An aerial view, Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy (Photo by Jeroen Komen)
An aerial view

The terraced gardens of this 1784 lakeside villa are so picturesque it has been cast in several films

On the western shore of the southwestern arm of the lake, outside the town of Lenno, is what is increasingly the most instantly recognizable sights on the lake, the Villa Balbianello, built by Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini in 1784.

It is surrounded by terraced gardens, statue-lined balustrades fringed with flowers, and threaded by gravel paths shaded by sycamore, pine, and ilex. 

The reason the Balbianello might look familiar is because it has become something of a Hollywood star itself, serving as a set for movies ranging from:

  • A Month by the Lake (1995) — A classic ex-pats-falling-in-love-with-Italy-and-one-other flick starring Vanessa Redgrave and Uma Thurman.
  • Casino Royale (2006) — It's where Bond convalesces after that brutal torture scene in the James Bond reboot.
  • Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones (2002) —The villa serves as a backdrop for the romantic scenes and secret wedding, and Como stands in for the lake district on the planet Naboo.

(I find it telling that this is one of only a handful of environments in the prequels that George Lucas didn't create on his computers, Lake Como being of such unearthly beauty it needed little digital touching up.)

The 18C 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 who died in 1988 and left this villa to FAI (the Italian National Trust).

The hour-long tour (in English and Italian, not bookable; groups of max 15 made up as people arrive) showcases the explorer's collections from China, Africa, and South America and chronicles the adventures that took him from the North Pole in 1971 to the first Italian to climb Mount Everest in 1973. 

Photo gallery
  • An aerial view, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Jeroen Komen)
  • The villa by the lake, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by CpaKmoiFollow)
  • The pavillion, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Paula Funnell)
  • Proof that Naboo is really just Lake Como, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Edward Faulkner)
  • The exhibition room, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Henry Kellner)
  • The map room, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Henry Kellner)
  • The lakeside balustrade, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by CpaKmoiFollow)
  • The library, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Henry Kellner)
  • The office, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Henry Kellner)
  • The gardens, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by MarkusMark)
  • The smoking room, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Henry Kellner)
  • The master bedroom, Villa del Balbianello, Italy (Photo by Henry Kellner)
Lake Como tours
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You can arrive by boat!

You can get to the villa every day by boat from Lenno (tel. 333-410-3854;

There's also a 1km-long footpath here from Lenno.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).