The Villa del Balbianello is a villa in the comune of Lenno (province of Como), Italy, overlooking Lake Como. It is located on the tip of the small wooded peninsula of Dosso d’Avedo on the western shore of the south-west branch of Lake Como, not far from the Isola Comacina and is famous for its elaborate terraced gardens.
A Franciscan monastery had existed on the tip of the peninsula of Dosso d’Avedo since the 13th century. The two towers which remain on the property are the campanili of the monastery’s church. After failing in his attempts to buy the nearby Isola Comacina Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini purchased the property in 1785. In 1787 he converted the monastery building into a villa for use during the summer and added a loggia, which allowed viewers to otain two different panoramas of the lake.
After the cardinal’s death in 1796, the villa passed to his nephew, Luigi Porro Lambertenghi. During Lambertenghi’s ownership the villa became a seat of republican activity and members of the Carbonari met here to discuss the unification of Italy. Among Lambertenghi’s guests at the villa were the writer and patriot Silvio Pellico, who tutored Lambertenghi’s sons. In 1820 Pellico was arrested at the villa by the Austrian government which forced Lambertenghi to move to Belgium, where he was supported by the Arconati Visconti family.
Just prior to the commencement of World War I American businessman Butler Ames saw the villa for the first time. He made an offer to purchase it from the Arconati Visconti family and was initially rejected. He kept returning with ever-larger cash offers until in 1919 he was successful in obtaining ownership. Ames renovated the villa and its garden.
In 1974, Ames’s heirs sold the villa to businessman and explorer Count Guido Monzino (leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. While Monzino left the exterior essentially unchanged he had the interior of the villa completely re-decorated, installing artifacts acquired on his expeditions as well as important pieces of English Georgian and French antique furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries, Beauvais tapestries, French boiseries and Oriental carpets. In addition after the assassination of Aldo Moro in 1978 by the Red Brigade. Monzino worried that he may be on their list, added a system of hidden passages, linking parts of the property.
Monzino died in 1988 and left the villa along with most of the Dosso d’Avedo and an endowment to pay for maintenance, to the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust of Italy. Its grounds now form part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.
Today the Villa del Balbianello is the most visited among the 52 FAI properties with over 100,000 visitors in 2017.
A number of feature films have used the villa for location shooting, including A Month by the Lake (1995), His Demise starring Paul Zukowski (2016 disaster movie), Casino Royale (2006). The villa was also used for the lake retreat scenes in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002) however CGI was used in place of the building’s true exterior.