per person

Season: Late March to end of October (Check web site to confirm when gardens are open)

Lenno-Villa Balbianello

Vila Balbianello

Lenno, Como

Tel: +39 (0)344 56110

LAGO MAGGIORE:

Isola Bella

Isola Bella-Gardens of the Villa Borromeo

Tel: +39 (0)323.30556

Entrance tickets: Euro 13.00 per person (check on ticket prices for multiple islands when you purchase your tickets at Isola Bella)

Season: End March to end September. Daily. Open 9am to 12 noon and 1.30pm to 5pm. (Check web site for details about season opening times)

Verbania-Villa Taranto

Villa Taranto

Via Vittorio Veneto, 111

28922 Verbania

Tel: +39 (0)323 404555

Entrance Tickets: Euro 9.50 per person

Season: Mid March to end of October (Check web site for details about season dates)

LAGO ORTA

Orta San Giulio-Villa Bossi

Villa Bossi

Open year round, no admission cost

Isola San Giulio
Lago Orta

Isola San Giulio

For ferry schedules to the island from the village of Orto San Giulio, check with the Navigazione del Lago Orta

You can also talk directly to the many boat owners who play their trade on the lake. They can make arrangements to take you to and from the island.

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Isola Superiore dei Pescatori
Lago Maggiore

In my previous post, I discussed the most famous of the Borromean Islands, Isola Bella.

Now to the other two islands, one of the fishermen (Pescatori) and one of the earth (Madre).

Isola Pescatori

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori, called ‘superiore’ due to its position as the northern most of the three islands, is no longer owned by the Borromeo family. (For purposes of this post, I will refer to this island as Isola Pescatori). Only Isola Bella and Isola Madre remain in the hands of that family.

A little over 1200 feet in length and 335 feet wide, the small island offers narrow lanes, geranium laced balconies, and plenty of places to enjoy a lunch or dinner. The Church of San Vittore was probably built on the foundations of a 9th Century church. Evidence of island occupation to that century exist on both this island and Isola Madre.

Vendors in stalls and small shops cover this island, as do many restaurants and small hotels. If you visit Isola Bella in the morning, Isola Pescatori is the perfect place for lunch and a break during your day visit to this area of Italy.

Isola Madre:

Isola Madre – Villa
Lago Maggiore

The island of Madre is located about ten minutes, by ferry, from Isola Pescatori. There is, as on Pescatori, evidence of a 9th Century church and cemetery. During the 16th Century, two important activities started on the island; the first was the start of construction on the family villa and the second was the introduction of citrus trees brought from the province of Liguria along the Mediterranean coast.

In the latter part of that century, the family completed the villa in Renaissance style. The garden, which now covers over ninety percent of the island, was substantially diversified. It now includes a wide variety of botanical specimens from around the globe. The scala dei morti (stairs of the dead), dedicated to the memory of the 9th Century cemetery, are now covered in different varieties of Wisteria.

This is the least developed of the Borromean Islands, so do not expect vendors and lots of commercial activity. Today, visitors find peaceful and beautifully maintained gardens and villa. Of all the Borromean Islands, this is the most tranquil.

IF YOU GO:

Both Isole Pescatori and Madre are reached by ferry from many of the lakeside towns around the lake. Tickets are  available at all ticket offices. Double check last trip departures from these islands to ensure that you are not left behind. If you do, indeed, miss the last ferry from either of these islands, you will have to pay for a private launch to return you to your home base.

For ferry system information and schedules:

Lake Region Water Transportation

For further information about the specifics-opening times/closing times by season , entrance ticket costs and further history:

Borromeo Island Visitor Information

Where to eat and stay?

See my next post “Lago Maggiore-Where to Stay and Where to Eat”.

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Lago Maggiore View

Imagine a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by a crowning circle of Italian and Swiss alps, its shore ringed by romantic villages. Lago Maggiore, easily reached from Milan, is in the heart of Italy’s Lake Region.

Very close to the lake’s western shore are three small islands: Isola Bella, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori and Isola Madre. It was in 1632 that Carlos III of the House of Borromeo began to build a villa dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda. The island, originally named l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto,  is named in Isabella’s honor.

The completion of the villa and gardens suffered through the onsets of Plague, political power plays and other vagaries of the day. It was not until the latter part of the 18th Century, under Giberto V. Borromeo, that the villa and its gorgeous gardens were finally completed.

The gardens and villa were designed w by the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli. In 2008 the gardens reopened after detailed three year restoration and the results show. From the upper level garden terrace with its multi-storied grotto to the views of the lake and villages from the lower steps of the south garden, this is one of the finest and most beautiful gardens in Italy.

Isola Bella
Garden View

The Lake Region itself attracts visitors from all over Europe. The area is surprisingly free of the tourists hoards who descend upon Venice, Florence, Rome and other large Italian cities.

Access to the islands is very easy (see below) and you can visit the Borromeo Islands in one day.

Map Lago Maggiore

IF YOU GO:

If you are in Milan, trains run on a regular basis, about every hour, from Milano Centrale Station to Stresa (Recommended starting point for your visit to the islands). I recommend using the faster/cleaner Eurocity fast trains that leave Milano several times a day. These stop at very few town north of Milan and make the journey far more comfortable and faster than are the regional trains. Travel time between Milan and Stresa on the Eurocity trains from Milan is about an hour. Note that the regional trains are, indeed, less expensive-but slower!

To check train schedules:

Trenitalia English web site

On arrival in Stresa, you can either take a taxi or walk to the ferry building. By taxi, six minutes, by foot fifteen minutes-and it is all downhill from the station to the ferry building.

Transport on the lake ferry’s is very easy. Ticket offices are located in all of the ferry buildings that dot the villages along the lake. From Stresa, the trip to Isola Bella takes all of ten minutes. Fares vary by departure point. For further information on fares and schedules, check:

Lake Region Water Transportation

Isola Bella Villa and Gardens: The villa and gardens are open from March 24, 2012 – October 21, 9:30AM – 5:00PM. Tickets for both the Villa and gardens are Euro 13.00 for adults, Euro 5.50 for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Children under 6 years of age enter at no charge.

Where to stay?

Watch for future posts with details. My recommendation is to use the town of Stresa for all your explorations of the Lake Region, with the exception of Lake Garda. More to come!

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