In Deep: BellagioItaly | Lakes District
“From the house where I live in the village of Bellagio, I hear the melancholy murmur of the waves breaking on the sandbanks, and I see, on the mountain, the last golden rays of the setting sun. If you only knew the magical colours that the sun paints the waters before it departs!”
Bellagio, from the Latin bi-lacus, or “between the lakes,” has long been regarded as one of the loveliest towns in Europe. Its charm is on display for all, as so many of its windows are dressed with geranium boxes, and its cobblestone staircases are lined with veils of bougainvillea.
The town is set at the top of the triangular promontory that separates Lake Como’s two southern extensions (like an inverted Y shape). This tip of land is referred to as La Punta Spartivento, the point that divides the wind, and it is here that the Tivano and the Breva winds divide.
Historically, Bellagio was often fought over by Como and Milan city-states, so it’s somewhat ironic, then, that the sheer beauty and tranquillity of the area has cemented its reputation as a place of pleasure. From Pliny the Younger’s Villa Tragedia to the lakeside Villa Melzi (completed in 1808), many wonderful villas and equally beautiful gardens were constructed to pay homage to the natural splendour of Bellagio’s Lake Como setting.
It is no surprise that Bellagio’s air of quiet dignity has drawn many famous and historic figures, including Franz Liszt, King Farouk of Egypt, and John F. Kennedy. Before departing this enchanting town, be sure to relax for an evening aperitivo under the waterfront porticoes, enjoy the passeggiata alongside the local Bellagini, and take a climb up the Salita Serbelloni to view all three legs of the lake.
The neo-classical Villa Melzi was constructed between 1808 and 1810 for one of Napoleon’s henchmen, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, the Duke of Lodi. The manicured gardens and stunning lakeside setting were the inspiration for various works by Liszt and Stendhal, both guests of the Melzi family. Villa Melzi boasts immaculate lawns, exotic flora, and sculpture-lined walkways.
The villa, built on the site of Pliny the Younger’s Villa Tragedia, was commissioned by Count Alessandro Serbelloni at the beginning of the 19th century. More recently, it was donated to the Rockefeller Foundation and serves as a study and conference centre for writers and academics. Its hilly topography contains a beautiful park and garden, giving you incredible views of the lake.
The Villa Crella dates back to the 17th century. It has been recently restored by the Gandola brothers, who are still renovating one of the former silkworm houses. (In the 16thC, silkworms were smuggled into Como, which once produced the finest silk in Italy). Those who lay eyes on the villa appreciate the beautiful views: the lake and mountains from the terrace, as well as the lovely grounds.