From majestic peaks to shimmering lakes and sea caressed shores, Italian villas unfold like poems written by nature itself. In this enchanted setting, mountains, serene waters and wild coastlines converge, embracing love stories and exclusive events under a sky that blesses every moment with its ethereal beauty. The Hospitality sector and the Luxury world have made Italian villas a charming destination; nature has done the rest.
An iridescent disc of water, slightly rippled by the summer breeze and surrounded by blue mountains. A boat trip at sunset, a dip from the Nesso Gorge, hidden among the foliage, a lunch in the sun on the shore: this is Lake Como.
Among the Italian villas, the first that comes to mind is Villa Erba, in Cernobbio, positioned overlooking the lake, whose past, present and future are interwoven with religion, cinema and fashion.
The French fashion house Dior, for example, presented its high jewelry collection in collaboration with Victoire de Castellane, right in the villa’s centuries-old garden, filled with exotic species and extremely rare plants in bright colors.
Between gala dinners, fashion shows, classical pianos and art, the fate of Villa Erba seems closely and inextricably linked to culture and social events. But originally it was sacredness and prayer that dominated the scene. The mansion was, in fact, a women’s monastery. Hence the name of the location itself, Cernobbio, from ” cenobio ” meaning monastery.
Between history and cinema
In the early 1800s, the space was renovated and transformed into a park to which was soon attached the design of a new and magnificent building, the so-called “Villa Grande,” today Villa Erba, named after its patrons: the husband and wife Luigi Erba and Anna Brivio, who commissioned the architects Angelo Savoldi and Giovanni Battista Borsani. And so, from hand to hand, the property passed to the Erba couple’s daughter, Carla Erba, who married Duke Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone in Cernobbio, becoming the family’s vacation home. The fourth of their seven children was none other than neorealist director Luchino Visconti. Here the director spent part of his childhood and adulthood, working on some of his most celebrated masterpieces from Ludwig, to The Leopard (1963). Although he never shot there, some of the sets recall the villa’s footprint, from the frescoed ceilings to the ballroom.
“Happy days on the shores of the Lario,” the Milanese director wrote, citing the pre-Latin name for Lake Como, “We were making plans with my brothers and the storm would break out on time. Chagrined we would remain in silence clinging to the windows already lined with rain. Sometimes we slept on the grass, in afternoon hibernation in a quiver of crickets and cicadas. In the evening we would hand our sleep-weary faces to our parents. Then autumn would come and we kids would be sad for the reopening of schools.”
As Anna Gastel, the director’s granddaughter, also later recounted, the house was beloved for its free family atmosphere. Family and sibling cohesion has always been an important theme for Luchino Visconti, as his films also testify, where lunchtime was a time to be together and the relationship with the mother stands out in the foreground as something that determines life and the choice of true values.
On the notes of this familiar lexicon, let us now leave the threshold of Villa Erba behind, to review other Italian villas, of similar fate.
Villa il Balbianello
Also on Lake Como, everywhere dotted with palaces and architectural gems, stands Villa Il Balbianello, set for several films including 007 Casino Royale, is now owned by the FAI, not to be confused with the nearby Villa Del Balbiano.
Rich in beautiful Italian gardens, Baroque-era frescoes and ornate furnishings, this villa was also once a religious site: it was built by Cardinal Angelo Durini in the late 1700s from the ruins of a Franciscan monastery.
Later the building became a meeting point for intellectuals of the time including Giuseppe Parini, Silvio Pellico, Giovanni Berchet and Alessandro Manzoni. There they are, intent on amiable conversation, in front of the lake, under the charming 18th-century three-arched loggia.
Nothing would make him envious of the members of the English Bloomsbury Group, who met, instead, at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, in the province of Salerno: a terrace on infinity in complete harmony with the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. Here one breathes sea air, among art, politics and literature.
Such a charming place, from the painted vaulted ceilings to the majolica floors, from the gardens to the statues, arranged along the edge of the cliffs cannot but recall a timeless fairy tale…and it is no coincidence that it is said to have been the home of Lord Grimthorpe, the watchmaker behind Big Ben.
Villa d’Este a Tivoli
On the outskirts of Rome, majestic in the rosiest of golden hours, Villa d’Este in Tivoli is one of the symbols of the Italian Renaissance and now a UNESCO heritage site. The Italianate garden is rich in fountains, true works of art, and water features of all kinds, which forged its identity at the behest of Lucrezia Borgia’s son, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. In fact, most of the outdoor fountains can be considered water theaters, leading to the famous Viale delle Cento Fontane, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fontana del Bicchierone, and the so-called “musical fountains,” which play musical harmonies.
Citing the Renaissance, we move on to Tuscany, where, in the Mediterranean scrubland in the province of Grosseto, lies Villa Talamo, the historic property of an old nunnery and now owned by the Zampolli family, which has built a corner of paradise with a unique view of the Costa d’Argento, where it is also possible to stay overnight to enjoy the most spectacular moments of the place. The sand-colored building is surrounded by lush vegetation overlooking the water.
Heading south, you can’t miss Villa Tasca in Palermo, a neoclassical villa owned by one of the island’s most prominent aristocratic families, rich in frescoes, historic furnishings and Murano glass chandeliers frequented by Jacqueline Kennedy and appreciated by musicians of the caliber of Wagner and Verdi.
Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino
And finally, in perfect nuance with the blooming jasmine, Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino in the heart of Genoa. The garden, ordered on several levels and dotted with grottoes and nymphaea, is populated in summer with delightful purple agapanthus where the frescoed atrium from 1563 and the facade in sky blue and white stucco triumph, like the froth of the sea not far away.
And as we contemplate the horizon, we are certain in our hearts of how many countless other stories lie hidden from our view, between a gilded doorway and a forgotten garden, and we can only hope that we will soon be able to bring them to light with a new installment of Hospitalitales.