The garden facade, Villa Carlotta, Lake Como, Italy (Photo by Diego Bonacina)
The garden facade

A baroque villa filled with Neoclassical sculptures and Romantic paintings halfway between Lenno and Menaggio

This is not only one of the most sumptuous palatial homes on the lake—a late baroque villa filled with Neoclassical statues and Romantic paintings—but for once the building itself is open to the public.

The Carlotta owes its beauty and fame to three owners. The late baroque villa itself was begun in 1690 for the Marquis Giorgio Clerici. In 1801 it passed to a self-made lawyer named Gian Battista Sommariva, who filled it with important Neoclassical sculptures and Romantic paintings. 

On the sculptural front, we have a Palamede by the greatest sculptor of his age, Antonio Canova, and an Cupid and Psyche by his student Tadolini.

What really moves the postcards off the racks, though, is a famed painting of Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Hayez, the undisputed Romantic-era master of stolen-kiss scenes.

In 1847, the villa went to the Prussian Princess Carlotta, who lent it her name, while her husband, Prince Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen, furnished it in Empire style. Sadly, Princess Carlotta died seven years later, giving birth to their fourth child. 

Another legacy of Princess Carlotta's husband, Prince Georg II, are the exquisitely landscaped gardens are a lush botanical cornucopia covering nearly 20 acres with over 500 species, everything from camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons (over 150 varieties), orchids, laurel and citrus trees to bananas, papyrus, bamboo, tea, cacti, palms, and forests of ferns spreading in all directions.

Photo gallery
  • The garden facade, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Diego Bonacina)
  • The gardens, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Daderot)
  • "Last Kiss of Romeo & Juliet" (1823) by Francesco Hayez, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Romeo & Juliet room, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Carloalberto2014)
  • Cupid & Psyche (1883) by Adamo Tadolini after Canova, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Fseveri)
  • The bedroom, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Pierre André Leclercq)
  • Palamede by Antonio Canova, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Carloalberto2014)
  • The facade, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Diego Bonacina)
  • Succulents and cactus in the gardens, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Annaelle19)
  • "Odalisque with Book" (1866) by Francesco Hayez, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Flower beds in the gardens, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Annaelle19)
  • The Empire room, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Moahim)
  • The gardens and lake view, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Carloalberto2014)
  • The tapestry room, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Carloalberto2014)
  • The Duke
  • The Grande Galleria, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo by Phyrexian)
  • Princess Carlotta of Prussia, Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen (1826-1914), Villa Carlotta, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
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Tips

Digression on Principe Giorgio, theater pioneer

Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen (1826-1914)Prince Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen was not exactly easy on the eyes, but he was an interesting bloke.

Later in life, he would found and direct a theater company back home in Germany and pretty much invent our modern concept of theatrical direction—creating purpose-designed sets, costume, and lighting, but also the concept of rigorously rehearsing the scenes with the actors.

On the side, he had an orchestra and opera company, and he is credited with "discovering" the composer Richard Strauss, who found himself, at the age of 21, suddenly taking over directorial duties of Prince Georg's Meiningen Court Orchestra in 1885.

Sadly, before all that, when he was still at the Villa Carlotta, he sold most of the art collection.

What you see today are just the remnants of a once truly spectacular private collection.

How to get to the Villa Carlotta

You can take the C10 bus from Menaggio or walk along the lake.

The nearest ferry landing is at Cadenabbia, just north of the gardens, though ferries to Menaggio are more frequent.

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.).