While staying at Bellagio, we explored two large, landscaped gardens nearby to the town. With more time, there were plenty of other fabulous estates along Lake Como we would have been able to visit; for example, I was disappointed we weren’t able to visit Villa Monstero just over the water at Varenna. On our second day we chose to visit Parco di Villa Sebelloni which was the closest major garden to our hotel. Villa Serbelloni is on the hill of the promontory just above the old town of Bellagio and can be seen in the overhead photo below left on the edge of the tree line, just up the hill from Piazza della Chiesa. The image on the right below shows the villa from across the valley, looking down the peninsula.
Whenever landscaped gardens are mentioned around Lake Como, two famous names from Roman history come up. Both Pliny the Elder (writer of the first great Encyclopaedia) and Pliny the Younger visited the area around Lake Como on ‘holidays’. We know from his writings that Pliny the Younger owned two estates somewhere around the Lake which he called Villa Commedia and Villa Tragedia. Villa Tragedia is believed to have been above Bellagio somewhere on the estate we were visiting that morning, but no physical remains have ever been found. Unlike Villa Melzi which we would visit later that day, a walk around Villa Serbelloni has to be a booked tour so we joined our group up the hill at a spot that provided a great view over the spire of San Giacomo and out over the lake.
Our walk took us away from the Villa (not to be confused with the Grand Hotel down near the shoreline of Bellagio) and up to the other side of the hill away from Bellagio. The villa and the estate were already in place in the 16th century but the name Serbelloni only came to the fore when Count Alessandro Serbelloni purchased the estate in the 18th century. The count spent a lot of money on the house and gardens but after the deaths of his heirs, the property was sold on. It eventually was left to the Rockerfeller Foundation in 1959 and became a meeting place for scholars.
There are two guided walks provided each day and ours took us up the paths towards the top of the hill, passed remnants of ruins from past centuries until we reached a tunnel, cut through the hill by Count Serbelloni’s workers, that gave us a short cut to the other side of the estate. The exit from this tunnel can be seen in the photo above right. Our walk then continued along the edge of an escarpment that gave us wonderful views down over the lake. We passed a memorial statue of Pliny the Younger, whose villa is believed to have been a built on a ridge overlooking the lake somewhere in this area.
After lunch that afternoon we followed the road at the edge of Bellagio and headed down to the shoreline of Lago di Como. We turned left along the lakeside away from the Car Ferry Terminal and strolled along the path towards the entrance to Giardini di Villa Melzi. This amazing garden was created for Francesco Melzi d’Eril who happened to be appointed as vice president of the short-lived Italian Republic set up during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy in the early 1800s. Unfortunately the huge Villa Melzi is not open to the public but the botanical gardens around the villa and along the shoreline are open to visitors and make for a gorgeous afternoon stroll. The panoramas below capture the extent of the gardens between the villa and the start of Bellagio.
We walked to the Villa Melzi gardens along the shoreline from Bellagio but if you are in the mood, you can arrive at the dock in front of the villa by boat. This will give you the opportunity to note that 19th century visitors to the villa would have been first greeted to the estate by the lily pond (below) as they arrived.
If the same 19th century important visitors wanted to give a prayer of thanks for their safe arrival, they would have first turned right at the dock and walked down to the other lakeside entrance to visit the Family Chapel. This is a very impressive building with the interior showing that that Count Melzi d’Eril spared no expense in hiring the finest sculptors and artists of his time to ensure that history would respect his judgement. For example, the monument on the right below is the tomb of the count when he died in 1816, 5 years before his hero Napoleon.
Once we explored the family chapel, we turned back along the path that led in front of the villa, admiring the Egyptian style lions that had been sculpted by G.B. Comolli around 1810. The statue that can be seen on the left below was not completed by a contemporary sculptor of the count’s time; it was a statue of Apollo by G.Della Porta from the sixteenth century!
We turned right after passing the villa and made our way to a small building that was the original ‘Orangerie’ of the estate, the building where oranges could be grown all year round without being damaged by the winter snow and freezing winds off Lake Como. This building is now being used as a small museum that contains memorabilia of the Count’s close association with Napoleon and items that his high position in Napoleon’s Italian republic must have ensured he got access to.
From the Orangerie, the Melzi gardens are a beautiful series of Lake views and Azalea and Rhododendron Gardens. The next architectural feature of note in the landscape is the small domed pavilion that sits right on the edge of the lake (left, below). It is considered a ‘Moorish’ pavilion and apart from its lake views, it has a number of statues of 19th century European royalty inside. There is also a beautiful statue of the 12th century Italian poet Dante Aligheri and his much longed for companion, Beatrice, who features in his famous ‘Divine Comedy’, considered the first great masterpiece of Italian literature.
Our second day exploring the landscaped gardens around Bellagio required a lot of walking but the effort was worth it. After finishing our inspection of the Melzi Villa gardens, we had to do some slow walking up the hill to our hotel, but we were very satisfied with our day of spectacular Bellagio Beauty.