Visiting Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como is like spending the day inside a postcard. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and with stunning views across the lake, it’s one of the most popular places to visit on Lake Como. It’s also been used as a location for Hollywood blockbusters like James Bond and Star Wars.
In this post I’ll tell you why Villa del Balbianello is worth visiting and give you some tips to help you make the most of a day trip to the most beautiful villa on Lake Como.
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Where is Villa del Balbianello?
Villa del Balbianello, the gorgeous villa that starred as a location in Star Wars and James Bond, is on the western shore of Lake Como in northern Italy. The nearest city to Lake Como is Milan, and the nearest airport is Milan Malpensa airport (airport code MXP).
Is Villa del Balbianello worth visiting?
Villa del Balbianello will blow you away. Utterly romantic and with the added intrigue of having been a location for world-famous movies, don’t miss paying it a visit when you’re visiting Lake Como.
A day at Villa del Balbianello promises to be truly magical. Start your visit by strolling through the exquisite gardens and admiring the views from the many balconies and terraces. Then, delve into the villa’s rich history with a guided tour.
About Villa del Balbianello
The Villa del Balbianello boasts a rich and fascinating history. A Franciscan monastery existed on the site since the 13th century; the two towers at the villa are the remnants of the monastery’s campanile.
The stunning location caught the eye of Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini in 1785, after he failed to purchase the nearby Isola Comacina. He transformed the old monastery into a summer villa, adding a loggia that offers two different, yet equally enchanting, panoramas of the lake. Cardinal Durini used Villa del Balbianello as a summer residence where he could indulge in his love for art and literature.
Following his death, the villa switched hands multiple times until it was purchased in the 70s by explorer Guido Monzino who filled it with memorabilia from his many expeditions, including the first Italian ascent of Mount Everest. Monzino died in 1988 and is buried in a mausoleum at Villa del Balbianello.
Today, Villa del Balbianello is owned by Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI) – the Italian National Trust. It’s the most-visited of all the FAI properties, welcoming over 130,000 visitors in 2019.
Tips for your visit to Villa del Balbianello
Plan your visit carefully
If you only have a few days on Lake Como, make sure you plan your visit to Villa del Balbianello on a day when it’ll be open. It’s open from March to January each year, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (closed on Mondays and Wednesdays).
You should check the FAI website before you visit just to make sure that these opening times haven’t changed.
Book guided tour tickets well in advance
If you visit Villa del Balbianello, you’ll have two options for tickets; a ticket for just the gardens or a ticket for a 45-minute guided tour of the house which also includes access to the gardens. Tours are available in English and Italian.
If you want a guided tour of the house, you’ll need to book well in advance; as an example, I’m writing this in the middle of June 2023 and tickets for the rest of June and most of July are already sold out. The guided tour ticket costs 23 euro per person.
Garden tickets are much easier to get, but you should still book them in advance, just in case. Garden-only tickets cost 12 euro per person, with reductions for children, students and FAI members.
To get to Villa del Balbianello, take the taxi boat
Villa del Balbianello is on a wooded peninsula just south of the village of Lenno, on the western shore of Lake Como. The best ferry stop for the villa is Lenno, and there’s a reasonable ferry service from Varenna, Bellagio, Tremezzo, Menaggio and Bellano.
There is no access by car for visitors, so you have two options for getting to Villa del Balbianello from Lenno.
Walking to Villa del Balbianello
The first option is to walk along the access path which starts just beyond the junction of Via degli Artigiani and Via Guido Delmati in Lenno. From there, it’s around 850 metres (half a mile) to the villa gate and the upper ticket office.
When I was researching how to get to Villa del Balbianello from the ferry in Lenno, I read several reports about how the path was easy, but a little steep in places. We ended up taking a taxi boat to the villa (more on that below) but walked back to Lenno along the route we would have taken to get there.
I live in a hilly part of the UK so I’m used to walking uphill, but this path really was steep – we passed a lot of people who were huffing and puffing their way up and some who were visibly having a hard time.
Taxi boat to Villa del Balbianello
If you’re not terribly fit, have difficulty walking, if it’s a hot day or you’re just a bit lazy like me, then I’d really recommend taking the taxi boat to the villa.
We chose the taxi boat just because we thought it would be cool to arrive at the villa like James Bond, Padmé and Anakin, but when we walked back down along the path and realised how steep it was, we were really glad we hadn’t had to walk up it!
The taxi boat to Villa del Balbianello leaves from a jetty at the end of Via Guido Delmati, near Lido di Lenno and the start of the access path to the villa. There’s a signpost with the current prices by the path to the jetty. A one-way trip is 6 euro, return is 8 euro, payable by cash or card on the boat.
The boat is more of a shuttle than a private taxi boat. It takes around 9 people at a time and takes approximately 10 minutes, depending on how much of a queue there is to let people off at the villa’s jetty. Trips run every 30 minutes until around 5pm.
A word of warning which unfortunately comes from experience – you might want to sit in the enclosed part of the boat. The outside part of the boat behind the skipper is cool but during our trip to the villa a wave came right over the windscreen and absolutely drenched me, leaving me looking more drowned rat than elegant speedboat passenger when we disembarked!
Don’t miss seeing James Bond and Star Wars film locations at Villa del Balbianello
Villa del Balbianello has featured as a location in several blockbuster movies.
Casino Royale (James Bond), 2006
In the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, Villa del Balbinanello is one of the key locations. It’s here that Bond (played by Daniel Craig in his first film playing 007) recuperates and is comforted by Vesper Lynd after being tortured by the film’s baddie, Le Chiffre, in the infamous chair scene.
The scenes in Casino Royale take place on the small lawn in front of the Loggia Durini; it’s easy to find the exact spot where it was filmed.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, 2002
I get mercilessly teased for this, but Attack of the Clones is by far my favourite Star Wars movie, and it’s the film that made me really want to visit Villa del Balbinanello when I went to Lake Como.
In Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christensen) is tasked with protecting Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) after an assassination attempt. He escorts her to Naboo, where they stay in a beautiful villa on a lake.
Several locations at Villa del Balbianello are clearly identifiable in Attack of the Clones. The little stone jetty where Anakin and Padmé get off their boat isn’t currently in use, but you can go down the steps to see it. The place where Anakin first kisses Padmé is under a tree, looking south down the lake from the large, square terrace outside the bookshop.
There’s an ominous scene where Anakin stands with his hands behind his back, looking out on the lake; that scene was filmed at the Loggia Durini – the camera is just above where Bond was filmed four years later.
Another movie filmed at Villa del Balbianello is A Month by the Lake, a 1995 romantic comedy starring Vanessa Redgrave, Uma Thurman and Edward Fox.
Eat before you get here
There’s no cafe or restaurant at Villa del Balbianello, and the food and drink on offer is limited to a fridge of drinks and ice creams on sale at the bookshop. The lawns and terraces would be a great spot for a picnic, but sadly even walking on the grass is forbidden.
There are quite a few restaurants and cafes in Lenno, which you’ll pass on your way to and from the ferry stop. There’s also a great ice cream shop, La Fabbrica Del Gelato; it usually has a long queue but it’s worth it for the interesting variety of flavours and handmade ice lollies.
Feel free to dress up
One thing I noticed at Villa del Balbianello was the number of beautifully dressed people either taking selfies or in some cases, having full photo shoots. I thought I’d dressed ok (although remember I was drenched in lake water after my boat mishap) but I was definitely in the bottom 20% of stylish people there that day!
If you’re looking for an opportunity to wear your prettiest dress, visiting Villa del Balbianello is definitely it – you won’t be out of place at all. You should probably bring comfortable shoes though, as the gardens are on a steep slope and you’ll do a lot of walking.
Look out for extra-special tours
FAI offers occasional, extra-special private tours, either in the morning, before the villa and gardens open to the public, or at sunset.
They also offer special pruning tours in late January or early February. During these tours you can discover the secrets of the garden from the expert team of gardeners as they carry out the pruning that helps to keep the villa’s trees so beautifully shaped.
More villas to visit on Lake Como
While Villa del Balbianello is the best villa to visit on Lake Como, if you’d like to see more of Como’s lovely villas, there are lots more that are open to the public (although sadly George Clooney’s villa isn’t one of them).
Villa Monastero, Varenna
Like Villa del Balbianello, Villa Monastero in Varenna is also built on the site of a former religious institution, in this case a Cistercian convent. The villa was built, then rebuilt and modified several times, between the 17th and early 20th centuries. It was donated to the public in 1936.
Today, Villa Monastero is a museum, convention centre and botanical garden with a lovely lakeside terrace. The botanical garden is open from April to December, while the museum is open from late May to December.
Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo was built in 1695 by a rich Milanese family. It was then modified in the 1800s, when the balconies and its distinctive clock were added. It has been owned by a charitable foundation since 1927.
Villa Carlotta is open for visitors to experience its lovely and expansive gardens, which are particularly famous for their azaleas, along with an Italian garden and a Romantic garden. Don’t miss the impressive citrus tunnels in front of the villa.
Tickets for the Villa Carlotta’s gardens also include entry to the villa museum, which includes works by Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Francesco Hayez, among others.
Villa Melzi d’Eril, Bellagio
Located just to the south of Lake Como’s most famous village, Bellagio, Villa Melzi d’Eril is a gorgeous white wedding cake of a villa. It was built in the early 1800s for Francesco Melzi d’Eril, who was vice president of the Italian Republic during the Napoleonic era.
Unfortunately the villa itself isn’t open to the public as it’s still a private residence, but you can visit the beautiful English-style gardens which surround the villa and lead down to the lake. Guided tours are available, and there’s also a relatively new museum dedicated to the Napoleonic period of Italy’s history.
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