Built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini at the end of the XVIII century, the Villa del Balbianello stands on the tip of a steep promontory overlooking Lake Como, almost opposite Bellagio. Today, the villa has the appearance desired by its last owner, the explorer Guido Monzino, with a rich collection of Chinese, African and pre-Colombian art, precious English and French furniture of the 1700s and the small museum with documents and mementoes of his expeditions. Yet the true masterpiece in the Villa del Balbianello is the panoramic terraced garden dominated by the elegant “loggia” with three arches rising on the highest point of the promontory.
The small port
Dosso d’Avedo is just a few minutes by boat from Balbiano and here, at the end of the 1700s, there were only the romantic remains of a small Franciscan church. Cardinal Durini built here from 1787 a splendid “place of delights” where he could study and discuss letters and arts with a few qualified friends.
Welcomed by the “Fay ce que voudras” (Do what you want) engraved on the paving of the portico opening on to the small port, guests climbed to the villa up a steep staircase overlooking the lake; and it is still so today, since access from the lake to the Villa del Balbianello is still the main approach.
The “loggia” that Cardinal Durini commissioned slightly above the house on the central part of the promontory is the true architectural invention of the Villa del Balbianello; briefly, is stands parallel to the peninsula and simultaneously offers fine views of the landscapes of Tremezzina, the true heart of the Lario area, and the bay opposite towards the island of Comacina.
The “loggia” is flanked by just two symmetrical rooms: the library and the music room (today the map room).
The “loggia” welcomed Giuseppe Parini for many hours, to whom the Cardinal dedicated his Ode “Gratitude”.
The map room
The map room in the “loggia” of the Villa del Balbianello has a complete series with map and geographical charts, many of which were used by Count Guido Monzino in his exploits.
There are many period prints on the walls depicting views and panoramas of the lake.
The adjacent library, on the other hand, is home to more than four thousand volumes collected by Monzino over many years of scrupulous research in all countries of the world and today is one of the most complete and precious collections dedicated to alpine and polar expeditions.
The museum of expeditions
The expedition room on the upper floor of the Villa del Balbianello is dedicated to an exhibition of mementoes and memorabilia of Guido Monzino’s boldest expeditions.
Photographs, flags and honors are joined in the center of the room by one of the eight dog-hauled sledges that enabled Monzino to reach the North Pole in 1971.
The small Eskimo statues representing divinities and anthropomorphic figures are also very interesting.
The space that the rocky tip of the peninsula offered to the ambitions of Cardinal Durini was very cramped and the lack of earth caused considerable problems for planting new species. It was therefore impossible to create an Italian garden, although numerous laurel and box hedges mark off lawns with geometrical precision, not was it possible to create an English garden. The garden at Villa del Balbianello, therefore, is something else in its won right, where everything relates to the lake and shores, where nothing distract from the vision of the water.
Courtesy of FAI Fondo Ambiente Italiano