La Dolce Vita Part 2 – On the Water

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Seven of us rented a villa in Lezzano on Lake Como, Italy for a week. After we felt comfortable on land and explored the area a bit including taking the local bus to Bellagio, we decided to rent a boat and try our luck on the water.

Our fearless leader, Leo, owned a boat back at home so he was our captain and boat driver. Lake Como was shaped like a “Y”.   If you followed the stem up the right of the “V” portion, all the way to the top, you would be at the city of Como. Right at the bottom of the “V” was Bellagio. Lezzeno was about three-quarters of the way from Como to Bellagio.


Villa D’Este

We rented the boat for three hours. Starting at Lezzeno we went straight down to the Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, almost to Como. The villa was originally built in the 1500’s for the Cardinal of Como but in 1873 it became a deluxe hotel for the nobility and high bourgeoisie. Our boat captain, Leo, stayed there with his parents in the 1970’s and felt a pilgrimage was needed. Today it is one of the best hotels in the world and room rates average $1500 per night. Leo is no longer a member of that crowd per se, he is now a professional photographer and as we inched in closer to the floating pool with Leo pointing his massive camera every which way, I saw large men in dark suits making moves towards us. I was a bit relieved when we continued our tour back down the lake.

Villa L’Oleandra

Our next stop was George Clooney’s villa, Villa L’Oleandra in Laglio. Not as massive as the Villa d’Este but nice enough and with an impressive boat in front of it. The windows were open and it looked like somebody was home but they did not show themselves. Possibly camera shy?

Famous people or not, the villas and countryside were beautiful all up and down the coast. I took to photographing churches and snapped as many as I could.

Villa la Cassinella

From our villa we had been watching seaplanes take off and land on a regular basis. We found that Villa la Cassinella, Richard Branson’s villa, was directly across from us and was only accessible by water. The most impressive things about it were the Cypress trees. Apparently you can rent it for 90,000 Euros a week.

Around the corner from Villa la Cassinella is Villa Balbianello right at the tip of a peninsula. It was originally built in the 1700’s for a Cardinal but after going through several owners and a renovation, it was handed to the National Trust of Italy. It is open to visitors from November to March. It has been used in several movies including A Month by the Lake and Casino Royale but what impressed us was we immediately recognized the balcony from the love scene in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Villa Balbianello

From there we crossed over the lake, swung by our villa and returned the boat – late. There was just too much to see.

Our next boat outing was a couple of days later when we decided we needed to see the rest of our finger portion of the lake. Again we started in Lezzano but went the other direction up to Bellagio. One thing that surprised me about Lake Como was how few people there were. There was almost no boat traffic and most of what there was seemed to be local people going about their business. It didn’t feel like a ritzy resort area.

That morning we passed another boat with two men on it and at the same time Ella started dancing a little jig of happiness. The two men jumped up and started dancing as well. Cracked us up.

As we went past the Villa Melzi near Bellagio, Leo told us the story of the battling villas. Count Francesco Melzi d’Eril built his neo-classical villa in 1810. He hired an architect and a botanist to design an English-style garden surrounding the villa.

Directly across the lake was Villa Carlotta originally built in 1745 but renovated by Giovanni Battista Sommariva in the neo-classical style in the early 1800’s. He decorated his property with an English-style garden and filled it with exotic plants from around the world including Japanese maples, azaleas, rhododendrons, palms, vines and wisteria.

Villa Carlotta

Across the lake Count Melzi tried to top everything Sommariva did. The end results are two beautiful gardens not to be missed.

Next week, we take Italy’s steepest funicular.