Located in the north, Italy’s lake district encompasses all the natural attractions the country has to offer with a collection of tranquil lakes surrounded by imposing mountains.
Every year the rich and famous flock to the shores of Lake Como, for a chance to forget their worries without forsaking their glamorous lifestyles. Perhaps the biggest star in residence is George Clooney, who owns two houses in Laglio on the lake’s western shore.
But 200 years ago Lake Como played host to those with more political clout. Napoleon’s right-hand man in northern Italy, Count Francesco Melzi d’Eril, built himself a villa on the lake. While Napoleon’s reign in Italy lasted little more than a decade, the count’s legacy still remains in the form of Villa Melzi’s lush garden. It’s the perfect place to escape the pulsating crowds who inundate Lake Como from May to September.
Villa Melzi sits almost anonymously on the southern edge of the charming town of Bellagio — a magnet for day-trippers with its cafés, restaurants and souvenir stores — and takes just five minutes to stroll to from the town. And stroll you should, as winding paths crisscross the garden, passing under exotic plants such as Japanese maples, azaleas and rhododendrons.
While the garden holds special appeal for green-thumbs, there are also Egyptian sculptures and Roman statues dotted throughout for those who fear missing out on their daily Italian art fix.
Villa Melzi is one of a number of gardens on Lake Como which are open to the public. Another one to see is Villa Carlotta, a garden and museum dedicated to neoclassical art. Over the year the garden is a picture with trees such as palms, magnolias and eucalyptus.
If you keep to the Hollywood theme of Lake Como then head to Villa Balbianello. A grand house with terraced gardens cascading down to the lake, it’s little wonder they chose it as a location for the James Bond film Casino Royale. And even if you fail to spot Daniel Craig, the views from the villa are spectacular.