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The story behind the legendary villas of Lake Como

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Nadja Beschetnikova
April 3, 2018

Lake Como is one of the biggest lakes with a surface of 145 sq km and the deepest lake in Europe with a depth of 410 m. It is located in the northern region of Italy, near Milan. The capital of the province, Como, is home to some 80,000 residents and lies at one end of Italy's most popular lake.

Today its known as one of the most luxurious destinations and the high-end retreat for celebrities. But Lake Como has a big attractive force for aristocrats and wealthy people since the oldest times.

At the time of the Roman Empire, the famous poet Virgilio lived here. During Renaissance the genius Leonardo da Vinci received inspiration here on Lake Como. A large group of famous writers of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Stendhal, have created there the best works.

In recent times, the growth of local tourism became particularly significant for the economy of the city, replacing the silk production, which, in the past, was one of the major reasons of its grandeur.

As a tourist destination, Lake Como is popular for its landscapes, wildlife, spas, and natural delicious local food. In the area surrounding Lake Como, there are several farms which produce goods such as honey, olive oil, cheese, milk, eggs, and salamis.

Surrounded by roaming mountains, which protect Lake Como area from the cold winds, the place charms its inhabitants and the numerous visitors with a fine and favorable climate. Average daily temperatures range from about 13 °C in December to 30 °C in July.

The lake is famous as well for the handsome villas on its shores that have been built there since Roman times, when Pliny the Younger built the Comedia and the Tragedia resorts.

The scenery and emotive landscape have proved the ultimate romantic setting. Small wonder that getting married in Italy is very common among some of today’s hottest celebrities.

In 2013 John Legend held his Lake Como wedding to Chrissy Teigen. Actress Emily Blunt married actor John Krasinski in an exclusive Lake Como venue in 2010. George Clooney was a guest at this wedding, which is not surprising since the actor is a frequent visitor in Lombardy.

Clooney fell in love with Italy and purchased a Lake Como villa constructed in the 18th Century, called Villa Oleandra, in 2002.  At the time, the actor paid €11.7 million for the spacious mansion, which boasts 30 rooms, an outdoor theater, a swimming pool and a garage to house all of his motorcycles. 

George Clooney said once that this villa “changed my life in a very pleasant and unexpected way…I realized how beautiful life was in Italy and how it really helped calm me and not feel so pressured.”

Villa del Balbianello is one of the most harmonious examples of  a villa with garden, where the beauty lies in the overall effect rather than in each individual detail. Today the Villa del Balbianello is the most visited among the 52 FAI properties (since 1975, FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano, The National Trust for Italy, restores and takes care of special places in Italy so that present and future generations from all over the world may enjoy a priceless legacy) with over 90,000 visitors in 2015.

The picturesque scenery has also drawn interest as a film set. In the spring of 2006, the outdoor scenes of the movie Casino Royale were filmed in front of this Villa and the same Villa can be seen in Star Wars, “Attack of the Clones” & “A Month by the Lake”.

The most luxurious hotels on the lake have annexed historic, museum-worthy palazzos, so you can enjoy high-touch, hotel-caliber service in the centuries-old interiors.Villa d’Este, located in Cernobbio, 2 kilometers northwest of Como, boasts a 25-acre park. The villa has undergone significant changes since it was built in 1568 for the Cardinal of Como, Tolomeo Gallio, as his summer residence.

At the time, it was called Villa del Garovo. Around 1815, it hosted Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the future King of England George IV, who gave it the name of Nuova Villa d’Este. The landscaped gardens in the English style date back to this period. In 1873, it was turned into a luxury hotel, Villa d’Este, whose rooms average a cost of €1,000 a night. It regularly features in the top lists of the best hotels in the world.

If you look for more privacy, pay attention to the sumptuous Villa La Cassinella in Lenno, a quaint village on the romantic western side of the lake. Built at the end of 19th century, Villa La Cassinella, which is accessible only by private motor launch, has been recently carefully renovated, providing guests with all modern amenities.

Sir Richard Branson, an English business magnate, investor and philanthropist, is said to own it. But you can get a piece of the pie, and rent the villa for €90,000 per week.

Matt Bellamy, the lead artist of Muse, owned a lakefront condominium in the scenic village of Moltrasio. The building was created in 1829 and was once occupied by opera composer Vincenzo Bellini. The Italian composer wrote La Straniera, one of his most famous works, when he lived in the building. Bellamy was clearly inspired by a successful example of his predecessor.

The British rock mogul wrote and recorded there his band’s Grammy-winning fifth album, “The Resistance.” Last year the four-bedroom home was listed with a price tag of $2 million.

The prices and names of the neighbors may sound arty-farty, but do not rush to stick a label of snobbery on this place. Lake Como has a fantastic history, rich in legends, and every villa has a story too. And they definitely worth discovering. Vacation on the Lake Como is not only for a show.

Lush, green gardens, the mountainous hinterland and the relaxed, many local festivals and courteous locals who welcome visitors with a smile will leave you happily speechless. Except, you’ll reverently whisper ‘Bellissimo!’

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