What would the lake look like without certain “villas”? (Olmo, d’Este, Passalaqua, Pliniana, Carlotta, Melzi, Monastero, etc…). It would probably just look like a huge basin full of water, surrounded by barren shores and old huts perched on the slopes. The list of “these villas” includes Villa del “Balbianello” of course. The luxurious mansion is situated on the top of the “Dorsum Abidum”: the hill d’Avedo or Lavedo. In ancient times the place was a haven for pirates and though it was called “Gulf of the lords”, the building originally housed a Franciscan monastery.

After the dissolution of monastic orders in 1787 the convent was bought by Cardinal Durini. As he wasn’t “persona grata” to the Roman curia Cardinal Durini retired in this corner of paradise turning it into a luxury retreat open to the intellectuals of his time (a regular visitor was the “Brianzolo” poet and writer Parini). It is said that during a musical-literary entertainment coffee was served for the first time in Lombardy right here in the Villa. Cardinal Durini was also the protagonist of a tragicomic episode: worried about the French Army arrival he ran off wearing a belt full of gold coins; because of his spasms the belt broke; when he bent down to collect it an old hernia broke causing his sudden death. The coins disappeared.

The villa had several owners over the centuries: from Count Porro Lambertenghi to the Marquis Arconati (relative of the Viscontis); from the Bostonian Ames to the Arctic explorer and great mountaineer Guido Monzino. He led the first Italian expedition on the Everest and in 1971 he arrived at the North Pole on a dogs pulled sleigh. The epic sleigh and a rock he collected on the “Top of the world” can still be seen in one the rooms when the Villa (now turned into a museum) is open. Monzino was a very generous man but he had a surly character. Famous were his outbursts everytime he saw a leaf in the alleys but he couldn’t stand seeing any gardeners around. At the end of his life he bequeathed it to the F.A.I. (Italian National Trust).


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