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Text and photos by Julie Moir Messervy.

My husband and I just returned from a beautiful nine days in northern Italy, where we traveled through exquisite countryside to view gardens—nice work if you can get it! In fact, we saw one garden a day, sometimes two, and so lived up to my old adage that you should “see the world as a garden,” in this case, literally.

We flew in to Milan’s Malpensa Airport and spent a night at the delightful Moxy Hotel—a fun yet chic place to get over jet lag and move into the travel mood. From there, we drove the short 1.5 hours to Lago di Como, where Steve braved the narrow, winding streets along the lakefront so we could see my longest-held garden dream: the Villa del Balbianello.

Punta Balbianello

Almost thirty years ago, for my first book, Contemplative Gardens, the wonderful National Geographic photographer Sam Abell and I started our research in Bellagio. At the time, we weren’t quite sure about how to approach the book, thinking that perhaps we’d see some gardens there and then travel to see and photograph others I had identified in other parts of Italy, all in the space of a short week. When we realized that Lake Como—and in particular, Bellagio—was home to not only the Villa Melzi d’Eril garden and the Villa Serbelloni, but also two across the lake: the Villa Carlotta in Cadenabbia, and the Villa del Balbianello in Lenno, we decided that our focus would be “garden realms”—areas that possessed an unrelated but significant group of gardens that were open to the public (often for a small fee). Once we decided to take this approach, we could relax and document each of the gardens we could get to on the lake at dawn and at dusk, taking advantage of the moisture-infused light that its depth, together with the height of the mountains ringing it, created.

But one of the gardens–the Villa del Balbianello—remained elusive because it was open only one time a week—the day we left Italy. Not walking through this garden was one of the big regrets of my life.

Instead, it ended up in many of our photographs, dominating the landscape wherever we went. From a distance, the Punta—point—looks like a partly submerged animal, perhaps a giant beaver that seems to swim into every view. The head is the villa and gardens; the back is a high, forested hill with a web of walking trails, a mini version of the massive mountains that form the shores of the lake. From nearly anywhere you look from Bellagio, the Punta looms large, enticing you to hire a boat, alight at its water steps, and wander through its dream-like gardens—something I could only long to do until this recent visit.

Punta Balbianello, Lake Como

Punta Balbianello, looking like an animal swimming in the waters of Lake Como

We parked at the base of the promontory and walked in along a narrow road until we arrived at two massive cypress trees that act as a soft gateway into the precinct of the garden. Arriving at the top of the garden, we paid our admission fee to FAI, an Italian version of the National Trust properties, of which Balbianello is one. We then proceeded down immaculate cobble paths to view the perfectly-pruned candelabra-shaped plane trees that create both colonnade and pergola for strollers along the paths.

La Loggia, Villa del Balbianello

La Loggia, at the top of the garden, offers visitors views to the north and south. The evergreen creeping fig (Ficus repens) is pruned into marvelous shapes.


Cypresses and plane trees, Villa del Balbianello gardens

From afar, two cypress trees mark the entrance to the Villa del Balbianello gardens. Beautifully pruned plane trees form a colonnade along the path.


The waterfront and steps to the Villa del Balbianello.

One can arrive by boat at the steps to the Villa del Balbianello.


Julie Moir Messervy at Lake Como

A happy visitor in the garden at last!


Coming soon: more photos from Julie’s Italian Garden Journey!

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