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Lenno and Villa del Balbianello

Today we bring you the last instalment of the series that we’ve dedicated to the most beautiful villages around Lake Como. And we’ve saved the best for last. Our day trip to Lenno and the incredibly beautiful Villa del Balbianello was the most special highlight of our days in Lake Como. Finding the words to describe how magnificent the gardens of the Villa are is going to be difficult, but we are going to try. Just in case, we’ve added tons of pictures in this post.

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Lenno is a quiet village a short 10 minutes away from Bellagio. However, it’s not one of the preferred destinations in the lake. Most people come to visit the wonderful Villa del Balbianello and that’s about it. And while the Villa absolutely deserves a visit, Lenno can be a fantastic destination on its own. Quiet, with lots of hidden alleys to explore, a lovely oh so quintessential Italian main square, the beautiful church of S. Stefano, the Acquafredda Abbey and a breathtaking view over the Golf of Venus, Lenno could be perfect for an understated holiday overlooking Lake Como.

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We said goodbye to the still asleep port of Bellagio and, defying the gloomy weather, we seated in the outside area of the boat, letting the water mess with our hair and feeling a little bit scared of falling overboard but refusing to seat inside. We passed the crowded Tremezzo and arrived to the deserted, tiny port of Lenno. Once we recovered movement (we seated outside but it was freezing, to be honest) we followed the adorable promenade towards Villa del Balbianello and enjoyed the wonderful views of Bellagio and Lezzeno, just in front, on the other shore of the Lake. We bumped into a couple of kids riding their bicycles and a few local women power walking and laughing but apart from that, the village was extremely quiet. Maybe it was that calm atmosphere what made us felt like we were the first tourists to ever set foot in the village.  We passed by refined, elegant villas still closed, waiting for the season to start. It gave us the impression of a place where Italians, maybe Milan urbanites, head to on weekends and where big Italian families spend their Summers.

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We decided to walk towards Villa del Balbianello. Or should I say hike? There were water taxis available, but we wanted to enjoy the luscious vegetation (palms, pines and a surprising amount of bamboo) and chose to walk through the scenic path. There was another route through the woods for experienced hikers. Since that route was one kilometer longer and bearing in mind that we almost needed oxygen to arrive to the Villa with the “easy” route, I will recommend the longer, harder route only if you are used to climb like a goat. If you are more a “I prefer grazing like a cow” kind of person, choose the scenic path and stop every few minutes with the excuse of admiring the breathtaking landscape. After a good 20 minutes walk up and down the track we arrived to Villa del Balbianello.

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This Villa dates from the 12th Century and while there are different buildings (Loggia, Library and Museum) open to visitors, as soon as we laid eyes on the gardens and the incredible views, we knew that we wanted to stay outside. The gardens of Villa del Balbianello are just perfect, no wonder numerous directors have chosen this location as setting for their films. You might have seen these gardens in one of the Star Wars movies (that explains the tourists dressed as Spacetroopers) and in James Bond’ s Casino Royale.

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If we were to get married again, this would be the place. It’s too beautiful. Stendhal Syndrom beautiful. The wisteria, the camellia, the groomed trees…. the smell was so fresh, flowery, dreamy… we didn’t want to leave. Every corner was picture perfect. We specially loved the small but elegant pier, where the most sophisticated tourists were disembarking from shiny Riva yachts. Seeing their faces when they saw the gardens was like seeing someone admire the Fontana di Trevi for the first time. Pure astonishment. However, we were lucky because we were alone most of the time. It was just the lake, the perfect gardens and us.

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After a glorious morning in the gardens, we headed back to Lenno. 20 minutes of trekking later we found ourselves in the heart of the village. The adorable square dominated by the Italian flag was almost empty but we noticed some families all dressed up heading towards the restaurants dotted along the promenade so, even though we had other plans, we decided to stay in Lenno for lunch. Sometimes the best way to chose a restaurant is just by looking at the customers and when we saw a group of bikers, a few local families and a Japanese couple eating big plates of risotto on the terrace of a traditional and unpretentious restaurant we chose a little table and sat down knowing that our lunch was going to be perfect. The restaurant was called Plinio and it offers simple but friendly service and idyllic views over the lake. We ate an amazing risotto with persico and grilled trout fresh from the lake with grilled vegetables. Our lunch was just as we had thought it would be. We skipped dessert and headed to the local ice cream shop. We chose chocolate and stracciatella and walnuts and white cream with figs. That first ice cream of the year under the Spring sun was the epitome of happiness. We walked along the promenade and sat down on a bench next to the pier. And there we were: two happy tourists, eating their ice cream in silence, admiring the water, so clean, so peaceful… Enjoying life. The moment was so perfect that we ended up running because we almost missed the boat that would take us to Varenna.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed these series and that if you ever plan a visit to Lake Como you think about staying in these little villages and avoiding those one day tours that show you the lake in a hurry. Take your time, explore the alleys, spend lots of time admiring the flowers, get lost in the beauty of the mountains reflected on the water… Be present and make the experience yours.

PS:  Explore Varenna and Menaggio with us here and discover the über charming Bellagio here.

1 Comment

  1. Amazing pictures and beautifully written post. Reading it amused my (usually boring) journey to the Stansted Airport :) Thank you!

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