Villa del Balbianello and "The Stars of Lake Como"
It is one of the wonders of the Lario: it is reached by boat in a crescendo of picturesque views and movie quotes.
What it is and where it is
This is not a villa in the most common sense of the term, but a complex of buildings articulated vertically and horizontally to fit the tormented nature of a promontory. The main buildings are the residence, which partly exploits the volumes of the primitive monastery church, and the loggia, placed on the ridge line with the function of a belvedere with a double view of the lake. A series of minor buildings are scattered in the park that descends from the woods to the lake, reserving views of astonishing beauty, such as the terrace shaded by a centuries-old holm oak or the staircase of the representative landing, framed by candelabra-pruned plane trees. Also very impressive is the view offered by the small harbor at the end of the promontory, protected by a pier embellished with statues.
Why it is special
"The stars of Lake Como" is the slogan used to promote film tourism around Lake Como, which in fact looks like a large set: villas and large hotels for indoor filming, and the whole lake, up to the mountains, for outdoor. This is confirmed by the Villa del Balbianello, by far the most titled film location. Chosen as early as 1941 by Mario Soldati for Piccolo Mondo Antico, a transposition of Fogazzaro's novel, it is more often remembered for two recent Hollywood productions: the second episode of Star Wars, (Attack of the Clones, 2002), and yet another adventure of the secret agent James Bond(Casino Royale, 2006), which chose the lake's splendor as a backdrop for some of the sentimental scenes in those films.
Not to be missed
Among the films shot at Balbianello, however, the most significant is "A Month at the Lake," signed by Englishman John Irvin in 1995. The story harkens back to the restless years before World War II: the mature English photographer Miss Bentley (Vanessa Redgrave) is on vacation and falls in love with one of her compatriots, Major Wilshaw (Edward Fox), involving him in a comedy of jealousy in which the young American Miss Beaumont (Uma Thurman) and an Italian boy (Alessandro Gassman) play co-stars. The villa is transformed into a hotel for the occasion, under the direction of Mrs. Fascioli (Alida Valli). The film is particularly appreciable for its rendering of the bright lake atmosphere suspended in time, despite the looming war, at least for the duration of a vacation.
A bit of history
The wooded Lavedo hump stretches between the waters of the lake, forming a unique landscape. In ancient times, its rocky mass shaped by ice emerged from the lake like an island, which over the millennia eventually welded to the mainland by the input of alluvial materials from the Perlana stream behind. What resulted was a promontory culminating in a steep offshoot jutting out into the middle of the lake. Perhaps too impassable for a military settlement, the place became the site of a Franciscan monastery, which in the 17th century Cardinal Durini, already the owner of the not-distant Balbiano villa at Isola, transformed into an extraordinary place of delight, the Balbianello, further enriched by subsequent owners: Count Luigi Porro Lambertenghi, an anti-Austrian patriot who hosted Silvio Pellico there, and then Giuseppe Arconati Visconti, also a supporter of the Risorgimento uprisings.
The complex was restored to its former splendor in the 1970s by Guido Monzino (1928-1988), a singular figure of entrepreneur, mountaineer and explorer, who then destined it by bequest in his will to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano. Several rooms preserve memories of the last owner's life: first of all, the rooms of the belvedere, where a library and a collection of maps have been set up. Then, in the residence, in addition to the collections of ancient art, one can admire the unique memorabilia of the Museum of Expeditions, evidence of the peoples reached in the course of an incredibly adventurous life, from the Maasai of Central Africa to the Tibetans of Himalayan Asia.
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