Balbianello guide

Villa Balbianello

A guide to Villa Balbianello outside Lenno—A monument to Italian adventurer Guido Monzino and star of films from James Bond to Star Wars

Villa Balbianello, Lago di Como
Villa Balbianello. (Photo by Scott Thompson)

The Villa Balbianello may be becoming the most instantly recognizable sight on Lake Como thanks to its role in a seires of big Hollywood movies.

Villa Balbianello was built by Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini in 1784, and is surrounded by terraced gardens, statue-lined balustrades fringed with flowers, and threaded by gravel paths shaded by sycamore, pine, and ilex.

The ville lies outside the town of Lenno, on the western shore of the southwestern arm of Lake Como just up from the town of Como.

Villa Balbianello: Hollywood star

Villa Balbianello
A pavilion at Villa Balbianello featured in Star Wars: Episode II. (Photo by Scott Thompson)
The reason all of this might look familiar is because Villa Balbianello has become something of a Hollywood star, serving as a set for movies ranging from the 1995 A Month by the Lake, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Uma Thurman, to the 2006 James Bond reboot Casino Royale (it's the private hospital where Daniel Craig's Bond recuperates).

Most notably, Villa Balbianello served as a backdrop for all the romantic scenes between Anakin and Amidala in 2002's Star Wars: Episode II (Attack of the Clones)—and Lake Como itself stood in for the lake district of the planet Naboo.

I find it telling that this is one of only a handful of environments in the film George Lucas didn't create on his computers, Lake Como being of such unearthly beauty it needed little digital touching up aside from adding in a few domed buildings of Naboo-ish architecture... oh, and the waterfalls are digital. (While we're on the subject: scenes inside Naboo's royal palace were filmed at Caserta, near Naples.)

Touring the villa: The amzing life of Italian adventurer Guido Monzino

Guido Monzino
Guido Monzino
The villa itself is maintained as a museum to the exploits and explorations of its last owner, department store mogul and noted explorer Guido Monzino, a character colorful enough to star in a movie of his own. Monzino died in 1988 and left this villa to FAI (Fonde Ambiente Italiano, sort of like an Italian National Trust).

The FAI-led tour (which must be booked in advance and can be done in Italtian and other languages) showcases Monzini's collections from China, Africa, and South America and chronicles the adventures that took him from the North Pole in 1971 to being the first Italian to climb Mount Everest in 1973.

Best bit: As part of the tour, you arrive at the villa's private dock by boat from Lenno (Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday it's also accessible by foot, but the boat's way cooler).

Bonus: There's also a tour that includes a guided visit the fabulous Villa Carlotta in nearby Tremezzo.

Tips & links

Details

Villa Balbianello
Via Comoedia, Lenno
tel. +39-0344-56-110
www.fondoambiente.it/beni/villa-del-balbianello.asp
Open mid-Mar–mid-Nov, Tues and Thurs-Sun 10am–6pm

Hotels on Lake Como
How to get around Lake Como

If you don't take a tour or have a rental car, the easiest way is by bus (www.sptlinea.it) or by boat (www.navigazionelaghi.it). Buses are a little cheaper and more frequent, but Lake Como ferries are faster and way, way more scenic—especially since many of those amazing villas with their fabulous gardens are protected behind high walls on the landlubbing side—but from the water, you get a full-on view. Bring binoculars (and hey: you might even see George Clooney!).

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Details

Villa Balbianello
Via Comoedia, Lenno
tel. +39-0344-56-110
www.fondoambiente.it/beni/villa-del-balbianello.asp
Open mid-Mar–mid-Nov, Tues and Thurs-Sun 10am–6pm

Hotels on Lake Como:


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